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August 2017

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If you are going to a SALVI event / Rusticatio this summer or perhaps something with Paideia, I would like to offer some advice from a game teacher but mediocre speaker of Latin.

That is, my true conversational skills have a long ways to go (though my pronunciation is solid).

I have attended, I dunno, 4 or 5 Rusticationes and a couple of Bidua. While I am a bright person, even a creative person, I am not a natural when it comes to languages. Whatever instincts others have to make picking up languages a natural act, I seem to lack.

In fairness, my first several Rusticationes were--to me--a vacation with my intellectual family and away from the emotional turmoil that was my home life. These people *got* me--my obsession with Latin and all that comes with it. While in the sessions, I was totally focused. However, out of the sessions I could and would be alone with my thoughts--my English thoughts. Thus I might well have been in a 24/7 spoken Latin environment, but my brain was not tuned into Latin 24/7. I was cheating and for the first several years I didn't even realize it. And just like when our students cheat, it was impeding my true progress.

I was busy trying to learn techniques and things I could gradually add to my classes which focused on ways to work with literature in the target language. I felt I was making great progress with teaching my students how to truly read Latin in ways that I had never learned. Now I wanted to enhance that with spoken language because I did and do understand that it helps to build that mental representation. However, I didn't really work on small talk. That is, I could manage to say what I needed to say with some thought, but I didn't practice it. I'm not the type to stay up late drinking and chit-chatting, so there were things I also missed out on. I didn't think they were important at the time, but now I see that they were.

This year I made a big push to incorporate significantly more comprehensible input in my classes. Ok, admittedly, the year didn't quite end that way, but I mentally have been building a list of all the things I would do differently with the students, much of which stems from having a clear understanding now of how I inadvertently undermined my precious, limited time at Rusticatio. So here are five specific suggestions that I suggest you take to heart. I am betting your progress will be significantly more substantial than mine if you do.

1) Try never to go off on a walk, etc, alone. If you do, talk to yourself out loud, describing everything around you. Try to incorporate anything that was presented in a session.

I tried doing this at my last Rusticatio and it did prevent me from taking vacation time in my head in English. I enjoy nature watching, and would compose Latin haiku in my head during my walks or make observations aloud and then transform that observation into an indirect statement or indirect question. Sometimes I would then turn it into a conditional clause.

2) Work your small talk. Can you, with the ease of habit, say where you are from, where you live now, where you went to school, how old you are, how many levels of Latin you teach, etc etc? Can you ask those kinds of questions with the same ease?

My problem in great measure is that small talk bores me. I'd rather get into a meaty conversation on an interesting topic or try to tell some really funny story. But the basics are important if you really want to develop that mental representation of the language. There are phrases that I have internalized in Latin that I say with an automatic response--like when someone sneezes--so automatic that I have to think to say such things in English now. But when you ask me where I'm from, I spend too much time thinking through exactly what I want to say. What's important here is not necessarily that you can talk the small talk but that you are developing that mental representation, that automatic response. Plus these can be the building blocks for "same conversation" (see below).

3) Learn how to "hunt" language, and "hunt" every moment you can.

This is a WAYK (Where Are Your Keys) technique, and somehow the first couple of years that the wonderful and marvelous Evan Gardner was at Rusticatio, I missed the session on the full explanation of WAYK, let alone understanding how to "hunt" language. In fact, it wasn't until the Rusticatio Pedagogy camp that I really learned how to hunt, and not until the last day. I remember having the absolute best and most enjoyable and educational lunchtime discussion on lids on drinking cups/bottles. (Did the lid screw on? Just push down? How does it compare to a salt shaker lid? The lid on the coffee thermos?) There's an art to it; part of it involves understanding how "circling" works. And it sure beat a table full of tirones trying to figure out some small talk.

For more on WAYK language hunting, go here: WAYK Language Hunting

4) Practice "same conversation." This is when you take something that you would say every day, for instance, starting with the smallest version possible, and add to it a little bit at a time.

The example I was given was about morning coffee. The conversation started something like this: "Is the coffee ready?" to which each day a little more was added: "Is the coffee ready? Did you prepare it?" "Is the coffee ready? Did you prepare it? Is it French roast?" etc. I'm sure I'm not remembering this quite correctly, but you get the picture.

I learned about the value of this on one of the last days I was at my last Rusticatio. It had never occurred to me before to build upon a conversation in such a way, even though this sounds completely obvious. And in thinking about this now, I realize in my own teaching this year one of the things I missed out on were opportunities to incorporate and build upon "same conversation"--but I intend to target this next year.

For more on WAYK "same conversation," go here: WAYK Same Conversation

5) When you read Latin, read it aloud (or aloud in your head). Don't let your English translator kick in. Shut it down by reading aloud.

If you are a natural language learner, if you already have other spoken languages under your belt, you probably don't need these hints. You probably naturally intuit how to go about activating your Latin. I myself clearly am not a natural linguist, but a good student. And admittedly sometimes I need things spelled out to me, which is ok. It's ok because it helps me to understand and deeply empathize with what so many of my students go through with language learning.

