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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.

So I was listening to Tea with BVP, episode 2 I think, and a teacher was saying how she was having great success with a pure Comprehensible Input classroom with students she saw everyday but with the young children she only saw once a week it wasn't working. She felt like she had to do too much reteaching in order to be able to move forward.

Now, I haven't shifted to a Comprehensible Input classroom myself. I am still learning.  I do give a fair number of instructions in Latin, we read aloud a lot in Latin, and other activities.  Admittedly I am still pretty tied to my textbook, the Cambridge Latin Course, but I do try to work in a number of oral/aural activities. One that I like is "musical pairs." You need something students can read in pairs--like a dialogue between two people--and music.  You play the music while students mill about.  When the music stops they have to pair up and read the Latin dialogue. If they get to the end before others do, they start over.  When the music starts again, students stop reading and mill about again.  Repeat a few times.

I have used this with embedded (simplified) readings of dialogues coming up in the day's story to preview it. I make sure the Latin is simple enough with only a couple of glossed words at most. My best students (admittedly, this year's 1st period class) would become quite dramatic at reading these and even my lowest functioning class would get something out of this activity.

Doing these reminded me of a box stuffed in my storage cabinet from when I taught middle school students a decade ago.  The box contains class sets of little mini-dialogues. One was on introducing yourself, another on asking to go to the bathroom, another on answering questions starting with ubi or quis. I was looking at these last week, and thinking that they would be good to use as a mini-warm-up.  And in thinking about this teacher's question on BVP, it might have been a good solution for reviewing from the previous week before jumping into something new.

No question that if you only teach once a week you will HAVE to spiral and review.  And you will have to develop a VARIETY of ways to do this.  I'm not saying I would use these little dialogues for every class.  There would have to be other little things. Or other motivational tasks with a purpose for reviewing something learned for that one day, like "How many people can you introduce yourself to in Latin between now and next week?"  It could be a competition for a prize. Then, the next week, meet students at the door and they cannot enter until going through greetings. In that moment, before even seeing whether students took part in the little competition or not, you will be able to tell how much reviewing you will need to do. But don't make it blatant reviewing.

If numbers are learned, then find things to count. Do surveys the following class of how many people have dogs for pets or cats.  Each time everyone is counting the hands raised (thus reviewing from the previous class lesson on numbers), but maybe you are also adding, "Aemilia canem habet. tu canem habes? ego canem non habeo. ego felem habeo. feli nomen est Julia." That is, you might begin working in 1st, 2nd, 3rd person with a useful verb (without all the grammatical nonsense) plus a direct object/accusative.  Then add to that a little review on "mihi nomen est___" with a bit of a twist by providing the dative for dog or cat. (Remember, shelter vocabulary, not grammar!) Maybe by the 4th week you can tell a story TPRS style. A little one. But maybe a full story will be a few more weeks away.  Are you teaching something that interests the students, keeping it personal? (Yes, their pets, their names, how many.) Maybe it won't be story time until Halloween--and what a treat it could be by that time!

So, I guess what I would have liked to have heard on Tea with BVP would have been something more along the lines of learning how to spiral and how to tie in more closely whatever was learned in the previous lessons. It might seem like you would cover less material over time but in all likelihood it will be of a much better quality and better retained the more you spiral--and most importantly, students will have more joy in the class and stay excited about language learning.

I had a ballroom dance instructor, Richard, who reassured students in the class (all older adults) that we would likely retain only 10% of what he had taught that night over the length of the week, but that it was ok because he would thoroughly review before moving on. Which was true--and he was the best ballroom dance instructor I had. Sadly, he no longer teaches and the other instructors are just not equal to the task at all. The key is that Richard KNEW most people would forget and he taught NOT to the exceptionally talented individuals who would go home and practice but the whole class. He knew the importance of spiraling and building a solid foundation. He believed there was great joy in social dancing (as opposed to ballroom competitions) and that he could teach anyone how to lead and follow and enjoy the music. Other instructors which we have had since have expressed frustration at the amount people would forget... and yet even with their trying to push us farther, they taught us less. (They are not true teachers.)

So I guess the real question is, how realistic are your goals for what you want to accomplish with young children?  We should always be focused on not how much we "cover" but how much they can retain, not to mention how and why they do retain it.

As Latin teachers--or any teacher for that matter--there is this pull between doing the acceptable, traditional thing and doing the right thing. What I mean is that I am keenly aware that I should be quizzing and testing and whatnot at particular intervals; grading particular kinds of student work, etc. My Latin 2 and 3 classes (I no longer teach any 1s--my colleague does) are in their own way traditional. Once the year gets underway I am giving vocab quizzes and stage quizzes not to mention tests at fairly regular intervals. It becomes sadly predictable.  Well, that can be good too.  It helps many students plan their weeks and manage their crowded schedules.

