Latin Story

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31 thoughts on “Latin Story”

  1. The parents state that they want the school to separate the students who “are deeply interested from those who are generally interested.”
    This is false. They want to separate those who are in a privileged position in their community from those who are not. They want to keep dividing their community by gouging all they can out of the public school while, I am certain, complaining about the rabble, those “generally interested” students, since the latter group doesn’t need to study Latin, obviously, since in the future those kids will be working for their kids, as it has always been.
    This is a form of apartheid. We have it worse at George Washington High School in Denver, and at East. And many others in DPS. Not content to let divided neighborhoods keep the citizens of Denver demographically separated from each other, they want and have established schools within schools that are embarrassments to our district.
    East High School, and GW, are two examples of apartheid in the state of Colorado. Rich white kids are enrolled in the IB program at GW and in the AP classes at East. Those students’ classes are on separate floors of the building at East and actually in separate buildings at GW. This is not done by intelligence levels of the kids, but by income and race.
    This practice of dividing students in this way is unconscionable in public buildings funded by all the taxpayers. It is the easiest thing to do, but it is not the right thing.
    I state without reservation that using comprehensible input in our language classrooms is now bringing democracy into our DPS school buildings, perhaps for the first time in the history of our state. That is why this Latin story is far bigger than it looks, and the courage of this teacher to use CI in a school which has laughed at it in the past (there is a history to this) is of a very high quality. This Latin teacher merits considerable recognition for her actions. She was brave beyond description in taking this on, and she has prevailed. It is kind of mind boggling to me. This story makes my heart sing.
    As we all know, but I write this for those who have not heard the story, Reuben Vyn’s French students of color and poverty outscored the IB rich white kids at GW by VAST AMOUNTS on the DPS exit test a few years ago. It was incredible. Had Reuben taught the IB kids, nobody would have noticed. But when Diana talks to principals about personnel, she doesn’t recommend that the best teachers go to the “best” schools. There are some young DPS teachers working in the “worst” schools. It is severely testing them, no doubt. But Diana supports every single kid in DPS. She is a real patriot, and not a false one. The GW principal the year of Reuben’s triumph, of Asian decent, was replaced the next year for trying to dismantle the IB program, based on much the same reasoning expressed by the administrator above. Apartheid is alive and well at GW and East.
    I would suggest to those PLC members struggling with CI to keep at it. This is more than just a shift in values. It is a shift to what our founding fathers had in mind, and in the minds of the French “philosophes” who sat around in the 18th century dreaming about equality among men as well. I would love to sit down with Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and tell them what is happening these days in DPS. How we almost lost our country in 2015 but how a bunch of really cool teachers did their part in the schools in their language classes against huge odds, playing a small role in a vast change towards goodness, and how other teachers in other areas of public schools were also going through the same thing at great emotional expense to their peace of mind as they fought like the Latin teacher above to do what is right for American children – and American parents like those above who need to be re-educated about what this particular country is all about. That would be a cool discussion. Keep in mind what the stakes are here, y’all, and get back in there on Monday and kick some ass.

  2. Very admirable to continue to press on in the face of that kind of opposition. How wonderful that the administrator is supportive!
    It seems there is a subset of teachers of (especially) French, Latin, and Chinese who want their languages accessible only to a few elite students with incredible powers of analysis and memorization. These parents wanted one of those teachers.

    1. These elite parents want the most gains possible for their children. They want class taught to the pace of the fast processors. In my experience, the 4 percenters are also the faster processors in a TCI class. In other words, TCI better serves the elite kids, too. With TCI, there are kids who may not be the brightest in other academics who are fast processors in L2. So, the 4 percent becomes the 50+%. If we go at the pace of the lower third of kids, then the elite will feel like their gains are being sacrificed. Here’s where we explain how grammar is not sheltered and how that differentiates the class so that everyone gets i+1. Here’s where we show the fast processors that just because they comprehend everything, doesn’t mean they can produce at the same level, and thus they too need the CI reps.
      I have kids who are “low academically” in other classes who appear to be slow processors. But I think it’s something else, not their slow processing, that gives them smaller gains in SLA. I think it is a learned role. They don’t know what it’s like to see equal gains as 4 percenters. They expect to learn less, because they’ve bought into the school’s message that “they are slower.” They expect to understand less, so they don’t signal. They try less, because they expect less – self-fulfilling prophecy. Teachers have to take the TCI “to them” and show them they can understand. We have to give them the feeling of success. They may even reject for a while the love and success we are offering, because their self-image is so low.

