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.


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.


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.


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