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June 2017

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I have been thinking a lot about Rusticatio lately. I’m wishing I could be there for one, but also trying to examine in my mind things that were happening and things that we were doing and what I could have done differently to be a better learner.

In all honesty, my mind is pretty scattered these days, skipping from one project to the next, whichever is more convenient for me to work on based on location (home or at my son’s / ex’s house), mood, and energy. I am building my own “can-do” statements that are aligned with ACTFL’s proficiencies and Texas’s TEKS, but also geared toward what I want to do this year in Latin 1. In addition I’m working on a little Latin story, but haven’t gotten very far with it. I’ve written a fair amount, but I’m just exploring my characters. I want to illustrate it myself, because, I dunno, I’m an idiot. I’ve been playing with ibisPaintX, which is fun, but it’s not getting me that much nearer to meeting any of the goals I’ve set for myself. It does make me ask myself what exactly I am after.

So what am I after? My first reaction to that question is not to have a repeat of last year. Yes, there were many things that went well, but I keep coming back to the face of one boy who kept repeating “Latin is so hard!” anytime he was asked to do the simplest thing. He wasn’t a slacker; he just had really low self-esteem. And because we were doing so much orally and (at least I felt that) the grading seemed fuzzy, nothing felt concrete or clear. For some students—the majority of students—what we were doing was clear enough. I was asking questions, prompting repetitions of vocabulary and such, and most students were fine, even if they weren’t the best performers. But I’ve always prided myself on trying to find ways to help students who have special needs of some sort, to buoy them up, to help them find a way to learn too. Last year I bombed at this. That was when I threw on the brakes and finished the last 6 weeks more like how I was accustomed to teaching. I still worked in more oral work than in previous years, but it was not at the forefront. And it may have appeared that I totally ditched it... even though that was not the case.

Which takes me back to Rusticatio, and how I was not the best student there in retrospect, although I was always eager. That is, I unintentionally, inadvertently got in my own way of learning all that I could. I was just trying to comprehend, participate, and do what was expected. It seems silly now to realize I didn’t understand how best to help myself. Then again, I always marvel at the teachers who will mutter things like “students don’t study.” Ok, some students don’t. Others would if they understood what you wanted them to do to study. They think “study” means “memorize” which is why just memorizing an isolated list of vocabulary is rarely enough. When I create materials to help students study and prepare for quizzes and tests, some students admittedly (and unfortunately) are still just memorizing. However, my goal is for students to see vocabulary and grammatical concepts in the context of sentences. I want them reading and rereading the sentences—especially those with the same pattern or construction—until the concept finally solidifies. (Ok, or solidifies enough. Probably more like jello than hard chocolate.)

So here I am now designing kind of an overarching reward system, where students can earn “coins” / “stamps” for a “time-travel passport,” each step of which will help develop proficiency skills needed for a big project during second semester that involves buying and selling merchandise in the forum. What I have in mind for some of the coins/stamps will be some little dialogues which students can record on their own time via Seesaw (app) that will help students get more comfortable with the conversational skills necessary. These can’t just be simple dialogues, but have three things which I think will help build good language learning habits as well as being a step in the right direction for developing a mental representation of the language.

1)     Repeat what a person says to reinforce the answer.
“My name is Spartacus.”
“Your name is Spartacus.”
“Yes, my my name is Spartacus.”

2)    Practice “make me say yes/make me say no” or offering two choices (circling).
“My name is Spartacus.”
“Your name is Sextus?”
“No, my name is Spartacus.”
“Your name is Sextus or Spartacus?”
“Ah, so your name is Spartacus.”

3)    Say the same thing but in as many ways as possible with different vocabulary and perhaps even constructions.
“Leave from this room! Exit the room! Get the heck out! Go and be gone!”

I also look at these three features as ways to fatten up a conversation. There is nothing worse in my mind than feeling like you have absolutely nothing to say and people are expecting you to talk, especially when you are new to a language. “Hi, my name is Joe. What’s your name?” might be all you know. How do you make a lengthy conversation out of that? How do you get the shy students and the low self-esteem students to buy into trying to stay all in Latin during class without risking them totally checking out?  (I am the queen of song-and-dance, of dramatic readings, crazy gestures, etc., but when I was all Latin--even what I considered well-supported/highly comprehensible Latin, there were a few I could just not keep engaged and would thus check out. And if they check out, they get behind.)

Before “mental representation” entered my vocabulary, I always thought of language learning, especially speaking, to be a lot like muscle memory. When I first started to play soccer in my late 20s, I had to concentrate on hitting the ball correctly with the instep of my foot. I was lucky if I made a solid pass to an open person 10 feet away. As I improved, I no longer had to think about how to strike the ball; I could focus on which open person I might want to pass it to up the field while dodging the defender coming at me. Muscle memory allowed me to do that. Muscle memory of a sort allows me to rattle off very familiar phrases without even thinking about those phrases, like replying “dī tē ament” when someone sneezes in class. I now have to think to use English when not in class.

So I want something that can be that beginning stepping stone, which can help begin the process of building that muscle memory.

Here’s an example of the first dialogue I’ve written:

dialogus I.A

1: salvē!

2: salvē! ego sum Lūcia.

1: tū es Livia?

2: minimē! ego nōn sum Livia. ego sum Lūcia.

1: esne Livia an Lūcia?

2: ego sum Lūcia.

1: tū nōn es Livia? tū es Lūcia?

