Tuesday, January 29, 2019

"Fabula Dioclis et Florae:" A Roman Mystery in the Making with Latin II

            In the summer of 98 AD, a teenage Greek boy named Diocles travels to Rome. He fled from Greece because someone named Leo blamed him for starting a fire in the woods. Diocles says that he gets himself into trouble often, but Leo is even more of an instigator. In Rome Diocles found a home in the inn of Alexander, a fellow Greek who calls him “his other son,” and he works there, transporting many supplies to the inn from the forum. But one day Diocles decides to steal gems from a store, and his whole life changes.
            After he commits the crime, in the forum he sees a beautiful girl, Flora. He wants to give her the stolen jewelry. Flora senses something isn't right and Diocles tells her the truth: he was stealing the gems and fleeing from the scene of the crime. But Flora isn’t scared; she offers to pay for the jewelry. Soon Diocles goes back to the store with Flora and pays the shopkeeper.
            You see, Flora’s family situation is complicated. Her father, Florus, was an ambassador in Greece. He had to leave Rome because evil men were looking for him. They have tried to attack him while in Greece, but Florus kept them away. Flora's mother, fearing for her safety, mysteriously disappeared to her brother’s home, also in Greece. Flora’s lived alone for a couple years now; she’s tough, brave, fiercely independent, and intelligent. She does have a dog named Hercules who protects her. She’s also very caring: Flora understands that Diocles, like her, is all alone and troubled. She has many friends whom she often helps, and seeing that Diocles is new to the city, Flora offers to take him on a tour of Rome. She befriends him and shows him various locations around the city: the Capitoline temples, gladiator fights at the Flavian Amphitheater, and visiting the tombs at the edge of town. They even celebrate Roman cultural festivals together.
            Early on in the story Flora, visiting Diocles at the inn, automatically notices something odd. Alexander the innkeeper questions her about her family and is easily frightened by her dog. He acts very strangely, seems angry, and can be seen performing suspicious deeds around the inn. Flora can’t quite figure out why Alexander is behaving in this manner, and neither can Diocles. Diocles finally realizes the possible dangers of staying in the inn and Flora gives him a home. Hercules the dog seems to know what’s up, but can’t articulate it to the humans. Both Diocles and Flora have visions of their families through dreams and apparitions, who attempt to guide them on their journey.
            This is all I’ll give away of the plot. However I will discuss that these are some of the cultural topics the story has addressed either directly in the Latin text or through class conversations:
  • guest/host relationship
  • the legal status of women in ancient Rome
  • the political climate of the late 1st century AD (from Domitian to Trajan)
  • the four Augustan/Roman virtues (clementia, iūstitia, virtūs, pietas)
  • Roman and Greek views on death
  • gladiators
  • Saturnalia
  • Some mythology and religious themes
  • travel in the ancient world (forthcoming chapters)
There are even more cultural connections to be made as we continue: eleven chapters have been written and several more will be added throughout the second half of the school year. The Latin II students have contributed to the greater storyline primarily through surveys, discussions, and other means. I have filled in their plot with cultural tidbits to embed the story deeply in a Roman historical context. The result is some of the finest student-influenced Latin text I have seen. As this is my third year utilizing my story creation method, I constantly make changes that I feel will be beneficial and useful to students. Although the main ways of gathering the data have remained similar, there is now a greater corpus of related activities to read the text as Latin, not merely translated English, although establishing meaning is a priority in the beginning. Once students are familiar with the text, strengthening that knowledge with activities in Latin makes the input even comprehensible. The compelling adventure continues, told from shifting perspectives and offering several points of view. The characters' personalities are continually evolving. I am proud of what we have accomplished thus far.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Journal Entries and the "Quis Scripsit?" Game

