Roma Caput Mundi

  
Immersion works. Today, I observed around fifty students who had been in a Latin/Greek-only environment since October 2015, some of whom had never studied any Latin or Greek, conversing fluently in both languages. They weren’t simply speaking Latin well; they were communicating with one another, in between classes, outside on the grass beneath a Roman pine, over a meal, while playing around, and while learning every subject of the day, except for Greek classes, when they conversed almost as easily in Ancient Greek. These students only shared Latin and Greek as common languages. Their first languages varied between Spanish, Hungarian, Italian, English, Slavic, French, and more. I wish I could adequately share how mundane this seemed. Nobody was trying to show off, nobody was taking Latin to do better on their SATs, and nobody seemed uninterested–in fact, they even applaud their teachers at the end of classes!

I felt like an outsider, mostly because I was the only member of the female sex (that’s correct–there are no women or girls on either the faculty or in the student body) but also because my spoken Latin didn’t measure up and didn’t sound like theirs. They speak rapidly and with an ecclesiastical pronunciation that approximates the sound of Italian. I say “Sal-way” and “Kare-tay” when they say “Sal-vay” and “Chare-tay.” I, like some of the students in my classes, listened very carefully and sometimes had that look on my face of total confusion. Unfortunately, however, I didn’t get to observe any Latin classes. I saw a Greek language and Greek literature class. When the students had trouble understanding the complete meaning of a Greek word, the teacher gave them the Latin, and comprehension was achieved.

  
Although the students I observed were the older group  (university age), the classroom I visited contained as many props for acting as many of the middle and high schools I visited in the States. I didn’t have a chance to observe a class of the secondary school-aged students, because their teacher and head of the school, Aloisius (Luigi Miraglia) was away during the day that I visited. I did have the pleasure, though, of meeting him later in the day and experiencing the amazing connection he has with students.

My own immersion experiences have been too short, and I look forward to participating in the summer program here in the near future.  Clearly immersion is the way to go – with comprehensible input and compelling material!

  

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The Romans in Britain

 

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There couldn’t have been a more appropriate way for me to begin my travels than in viewing Shakespeare’s Cymbeline in the new (2014) Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, next to the Globe Theatre in London. This theatre is used for indoor productions, and it was intimate, vibrant, and appealing to both eyes and ears. I will not try to explain all the intricacies of the plot here, but it follows the Romans in Britain.  

Cymbeline is the current king of Britain, and his evil queen (why not – it’s Shakespeare) and stepson convince him not to pay the tribute owed to the Romans. This happens to be the exact plot my Latin III class was reading in the narrative of The Pericles Group’s Operation Lapis game before I left for sabbatical. One of the major plot lines not only follows the story of Collatinus and Tarquinius fighting over the purity of Collatinus’s wife Lucretia, but it also references it in the dialogue.  In addition, the dialogue references poems of Catullus and makes multiple digs at those Italians.  The drama was masterfully produced, with a candlelit set and a deus (well, dea here) ex machina.  Motifs included girls dressing as boys, soldiers switching uniforms (reference both to Patroclus in the Odyssey and Androgeos in the Aeneid), sons thought to be long-lost but appearing at manhood (reference to Romulus and Remus and countless other Plautine plots) and second wives conspiring to have sons from a first marriage promoted to the crown.  Britons fighting Romans in authentic garb; actors singing a beautiful duet over the funeral for someone taken for dead; a number of different English, Irish, and Scottish accents; and lines delivered comically and directly to the audience all added to the effect.  

Another fabulous irony was having our walk to the theatre during a torrential downpour followed by the line, “Hath Britain all the sun that shines?”  It was an exciting evening and an excellent introduction to our upcoming trip to Rome!

Ave, Faber!

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I visited Evan Smith at Georgetown Day School for my final stop in the United States. Every time I sit down to write about this experience, I am inspired to delve more deeply into whatever topics Evan introduced. He encourages me and others to want to learn. While at GDS, I mostly sat in awe as Evan, known as Faber to the SALVI community, extemporaneously explained in Latin to one class how to tell the difference between the subtleties in meanings of the words acer (keen) and acutus (sharp).  The word acer had appeared in a reading. To help the students understand more fully and at a deeper level, he asked them to draw pictures of a knife, sword, dog, owl, eagle, and Albert Einstein. He then was able to show the students the various distinctions in ways you describe qualities of these objects and beings. He also made frequent use of the WAYK technique, Prove It, when asking students to demonstrate to the class through a scaenula (little scene, set-up) whatever piece of language they had just picked up or acquired.

