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June 2017

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Pardon me while I do some thinking out loud.

So I'm working on curriculum for next year, trying to incorporate all the things I've learned from this year, etc. Students are currently taking standardized tests in other classrooms and thus I have some time to think and to process.

I'm currently looking at Interpretive Communication: Reading and Listening for Level 1 Classical Languages as adopted for the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Here's what was put together back in 2014 but goes in effect fall of 2017:

(2) Interpretive communication: reading and listening. The student comprehends sentence-length information from culturally relevant print, digital, audio, and audiovisual materials as appropriate within highly contextualized situations and sources. The student uses the interpretive mode in communication with appropriate and applicable grammatical structures and processes at the specified proficiency levels. The student is expected to:
114.47 2A: demonstrate an understanding of culturally relevant print, digital, audio, or audiovisual materials in classroom contexts;
114.47 2B: identify key words and details from fiction or nonfiction texts or audio or audiovisual materials;
114.47 2C: infer meaning of unfamiliar words or phrases in highly contextualized texts, audio, or audiovisual materials; and
114.47 2D: identify cultural practices from authentic print, digital, audio, or audiovisual materials.
The specified proficiency level is left purposefully vague, or so it seems. The intro to the whole section includes this: §114.47. Classical Languages, Level I, Novice Low to Intermediate Low Proficiency (One Credit), Adopted 2014. The Novice Low rating was for speaking proficiency, and in fact a look at the rest of the TEKS demonstrates that it was considered unnecessary to require going above Novice Mid for speaking even in Latin 4, which in part I feel is a shame, but I remember it wasn't worth pushing hard for at the time. (I also remember a time when we didn't have an speaking component to the Latin certification test for Texas but we finally have something now. Testing oral proficiency in at least reading Latin aloud was something I promoted for decades it seems. Change often moves slowly...but I digress.)

I have been teaching for almost 2 decades using what I clumsily refer to as reading methodologies, which maybe should be better described as reading strategies to train the English speaking brain to learn to accept Latin word order as something totally understandable when reading from left to write, as well as for helping one focus on the details of inflection and phrasing in shaping meaning without having to resort to parsing or decoding (as I had been taught). I teach the skills I wish I had been taught that would have made me a truly superior student of Latin in college (instead of one who just studied for hours to know the answers). Not that I didn't ask in college to be taught how to be better; I was just told the only way to improve at Latin was to read more Latin. As I have said before, I was a decoder, and a good one, but not a reader. So now I try to create readers of Latin in my classroom, not people who can decline nouns perfectly or conjugate any verb in any tense and mood perfectly. They know the basics but it's not the most important thing. Reading is. 

When I taught middle school Latin a dozen plus years ago, I even experimented with extensive reading vs intensive reading, but there just wasn't enough low level material at the time. With block schedule now, I feel that I have had time for a few minutes of SSR (sustained silent reading) which has been a good way to work in extensive reading. Which leaves what Latinists have really been doing for a long, long time: intensive reading. And let's face it: it's not real reading, like one read's for pleasure, but a slower reading that more often than not involves an excessive amount of analysis. At its worst this involves constant parsing (which will NEVER allow you to develop a true feel for phrasing while reading and thus limit your ability to read). And I believe that there are ways to teach reading in word order with attention to inflection and phrasing that can lead you to more profitable extensive reading, which in turn will lead to improved intensive reading. It's intensive reading that's needed for AP Latin & university level Latin course work, like it or not.

And while there's much merit in accessing the Latin writings of the humanists and others, we will not easily escape the need to focus on the Roman world. We have 3-4 years with students, if we are lucky, to expose them to the Roman world and to Latin. The majority of the Latin they will experience in their lifetime (not just in our class) will be in written form. We can provide them with tons of comprehensible input but if we are failing to provide them with the means of dealing with reading material that will almost assuredly always be beyond what they have developed a mental representation for, then we are also limiting their ability to read Latin outside of the classroom.  

I'm rambling, admittedly. But I'm also struggling with certain aspects of the new TEKS/proficiencies, and I'm not afraid to admit it. The Interpretive Reading Can-Do benchmarks from ACTFL, for instance, seem more appropriate for extensive reading goals. ACL's Standards for Classical Learning are not much different.