2: ita vērō! ego sum Lūcia. mihi nōmen est Lūcia.

1: optimē! tū es Lūcia. tibi nōmen est Lūcia!

2: quis es tū?

1: quis sum ego?

2: ita vērō! quis es tū?

1: ego sum Quīntus.

2: tū es Quārtus?

1: minimē! ego nōn sum Quārtus. ego sum Quīntus.

2: esne Quārtus an Quīntus?

1: ego sum Quīntus.

2: tū nōn es Quārtus? tū es Quīntus?

1: ita vērō! ego sum Quīntus! mihi nōmen est Quīntus.

2: optimē! tū es Quīntus! tibi nōmen est Quīntus.

1: ita vērō! ego sum Quīntus et tū es Lūcia.

2: ego sum Lūcia et tū es Quīntus. sed quis est Quārtus et quis est Livia?

1: nescio! sed tū nōn es Livia et ego nōn sum Quārtus!

2: valē, Quīnte!

1: valē, Lūcia!


dialogus I.B (Supply your own names.)

1: salvē!

2: salvē! ego sum _______(2).

1: tū es Livia?

2: minimē! ego nōn sum Livia. ego sum _______(2).

1: tū nōn es Livia? tū es _______(2)?

2: ita vērō! ego sum _______(2). mihi nōmen est _______(2).

1: optimē! tū es _______(2). tibi nōmen est _______(2)!

2: quis es tū?

1: quis sum ego?

2: ita vērō! quis es tū?

1: ego sum _______(1).

2: tū es Quārtus?

1: minimē! ego nōn sum Quārtus. ego sum _______(1).

2: tū nōn es Quārtus? tū es _______(1)?

1: ita vērō! ego sum _______(1)! mihi nōmen est _______(1).

2: optimē! tū es _______(1)! tibi nōmen est _______(1).

1: ita vērō! ego sum _______(1) et tū es _______(2).

2: ego sum _______(2) et tū es _______(1). sed quis est Quārtus et quis est Livia?

1: nescio! sed tū nōn es Livia et ego nōn sum Quārtus!

2: valē, _______(1) (in the vocative)!

1: valē, _______(2) (in the vocative)!

Yes, of course, if everything is like this students will soon get bored—unless they see that there’s a point. And that point will be when they have to fill out their Time Travel Passport application with a partner who has to do all the writing. Thus, developing a certain comfort level will make that task go more smoothly.  (The following stage will be a job application in ancient Pompeii, and ultimately having to converse while buying and selling goods in the forum.) Coins/stamps will be earned, which will be part grade and part spending money when we finally have the forum project. Plus I'm thinking each dialogue will be targeting something I will list in the Can-Do statements for Latin 1. There will be no vagueness about the direction we are going and what we are accomplishing and how it fits into the bigger picture. 

Ideally, we will get to a point where the creation of dialogues won’t be necessary. All that will be necessary will be using the three things listed above. (Clearly I need to simplify and name my little list.) Oh, and providing some motivating overarching task (like my forum project).

This is just the beginning of my thoughts on this, thoughts which are rather rambling at present and not well focused. And I know that identifying ways that students can extend a conversation even though they know very little will also increase their writing. I can't help but wonder, though, if I had at all times at Rusticatio, been trying to work these three things--especially in a learning environment where everyone would have understood what I was doing and no one would have minded or thought that I was purposefully being obtuse--that maybe my own conversational skills would be further along today. I'm just hoping that next year that I won't feel like I've let any students fall through the cracks because I didn't understand enough about what I was doing.

On dialog

Date: 2017-06-18 04:54 am (UTC)
livingdeb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] livingdeb
This kind of dialog (in Spanish) was useful to me for that one day, and then I could immediately forget it! My first-semester teacher kept making all our tests and some of our assignments cumulative, and you'd think this would always be happening in language, but it really wasn't.

We also had dialogs we made up ourselves. Sometimes they were pretty specific (you are in an auto repair shop; one person is the car owner and the other is the mechanic) and some were general end-of-semester projects. They always made us memorize them, which I hated, but our first teacher gave us the hint to make sure to go over it at least five times--and that was usually enough. The good part is that, in making up our own dialogs, we could make sure that we were using only works with which we were familiar. But the bad news is that we could be memorizing something wrong. I wished we'd had time to get the dialog approved before memorizing it.

One of our teachers made us memorize both parts and perform the same thing twice. At first I thought this would be redundant and boring, but it actually helped getting two chances to figure out what our classmates were saying, especially since one person was usually way better than the other person. And this helps stop the temptation of giving the worse student very short/few lines.

Re: On dialog

Date: 2017-06-20 01:36 am (UTC)
livingdeb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] livingdeb
Sounds good. I would expect that practice with dialog would help people remember things--it's another way to get things into the brain. But dialog may be almost as scary as speechifying, thus causing some people to shut down. Your strategy of hand-holding, providing a very basic, approachable script, sounds great. I hope it works!

On muscle memory

Date: 2017-06-18 04:57 am (UTC)
livingdeb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] livingdeb
I also like your comparison to muscle memory, which is definitely true for me in ballroom dance. First get your feet to move on the right beat. Then get them to go in the right directions. Then actually lead/follow. Then work on adding styling. Then try leading/backleading to prevent collisions. :-)

I think some of those language programs on tape really help with this. And they do keep going back and making you re-answer the same questions again so you don't forget.