Great Question

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22 thoughts on “Great Question”

  1. To me this is very simple Kevin. It is one big block of ice coming up against another in a snow field. Something has to give.

    It’s not possible to consciously analyze and reduce a written text into pieces in an effort to understand how the parts of the clock work together and also at the same time experience the expansive nature of the unconscious process that reading really is. What does that mean?

    What we used to do was to take a reading and, since the kids couldn’t understand it, use the obvious tools we had – our conscious minds which we as humans have learned to solve problems with – and go to work.

    That is reductionist picking apart of a reading in an effort to “understand” it. Unfortunately it works with building rocket ships and understanding math but not with languages, because all of the things that have to do with language acquisition happen out of reach of the conscious mind. Oops!

    And so the fact that we can’t “understand” and acquire languages in that way – using our conscious minds – even in reading, has overturned the apple cart on everybody, especially the traditional teachers but also the book companies and a whole lot of people who are just standing there scratching their heads and reacting to this new truth like babies, crying and moaning and saying it isn’t true.

    But it is true. In both listening and reading, we focus on the message and not the words. We have to do that for thousands of hours before the speaking and writing can fully emerge in the real way.

    That deeply complex process, more complex than anything the conscious mind can ever dream of handling (not that the conscious mind dreams) kicks the conscious mind out the back door, since it is totally ill-equipped for such a complex activity as listening to or reading words in fast moving blocks of sound.

    Think how many words we process in very short amounts of time when people speak to us or how many words we process when reading a text like this (352 so far) without ever once thinking about the grammar or how the words are put together. That’s pretty nice work and your mind read them all without once breaking this text down into little pieces to figure out what they mean.

    This is Krashen 101 and it is at the core of the shift we are in. People just don’t want to let go of control of the language – which is a magnificent thing full of wonder that they want mental control over – and just trust that it will work if we just speak to the kids or give them a text that they can read (emphasis on the “they can read” part).

    So the fact that it is all unconscious and yet we try to make it all conscious explains the difficulty, in my opinion. You can’t serve two masters and the master in this case, as Krashen has shown so convincingly, is the unconscious deeper mind and not the conscious parser of details that is so limiting in so many aspects of life and is made of straw.

    That’s how big this shift is – we can’t even understand it by analyzing it and reducing it and breaking it down into pieces.

    I was speaking at the writing scoring with my DPS WL colleagues yesterday and there were two new teachers among the twenty new hires into the district this year (traditional teachers are heading fast for the exits).

    One was from Denver University and the other from Middlebury. Both are clearly wonderful superstar 4%ers. The first had never heard of Krashen. The second told me honestly that Krashen had been dismissed by most of her instructors in her entire training both in undergrad and in grad school. What an indictment of university level language training!

    Both are now in pretty tough schools and about to have their asses handed to them on a plate. Their only hope is to escape to the suburbs where they can find some nice 4%ers so that their worlds don’t crumble under the new truth that we can’t teach most kids in the 4% way.

    Look at both the university and suburban clientele – both are very much about being in charge (conscious mind), “getting it done”, watching the weak fail, stepping up to the plate, taking the bull by the horns. It is an illness visible everywhere now.

    Those two teachers are toast. It’s over before it starts. That same destructive “I want my kids to learn more!” block of ice – the belief that the conscious mind can be used in language acquisition, is starting to melt, and more than a few people don’t like that. I didn’t like it either. But get over it. That was then, and this is now.*

    We learn languages because our students are made to understand by us in an artful, elegant way that is characterized by:

    SLOW
    Staying in Bounds
    Checking for Understanding while insisting on strong choral responses in short one word y/n or single word answers from the group

    We do these three things or we fail. We have split into two camps (no big deal) in the world of TPRS/CI instruction because some of us like me totally accept the Net Hypothesis** and some of us believe in front loading vocabulary first. It doesn’t matter.

    We can do both because TPRS/CI instruction is so strong – it gets the job done. That debate is for later but it doesn’t matter – the big bad boy of TPRS/CI is on the field now and scattering the old wringwraiths (those who want to still teach using the conscious analytical faculty) all asunder.

    It’s gotten ugly here in DPS where 20 of us do it well and 60 want to do it well and are flocking to Diana’s trainings and learning labs and the other 20 – I observed them yesterday – are just standing there looking a bit foolish, honestly.

