“Ribbit-Ribbit?”

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Poster available at Arianne’s blog.

In Arianne Belzer’s class at Grayson High School, cows say “ribbit-ribbit,” and that is not the only unusual thing to be found  there.  Arianne teaches six classes of Latin, ranging from 27 to 43 students.  There are no desks in this Latin classroom because of the number of students, Arianne’s desire to quickly change formations, and her belief that desks restrict students’ sense of space.  All classes are conducted in Latin throughout, except for very few occasions when an English word or two is needed for better comprehension.

I stayed with Arianne for two full days – that is, starting class around 7, teaching for six straight classes with no planning periods and only 19 minutes for lunch, and staying after school to work with individual students.  Add to that her coaching work with the Odyssey of the Mind team, and you have a fairly good idea of how much time she spends with students.

There are no formal Latin II or III classes, because Arianne is the only Latin teacher in the school; therefore those students are mixed in with other levels.  I shot a large amount of video footage of these classes and observed interesting and wonderful techniques as well as the results of these techniques on the students’ linguistic skill level.  Arianne gives credit for many of these techniques to other teachers and scholars, but the ways in which she implements them are reflective of her unique teaching style.

  • Latin I
    • Arianne begins class with a Cloze exercise.  All students in a group answer the questions for themselves and share their responses with the group.  The structures all take infinitives, and after discussing all of the responses as a class, there is a large number of both word and structure repetitions.
    • With a TPRS technique called Movie Talk (using wordless videos such as those provided by Monster Box), Arianne was able to focus students’ attention on a story with compelling characters, sets, and situations and then elicit various responses from the students when discussing the details.
    • When one class had leftover minutes because of lunch scheduling, Arianne played Pictionary.  For this game, three students sit facing the class while Arianne writes a word on the board.  The class then draws their version of the word, and the three participants try to guess it.
    • Latin I classes also took time for SSR – silent sustained reading.  Arianne has a number of books available from which students can choose.  These include textbooks with stories, children’s books, and prepared texts.
  • Latin IV
    • As a vocabulary assessment in Latin IV, Arianne gave index cards with vocabulary words on them to each student.  The student puts the card on his/her forehead, instead of looking at the card.  Arianne lets the student choose three other students to describe the word without using the word itself.  Like the game Taboo, students need to think of synonyms and circumlocutions.  All members of the class learn from this assessment, even though only four students are participating at a time.
    • Each class had previously created a list of celebrities and other famous people, and together they decide, through voting, what each person’s greatest challenge in life is.  All of this is done in Latin.
  • All Classes
    • In each class, Arianne adds seconds/minutes when students are quiet and in their seats to a running collection on the board.  On Friday, the total number of seconds/minutes is how much time they will have to play a game or relax in some way.
    • Arianne spent time at the end of each class asking students to name one new thing they learned during class.
    • She also asks students for plusses and deltas – what went well in class and what could be modified.
    • When waiting for students to refocus, Arianne counts quietly in Latin and raises the same number of fingers in the air.  The students both refocus and hear repetition of both cardinal and ordinal numbers, depending on the context.
    • Gestures, repetition, props, and humor are used freely throughout the day to aid in comprehension.

Arianne’s classes are successful due to a combination of her superior linguistic skills, creative thinking, and ability to relate to and thoroughly enjoy teenagers.  Mirabile visu audituque!

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Sample Response of Latin I Cloze Exercise Mentioned Above

Starbucks Drama

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I visited Brookwood High School in Snellville, Georgia. Keith Toda had just returned from the Living Latin in NYC workshop that the Paideia Institute offers and that I had attended last year. He had presented there and was back in the classroom willing to be observed and videotaped. I am continually impressed by the generosity of all the Latin teachers I am visiting.

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I observed Keith teaching Latin I and II Honors and his colleague Lindsey Campbell teaching Latin III and AP. I had already seen Keith present at a number of conferences, but I had never seen him in front of a class of high school students. He teaches with energy, positivity, and obvious intensive preparation.

In Latin I, he began each class with a quick culture review and then reviewed the vocabulary they were currently learning. All of the words were posted on the board on yellow, laminated cards that could clearly be read from every part of the room. The department uses a textbook, but Keith guarantees his students will know the appropriate vocabulary, culture, and grammar through using his own stories instead of the textbook stories. I was particularly interested in seeing this example of TPRS, as I have had difficulty coming up with my own stories. I will be better able to describe this method when I outline his Latin II class.

