Last year upon reflection it seemed as if I had been playing with Comprehensible Input. Well, that's not really a fair assessment. I was really trying and way out of my comfort zone, at least the first semester and even the beginning of the second, prepping madly, making Google Slides for every talking point, scripting things to say and do, etc. But then as I saw holes in student progress (as in, some students were falling through the holes, not things missing in their learning--but a bit of that too), I pulled back. I take the blame; in great measure it was me. Try as I might, I could not converse well for long lengths of time AND maintain good student interaction and control. Too many would tune out, even if I were doing everything in my power to make what I was doing interesting and comprehensible and even compelling (although sometimes things would end up less compelling than I had planned). And as much as is said about the importance of being compelling, it has to be addressed that it is difficult to be compelling if your own conversational ability is stilted. I don't do small talk well. I can't just wing-it on students likes and dislikes, on their hobbies and interests. I can't take the time to look everything up because in that 30 seconds I've lost someone's attention. (In fairness to myself, the A/B students were engaged, did seem to be enjoying it, did seem to be benefiting from what I was doing.)
I've always had really high engagement levels with my students--even students with learning disabilities. I must be the only teacher who used CI who had student engagement drop... drop noticeably. (At least to me--I'm used to 95-100% engaged.)
I really didn't like the assessments. I didn't like the structure or lack of structure. I didn't like the mixed messages from experts in the field in certain areas. And I absolutely HATED the feeling of not advancing. Finally I realized that what I had envisioned and what was happening were two different things, very different things. For all the years I attended Rusticatio, and before that the sessions at conferences presented by Nancy Llewellyn, what I always imagined was a way to use spoken Latin to add to and enhance learning, not take over what I do, expelling or at least demoting the rest. I feel very deeply and passionately about the reading methodologies I've developed over the years and their benefits to students, especially those who continue to take Latin in college. What I've always wanted to incorporate was more conversational Latin in a meaningful, engaging way AND extensive reading opportunities. Block schedule gave me longer class periods to incorporate sustained silent reading (which I really enjoyed being able to do); the changing TEKS and pedagogy the opportunity to break the pace I had been keeping in teaching from CLC. But there's a big difference between modifying the pace and totally going off the tracks and into the wilderness.
I guess when I say it feels like I was playing with Comprehensible Input it is because I was test driving it without the feeling that it was totally tied into my overall internal view of the curriculum. That's about me. So, when things started tanking spring semester for a variety of reasons, I began my usual internal problem solving for preventing the same problems next year. And I had good ideas. I think I had good ideas. I do have good ideas.....
As for all the conversational stuff, and trying to assess students on interpersonal / interpretive / presentational communication skills, I realized that in great measure things fell apart last year because there was no goal, no direction, no buy-in. So I hatched a plan.
The plan is to have students in Latin 1 this year become TIME TRAVELERS. They will have to learn enough conversational Latin to go through a PASSPORT INTERVIEW with partners who fill out the forms after asking the questions. They will have to become a member of Pompeian society--a merchant of some sort in the Roman world--and by early spring participate in a market day, buying and selling (and bargaining for) goods from each other. They will earn "money" to spend via stamps from conversational activities throughout the year. And before the year is out, they will leave Pompeii and travel to Roman Britain... I have it fleshed out with more detail, especially for most of the different projects / performance assessments and needed "can-do's" specific for each. It's not entirely complete, but at least 80%.
The thing is, I don't just want them to learn Latin for Latin's sake. I want them to deeply involve themselves in the Roman world and to understand the culture and way of life. The language and the people are intricately tied together. (Last year it I felt like we totally and utterly lost the connection.) I don't think student centered learning has to mean that everything we do is about their lives. I think the comparisons between the two cultures are important but the class is about the ancient world. And if I can't bring it to them, maybe I can bring them to it.
I've also been trying to write in an over-arching essential theme for Latin 1, which will be about the individual in Pompeian society, the importance of connections and networks, etc., (except that it will sound cooler than that). We will be "walking" in their shoes. There will be more specific themes/questions for each 6 weeks, hopefully proposed in as interesting a way as possible. Mind you, I will mainly be teaching Freshmen, who are often not really ready to think about the bigger picture of where they fit in communities, but maybe this will get them thinking about the importance of their connections and community at the school. Well, it's a thought.
And then I've been trying to align everything to the standards: the general ACTFL standards, the Standards for Classical Learning draft (because the final draft is behind a pay wall), and the new TEKS which go into effect this year. And I've been writing can-do statements that tie it all together specifically. (There are general can-do statements out there.) Some of these I was able to write easily; others have me flustered.
In many ways this has been a big undertaking. But I feel that I'm at a time when I have to justify our curriculum. I have to justify why I still believe in teaching from the Cambridge Latin Course. I have to justify why I still believe that the most important aspect of my teaching is teaching students to read in word order. Not the comprehensible input--although I do definitely believe that CI is important and that I will continue to strive to do more and more Latin in class, incorporating as much CI as I think I can effectively manage. But that's the key: as much as I can EFFECTIVELY manage. I will readily confess that in great measure it may be what I consider my own failings and inabilities with spoken Latin, because without that level of fluency that I lack, I couldn't keep up the engagement with all students. I couldn't compete against the distractors, the rowdy kids, the ones who unless you have them engaged will find something else to do that isn't on task.
So... how come I've found this so stressful and so depressing all summer? So difficult to complete?
I think the simplest answer is because it is still significant change; it is still an unknown.
It used to be that I would spend the summer simply improving material or how I taught specific things. For instance, one summer I decided to pour through CLC to see if I could make a comprehensive list of different types of ablatives, really more because I had noticed that the reason why some ablative absolutes didn't translate naturally as "after X had been done" was because they were really ablative of descriptions with participles. This wasn't about grammar; this was about comprehension and admittedly translation--especially since at that time I was still teaching AP Latin and translation was important. I was searching for patterns, patterns that really gifted people pick up on, but us regular joes need help seeing. I'm good at teaching those sorts of things so that everyone in the room can keep advancing, not just the best and brightest students.
Alternatively in the summer I like creative projects, design projects. Problems that have clear endings. I've made several google slides and a few posters this summer, mainly to combat frustrations over not having all of the answers for this project. And I guess I need to give myself permission to not have all the answers as well as to not worry about all the details. It will work itself out as the year unfolds. I need to remind myself that there's no need to be depressed and stressed, especially when I do have a fair amount to show for the summer.
For instance, I made a Google Slides presentation about Accenting Latin words:
And then I made one on Dividing Latin words:
And I made a few posters from my trip to Italy: House of Fabius Amandus, Via Stabiana, Herculaneum public fountain, and the Lararium from the thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus.
And I set up some magnets upon request at my shop too.
And designed a new O TEMPORA t-shirt, plus one which will be our club shirt.
Yes, I confess I thought I wasn't ready for the summer to end. But I guess what I really need is for the school year to just start and to get on with it. Then, if nothing else, I will be too busy to be stressed and depressed.