    So Kevin let go a bit on this one. You want them to have their Caeser salad and eat it too. They’re not ready for the salad yet. They need a big full course meal first, made up of plenty of big plates of comprehensible input in the form of listening and reading. The Caesar salad can come later. And cut the cheese – it’s not good for you.

    The data bank of vocabulary will slowly build as your students acquire more and more words through discussing and reading more simple texts and then, at the right time, you can all dive into the salad.

    I’m preaching to the choir now as I try to cram the Little Prince into the minds of my very bright but traditionally trained French 3/4 kids. They’re not ready to read it. I should give that idea up right now. I’ll do Word Chunking on Fridays instead. They love it.

    Philosophy has been defined as a simple thing made complex. I would say that that also describes the old way of teaching languages. What we do now is to take a complex thing – a language – and make it simple.

    The new way, just letting go and enjoying being with the kids and doing lots and lots of input first with them in the form of fun listening and reading, waiting for all the complex wiring to magically but over long periods of time emerge naturally, is very much a complex thing made simple.

    That’s the short answer, Kevin. Another way to say this is just relax and don’t try to force flowers to bloom. Hopefully others chime in on this great question.

    *for more on the shift see:

    https://benslavic.com/blog/2012/09/13/then-and-now-2/
    https://benslavic.com/blog/2012/09/13/past-vs-today/

    **for more on the Net Hypothesis see:

    https://benslavic.com/blog/2012/08/29/too-many-stars/
    https://benslavic.com/blog/2011/08/12/dr-krashen/
    https://benslavic.com/blog/2012/02/28/net-hypothesis-2/

  2. Dear Kevin,

    Where you are is totally normal. Discomfort is a precursor to growth. You set off on a new course, now you feel lost. The question is…will you change course or will the course change you? No wonder it is overwhelming!!

    I think that you need to think about why you are hanging on to Caesar. Then ask yourself, “What will reading Caesar do for my STUDENTS?” If the answer to that is something startling and amazing, LONG-LASTING then, well, do what you need to do to get to/through Caesar.

    My guess, though, is that there are other things behind Caesar, other than the great Caesar. It may represent security (for you), confidence (that you are doing what is “required”), logic (it’s the standard), follow-through (I made a promise), self-esteem (again, for you, how does it look to tell students that you made a big deal out of something and then change your mind? ).

    We have ALL been there.

    My instincts tell me that you already knew what you want to do. If you really believed that Caesar was the clear choice, you would have just gone there without asking the group. :o) What you may want to know is, will I hurt my students if I do this?

    My own personal response to that is: not in a million years. It is OKAY to not feel “equipped” for this journey yet. Just do the best that you can. If it is exhausting and you need to do some of your old stuff, just do it. Give yourself permission to be where you are and keep going. After all, that is EXACTLY what we are trying to do for our students!!!

    My last question is this….if your students continue on in Latin will they be expected to already KNOW Caesar? If so, then do a modified, simplified, comprehensible version. I assure you that my students will never be reading the original Don Quixote in Spanish. But, using Spanish within their reach, they will experience some of the stories in this beautiful work, learn about the characters and the author.

    I don’t remember where you are Kevin (geographically)….but remember, we are all with you in spirit. If there is a way to get to any kind of workshop or coaching, do it. That will fill your need for more training and more support. Let us know and we can help.

    with love,
    Laurie

    1. Laurie,

      Since you brought up DQ, I’d like to know which simplified version or versions you have found most useful. My students are not at all familiar with DQ and I’d like to find the best way to introduce them to the work (and the characters).

      thanks,
      Lori

  3. I lived through that kind of slogging translation that you describe in a Russian literature class.  It took me an hour to to read 1 page of literature.  We read 400 pages that semester.  I have no idea how I survived it academically.  I can remember the name of only one thing we “read.” I’m sure I missed all the deep meaning and literary significance that put those things on our reading list.  
    Contrast.  The other day, I found Michele’s list of 200 words in Russian.  At the top of her list, it says that if you know these words and can use them, you can pretty much communicate your needs in Russian.  Just 200 words? That’s all it takes? I knew most of the words.  I’m just not fluent with them. It gave me hope.  Maybe I still can be fluent in Russian someday.

