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ginlindzey

August 2017

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Apr. 13th, 2017

Image from Herculaneum
I have taken the dive into Comprehensible Input this year, diving off of the textbook into the murky water of the unknown. It's been interesting and fun, but a little rocky at times. Most recently we spent practically two months of our block schedule (ABABC) reading Brando Brown Canem Vult. Let me state here that I like the book, I'm glad our school owns a class set, and I want to keep them for SSR (Sustained Silent Reading), BUT I felt like we were stuck in a ditch spinning our wheels the whole time and I couldn't wait to be done. Not only that, the students couldn't wait to be done.

I have been told that teaching the way I was teaching before (though the person did not fully understand nor appreciate the years of developing the reading approach that I use and the methods I employ) was ineffective and that my problem is that I'm just not willing to do something new, to change, etc. And that if we just did it his way and trusted *his* judgment, that we would see our student retention increase. At the time I admittedly burst out laughing--not to insult him, but that in our case (and because of my style of teaching) retention has never been our problem. (He is our 3rd Latin teacher.) Competition with AP courses is the problem. Scheduling is the problem. There is no fighting to keep a small program from closing here. People who often contact me regarding how I manage to have such a robust program with no JCL ask me what kind of promotional materials I hand out or speeches I give. I don't. I let student success speak for itself; I let students tell each other whether what I do is quality teaching.

Somehow my well-meaning colleague (and he truly is) seems to be blind to the investment of time I've made this year to make CI work in my room, from making numerous Google Slides for the chapters in Brando Brown Canem Vult to provide us with talking points, to using WAYK signs, movie talks, and many other materials designed to help us succeed, designed to support conversation and personal input. It may not have been perfect (most probably far from it!), but I have worked hard to help myself succeed in conversational aspects as well as my students. *I have been out of my comfort zone ALL YEAR.* And while many of these things were engaging, what I was seeing from my average students and my SPED (special ed) students was confusion more than anything else. These are the kids I have EXCELLED with in the past. These are the kids I WANT in my room. But at the moment, they are becoming the seriously disruptive students because they are feeling lost. Too many different endings have been flying; too little has been consolidated; everything is too confusing. And returning to take a quick dip back into Stage 6 (gawd, only stage 6!) after 2 months has made a few of them balk. And I knew it would. And I'm ok with that. They will come around as I help them to consolidate so much of what we have seen and heard.

Let me state that I *do* understand that in using a CI approach that it does take TIME for students to begin to develop a MENTAL REPRESENTATION which will then shape more productively their output. I get that, I do. I've attended 4-5 Rusticationes (Latin Camp), been a supporter of SALVI for ages before that, follow folks doing total CI, etc etc. I do get it. But I also take into consideration several other things. First and foremost, we don't have that kind of time. There is no middle school program in our district even though I have fought for it for years. (I miss teaching middle school.) There's no hope of getting anything at the elementaries. The students don't have that kind of time to work on Latin skills outside of class--most are carrying crazy full loads of PreAP and AP coursework. Their desire to take Latin is often based on purely academic reasons. For most, they want and need language credits ticked off their list. That I can get a significant number to continue for 3 years (and a few into Latin 4) WITHOUT using promotional gimmicks is a testament to the confidence they feel in my ability to teach them and help them to progress noticeably in their own eyes. This is not fluff. And my Latin 4s are NOT always my top students, but they want to continue learning and reading Latin.

I do not teach grammar in isolation. I do teach it in context, though not as formally as some teachers. I teach students how to see the endings and the tense indicators, how to read in word order, how to develop a Latin BRAIN, as a colleague at Randolph College once said. If what I teach are reading coping mechanisms and not true language acquisition skills, I'm fine with that. I'm fine with that because I have 11 years teaching at the high school level of developing READERS of Latin who go on to become highly successful in college Latin courses, most of which are dry read & translate sort of courses. I don't want students of mine who have had three years of Latin with me to end up having to take a beginning level Wheelocks Latin course when they go to college. And I don't want them memorizing translations of passages of Vergil or Caesar for tests and then not to be able to read more at college and demonstrate an understanding of the structure and syntax. Real reading.

And while I'm thinking about it, I'd like to talk about embedded readings. I've been playing with embedded readings with the Latin 4s for the last 6 weeks. I have nothing against embedded readings. They are useful and my students like them. I like them. I liked making them; it's an interesting process. We've been reading the new CLC 5th ed. Stage 46 Pliny selections (as well as the original Pliny, since this selection is slightly modified in places). But because we were using embedded readings, we were not working our reading skills in the same way (via Dexter Hoyos's rules for reading, etc). It was a bigger coping mechanism, a bigger crutch than anything I do. And it is doubtful that professors will be creating such things for students. How does that help prepare them for college Latin or reading real Latin on their own?

