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!

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