    You’re at a place right now where you get to choose what you want for your students.  I’m guessing you chose Caesar because that’s the sort of thing your teachers did for you.  And probably the only way to make it through that text at this level is the same way that you were taught.  So I guess you have to figure out what your students really want from Latin and what you really want for them.  I never heard of anyone wanting to communicate in Latin until I was a part of the TPRS community.  Maybe your 3rd years will be happy with slogging through and keeping Latin as a dead language.  Is it worth it? That’s for you and them to figure out.  I was so dutiful in Russian, and I have little to show for it.  I wish I had come out of 5 intensive college semesters with 200 fully usable words!

    Is there a beginner’s version of the story you want to read?  It might be easier to do backwards planning and embedded readings from something closer to their level.  

    have you tried running the story through a concordance maker to find out how many words they have to learn before they are ready to read it? And what the high frequency words are in the story? This would give you an idea of how possible this story will be for your students.  If it’s within reach, you could TPRS the ones that are high frequency in the text and give them a glossary so they don’t waste their time on the rest.  

    Or maybe you could just do level 1 and maybe level 2 of the embedded reading this year with the most basic story line, and at the end you would have created your own beginning reader.  Less is more.

    If the only giant obstacle you have with this is the momentum of your first 2 years of teaching, you are in a great position.  Those kids will graduate in 2 years with whatever you decided to give them.  And the ones you are training now will be in a much better position. The future looks bright.

    As far as the day to day,  carol gaab’s top 10 words are 
    goes/went
    likes/liked
    eats/ate
    wants/wanted
    needs/needed
    has/had
    is able/could
    sees/saw
    there is/there was
    says/said
    looks for/looked for

    You can get a lot of compelling comprehensible input out of these and hang a lot of grammar on it in the unconscious way Ben is talking about. Somewhere, Anne Matava talks about using questionnaires to teach these kinds of words.
    so maybe you could start there.

  4. Hi Kevin,

    How would it be if you tell your students directly that you’ve learned some things about how people acquire languages, and that you’d like to change how you teach so that they will acquire Latin in a natural way, as they learned English? That it will not involve dissecting of texts, but more playing in the language, and less constant translation? Then begin a lesson that demonstrates what you mean by using a statement about your students, like, maybe, “[insert student’s name here] likes pizza.” Or like Ben does, begin with sports they play. Use words they’ve heard/seen before (though you might find they don’t remember some of what you expected they already knew, if it’s like my experience). Go slowly and look at their eyes to see if they’re understanding. Try it for 15 minutes first and then take a couple minutes break. Learning to do the questions/answers from the class, and talk about the students and their interests, is PQA. When you’re new to it, you can write up a script for it.

    I needed question words permanently up on the wall. At first, only about 4 types of questions really are needed: yes/no, …or…, what, who (with the English meaning beside the target language words). Speak slowly and point to it as you ask a question.

    I’m finding that my oldest class, the one most used to me using the textbook pretty closely over the previous 3 years they had me as their teacher, needs the most coaching from me on the new expectations. I told them that. They are English chatterboxes and it now is part of their academic grade (not just a lame “Effort Grade”) not to blurt or insert English commentary. Expectations include a lot more choral responses to questions (in the target language, not constantly translating) from them and my being more in tune with their level of comprehension by looking at their eyes. So to me the biggest changes have been:
    – Avoid speaking English. Point to target language/English written on the board instead when they need clarification.
    – Coach them how to respond to questions in the target language. When they start doing it, really praise them. Don’t demand too much output though: yes/no and one word answers expected. They usually act very surprised that they know the answers to all (or at least most) of your questions. That doesn’t feel right to them at first. I had to tell them, yes, you do know the answer! That is helping you acquire the language. It takes many repetitions to get new words into your mind so you don’t have to translate them in your head. That’s our goal.
    – Get classroom management down really well: the Great Rubric really helps! Unengaged or disruptive students make CI very, very difficult.

    In terms of weekly scheduling, for this year (my first year totally CI/TPRS) I have two days focused on spoken language (not texts, just 3 or 4 new words up on the board); two days mainly on reading a story (no new words, just re-using the stuff from the previous two days); one day first with a quick self-evaluation on their Interpersonal Communication skills, then playing language-based games, or learning cultural points, singing songs, or watching videos. It’s made planning much simpler.