If you are just nervous about all the vocabulary you don't know, there are materials I made for Rusticatio that I believe are still in use which you can find on my website.

I'm not going to an immersion workshop this summer, sadly, but I am thinking of all of these things as I prepare for incorporating more spoken Latin into my classes last year. I hope you find these hints helpful. Please feel free to share with any tiro at a speaking event this summer!

comfort zones

Apr. 16th, 2017 05:19 pm
ginlindzey: At ACL (Default)
Fresco of a Theater Mask of a Woman from Pompeii

I have been thinking a lot about comfort zones of late.

The first teacher I had that paid any attention to comfort zones was Nancy Llewellyn at Rusticatio At my first Rusticatio it was nothing more than a mid week conversation in English to find out how I was doing. Over the next 4-5 years that I attended Rusticatio, she continued to focus ways to refine monitoring of comfort zones for participants, including the "full check" from Where Are Your Keys She spoke about participants who went home early because of the stress of being in the target language 24/7. Nancy was ever mindful of the teacher or student who has done nothing but read Latin and identify grammar and maybe structured composition. The stress comes from being used to being the smartest person in the room to nearly completely tongue-tied for lack of vocabulary for everyday conversation and thus feeling like the stupidest person in the room.

When Nancy checked on me during my first Rusticatio, I was ok. Yes of course I was having all of the tongue-tied issues of your average tiro, but I was surviving. In retrospect one of the reasons why I wasn't as stressed as I could have been was because I would take nature walks on the property and think. Of course the thinking was in English. In WAYK terms I was putting myself "In the Meadow" to lower my fullness level, but I was doing myself a serious disservice by not constantly forcing myself to engage in the language. In retrospect, it was less to do with the stress of being in the language 24/7 but more to do with complications in my home life between my special needs son and a rebelious teenager (both thankfully into their 20s now). The last year I attended Rusticatio, I made myself talk to myself out loud in Latin when I went on walks through the woods, sometimes practicing drills we had done in one of the sessions--like changing direct statements to indirect statements or questions. It's work to be in the target language 24/7 and it can be rewarding. And while it may come naturally to some, for others of us it is work, and work stretches our comfort zones.

Anyway, I am mindful of comfort zones of my students, though admittedly for the students who aren't engaged it's less about comfort zones and more about a willingness to engage. For instance, there were certain aspects to doing Discipulus Illustris activities earlier in the year that really made some student's eyes glaze over. I do intend to work in some Discipulus Illustris activities next year, but I have to figure out a better angle that keeps the interest and engagement higher, especially when it is NOT that particular student's turn.

But really what I wanted to talk about here was comfort zones of TEACHERS. Several colleagues knew I was pushing off into trying Comprehensible Input this year, and were very interested in my experience (hence my previous post). As I have said before, but perhaps not too clearly, is that my experiences from teaching in previous years as well as this year are MINE, and may not be like yours or anyone else's. I can't give you the answer for what is right for YOU, whoever you are. (And I think saying that doing JCL or Comprehensible Input or whatever will increase your enrollment is also kinda specious; good teaching in whatever form that takes--whatever works for YOU and your students--is probably the only thing that truly makes a program strong.)

One very wise practitioner of Comprehensible Input has said that one shouldn't try to make the shift to CI all in one year--not to overdo it. But perhaps you need a year of many things not going well (in one's own mind) in order to see how to make certain things work better the next time around. I was out of my comfort zone a lot this year--doing things I had never done before, trying to maintain conversations with students when I didn't have the vocabulary for it (especially with some of the Discipulus Illustris and other things I was trying earlier in the year). I gave up early in the year on timing how long we stayed in Latin (especially in one of my classes where there were just too many freshman boys totally not interested and refusing to try). Perhaps if I had given a doughnut party reward or something to motivate them. But in all honesty, it was also really draining on me. That's not to say that I won't keep trying to up my in-class Latin but being "on" all the time when you are not used to it is difficult. And admittedly always in the back of my mind on days where things were particularly unsuccessful or off-task was the thought of different reading-based activities that I knew would engage more students but were not CI related.

There are things which help, which many people who promote CI will talk about. First and foremost is scripting in advance of class. One teacher even talked about how during his first year of employing CI he had little scripts taped up all around the room where he knew he'd be standing. For me, it was scripting out little dialogues to work certain vocabulary that I had in Google Slides. It helped me to get used to having the little mini-conversations to work vocab and forms as well as helping students to understand what I was asking them to do. It made it easier to redirect off-task students as well as keeping myself from misspeaking as much. I don't mind making mistakes in front of students. We just all say "mirabile!" (Another WAYK thing) and keep going.

For Texans (and I'm sure many others out there) new standards will be in place in 2017. There will be speaking proficiencies as well as writing proficiencies, not to mention of course reading proficiencies. You do not need to go whole hog Comprehensible Input to address these things. You may want to, and it may be what's right for you, or it may be the absolute wrong thing for you. I have seen the stress of just considering a CI approach make people think about quitting teaching altogether. And it goes back to comfort zones. For me, it's significantly less about comfort zones and more about students lacking the reading skills I want them to have by this time of year. (Some have interpreted this more about my wanting to cover chapters and not develop proficiencies, but it really isn't.)