Evan uses texts such as Regulus (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince in Latin), the Menaechmi of Plautus, Catullus, and Plato’s Apology in an independent class of Greek taught in Latin.  The students have in front of them large white boards, and those act as their notebooks.  He finds that when students write things down for later study or rely on a textbook they begin to believe that the language is out there rather than inside them: Latin is not only in books and dictionaries. The whiteboards allow the students to manipulate and personalize the language. To explain the meanings of words, he asks students to come up with words of a similar form in order to explain the concept behind a suffix, infix, or prefix.  Even though the ensuing conversation seems at times to be a digression, Evan has the ability to bring it back to the original question. When he senses that the students need a break, he tells them all to stand up and leave the room for about five minutes. The class periods are long (60 minutes), and these short breaks allow students to be optimally productive. Grammar is discussed only as it is necessary for comprehension of a particular phrase, sentence, or passage.

Evan encourages students to work things out with their neighbors, he pushes them when he suspects they can handle it, and he gives them the answer before frustration sets in. Throughout his classes, he and the students speak in Latin.  I only saw upper-level courses, but these students had clearly been trained early on.  In addition, when a couple of students have an interest that goes beyond the curriculum offered, Evan offers them a chance to read ancient Greek through the medium of Latin.  I watched him translate Plato on the spot from Greek to Latin: that was impressive!  The students at Georgetown Day School are incredibly lucky to have a teacher who not only cares about them and their learning but also knows so much himself that every word he utters becomes a lesson.

 

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Faber teaching an independent study in ancient Greek, using Latin as the language of instruction.

Sisters

After straying from the familiar by visiting a number of large public schools, I returned to the single-sex, all-girls environment before I left Baltimore. I was only able to observe one class at Bryn Mawr School, but in this one Latin II class, I had the pleasure of accompanying Cathy Reed as she led her class on a walk in the style of Where Are Your Keys. They were working on gerunds and gerundives, and so there was high repetition of how they would walk down the halls and outside: volandō (by flying), quatiendīs natibus (by shaking their hips), ambulandō celeriter (by walking quickly), etc. As they walked, I noticed Cathy using the technique Same Conversation, where she would ask the students to repeat a phrase in a number of different voices and/or speaking styles. The girls seemed to really enjoy both this technique and the walk itself.

Back in the classroom, I also observed a technique seen in previous visits, where knowledge of vocabulary is tested by expecting students to find the correct Latin word on the board after hearing a Latin synonym or definition. Cathy doesn’t feel that her classes are as steeped in TPRS and CI as she would like, but I was impressed with her courage to try new techniques, her willingness to be open and transparent with her students about any difficulties she is having with the language, and her desire for feedback. All the teachers I have visited have asked for feedback, hungry to hear from someone who speaks the same language as they do. Being at a school for girls reminded my how the single-sex environment necessitates that girls be heard.

The Best Endorsement

At Baltimore’s Dulaney High, the students I met could clearly articulate the benefits of the Latin program. Near the end of my visit with Dawn Mitchell, known lovingly by SALVI participants as Aurora, she left the room so that the students could answer any questions I had. She both trusted that what they would say wouldn’t reflect badly on her and also just wanted me to hear from the students themselves, regardless of what they might say. I asked them what worked and what perhaps needed some fine-tuning in their class. They commented on a number of features:

  1. Ms. Mitchell lets them confer with neighbors before responding to questions.
  2. She makes the class stories relevant to their lives.
  3. She guarantees that they will have all that they need to succeed.
  4. She provides enough repetition so that what they are learning is comprehensible.
  5. She gives them bucks.  (see below)

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Dawn uses humor, creativity, care, and hard work to create this environment for students. After many conversations with Dawn and the one conversation with the students, I feel I have a much better understanding of what it is that works so well.  Dawn has put considerable time into creating an effective system, the cornerstones of which are a vademeculum (student notebook) and bucks.

In each class, the students begin the year with a blank composition book, and throughout the year, they create their own textbook. In this book, the students write what Dawn puts on the board; this includes vocabulary words, sentences illustrating a particular structure, and stories created primarily by Dawn but modified to reflect current students’ names, interests, and popular locations. Homework is to read what they have written, and each day there is a five-question quiz at the beginning of  class, where students need to find the answers somewhere within their notebooks.