  5. Kevin,

    I just want to let you know, from one Latin teacher to another, that the steps you have made are very commendable, more than most Latin teachers have ever done or will ever do, and will benefit your students in the long run and the short run, no matter how you feel you are doing. Why? Because you have allowed them see you go outside of your comfort zone, entirely in order to give them a better experience of the Latin language, not for your ego, not for some syllabus dictated from above, or for your sense of security. How many Latin teachers are on this blog, 4 or 5? We are going where no Latin teacher has gone before. For this reason, you need to remember to go easy on yourself, give yourself breaks. It took me at least two years of going back and forth, retreating back into traditional lessons and tests, and doing a lot of hybrid things like creating embedded stories with powerpoint pictures, etc. before I felt comfortable and confident enough to go “full bore” TPRS/CI. It was during this transition time, however, that I observed breakthrough moments, when my worst day doing TPRS/CI was better than my best day doing traditional. Once these experiences began to happen more consistently, I gradually came to know that this was how I MUST teach. But, as I said, this happened over the course of almost two years, with lots of trial and error in the classroom, and lots of reflection during three summers.

    As Ben and others have said, this process involves a lot of self-evaluation, and evaluation of our learning goals for our students. If you feel trapped into teaching your students something that your previous Latin teacher self thought was a good thing a few years ago, perhaps it’s time to re-think that. If you do decide to move away from Caesar, I don’t think your students will be disappointed in your decision—this is about you, not them. In “preparing” them for Caesar, you have also been preparing them to approach any text, and if you choose authors that you think will be more interesting to them (and to you), that is a win-win situation.

    The point of this ramble, I suppose, is, don’t be too hard on yourself for not embodying the ideal right away. Baby steps. And you are learning a lot from the bad days, if you allow yourself to examine honestly what is going on, both right and wrong.

    You’re doing good work, without a doubt, as long as you are headed in the direction of CI. How far along you are on that road is not always in your control. You just have to keep working toward it, and as long as your focus is on connecting with your students above all else, you won’t go wrong.

    1. John – You’re absolutely right about the focus being the students in the class, and letting other things come as they will. As you say,

      “We are going where no Latin teacher has gone before.”

      This sounds so epic, (and why shouldn’t it!). For me, it carries with it a reminder that real creativity all but guarantees a good deal of failed ideas on the way to successful innovation. I will agree wholeheartedly that even a bad day of TPRS/CI is still more rewarding than “give me the case/number/gender of this word”/”find the verb, now find the subject”/etc, because at the end of the day we actually treated Latin as a language, not an artifact.

  6. Kevin,
    Welcome to the club. The pain you are feeling right now is normal, and it’s part of the initiation into authentic language teaching and learning.

    Let’s get practical. What can you do right now? Right now, you can take the Caesar passages that you want to read WITH them, and turn them into something that they CAN understand with little assist from you. That might mean taking a 25 line passage and re-writing it as a 5 line passages with 90% words they already know. Capitalize, man, on synonyms! You circle with them the words they don’t know until they know them. The next day, you bring them a 10 line version of the same passage. The next day a 15 line version of the same passage. The next day a 20 line version of the same passage. By now, it’s Friday. Bring them a 25 line version of the original but whic his not quite the original. At the end of the period, you give them to original and ask them to read it and tell you what they don’t understand, and you spend a very few minutes explaining tough spots.

    This IS going to slow you down. You might not finish the entire AP syllabus (because you’ve got to do this with Vergil, too). You WILL work your butt off, and they WILL know far more of Caesar’s and Vergil’s Latin than if you tried any other approach. Next year, you will have insights into this that you cannot imagine right now. You have to trust this process, yourself and your kids. Don’t let them see a moment of doubt in your eyes. You KNOW what you are doing is the good thing. Go do it. You will sweat. (And in two years, you and I and a few others will offer a workshop at ACL about how to teach EVEN the AP syllabus this way!).

    1. Bob – these are great ideas. A quick clarification, this is not for AP, but just my junior level class. We actually do not currently do the AP at my school. The decision to do Caesar was to get to some “authentic” Latin, but I realize that this in and of itself is a poor reason (the opinions of my own Latin teachers seem to be largely the reason for wanting to push on through in this sort of manner). Over the past few years my focus has been on Input, and the biggest shift right now is focusing on making it Comprehensible.

      1. That takes the pressure off, then, Kevin, and that’s good. I can tell you that aiming for some older Latin (authentic is such a nasty word–I usually ask a classicist to tell me which Latin is inauthentic and then watch them grumpf) can be fine, but there are better and worse places to start. Fables are a GREAT place to start. See Laura Gibbs wonderful collections at http://bestlatin.blogspot.com/. You can start playing with fables with students and never end. Stories abound. They are fun and short. Plenty of time to circle all that you need to and then be able to read the stories. Harder ones can be embedded. Just tons of things to do with them.