I tossed out the book in Latin 4 this year.  I'm winging it.  I'm taking TIME with whatever we read.  There's no march through Caesar; there's no cramming for quizzes and tests. I have a two-fold general idea of what I am doing: we are exploring limited texts (from the classical period and beyond) in more detail in multiple ways and we have extensive reading in Orberg's Lingua Latina. Oh, and I throw in topical things that I want to cover (and hope that I will make myself continue to use), which I also try to work in to the general running conversations of class.

For instance, we are currently studying a couple of tales from Phaedrus: Lupus et Agnus and Lupus et Gruis.  The Friday before we began, I taught them about telling time in Latin--all in Latin. It wasn't as grand a lesson as I would have liked, but it was ok. The following Monday we did a Musical Pairs reading with this dialogue that I wrote. (If you are unfamiliar with Musical Pairs, it is a great opening activity which I often use with an embedded reading/dialogue in my other classes. The music plays while kids move/dance around. When it stops, they partner up with the nearest person and read the dialogue together. When the music begins they move around; when it stops they continue reading with a new partner.)

1:   salvē, mea amīca (mī amīce)!
2:   salva (salvus) sīs, mea amīca (mī amīce)!
1:   tū dēfessa (dēfessus) vidēris. quā hōrā proximā nocte dormītum iistī?
2:   decimā hōrā cubitum iī, sed duodecimā hōrā cum dodrante dormītum iī.
1:   cūr? studēbāsne litterās? dēmum ūndecimā hōrā cum quadrante studēre coepī.
2:   minimē. octāvā hōrā et sēmīs litterās studēre coepī et decimā hōrā cōnfēceram – tum cubitum iī.
1:   quid erat reī? cūr dormītum nōn iistī?
2:   ego ēsuriēbam et sitiēbam.
1:   quā hōrā cēnāre solēs?
2:   apud familiam meam sextā hōrā cēnā solēmus.
1:   quō modō tandem dormītum īre poterās?
2:   ego, sīcut fūr, in culīnam tacitē prōcessī ut crustula et lactem erriperem.
1:   nunc intellegō!  tū tot crustula cōnsūmistī  et tantum lactem bibistī ut dormītum īre poterās!
2:   minimē. pater meus, sīcut latrō, crustula et lactem erripuistī et iussī mē dormītum īre! pater, cum ēsurit et sitit, mē terret!

These things were glossed:
salva sīs = salvē
videō in the passive = seem
proximā nocte = last night
dormītum īre = to go to sleep (supine with “go” verb)
cubitum īre = to go to bed (supine with “go” verb)
dēmum – not until
quid erat reī – What was the matter? (What was wrong?)
ēsuriō, -īre – to be hungry
sitiō, sitīre – to be thirsty
crustulum – cookie
lac, lactis (m) – milk
latrō, latrōnis – bandit,

So it revieiwed some time terminology combining with a preview of vocab/concepts coming up in the Phaedrus. Here is the Phaedrus we began that day:

Ad rīvum eundem lupus et agnus vēnerant,
sitī compulsī. Superior stābat lupus,
longēque īnferior agnus. Tunc fauce improbā
latrō incitātus iūrgiī causam intulit;
“Cūr” inquit “turbulentam fēcistī mihi
aquam bibentī?” Lāniger contrā timēns
“Quī possum, quaesō, facere quod quereris, lupe?
Ā tē dēcurrit ad meōs haustūs liquor.”
Repulsus ille vēritātis vīribus
“Ante hōs sex mēnsēs male,” ait “dīxistī mihi.”
Respondit agnus “Equidem nātus nōn eram.”
“Pater hercle tuus” ille inquit “male dīxit mihi;”
atque ita correptum lacerat iniūstā nece.
Haec propter illōs scrīpta est hominēs fābula
quī fictīs causīs innocentēs opprimunt.

We discussed most of this IN Latin. I drew pictures on the board. We had discussions in English about the point of the story and the fact that Rome had the wolf as its symbol. On the day Before the second Phaedrus poem, we first explored in a Latin discussion the pictures I found online to go with the poem:

We discussed body parts of both animals (mainly in Latin), and speculated on what could be caught in the wolf's throat.  We went over how to express "headache" and "stomach ache" and such in Latin. Then we read the next Phaedrus passage in Latin:

quī pretium meritī ab improbīs dēsīderat,
bis peccat: prīmum quoniam indignōs adiuvat,
impūne abīre deinde quia iam nōn potest.
os dēvorātum fauce cum haerēret lupī,
magnō dolōre victus coepit singulōs
inlicere pretiō ut illud extraherent malum.
tandem persuāsa est iūreiūrandō gruis,
gulae quae crēdēns collī longitūdinem
periculōsam fēcit medicīnam lupō.
prō quō cum pactum flāgitāret praemium,
“ingrāta es,” inquit “ōre quae nostrō caput
incolume abstuleris et mercēdem postulēs.”