      In a recent meeting of Justin Schwamm's virtual Personal Learning Communities, Emily Lewis, who teaches in Virginia, had mentioned that her students keep daily Latin journals. She elaborated on some of the topics: family, favorite things, etc. At the same time I was looking for a way to incorporate more presentational writing into my first and second-year classes. This seemed like the perfect idea to not only get my students writing more in Latin, but also as a way to personalize their education more.
      In late March I started the daily journal entries. For the first week the topics included the following: their families, favorite and least favorite school subjects and foods, places they'd like to visit, and what they want to do on the weekend. Each prompt starts with the general question(s) in English: e.g. "Who's in your family? In what type of house do you live? Do you have pets?" I encourage the students to write at least three sentences for each day's prompt. Under the topic I then provide several Latin sentence starters. For the particular one above, I used "____ habeo" (I have ___) and "In ____ habito" (I live in ____). Then I list several Latin words with meanings, since they are not familiar with all the vocabulary. I also tell the students to write other things not on the prompt that pertain to the topic, if they already know how to say it. I do allow them to ask me for words not on the slide that would apply to their answer.
      These journal entries are now the first activity of each class in Latin I and II. The notebooks are placed on their desks prior to the beginning of class, and generally the students have been very receptive of the idea. Recent topics have included favorite places in Erie, summarizing recent stories we've read, describing more qualities about themselves and their families, and types of weather. However, the other day, I created a wonderful activity that I would like to share with you all that takes these entries to another level.
      By now the students have been writing these entries for about four weeks, and we have amassed several pages of student-composed, personalized Latin. I came up with a simple game to review some of their responses and at the same time see how well they knew each other. The idea literally came to me Thursday night and I put it together in my free periods Friday morning. Here's what I did:
      I took random responses from each student's journal according to the class, and typed them out with a key for myself so I knew whose entry it was. Then I placed those statements on a PowerPoint without the names of the students as the main instructional tool of the lesson. I explained the rules to the students as such: "we're going to play a game in which everyone is involved. I will put up a statement from your journals and you have to tell me 'Quis scripsit?' (Who wrote it?) All of you will be represented." Although it took quite a few minutes to prepare the slides, the actual playing of the game was incredibly quick and easy to describe and implement. The activity, with 21 students in each class, took the majority of the period after the usual routines.
      When I put the slides up, I read the response and occasionally had to establish English meaning, and then asked "Quis scripsit?" I tried to keep myself in Latin as much as possible when answering students. It also allowed for multiple repetitions not only of the same sentence but similar types of sentences, so the meaning became clearer as we progressed without having to resort to English. I envision this activity as a way of doing PQA (Personalized Questions and Answers) in a more organic manner.
      Students in Latin I especially enjoyed trying to guess whose sentence was whose, and as a result they asked me at the end of class, "Can we play this again next week?" Most likely we will do so.

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.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Building a Latin 1 Curriculum

One of my driving reasons to begin writing this blog is to share with the greater world language teaching community how I am renovating my Latin 1 curriculum. Basically, it is a mix of CI/TPRS methods and high-frequency vocabulary from Latin for the New Millennium, the 51 Most Important Latin Verbs, and other sources. However, the main inspiration is this concept: a large part of the plot comes from the minds of my students. I will give a quick explanation of my modus operandi here.

How have I structured this experiment?
I began the year with a modified version of Keith Toda's Week 1 Lesson Plan and added into it ideas I gathered from Justin Slocum Bailey's Express Fluency training in Vermont last summer. Using basic words like vult, habet, est, and it, I created the first chapter with these types of details: wanting an animal, not having one, going to a place, etc. The students gave me the answers through Personalized Questions and Answers (PQA) and we created the first layer of the narrative.
Then I started using the basic vocabulary from Latin for the New Millennium along with other words I thought they should know, and did some basic TPRS storyasking to get more details about the characters. I pick about 10-11 words per chapter from the book vocabulary to use in questioning and surveys to obtain these story ideas. In the second chapter of the story, the kids gave me this basic info about the characters: Maximus is the son of a sailor and Clarissa is a farmer's daughter. Maximus is a pirate but he loves Clarissa, so he goes to the land. Clarissa takes care of chickens for a living, and at the end of the chapter Maximus becomes a Latin teacher to the chickens.
In the next section we introduced another character; one of my students volunteered his nickname to be used, because he wanted a part in the story. His alter ego became the antagonist who tries to steal the chickens in various ways. The main idea of the story so far involves these three people and their adventures. The plot is becoming crazier as it unfolds.
How do I inquire so many details in a fairly large class? I give students questionnaires in English before a new chapter. Having a written component to the process not only allows me to manage the students’ actions, but also gives me some quality control in responses. Sometimes I ask them how they think the story should go while we are reading the current chapter, as a way to provide feedback. Consistency is key in creating the narrative. In the surveys I target either specific vocabulary words or constructions that I want to include. Sometimes I just ask for quirky details to keep the plot twists coming. We are currently up to Chapter 9 and I anticipate about 15 chapters of the saga before the end of the year.