        1. I feel that the concept of “authentic Latin” is part and parcel of the old way of “teaching” Latin. My use of the term reminds me just how deeply ingrained certain prejudices that were taught to me still pervade my own thinking about the matter.

          Fables are a great idea. I will certainly take a look at those and consider taking a break from Caesar and focus on the CI.

  7. Dear Kevin,

    You have stumbled upon a wonderful way of teaching your language. I encourage you to not give up although the going is tough right now. The position you are in, I’d like to believe, is the same one in which all pioneers have been. Great empires have been constructed by people that refused to allow their fears from preventing their piling-up of small stones. These are the days you will look back upon and recognize as the scary days that were worth the struggle.

    Try not to be hard on yourself. You have the courage to acknowledge that something was not right about your previous teaching methods. Students can smell BS and it’s probably the best thing you can do, to say to them, “Look, I’m human. I made a big deal out of this because I truly thought its what you needed but I’ve been doing some research because I care about your learning. I found out I was dead wrong. Now, I want to help you by doing it like this because I’ve seen all the proof that it works. I’m sorry. Let’s get to work!”

    Kids will respect you. You might even be the first adult they’ve ever seen admitting a mistake and taking one for the team. Some will never say it to you and some you might actually witness squirm in their chairs and change the look in their eyes because they FEEL what it is you’re doing. Step 1: showing kids it’s ok to admit mistakes, Step 2: showing kids it’s ok to change. They get it.

    This is my 4th year teaching. I didn’t discover TPRS/CI method until two Augusts ago. I half-assed it and did freaky hybrid things all last year. I cried and I complained and felt scared. I researched all I could before passing out in exhaustion. I suffered in each class because kids could see I was frantic and mixing methods. They could feel it. This year, it’s full-on TPRS/CI. Some of the same kids I had last year are mixed in with new students and have actually shared with them that they didn’t get it last year but have actually remembered certain phrases and TPR moves. Nothing spreads like word of mouth and they’ll believe each other before they believe me. Think of what you’re doing now as positive advertisement for next year.

    Come to this forum as many times a day as possible. It helps. If you are the Lone Wolf of CI in your school, it really helps to have our PLC conversations whispering around in your head so you know you’re not crazy. Don’t give up.

    1. Jennifer, true words–full of wisdom that comes from experience. What great advice and encouragement:
      “Nothing spreads like word of mouth and they’ll believe each other before they believe me. Think of what you’re doing now as positive advertisement for next year.”

      I think that is the reason that this year (1st time I’ve been in the same school building for two years in a row) started out more smoothly. It was not because I did any better job of starting out those first few days (I’m a nervous wreck with new students and really, really don’t want to be back in the classroom after summer break) No, it was not me–it was all because of my “ambassadors” from last year talking up this new way of doing Spanish class.

      I hadn’t thought of it the way you put it–students will indeed “buy in” to something from their peers far sooner and more easily than from us adults.

      And that thing you wrote about coming to this blog–
      ” it really helps to have our PLC conversations whispering around in your head so you know you’re not crazy.”

      I thought it was just me who felt that way. Keep out the dark voices and the doubts by having the right whispers in my head…

  8. Dear Kevin,
    Reading your post mirrored many of my own feelings. I teach Latin and French and just this year, decided that TPRS was the way I needed to teach Latin. I saw what TPRS did for my French classes and saw that the Latin students couldn’t keep up in the traditional style of teaching.
    I only teach Latin I (this fall) and Latin II (in the spring) and I teach with Cambridge, but I’m scared out of my mind. I do lots of CI and PQA every day. The first time I cracked the book was 2 weeks in and we read the first story, Cerberus, only AFTER I taught the main words TPRS style for a week. The kids flew through it in about 5 minutes. I’m scared that we won’t be able to “cover” all of the vocabulary in CLC I. Yet….the kids have already been introduced to all cases, all declensions, all conjugations and a little past tense. They don’t really care that a word is accusative singular. They know that the -m just means it’s not the subject doing the action. That’s enough for them for now.
    My biggest question comes from being a 4% kid. I know that they someday will need to know endings because all of my professors and teachers hammered that into my brain. Or do they?
    I speak so much Latin in class (although it’s certainly not poetry pretty) that if someone came in to observe, they would assume I’m teaching a modern language, not Latin.
    I sympathize with your feelings. I really do not think that it’s possible to serve 2 masters, as Ben said above. I’m learning that quickly and may have to just shut the books away in a closet so that if I can’t see them, they won’t bother me with their pleas to be opened and translated.