ACTFL's CAN-DO Benchmarks for Interpretive Reading are:
Novice Low: I can recognize a few letters or characters. I can identify a few memorized words and phrases when I read.
Novice Mid: I can recognize some letters or characters. I can understand some learned or memorized words and phrases when I read.
Novice High: I can understand familiar words, phrases, and sentences within short and simple texts related to everyday life. I can sometimes understand the main idea of what I have read.
Intermediate Low: I can understand the main idea of short and simple texts when the topic is familiar.

ACL's Standards for Classical Learning draft document from 2016 has:
Novice Low Learners can identify a few memorized Latin or Greek words and phrases when they read. For Greek, they can also recognize most Greek letters.
Novice Mid Learners can understand some learned or memorized Latin or Greek words and phrases when they read. For Greek, they can recognize all Greek letters.
Novice High Learners can easily understand the main idea of texts related to familiar topics, personal interests, and studies. They can sometimes follow stories and descriptions about events and experiences in various time frames. For Greek, they can recognize basic transliterated words.
Intermediate Low Learners can understand the main idea of short and simple Latin or Greek texts when the topic is familiar.
As is, it would seem it's not necessary for students to have that attention to detail as long as they have the main idea. But the main idea won't help you to develop an understanding of how an inflectional language works and how to retrain your brain to accept Latin word order and thus allow you to be able to read those super long sentences that come up in Caesar and other classical authors.

I've gone back online to search again for the new TEKS because in my frustration I keep feeling like there was certainly more that we produced in that committee than what I currently have saved on my computer. (Admittedly my memory is faulty; I blame too many years of sleep deprivation.) Anyway, I finally found what I was looking for here. So let's look again:

TEKS for Classical Languages: 

(1) The study of world languages is an essential part of education. In the 21st century language classroom, students gain an understanding of two basic aspects of human existence: the nature of communication and the complexity of culture. Students become aware of multiple perspectives and means of expression, which lead to an appreciation of difference and diversity. Further benefits of foreign language study include stronger cognitive development, increased creativity, and divergent thinking. Students who effectively communicate in more than one language, with an appropriate understanding of cultural context, are globally literate and possess the attributes of successful participants in the world community.

(2) The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) identifies three modes of communication: interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational. Interpretative communication is the overarching goal of classical language instruction. Students of classical languages should be provided ample opportunities to interpret culturally appropriate materials in the language of study, supported by opportunities for interpersonal and presentational communication.
(A) In the interpersonal mode of communication, students engage in direct oral or written communication with others such as conversing face to face, participating in digital discussions and messaging, and exchanging personal letters.
(B) In the interpretive mode of communication, students demonstrate understanding of spoken and written communication within appropriate cultural contexts such as comprehension of digital texts as well as print, audio, and audiovisual materials.
(C) In the presentational mode of communication, students present orally or in writing information, concepts, and ideas to an audience of listeners or readers with whom there is no immediate interaction such as presenting to a group; creating and posting digital content; or writing reports, compositions, or articles for a magazine or newspaper.
(3) The use of age-level appropriate and culturally authentic resources is imperative to support the teaching of the essential knowledge and skills for languages other than English. The use of culturally authentic resources in classical language study enables students to make connections with other content areas, to compare the language and culture studied with their own, and to participate in local and global communities.
(4) Students recognize the importance of acquiring accuracy of expression by knowing the components of language, including grammar, syntax, and genre.
(5) At the end of Level I, students of classical languages should reach a Novice High to Intermediate Low proficiency level in reading, a Novice Low to Novice Mid proficiency level in listening, a Novice Low to Novice Mid proficiency level in speaking, and a Novice Mid proficiency level in writing. Proficiency levels are aligned with the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 2012 and the ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners.

AH!  That's more like it. And I believe that #4's "accuracy of expression" wasn't about output so much as understanding how things are properly "expressed" in Latin. That is, this addresses the need for intensive reading (which should be coupled appropriately with extensive reading) in studying Latin--the need not to just get the gist but to understand with greater depth. BUT admittedly, this is not one of the proficiencies, merely part of the description of a Level 1 course. The reading proficiency is at a Novice High to Intermediate Low, and even that, when glancing back at the ACTFL can-dos, seems vague and more appropriate for a description of extensive reading skills.

