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.

“Ribbit-Ribbit?”

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Poster available at Arianne’s blog.

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!

Version 2

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Sample Response of Latin I Cloze Exercise Mentioned Above

Starbucks Drama

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.

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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.IMG_0567

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

Finding a Purpose

In the past week between school visits, I have had time to read other teachers’ blog posts.  As I’ve read posts that clarify ideological positions and specifically outline steps to take for certain classroom activities, I’ve wondered who would be helped by reading my blog posts.  I have also begun to edit the video footage I have obtained from classes I have observed.  When I complete my sabbatical journey, I will have an unwieldy amount of footage.  I look forward to watching these clips from the perspective of an editor and creating a summary of techniques I admire.

Because this blog will probably have two different audiences, Latin teachers who value my opinion and friends and family who are interested in my travels, I want to provide something for both.  Therefore, I want to publicize how many different techniques are used in Latin classrooms and how different they are from what many people have in mind.  There is a huge number of fantastic, inspiring, and effective Latin teachers, and too few people know what they do in their classrooms.  Let this be a celebration of the professional family I have come to so admire.

When my European travels begin, my purpose will change.  I have often preached how helpful Latin is to me when I travel.  Now, I will be able to chronicle all the ways.