  9. Kevin,

    Thanks for your honest words. As a Latin teacher I’ve been where you are, and I think it took me longer to fully realize what you are realizing now. Moving into TPRS in Latin for me has been about a four year process during which time I’ve come to accept the reality of subconscious language acquisition, slow myself and my students down and learn how to enjoy the human process of communication in the classroom over covering content. It has been a great journey and I’m glad you’re on the same road.

    I was excited when I read your post, because I am in the process right now of doing some of Caesar’s De Bello Gallico with my Latin 3s. Like you I’m doing this with embedded readings. I chose to do this, mainly because I want to give the kids a taste of some of the Roman authors, but still want it to be engaging and comprehensible. I chose to do Caesar early on this year because I’m giving a presentation on doing embedded readings with Caesar at the California Classical Association – South meeting (Caesar is our theme). I’ve actually been videoing some of my classes too, and will try and post some of this on youtube soon; I’ll let you know if I do. But for now, I’ll share some of the big picture of this process with a specific embedded reading example.

    First off, I agree with Bob, that you have to go slowly. I’m sure you know this, but even though I knew it a couple years ago, I’ve had to relearn it multiple times. You’ll see below how slow I mean – it’s scary (for a Latin teacher at least). I refuse to try and plow through text with them; I want it all to be comprehensible and if that means I only get through one paragraph of Caesar’s actual text in a whole quarter, it’s fine with me – the class is still going to have a ton of Comprehensible Input. I’ll explain…

    First, I thought about how I would “sell” reading Caesar to my kids. These kids have been through 2 years of pretty good CI, and we’ve done a lot of good TPRS stories together with lots of input that was not only comprehensible, but compelling. So they have a healthy expectation for input in my class that is interesting; me trying to suddenly force feed them Caesar wasn’t going to work.

    So the approach I am taking is to encounter Caesar as a man, as a complicated human being first, and try to give my students through that experience, a desire to read the words that Caesar, the man, wrote himself. (I also of course have to add in plenty of time for compelling input about the kids themselves too, because I will not let go of this, even in a third year class in which we are starting to do some content in the language. Others on the blog have talked about in the upper levels, like Nathan Black and Robert Harrell – great posts on what upper level classes can look like and very inspiring to me.

    https://benslavic.com/blog/2012/08/18/nathan-black-on-upper-levels/

    So my basic plan was (and is):

    1. -Provide times to talk about the kids in Latin:

    We do PQA and TPRS stories around vocabulary in Caesar that are high frequency words, and words that I think are interesting for stories and talking about the kids.

    2. -Provide some ways to understand the complexity of Caesar’s character and historical context:

    I do some of this in Latin orally with images, powerpoints and maps, but some too in English with edited (ahem… VERY EDITED) portions of HBO’s Rome. I chose HBO’s Rome, because I liked being able to provide a vivid portrayal of Caesar’s character in an attempt to raise the student’s feelings surrounding him: empathy, anger, respect, admiration, etc. We do a lot of talking in Latin about the characters in HBO Rome as well, so for me where I’m at right now, sacrificing some time in the target language to get kids to a point of being excited to talk about Caesar is worth it. The kids know it’s a treat too, since we don’t watch many movies in my class of course… not many are in Latin.

    3. -Provide readings that are comprehensible to the kids, that are based on Caesar’s original, and that move the kids to a place where they can read some compelling parts of Caesar in the original.

    So in practice this is how things have gone so far. I started the year with Nathan Black’s suggestion of doing postcards. We are making our way slowly through the postcards having fun talking about what kids did over the summer in Latin. If I ever have some free time or need some material to start a story I go to the pile of postcards. We also watched portions of the main storyline from HBO’s Rome, showing Caesar victorious at the end of the Gallic War, the breakdown of his friendship with Pompey and his initiation of civil war with Pompey and the Senate. I thought the kids started to “feel” something for Caesar through this, so it has seemed well worth it. I also took them through a powerpoint of Caesar’s life in Latin to give them some historical context, especially of some basic Roman politics and the chaotic period of the Late Republic. This took me about three weeks before I felt ready to do my first embedded reading, and I’ll explain this in some detail below:

    My first embedded reading was the first 3 sentences of Caesar (yeah, it’s SLOW, but that’s the idea!).