On the next day, I had students write and perform simple dialogues based on one of the two stories. They were amusing; one even involved shadow hand puppets to show the putting of the crane's head into the wolf's mouth. After that, I assigned a more serious little project  of writing at least three haiku about the poems in good Latin. We spend several days editing these together and the typed up haiku plus the original poems are now posted on a wall in my room along with the picture from Unit 4 of CLC that illustrates both stories. Even though these students can read some pretty advanced Latin, because we have done so little composition, writing is seriously scary to them. Having the writing project small like haiku keeps the stress level low. Some were quite good:

parvulō agnō
lupus iam appropinquat:
ōmen pessimum.--
(by TMT)

gruis avāra
accipit quod digna est—
nimis petīvit.
(by ZY)

lupus incēdit;
agnum valdē cupiēns;
fūrtīvē petit.
(by NS)

cūr ego in faucēs?
ubi est mea pecūniam?
cūr ego in faucēs?
(by LAC) (I was amused by the point of view.)

callidus lupus
praemium est prōmissum
simplex agnus
(by MD)

They finished that by this past Wednesday. There were still some vocabulary and grammar I wanted to target, so the next thing we did was a dictation, using people in the classroom. This is the second of these which I have done, and they love it.  And yes, I require macrons. I have emphasized correct pronunciation since day 1 and they have absolutely no problem with this.  They aren't perfect, but they understand why we do it and thus do not complain. (Glaciāta, Rāna, & Octāvia are three girls in the class--all good friends. A very congenial group.)

1.     Glaciāta crūstula optima, quae omnēs amant, semper coquit.
2.     hodiē Glaciāta ad scholam duo crūstula tantum tulit.
3.     Rāna et Octāvia, famī compulsae, idem crūstulum valdē cupīvērunt.
4.     hoc crūstulum erat longē maius quam aliud crūstulum.
5.     Rāna, fauce incitāta, maius crūstulum rapuit.
6.     Octāvia, iniūstō latrōciniō incitāta, causam intulit.
7.     Octāvia, quae Rānam clam ōdit, “hercle!” inquit “tū es maximus porcus!”
8.     quibus verbīs attonita, illa respondit, “sed ego valdē ēsuriō!”
9.     “floccī nōn faciō!” inquit Octāvia. “spērō istud crūstulum in fauce tuā haerēre!”
10.  Octāvia, īrā oppressa, minus crūstulum corripuit et ad Rānam ēmīsit.
11.  Rāna crūstulum laetissima cēpit et clāmāvit, “tibi grātiās agō!”
12.  Glaciāta, ab amīcīs frūstrāta, sēcum susurrāvit, “numquam iterum Octāviae Rānaeque crūstula coquam!”

On Monday and Tuesday of next week we will be reviewing the grammar of both in earnest and they will have a quiz next Weds that is short answer with a tiny essay that is a bit more on the traditional side. I'd like to think it is a bit more like what they could easily meet in a college Latin class.

But Friday (yesterday) we took the day off to read the next chapter aloud in Lingua Latina.  It was Capitulum Quartum, which is mainly dialogue.  We sat in a circle, assigned reading roles, and I just let them have FUN in the language.  Yes, this is VERY VERY easy Latin for them, and part of me feels very guilty for it. BUT they were in Latin the whole time (well, except for one girl that I'm about to have words with!), even when discussing new vocabulary that I knew they didn't know, and they were having a hysterically good time.  With the previous chapter, after the reading was done I had them turning simple direct statements and questions into indirect statements and indirect questions. But yesterday, I admit, after we finished the dialogue, and while I was debating what I wanted to do in the 10 minutes we had left, students started thumbing through the book and laughing at pictures. Therefore I used this as a good time to review large ordinal numbers, which I wrote on the board, and then we would turn to various pages and discuss the pictures in Latin.

Part of what I really like about what we did was that the reading was ALOUD.  There has been a lot floating around online lately on the importance of Sustained Silent Reading in the target language. In fact, I am taking part in a Latin reading challenge to boost the amount of Latin read by teachers OUTSIDE of class.  And, admittedly, I am mainly reading in silence but try to hear it aloud in Latin in my head.  If I were to practice what I preach, I would be reading aloud to my cats.  (They know I'm strange already so what do I care?) But with students, with those who have yet to really have firm left to right reading strategies embedded in their brains--yea verily, to retrain the brain to accept Latin word order--reading aloud is critical. We don't do this enough. (Hmmm... is this because what we are reading doesn't have macrons and therefore we are not sure how to pronounce the words and don't want to do it wrong?  LOL... See my previous post.)

When I said in my title, "Trying to Do the Right Thing," I'm expressing that somewhat torn feeling of knowing what looks and feels like a traditionally correct teaching environment with scheduled quizzes and tests, following the textbook, etc, and doing what feels more like good language learning and language experience. What I'm doing with Latin 4 this year feels so much better than marching through Caesar and Vergil, having no time to stop to discuss, create, experiment, and anything else. And it surely seems to be along the lines of the "right" thing.  But it feels so utterly different that I am constantly questioning what I am doing. But I am betting by the end of the year they will have far more positive things to say about the course to their friends than anyone who took AP Latin with me in the past. And if it means they CONTINUE to study Latin in college, as opposed to just wanting to place out, then I'm guessing I'll have proof that I'm doing the right thing.