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.

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