    First of all, I chose the passage because it believed it would be compelling to the kids. They now knew something of Caesar and I felt they were ready to read something he wrote. They knew most of the vocabulary because I had intentionally included some of the key terms in TPRS stories and when talking about their postcards. Other vocabulary I knew the kids already knew, and some was easy to figure out as derivatives. The names and geographic terms I introduced when we were ready for the reading with an oral explanation of Gaul with a projected map.

    So here are the first three sentences:

    Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres: quarum unam partem incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur.

    hi omnes lingua, institutis, legibus inter se differunt. Gallos ab Aquitanis Garumna flumen, a Belgis Matrona et Sequana dividt.

    My key structures that I “TPRSed” were:
    -appellantur
    -incolunt

    (I also had chosen some other structures (about 7 others – some examples: constituo, arbitror, cupidus + gerund in genitive, etc.) from later sentences too during the first three weeks, but appellantur and incolunt were the only ones that appeared in this first reading. So we worked pretty hard to get some heavy reps on those 9 structures over the first three weeks, during the postcards and two TPRS stories.)

    Then I did the embedded readings like this, and we read through it and I asked questions in Latin on it over the course of a class period:

    READING #1

    Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres:

    unam partem Belgae incolunt,

    aliam partem Aquitani incolunt,

    tertiam partem Galli (aut Celtae) incolunt
    (Galli, Romana lingua, appellantur, Celtae ipsorum lingua appellantur).

    Belgae, Aquitani et Galli inter se differunt. quomodo?

    lingua, inter se differunt,

    institutis, inter se differunt,

    legibus, inter se differunt.

    Garumna flumen Gallos ab Aquitanis dividit.

    Matrona flumen et Sequana flumen Gallos a Belgis dividit.

    READING #2

    Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres: unam partem Belgae incolunt, aliam Aquitani, tertiam Galli (Galli, nostra lingua, appellantur, Celtae ipsorum lingua appellantur).

    Belgae, Aquitani et Galli inter se differunt: lingua, institutis, legibus.

    Garumna flumen Gallos ab Aquitanis dividit. Matrona et Sequana Gallos a Belgis dividit.

    #3

    Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres: quarum unam partem incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra lingua Galli appellantur.

    hi omnes (Belgae, Aquitani et Galli) inter se differunt: lingua, institutis, legibus. Gallos ab Aquitanis, Garumna flumen dividit. Gallos a Belgis Matrona et Sequana dividit.

    #4

    CAESAR DE GEOGRAPHIA ET GENTIBUS GALLIAE SCRIBIT

    Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres: quarum unam partem incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur.

    hi omnes lingua, institutis, legibus inter se differunt. Gallos ab Aquitanis Garumna flumen, a Belgis Matrona et Sequana dividt.

    You will probably notice that some of the changes that happen from one reading to the next are: changes in format, use of negative space and outlining, use of bold or underlined text to bring out certain details, additions of more difficult words as familiarity with previous versions is mastered, use of repeated words where Caesar doesn’t repeat and the addition of a title too.

    So… would most Latin teachers think it’s a little crazy to do 3 weeks of work to read three sentences of Caesar? You and I both know the answer is YES, but for a CI Latin teacher there is no question. We are committed, bottom line, to giving our kids input that they can understand and it doesn’t matter at the end of the day how MUCH Caesar we gave them, but how much they understood. I believe the need to go slow, (REAL SLOW!), is the toughest part for all of us language teachers to accept, but once we do accept it, and respect and honor it, teaching becomes manageable, and even better, enjoyable.

    My kids don’t care how MANY lines of Caesar they did, but whether they had an experience of actually reading those lines comprehensibly and with interest (and of course with a lot of human connecting in Latin with each other to boot).

    Hope you find this helpful and I’ll try to get some video up soon, but it’s 2:44 AM right now and I’m going to bed!

    Valeas, David

    1. David – this is most helpful (and I look forward to video). I likewise was beginning with the first passage, but definitely was not following SLOW, and loaded them with too much. Could you email me your embedded reading (kevin.clemens@gmail.com) – I had done something similar, but not nearly as developed in terms of formatting, repetition, etc. I’d also be curious to hear more about your classes more generally as time would permit, especially in terms of the stories you and your students spin together and examples of quizzes on these (any Latinists with examples to share, I’d love to get a feel for what others are doing).