Last summer when I was binge-listening to Tea with BVP, I was pleased to hear an episode that talked about focusing on form. One of the many examples he gave was having a particular grammatical structure highlighted throughout a passage to help students focus on that new structure. I smiled and thought that many of the activities I used to do in my warm-ups helped students to focus on form, e.g., when we would have metaphrasing practice contrasting nominatives and accusatives. As students progress in Latin (in previous years I've taught Latin 2, 3, 4; this year it's 1, 3, 4), feedback has always been positive on its helpfulness once students got used to it and understood what I was asking for and why. (The full appreciation usually developed in Latin 2 when metaphrasing full participial phrases and learning to see Latin in chunks and not word for word.) While I might work with words in isolation in the warm-ups, they are almost always coming from the CLC story to be read that day, and thus heighten awareness of those forms when they appear in the context of the story. (And, I might add, that almost all of my quia material is designed to work forms in context--which students greatly appreciate.)

Today I wanted to begin to consolidate what we had seen of the imperfect and perfect tenses. Brando Brown Canem Vult was mainly present tense with some perfect tenses and a smattering of imperfect (I think) and futures. I had all this time (the last two months) avoided teaching mnemonic devices regarding the tenses (the imperfect sheep with three legs going ba ba ba and XLSUV "extra long [vowel] SUV" with a picture of a stretch SUV limo), trying to work the tenses with different tasks or activities. However, today I started the warm-up with images of the two mnemonic devices, discussing them, and then had students circling tense indicators and endings and translating a select group of verbs. This would have been a no brainer in previous years, but there were complaints all around--especially from today's class that has so many low performing, needy students. They will come around; they will realize how much they know once they start to consolidate.

So where does all of this leave me?

I am glad I had this experience though feel badly for the Latin 1 students because there are so many reading skills they lack, not to mention so many great stories set in Pompeii which we haven't read. However, not for the first time have I begun to wonder at some friends who have been practicing CI successfully for a few years now (and more power to them) whether their problem with CLC was more not knowing how to really teach a reading based approach--how to teach your average student (not the 4%ers) how to read Latin in word order, how to help your brain to slow down, to taste the words, to see the endings, to register the phrasing, the structures, the shape of it all. How to retrain the brain to accept Latin. I never had to scaffold or embed a CLC story before with my students. And I have had students move from other schools into my Latin 3 classes and exclaim with delight that they understand so much more now, and can read more, and feel far more confident than they ever did with their previous teacher.

With all of that said, I have been trying to figure out for years how to work in more oral/aural work because I had in my mind's eye the time scale/pacing we needed to keep. I never had the guts to just say to myself that it would be ok to slow it down. I've always been too conscientious about where surrounding schools are in the curriculum in case one of my students changes schools. But now...

Now I see possibilities of enhancing what I've been doing with more oral/aural activities. I can see providing the framework as I have done before with reading in context & activities to help students see and focus on forms. Then, much like I feel so many of the activities at Rusticatio did for me, build upon and broaden and develop more fully that mental representation with a variety of meaningful tasks both small and large. Having class sets of the new novellas makes for great SSR material to help build that mental representation. Studies show that the most critical thing for language learning is indeed READING. True reading for understanding and not just the gist of a storyline. (See http://indwellinglanguage.com/the-inescapable-case-for-extensive-reading/ for a great video/article on the topic.)

While I can understand the reasoning for a full CI approach and not consolidating until 3 or 4 years later, that is not right for my program nor for my personal goals. I do intend to develop proficiency goals based on the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) for Latin, at the core will be reading proficiency. Will I continue to try to teach more in the target language? Absolutely. I force myself to use more every year. We learn by doing. Will I be having my students write in Latin? Yes, I definitely plan to. Will we have any PBLs? I've been working on plans for a couple for next year, and how to supplement and prepare for them from early on in the year.

I can't give you the answer for what is right for you. I can say that I've been at this for a decent number of years, have never struggled with program numbers, and have anecdotal evidence to support what I do. No posts implying that I'm teaching grammar explicitly in isolation will change my knowing and seeing and experiencing what works in my classroom to teach students to read Latin, in word order, with attention to detail, with absolutely no need to consult Google Translate. Students like *understanding* structure. No posts implying I don't understand about form and function will change what I do with metaphrasing, Rassias transformation/substitution drills, etc. I'm not a frightened person, set in my ways. I am always willing to put myself out there and try. But I am a serious student of Latin, of teaching Latin, and of students. For me, my refrigerator covered with notes and letters from grateful students for filling their heads with Latin and their hearts with love will stand as evidence that what I am doing is working.