In Latin I, although the students had written one-to-ten-word stories using the specific vocabulary the previous week, for these lessons Keith had written his own story using the same vocabulary. The story took place in Starbucks, and included a sword (but of course, this is Latin!), some punching, and a brave/strong hero of a younger brother. The story was presented on the screen with the vocabulary words underlined. The class established comprehension, did a choral reading, a round of Stultus (see below) and then began group projects.

In Stultus, Keith translates the stories, purposefully making various errors. When the students catch the error, they shout out, “Stultus!”  (Fool!). Keith is very careful to vary what types of mistakes he makes, and the students learn from observing their peers and hearing countless reps of the story. The students clearly enjoyed this activity.

I particularly liked a number of aspects of the group project that followed:

  • Keith had previously divided the class into groups of six, and each student had a clearly defined role. On the assignment sheet, the roles and what they entail appear with a short description of the project and an explanation of what they will do in class each day to complete the project.
  • On the first day, the students met to plan what they would do the following day. Keith described how important each role was, from the person taking pictures of scenes to accompany each sentence of the story, to the actors, director, and person holding a whiteboard listing the number of the sentence.
  • When students appeared to be finished discussing, Keith questioned them about specific details, and they went back to work.
  • On the second day, Keith provided school cameras and laptops for uploading the pictures. The uploading was the job of the group photographer.
  • He also provided props for the students to choose, and he made sure they were distributed evenly.
  • Because the pictorial representations of the story were still (as opposed to moving) pictures, the students had to creatively figure out how to convey the meaning.
  • The students will grade themselves and each other.
  • Only a day after I had begun observing at another school, Keith had already put all the pictures into Educreations with voice-overs and appropriate helpful markings and had shared links to them with me.

In Latin II Honors, Keith also began with a culture spot, but this time, he asked a question that involved problem-solving on the part of students, instead of simply answering multiple-choice questions. Previously, groups had composed stories one sentence at a time with vocabulary words presented to them by Keith. Before they could take another word, their sentence needed to be checked and approved by Keith.  This is similar to the activity I had observed Ted Zarrow using at Westwood High.  I like the unexpected stories that evolve from this activity, and the students own them and enjoy sharing them with the entire class. In both days of classes I observed, stories from different groups were shared. Some stories made little sense, but the students clearly understood the vocabulary words and would remember the stories because of their quirky nature.

Although I had not come to observe other teachers at Brookwood, I was pleased to have the opportunity.  Some observations include:

  • Posters along the ceiling molding presented the various rhetorical devices required by the Latin AP syllabus. Students created them with English sentences and accompanying illustrations.
  • The themes of the AP course were clearly posted in the room.
  • As preparation for the upcoming NLE (National Latin Exam), each class (both III and AP) began with just five culture/history questions for students to answer as they entered the classroom.
  • The AP class was designing a class t-shirt with the saying, “If someone doesn’t die, you translated it wrong.”  They then worked together to come up with synonyms for dying and killing (of which there are many in Latin!) to create an acrostic for AP Latin.  The t-shirt also included every student’s name. I want one!

Brookwood has three full-time Latin teachers with classes of 32 students.  One classroom door appropriately announced that this indeed was Latin country!  Thank you, Keith, Lindsey, and Ashley.IMG_0567

 

 

 

In My Own Backyard

On Thursday, February 4, the day before most Massachusetts schools had a snow day, I traveled only 20 minutes away from home to Westwood High School.  When I originally asked Ted Zarrow if I could spend a day observing him, he questioned if he was the best teacher for me to observe.  Because I told Ted I was looking at teachers using Active Latin, CI, or TPRS, he felt it necessary to tell me he didn’t use any one of those methods entirely.  He gave me names of other teachers he knew who had embraced these methodologies but welcomed me to his school as well.

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Humility characterizes this man.  He had only months earlier been named as the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) Teacher of the Year.  In fact, as he told me at the end of the day, he would be spending the next six weekends visiting various regional conferences and the one national conference and delivering inspirational speeches to teachers of all languages from levels K-20.