      1. Eric, I was saying AMEN as I read it. I’ve caught on to that trend in my first year of CI – lots of my students who do poorly in their other classes just assume they won’t get Spanish, and are too afraid to try. Any specific advice you have for convincing my “bottom 15%” – a lot of them freshmen who are likely to not graduate – that they can indeed “get it?”

        1. Setting them up for success. Going slow enough, trying to say what you think they’ll understand, and then asking them in L1 “What did I just say?” When they get it right, then I tell them: “Look, you CAN do this. You just have to choose to want to.”

          1. I won’t use “What did I just say?” anymore. No more “It’s my story!” They both involve English. I won’t use “Una Explicación Breve” either, or “It’s my story!” If it involves English when I am trying to stay in the TL I won’t use it. Of course, I would need a classroom to see if I could do this.

          2. “It’s my story” My memory is that Blaine said this in Spanish, “Es mi cuento” when he offered it as the solution to students being disappointed with his choice for a detail or direction in the story. So “C’est mon histoire” would fit what I understand you to be saying, would it not?

          3. Yes Nathaniel. Blaine is Blaine and that works for him. My issues with “It’s my story!” are that I would generally say that in response to some L1 cute answers and it would snowball. The particular strategy we end up choosing from the plethora of options we enjoy will be different to everyone in how we use it. It’s not really the strategy but if either we or our students sneak any L1 in there. This is an epiphany for me. I just wish I could hit rewind on about 34,000 classes (no exaggeration) and start over and refuse any semblance of L1 use by my students and EXTREMELY LIMITED use by me. If that even addressed your point.

          4. I had completely stopped using “What did I just say?” and I was relying too much on choral responses and kids were falling through the cracks. Asking the question breaks the L2 flow, but it also may improve/accelerate form-meaning links. By asking the question, even after going slow and establishing meaning, I’ll still have kids try to give me the L1 equivalent and not get it. I could say “He wants to be able to eat pizza” and the student tells me I said “He wants to eat pizza” completely missing “to be able to.” I tend to think that clarifying the meaning will get students to process it more accurately in the future.

          5. I think so, too. “Close enough” to understanding the full meaning may be okay sometimes, but I don’t think it’s so good for beginners. I do not know how better to make sure meaning is clear than using L1. It shouldn’t be necessary all that often because we go slow, we pause & point, etc.

          6. This is such an important conversation about using L1 and it is happening in three different posts. Latin Story, Blurting, and Brain Breaks.
            Is there any way to bring it together or am I being too fussy 🙂

          7. I recently watched 4 hour videos of elementary Spanish 1 at iFLT 2013 and noticed how the teacher stayed 100% in Spanish. A few times she slipped into English very briefly, mainly because the children were not her usual students (mini summer camp).
            Now I am not a true beginner in Spanish so my judgement might be impaired. It seemed to me that the teacher made the language comprehensible without speaking English. The words were clearly posted on the board to which she pointed and paused frequently. + all other great skills.
            I had the strong feeling after watching the videos that staying 100% inTL can work.
            (I also noticed that kids are kids: they don’t stop moving, use the plastic rooster as a lasso, and clearly demonstrate how lame it is to act as a jumbo jet. With 15 adults in the room :))

          8. I don’t know James? Haha. It felt reassuring though to see that iFLT kids -normal or not- act just like my students. I am so used to hyper-active children that a quiet group of attentive kids throws me off a little.

          9. Diana N. clarified that, James, somewhere on this blog, arguing the students are representative of the general population. I wonder about the process of finding the kids and what the terms of participation are.

          10. If I remember correctly from San Diego, they offered either free or significantly reduced attendance for kids from the host school. I am not sure how many they got. They got a few children of foreign language teachers in their as well. I think the mix was a bit variable, but on the whole a lot closer to what most of us work with than anything we have seen. I think Ben would say his class was less diverse than in Denver, but for others it may have been more so. Jason Fritz’ elementary group was a mixture of heritage speakers and others. He absolutely had to use some classroom management techniques with them.

  3. Wow!
    What an incredible story. My deep respect goes to that teacher who in the face of deep adversity keeps her composure and sticks to her vision, thanks to the support of her administration!
    I can tell you from my experience that the same kind of elitist garbage goes on at the university level. I have been teaching at CU Boulder for 2 years now to a group of motivated, educated adults using TCI. Although these adults are still following me because they’re so happy with their gain in the language due to this method, seeing that it works, it is very hard to get the rest of the administration as well as other traditional professors on board.
    Let’s not be fooled here, these educators and parents, whether consciously or not, have only one goal in mind, the reproduction of their social class through their offspring. Marx said it a long time ago and it still holds true today.
    It is about oppression of one economic class by another and it’s about privilege and power.
    Let me quote Paulo Freire here: ” The purpose of education in an unjust society is to bring about equality and justice”.