I imagine that I will not be able to do justice to the buck system, but I will try to highlight certain features. Basically, the students receive paper money (in the form of Roman currency) for participation.  On each buck, the students also write in Latin what they did to receive the money. Each student has to turn in five bucks each week, and with any extra bucks, there will be an occasional store day when students can “purchase” stickers for their notebooks. These stickers will be helpful near the end of a term. One way to receive bucks is by performing tasks at the beginning of class. The students immediately engage in these activities and look forward to helping.

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In addition to the vademecula and bucks, Dawn’s classroom is a Latin playground. Students can find a Latin graffiti board filled with interesting phrases, countless art projects collected over the years, a number of comprehensible books in Latin, books in English covering relevant culture and history, props, helpful question words, and reminders to think about how they are learning.

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I also liked Dawn’s method of mixing up seating in the classroom. Each desk has a sticker with a particular color and animal, and as students enter, she can give them a corresponding color or animal and tell them to find their desk. This technique is used to create random groups.

Finally, in addition to all of the above, Dawn has helped to create a Roman town (Dulanium) filled with activities for the entire school community, a Harry Potter Certamen, and a Ientaculum (Latin Breakfast) for her school and surrounding schools to gather and speak Latin together.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching Dawn’s enthusiasm and her students’ equally stimulating engagement with her and the language. The system she has developed, built on the principles of TPRS and CI, works incredibly well, as evidenced by the large number of students who take Latin at Dulaney High year in and year out. Dawn and her colleague Elyse Fiorito also work together closely (it helps that their rooms are adjacent) and share common goals.

A Murmuration of Starlings

IMG_0659I searched high and low for a collective noun to describe a group of Latin teachers, but I came up short. Parkview High School has such a group – four full-time Latin teachers (some teaching extended day) who work together using shared lesson plans. Bob Patrick heads the World Languages Department, and Caroline Miklosovic, Rachel Ash, and Miriam Patrick round out the program. Each teacher is the core teacher for a different level of Latin offered, and that teacher shares his/her curriculum with the other teachers. The core teachers are rotated each year so that they follow their students to the next level. This is a wonderful way to provide continuity for the students. The entire program uses no specific textbook; the teachers write the readings themselves, and the vocabulary and structures are taken from the readings. 600 students take Latin, and class sizes range from 19 – 30+. I spent four full days at Parkview and had a chance to observe each level, as well as the gladiatorial fights put on by the Latin club each week. In addition to seeing four teachers work so well together, I also enjoyed observing a number of different CI and TPRS techniques in each class. Since other bloggers have already written up helpful descriptions of many of these techniques on their blogs, I have included links to those pages here.

  • Dictatio + Pictatio in Level I:  for pictatio, students include a small drawing of each sentence
  • Volleyball Reading in IV and AP
  • Embedded Reading in all levels
  • Annotation Groups in AP – Bob Patrick has students write translations in Google Drive, and he uses the annotation feature to give feedback
  • Word Chunk or Ball Game
  • Forks or Markers
  • Brain Breaks
    • Tres Pulsationes – Three Strikes:  at any point in class, the students all stand up and throw a ball to each other; if anyone speaks or drops the ball, that is a strike.  They play until there are three strikes.
    • Mindfulness Bell – Bob Patrick will occasionally program a bell to sound at various intervals, reminding everyone to take a moment out for mindfulness.
    • Publius Publicanus
    • Same Conversation
  • Movie Talk – “Soar” was the example I saw used – teachers use Zaption or EdPuzzle so students can complete this on their own if they miss class or need repetition.
  • Read, Discuss, and Draw
  • Timed Write
  • DEA – Daily Engagement Assessment + Hand Signals

 

Most of the classrooms have a large supply of stuffed animals, and students can take one to have at their desk at any point in class. I enjoyed watching students take advantage of this non-judgmental way of providing comfort in the classroom. In Miriam Patrick’s classroom, in addition to displaying question words, as all Latin classrooms at Parkview do, she also includes possible responses to those questions.

It was a treat to spend so much time at Parkview. I also observed a German teacher using CI.  She graciously welcomed me into her class, talked with me afterwards about her techniques, and raved about Bob as a department head. Other department members I happened to meet also spoke of what a supportive leader Bob is for all languages offered at Parkview. Bob believes in sharing the wealth. This philosophy of teaching helps spread successful techniques to the many teachers who benefit from the department’s collective knowledge and helps create Latin students who feel good about the language and their learning.