I was immediately struck by Ted’s generosity and easygoing demeanor.  He brought me to the Foreign Language Department office and asked me what I wanted to know.  I was then able to ask the battery of questions for which I have been seeking answers in each of the schools I visit.  He gave me an overview about the goals of the Latin program and provided specific details about each of the classes he teaches.

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He talked to me between classes and again during a free period after teaching four classes in a row.  I also met many of the members of the department during lunch.

As I have done with the other schools, I will outline what aspects I particularly appreciated:

  • In Latin IV, Ted frequently and naturally gives students comprehension help by providing synonyms and descriptive phrases in Latin, if he senses there might be a lack of comprehension.  I will add a video of this when I have finished editing the files.
    • He regularly reminds students, in Latin, of other contexts where they have seen or heard various words or phrases.
    • Students have been assigned specific myths to read and present to the class.  While I have often given similar assignments, these students had delved far more deeply into their individual myths, looking at places in the arts (literature, music, art, etc.) where their myth appears.  These students became the experts on their myths.
    • There had been a recent presentation on Io, and to start today’s class, Ted projects an image from a performance in California of Prometheus Bound.  He asks the students to identify the characters, based on what they understand of the myth.
  • In Latin III, students had previously read Asconius’s narration of the events Cicero describes in his speech, Pro Milone.  This is in preparation for reading Cicero’s actual words.  He was able to summarize what they had read of Asconius by using a video made by members of the class (or a previous class, I’m not sure).
    • For the first time today, he asks students questions in English, and asks them to respond in Latin without referring to their text.  They were remarkable!
    • He engages the students in an English conversation about hypothetical situations where crimes have been committed.  The 34 (!) students are actively engaged.
  • In Latin I, students read about the myth of Romulus and Remus by following and engaging in a PowerPoint Ted had prepared in advance.  Before they begin the presentation, they look at derivatives of some of the new vocabulary they will use.  Again, Ted uses Latin to explain the meanings of the new words.  “Fluvius est rivus.  Ergo, quid est fluvius?”  He then continues to give many synonyms for river and words about flowing water (of which there are a countless number in Latin!).  By the time they begin the presentation, they have already heard the new words multiple times.
    • The presentation uses pictures of well-known celebrities (although these young’uns didn’t all recognize Lindsay Lohan), and throughout the presentation, Ted pauses to check for comprehension.
    • He frequently uses art to enhance the story.  Ted tells me later in the day that he is particularly knowledgeable about numismatics.
  • In the last of the four classes, Latin II, a class split by the lunch period, I observed some classic CI and TPRS activities.  He split the class randomly into teams and gave each team a verb.  They had to write a sentence in Latin using that verb in its perfect-passive-participle form.  When they finished, they were to yell, “Parati sumus.”  Ted would then check their sentence and give them another word.  When the first half of class finished, the students had created stories.  Ted collects the stories, will type them up overnight and use them in class the next day.
    • After lunch, they played a game I frequently use in my classes.  It has many names, Word-Chunk Game and Ball Game being two of them.  In their same teams, they are all given sentences using participles.  They are sentences familiar to the students.  As a team, they come up with the correct translation, and when called on first and having given the correct translation, they are invited to try gaining points by throwing a ball into a bin.  Students generally love this game.

As you can see, it was a full day.  I was incredibly impressed with the students’ level of engagement, their skills, and their relationship to Dr. Z.  All – in my own backyard.

Finding a Purpose

In the past week between school visits, I have had time to read other teachers’ blog posts.  As I’ve read posts that clarify ideological positions and specifically outline steps to take for certain classroom activities, I’ve wondered who would be helped by reading my blog posts.  I have also begun to edit the video footage I have obtained from classes I have observed.  When I complete my sabbatical journey, I will have an unwieldy amount of footage.  I look forward to watching these clips from the perspective of an editor and creating a summary of techniques I admire.

Because this blog will probably have two different audiences, Latin teachers who value my opinion and friends and family who are interested in my travels, I want to provide something for both.  Therefore, I want to publicize how many different techniques are used in Latin classrooms and how different they are from what many people have in mind.  There is a huge number of fantastic, inspiring, and effective Latin teachers, and too few people know what they do in their classrooms.  Let this be a celebration of the professional family I have come to so admire.

When my European travels begin, my purpose will change.  I have often preached how helpful Latin is to me when I travel.  Now, I will be able to chronicle all the ways.