So how do I actually teach these stories?
Story listening has been a topic of discussion among language teachers recently. Here’s my take on this idea. I write the new, unfamiliar words on the whiteboard, with English to establish meaning and color code them (usually Latin words in black, English words in red). While telling the story I will point to words; this is common practice in TPRS, known as “point and pause.” Although I tried techniques like circling early in the year to check for comprehension, students easily could figure out the patterns and it did not prove to be an effective means of questioning. Sometimes I use PowerPoints with a few sentences at a time, a picture or two, and words on the bottom of each slide that are unfamiliar. At the end of a class when I tell the story, I play a game where students throw a small football or basketball to each other and have to tell me one detail, Latin or English, they remember from the story. The catch is they can’t use the same detail more than once or they lose their turn.
After I initially tell the story, I give the students a copy of the story and a reading guide (the template for which is based on one used by Rachel Ash and Miriam Patrick of Pomegranate Beginnings). The reading guide consists of a space to write new words learned, often a small “Read and Draw” section to illustrate scenes, and comprehension questions written in both Latin and English.
Other activities I use regularly for studying the story are Find the Sentence, Quis Diceret (Keith Toda mentions it here), and Bob Patrick’s Draw 1-2-3. Anything that makes them look at the Latin text and find clues or phrases is helpful; the drawing exercises are a great visual interpretation.

The students REALLY enjoy the storyline and love to see their ideas being used. I still read adapted versions of the textbook stories with the class after the new installments of Maximus et Clarissa, and their understanding of those readings is greater because they’ve been exposed to important terms.
If CI is about building compelling material and having them read extensively at their own level, the story at the present time has about 1600 words so far. Add in the text of the cultural stories and they've read almost 2500 words of fairly comprehensible Latin in the first semester.

I'm still learning the art of sheltering vocabulary. Although there are 68 words that have a relatively high frequency in the narrative, there are also 57 words that have only been used once. I have done a word analysis and the most common words in the text align with important vocabulary, but lowering the “icing words” is an ongoing process.
Story listening is a wonderful idea, but keeping their attention for extended periods always requires participation on their part. I need to be more consistent in using a variety of activities from various CI blogs. I tend to fall back on what the students are used to or what I am comfortable with implementing. One thing I’d like to investigate more is how to make it align with the interpersonal mode once they have become familiar with the text.
Constantly creating new activities and new narratives is time-consuming but the overall success I see is worth it. The story keeps getting more compelling as I write it.

You can always contact me if you are interested in seeing further examples of this or have any specific questions. It is a work in progress and therefore unedited, but I am proud of it. Thank you all for reading!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

About This Blog

(Updated January 15, 2021)

Salvete omnes! My name is Chris and I teach Latin in a public school district in Central New York. This blog will chronicle various techniques and teaching strategies that I have begun to employ with my Latin students. I teach a CI curriculum in all levels based on thematic cultural units. In my previous school I used Ecce Romani as a basis for vocabulary and curriculum mapping. In my Latin 1 and 2 classes especially, I have initiated a transition to teaching with Comprehensible Input (CI), utilizing the theory of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) developed by Stephen Krashen and other scholars. My preferred method is now what many of us would call a CI Hybrid, that is, taking elements of the textbook and making it more meaningful and relevant to our student population. Input in the language must be compelling if one wishes to acquire it. That has become my general goal.

I thank you for your interest in reading this and I look forward to sharing best practices with you all.