One of my other issues is that when I consider what Latin 1 means to me, admittedly it is in great measure defined by where I am in the Cambridge Latin Course. This is of course artificial in some ways. People could claim that I am defining Latin 1 by "chapters covered" and that we shouldn't allow a textbook to drive the curriculum. On the other hand, the underlying design of CLC -- when you strip away all the things that have been added over the years to appease academia -- is the running story with repetitions and gradual building of understanding of new constructions. There are certainly nuances to reading Latin that I have learned from CLC that were never explained to me by any teacher or professor that aide in fluent reading. 

When I am asked what my goal is for the year and reply with a stage number, I'm told that's not a goal. That's covering chapters or covering grammar. But in my mind's eye, it's about reading goals - having certain grammatical constructions in one's passive knowledge at least and working towards active knowledge (or building a true mental representation). And I will admit that I don't seem to be able to counter an argument on what my goals are for the year when someone is demanding proficiency markers. But ACTFL's (intermediate low) "I can understand the main idea of short and simple texts when the topic is familiar" is awfully broad, not that ACL's "Learners can understand the main idea of short and simple Latin or Greek texts when the topic is familiar" is much different. Of course, in many ways this could describe anything.  Heck, ACL's novice high has a better description: "Learners can easily understand the main idea of texts related to familiar topics, personal interests, and studies. They can sometimes follow stories and descriptions about events and experiences in various time frames."  And if that's the case, then intermediate low is understood to include various time frames. 

Something else that's not mentioned and something that I started to feel was totally missing when we detoured off CLC earlier this year and taught Brando Brown Canem Vult--sentence length. Fear of a long sentence, especially a long Latin sentence, is something that I try to get students over early on. CLC does a nice job expanding sentence length as it builds upon new grammatical structures. At first, naturally, it's with simple dependent clauses like "quod" or "postquam," then relative clauses, participial phrases, and subjunctive clauses. I expressly teach students how to read in word order, how to metaphrase (search this blog for "metaphrasing" for more on that topic), etc, so that the location of the period is not an issue--that taking the Latin as it unfolds, one phrase at a time, is what truly matters. My problem when trying to teach a more comprehensible input style class is that we were not experiencing enough complex sentences. That could easily be my fault and tied to my low speaking proficiency. Some would say that experiencing complex sentences could wait anyway. But I disagree: I think that even metaphrasing should begin early when the text is too easy to need it because these new mental muscles need to be built up gradually and consistently. It's not about the metaphrasing, but training the brain to accept Latin word order--and in my experience that can make a big difference in the quality of the experience of extensive reading as well as intensive reading. 

So I guess the REAL question I'm back to in all of this thinking out loud is what I need to define for our program as the goal(s) for meeting an intermediate low proficiency for reading for Level 1 Latin. You know what is left out?  TIME.  This is one reason why I think I might want to specify, at least for my own personal purposes, the difference between INTENSIVE reading and EXTENSIVE. It may not be a big deal in Latin 1, but consider this from the Level 4 TEKS: students of classical languages should reach an Advanced Low to Advanced Mid proficiency level in reading.  I guarantee you that's intensive reading not extensive. That's not comfort zone reading. That's not reading done with a timer on. And I'm not advocating that we should necessarily put timers on reading. I was always a slow reader in English even because I liked to "taste the words" as Rex Harrison put it. And while I do have a timer on SSR this year (5 minutes for Latin 1, 7-10 minutes for Latin 3 & 4), I don't tell them what to read. Sometimes they are reading the simplest things I have, sometimes they are looking at Harrius Potter or Ille Hobitus.

But maybe we should do timed readings--how many pages of Latin at a certain level--since we are also incorporating timed writes. It's a thought. I could save the Orberg Lingua Latina's for timed readings and maybe only do timed readings a couple of times a six weeks. Read, write down how much and 1-2 sentence summary of what it was about.  I don't think I'd put a grade on it. I think I'd just let students reflect on it later in the year.

No final answers here, just more to ponder.