Monday, February 6, 2017

Building a Latin 1 Curriculum Part 2: Adapting the Textbook

After about a week of reading the Maximus et Clarissa narrative, I transition my students to my modified textbook readings. These modified readings have been a work in progress for the last two and a half years. I should clarify that the “textbook” readings are not always rooted in Latin for the New Millennium; in some instances I have taken stories written by my colleague at our sister school and modified them for my students. The one common bond shared by both sources is a basis in Greek and Roman mythology or history.
The cultural stories cover material in the first 14 chapters of Latin for the New Millennium Book 1, and are edited not only to shelter vocabulary, but also to include grammatical points at an earlier time than expected. For example, I introduce the Imperfect and Perfect tenses in Chapter 4. Usually these verbs do not appear until Chapters 11 and 16, respectively.

How do I teach the textbook stories?

Teaching vocabulary is one of the more tedious practices we language teachers encounter. Instead of giving students lists to memorize, in the past I often made PowerPoints with the word, a Latin sentence in context, and an image. These sufficed when I taught each chapter’s word list in its entirety. Now I list words on the board, form-specific usually, and “point and pause” while telling a new story (as explained in my previous post). However, once I have established the English meaning a few times, I like to incorporate these vocabulary strategies, which I learned at Biduum Virginianum last year and were developed by John Byron Kuhner, to help make connections to previously learned terms.
To transition to the story, I often begin with a Dictatio exercise. The dictation is meant to enhance understanding of key vocabulary. An example of one I used last year is here. Last year’s Dictationes were a parallel story to teach the vocabulary. Sometimes I make them a simplified version of the upcoming reading. This activity takes a whole period on some occasions. On those days where time remains, I occasionally give a cultural lesson in English to provide a background for students, so that they can apply the context more readily to the Latin reading.
At the start of teaching the cultural story, I use a Wordle to show students what words will appear in the reading. I then ask questions about what they think will happen. Here is one for the Tarquinius story the students learn for Chapter 2. I will then incorporate techniques similar to Story Listening and elements of TPRS, as discussed in my earlier post.
Many of the same activities employed in the Maximus et Clarissa part of the unit make an appearance with these stories. One of my best practices for the textbook-based readings is the Picture Story Retell (Keith Toda describes a different version of it here). Sometimes I put up a series of slides with crudely drawn illustrations referring back to the story (this is an example from the Druids story in Chapter 6 of Latin for the New Millennium). I will show each picture and ask Latin questions to the students to see if they can describe the scene. After a couple days of establishing a Latin context for each image, I then give them a sheet with the pictures and they have to write the sentence that goes with each one. Another example of this strategy is this version of the “Be Like ___” meme for the Chapter 8 Themistocles story. More often, I give the students the opportunity to make the illustrations, as they are more creative artistically and they love hands-on assignments.
Recently my Latin 1 students completed their Chapter 9 Quiz. They were given pictures from the activity described above and had to write in Latin what was going on: Example 1 and Example 2. Notice that the responses are not completely correct in grammar, but one can negotiate meaning from what these students have written. THIS, in the eyes of a teacher who is striving for proficiency, is a sign of true language acquisition. These students are right on target for having had approximately five months of Latin instruction. This is a sure sign of Novice proficiency according to the new ACL Classical Languages Standards. I am a proud teacher.
Generally I focus on reading the language, establishing meaning, and quick grammar lessons when a student has a question. Once or twice a month we have “grammar days.” I do want them to be aware of declensions and conjugations. I have paradigms of nouns and verbs on the classroom walls. However, on these “grammar days” we discuss how the nouns and verbs work mainly within the context of sentences from the current stories. My main instructional goal is giving them comprehensible input through accessible readings.


Although my modified cultural readings are based largely on repetition of vocabulary and target structures, they alone cannot provide enough comprehensible input. This reason is why the Maximus et Clarissa storyline has been essential. When the students begin the Chapter 10 cultural reading soon, from only the textbook-based stories they will have read approximately 1,200 words. Compare this data to the Maximus storyline, which now in ten chapters has 2,101 total words. My Latin 1 students have read more in the target language in five months than some of my former students had read in two years. Shifting from teaching about language to teaching the language is an ongoing process. As the great Bob Patrick wrote, “Latin is not different.” Latin must be taught as a language, not a system or coded English, if we teachers want our students to achieve success.