  4. ‘Power to the people’ notwithstanding, a change and departure from tradition and predictability- a paradigm shift, is slow and torturous.
    Keep educating the parents with: demos, invitations to visit/observe/debrief; present to your faculty and admin so that all have a common reference; post/send documentation about studies (make sure the overview/conclusion part is comprehensible!); explains SLA & supporting t/CI-do you have a website or link on the school website? This is about change, and for some it’s more than hard; it’s terrifying.

  5. I think that this Latin Story is one of the ten most important articles, among 4,978 over the past eight years (to go along with 33,152 comments), to ever be published here. If we are not about social justice, then what are we about?
    I think that this administrator is just about as cool as they get. He basically suggested that those elitist parents start their own private school. That withering paragraph put him up as a target for those parents, but he took the high social justice road and looks prepared to take all the heat off the teacher and onto himself. That is astounding. He doesn’t seem to care if he puts his job as stake. Let’s read it again:
    …establishing a two-track system for Latin would not be compatible with our school’s philosophy of inclusion and diversity. A public school, we take seriously our commitment to educate all students and I am excited that [name of teacher] is implementing strategies to bring this vision to life. As her supervisor, I have charged [name of teacher] with continuing to explore how best to support students of all achievement levels in the same classroom….
    What is clear is that this guy KNOWS that CI is all inclusive and that dividing the Latin students into two tracks is not necessary. This means he really gets what our work is about: great gains for all and in languages ALL STUDENTS are capable and end of story. This is exactly what the elitists don’t know or care to know. I applaud this AP. He is my hero.

    1. Thank you for sharing this. You are someone who inspires me to keep the course. Sometimes I feel inadequate but when I read your words it gives me strength to continue. I know that your students must feel this way as well.

      1. Oh Melissa, thank YOU!! Many times I wonder if the hours and energy put in make a difference too. Not just in the classroom but with the blogs etc. This message was just what I needed today. (That 12 page midterm report really pulled me down this week I think…)
        hugs and love,

        1. Laurie, apparently it’s easy for me to forget that everyone benefits from being told how much they are appreciated. You have a great perspective on being a teacher and relating to students that is so important for us to hear, and hear, and hear again because it’s so easy to forget when under stress. Thank you for always sharing!

    2. I too appreciate the perspective of love and caring that Laurie always finds a very effective way to bring into these conversations. Kids often really don’t know what is best for them or for their classroom community, or that others who are unlike them might benefit from what we do in ways that they cannot imagine. Just this afternoon after the bell, I overheard students (4%ers) talking about how my ci-based method is ineffective; and then, seconds later, another student (not a native English speaker) approached me and thanked me for making the material more understandable to him, and that he is making progress. Ideally we are teaching all students in a way that makes them all FEEL that they are making progress. But we don’t always have control over what some kids (and their parents) think real language learning is. And sometimes teaching ALL students in the classroom means abandoning (and asking them to rethink) traditional assumptions.

  6. This is truly a wonderful story. We are relentlessly bullied by elitist students, parents, teachers and administrators who view education as an Ayn Randian experiment in social Darwinism. We are encouraged to separate the “strong” from the “weak”. The “weak” are merely impeding the progress of the “strong” so we must divide them to preserve the purity of our elite children.
    This AP is choosing to stand out from the crowd and to push back against the bullies. It is so nice to hear this kind of story. It is especially nice to hear this coming from a Latin teacher. The Latin elite is a particularly relentless group.

  7. …the Latin elite is a particularly relentless group….
    And John that is really so true. Maybe that is why one of the strongest and most cohesive groups within this PLC community is in fact our small but mega-talented group of Latin teachers. We need to put strength against strength now and we are doing it. ALL children are well deserving (and I hope this doesn’t sound too schmaltzy) of being handed KEYS THAT WORK to the doors to the past, to Rome, to what was, to what has been for so long now locked up and inaccessible to all but the privileged. After all, it’s not as if Rome was a minor blip in our Western Culture. None of us who teach modern languages would even have jobs without Latin. We must honor that. As Latin awakens in the hearts of American kids of all social classes, so might our country wake up, as well, from its current stupor.

    1. Very well put, Ben! I want to send this paragraph to my department head and to the Spanish teachers at my middle school who frequently tell me how useless they think Latin is.

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