      My 4%s are the most vocal in this class, and the challenge is convincing them that actually understanding Latin as such (and not as some secret Roman code developed to screw with English speaking teenagers in dire need of cracking) is a worthwhile endeavor.

      A more general question in terms of targeting structures – when you circle during PQA or stories using something like “appellantur”, do you always use it in the same person/number/tense/etc?

  10. Hey, I noticed some of the indenting, bolding and underlining of the embedded readings didn’t format right, but hopefully you get the idea. If not, I can clarify.

    Is there a way to keep MS Word formating when posting on the blog?

  11. Thanks all for your most helpful and supportive replies. I agree wholeheartedly with your comment Jennifer, that to “Come to this forum as many times a day as possible… to have our PLC conversations whispering around in your head so you know you’re not crazy,” is a great help during the longer (and more frustrating) days.

    I think my biggest challenge has been getting out from under the shadow of my own education in Latin to find something better, more exciting (and lasting) to offer my students. Carla, your frustrations in Russian lit were exactly mine with Latin. I first enrolled in Latin my sophomore year of college to be able to read (not translate, but READ) works of Latin literature (in particular, St. Augustine’s “Confessions”). But after three years of instruction, I couldn’t do anything else but sit down and perform a grammatical autopsy on a passage with reference to a dictionary at every turn. I was point blank told by an older student (who now also happens to be a high school Latin teacher) that wanting to read Latin as native Latin speakers did is just not appropriate. Needless to say that my first baby steps in teaching basic Latin via TPRS/CI have been more rewarding than dismantling authentic/unadapted passages of great authors piece by piece.

    Ben, your words are well-received, and most encouraging. The fact that language acquisition is an unconscious process and we can’t “force flowers to bloom” is a most liberating message… but I need to be patient, and let things unfold… perhaps the most challenging thing as a teacher, to just be patient. Thanks again everyone for the advice and direction.

    1. …dismantling authentic/unadapted passages of great authors piece by piece….

      That is not as badass as the dissecting one, but it is still badass. The key words you chose there, Keven – dissecting and dissmantling – reveal the heart of the thing – the conscious mind wants so much to be in charge and to run the show but it can only dissect and dismantle. That is why it is pitching such a fit these days. It knows what is happening.

      Before this blog became private, many teachers took great offense to the content here bc their entire worldview of dissecting and dissmantling was being whipassedly challenged by ideas like “it’s all unconscious”. So on some level they knew that their way of dissecting and dismantling in two dimensions vs. gathering together and putting the language into an integrated wholistic unit was doomed. That’s a lot to swallow.

      Easier to fight, reject, resist and generally complain about our message and us, especially if their training was by 4%ers whom they admired and all of a sudden they and their 4%er instructors from when they were coming into the profession were being poked at by people like us.

      Each time we had a great class down the hallway and the kids left already calculating how the story will finish the next day, they noticed. Poor them – it must be scary to see an entire view of how things should be done crumble in front of their eyes.

      Not UNDERSTANDING Krashen’s message that it is entirely unconscious must really be hard for them, because then their wordview that only smart kids can learn and all of that stuff that we ourselves used to believe looks like it is being attacked by a bunch of untrained, offbeat, hippy clowns. That can’t feel good.

      But, as John said here last week, we are not clowns. We are educators who have taken another stance, that’s all. We believe in wholistic experiential language instruction in three dimensions and we are working every day to get better at it, and many of here have worked very very hard for a very long time at it.

      And now we are about a month in to implementing the new ideas that came with the new year, especially re discipline and jGR and kids’ jobs, and we are in great shape thank you very much. The time for norming is over, we can rest – skip I will be taking my full weekends now. And I like the pace of posting articles here the past week even if it means that the queue is going to stay jammed for awhile. Only so much water can flow over the dam right now into the daily postings here.

      So it’s an unconscious process and now, to use the same image of a dam, we can say that the water behind the damn has already started to trickle over the top and that’s us going over and down the waterslide with big grins and shouts of “Wheeee!” combined with genuine shouts of fear coming out of our mouths as we give ourselves over to the new way of doing things while traditional teachers just sit safely in their cars watching from side.

      Now I would love to stay and chat but the Houston Texans are in town and I have to go watch how Peyton answers the problem of playing three top flight teams – Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Houston – in a 13 day period with a brand new team.

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