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!