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.
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.