For some people, their Latin education never once involved doing much in the way of speaking Latin let alone even reading it aloud. (Professors, what the hell? Not even reading aloud?! I'm just saying....) For these teachers not only is conversational Latin out of their comfort zone, it's not even in their interest zone. And the prospect of teaching effectively without trying to be conversational versus the fear of continual stress and possible failure coupled with ineffective teaching makes it a non-starter for a conversation. And not everyone who teaches Latin effectively has Latin as their 24/7 passion. (Some of us are freaks, and we know it.) Some people have a broad range of interests not remotely tied to Latin. To force a teacher who falls into this category suddenly to do CI is wrong.

As teachers we should always be striving to help each other improve. Part of that is understanding the comfort zones of all those around us, including other teachers and not just our students. We need to understand that what might be easy for us might be very difficult for another for a variety of reasons. Some of us don't mind being pushed a good distance out of our comfort zones; others need to take things more slowly. And while I have believed since my high school days that Latin is meant to be read aloud and heard, conversational Latin still never came easily to me at Rusticatio. Sure, I could participate well in the sessions, but I just never got into the chitchat on the back porch. (Part of being an extroverted introvert, I suppose. If I ever get back to Rusticatio, I will force myself to stay out there and participate!)

My Latin 1s recently did presentations in Latin. They were simple in many respects and I wasn't really sure what would happen. The projects were on Brando Brown Canem Vult, and they were to make a promotional product or educational materials and then present it to the class. (I should really be home grading those right now, but such is life.) I knew this would put some people really out of their comfort zones, but most did fine. A few kids didn't follow instructions or take advice and resorted to Google translate (ugh--who could understand that?), but most were ok, more or less. Here's what I learned: they all started off fine totally in their comfort zone. Why? They began with "Same Conversation" (another WAYK term; see link above). They started with something we did every day and they knew really well. With greetings and introductions. Now, we didn't exactly do greetings and introductions each day BUT it was part of one of the rotating "jobs" at the beginning of class that I have in my room. Everyone was so used to that "same conversation" that it was well within their comfort zone. (More about jobs in a later post because thinking about this has made me revise and improve these jobs.) The most impressive presentations successfully mined every conversational script I built into the Google Slides I used with each chapter of Brando Brown Canem Vult. The students that choked the hardest were also the ones that I was least able to engage. I will need to find a way to address that next year.

Anyway, next year's presentations will be totally backward designed so that whatever phrasing might be needed to present will be prebuilt into activities or tasks that occur earlier in the year. I'm kind of excited at the thought.

So yes, while my last post was all about my "return to reading" which really meant my return to putting my focus back onto developing reading skills and keeping CLC as my leading tool, it's not that I'm dumping everything I've learned this year. There are some great folks leading the way with CI, and as I have said before, my hat's off to them. Just as there are all sorts of ways to be a good parent, I believe that there all sorts of ways to be a good teacher. It is up to you to determine what truly works for you, your students, and your program.
It has been way too long since I posted something here. I suppose I was feeling like I had no more original thoughts to share.

Lately I've been playing with materials I'm developing in part for Rusticatio and in part for myself and my students. First, for those that don't know, Rusticatio is a week long workshop/retreat where we ONLY speak in Latin. Go here for more information.

I purchased a set of books (PDF files, really) from Stephen Berard (SBerard at wvc dot edu) called _Vita Nostra_. OMIGOSH, I'm in hog heaven. Virtually EVERY word I want/need in Latin can be found in these handy little volumes, vocabulary that will help me to have a more productive time at Rusticatio.

So, besides pouring over these incredible little books, I've been brainstorming on productive ways to use them. So it occurred to me that I have a small stand-up trifold display thingy that I made to pack flat and fit in my suitcase. (I made if from a box--unfolding it and cutting off the 4th side and covering it with marble-looking shelf paper & edging it with electrical tape. Looks slick.) Anyway, I thought what if I make sets of things that I could display on this little trifold, attached by velcro (thus easy to switch out).

I decided Sunday newspaper advertisements and catalogs and such were great for cutting up. I cut out enough pictures to make a manilla folder of pictures for women's clothing, one for men's clothing (incomplete at present), colors (catalogs are great for a variety of colors for t-shirts and such); I'm working on kitchen stuff, and other topics.

The thing is, not only can I have these out on my trifold (changing to whichever ones are needed) at Rusticatio, this is the type of project that students could do over the weekend. Assign a list of topical vocabulary (not stuff in the textbook) and have students make these picture guides. (Sigh...but we'd have to make an effort to USE the information...have to figure out WHEN we'd have time for that, esp since I never feel there is enough time to do what I NEED to do...)

So, that's what I'm doing this summer.

Time for more brainstorming.