Pīsō Ille Poētulus: A New Latin Novella

Over the last couple years, I’ve doubled-down on pedagogy, becoming very comfortable teaching Latin, and can now place more emphasis on improving my own proficiency. Whatever my current proficiency level is, however, I’ve written a poetry-themed historical fiction novella set in Rome for the Novice reader (including 22 original lines of dactylic hexameter), which, as many have noted, we are in dire need of as a profession.

As a speaker, my Latin is not great, but it’s certainly NOT WORSE than most teachers out there. This novella, then, is an educational tool to get those teachers AND their students to read more fluently (ease + speed). It also happens to be a confidence-boosting read as an intro to Latin poetry if used in upper-levels. Pīsō Ille Poētulus currently contains just 154 words (including cognates, but not names or different forms of words, so this is quite low). I strongly feel that reading material with a low word count and frequently recycled vocabulary is a great asset to the Novice reader. Because of this parameter, decisions were made, such as esne hīc? in place of adesne? Here, I didn’t use an additional word, adesse (even if it’s a compound of other words that occur frequently), since the same, or similar meaning could be expressed with other words that already appear in the novella. Because I fully admit that my focus has been on pedagogy, I recognize that some people might have excellent suggestions to make Pīsō Ille Poētulus an even better resource for the Novice reader and our students reading Latin poetry.

So, I’m releasing the first five chapters of Pīsō Ille Poētulus (though without illustrations or all poetry audio files) for you to pilot in your classes, or at least read over Labor Day weekend. Why? This is for us—as Latin teachers—especially those who’d like to share Latin poetry with their students before the majority of them bail after year 2 or 3, and an opportunity for those with high levels of Latin proficiency to contribute to the profession.

Interested? I’m asking that you take a look at the first half of the novella, maybe run off a class copy (or project it and read through with upper-level students), and then get back to me with ways to improve it—particularly concerning the buzz about “Latinity” and “Classically Attested” and attention to Latin idiom. Keep in mind, however, the need for a Novice-level novella with a very low word count. If both can exist, hooray! If not, I’m sticking with a low word count as the priority, and you can go ahead and write a perfectly idiomatic Latin novella for Intermediate+.

Given that parameter of keeping the word count low, I’ll gladly accept suggestions for direct substitutions, especially ones that can be used in many places, or ones that don’t increase the word count by more than a word or two. Some suggestions I’ve already received have been fantastic, yet would have pushed Pīsō Ille Poētulus beyond what you’d expect from novellas with higher word counts, such as Cloeliaor Itinera Petrī. After October 1st, I’ll begin editing Pīsō Ille Poētulus for November publication. Remember, this novella is for us, so speak now or…

Click here to access Pīsō Ille Poētulus for piloting. <– Updated 9.19 (added two brief chapters, brother’s name “Rūfus,” and Piso’s mean name for his brother, “Rūfus Fūfus”)

Lost in the Shuffle: Rhythmic Fluency

So much of this blog is CI-centered, but there’s a neglected tab on the navigator bar devoted to what I’ve called Rhythmic Fluency. Since I’m now teaching Latin IV (Ovid & Catullus), I’ve gone back to my rhythmic roots, and am seeing the power of those earlier metrical resources combined with my classes now containing more comprehensible Latin. Pīsō Ille Poētulus (already greatly improved since sharing a couple weeks ago) includes 22 lines of original dactylic hexameter using a limited vocabulary, thus increasing its comprehensibility potential. It is scheduled for November publication so you can brush up on your rhythmic fluency beforehand by listening to the dactylic hexameter audio files, and be prepared to read Pīsō with your students in a more compelling way by actually focusing on the meter using a resource they can hear and recite along with!

In addition to that audio, of particular interest and effectiveness is Lingua Latīna, the Latin Poetry Rhythm Card GameIf you noticed, the title of the game represents the traditional 5th  & 6th foot of dactylic hexameter (i.e. — u u — —). The point of the game is to run out of cards by playing 2-3 words that form the very same rhythm of the phrase, Lingua Latīna.

I’ll be using this game throughout the year. A good way to use it would be to treat it exactly like you would a game of VERBA, either whole class first then in small groups so you can monitor, or as just one of several station options.


Textbook Stories: Embedded Readings (ER), and Recycled Readings (RR)

In my last post, I mentioned the importance of parallel stories. Recycled Readings (RR) is my new idea on improving textbook stories known for not providing enough repetitions of new vocabulary. To create a Recycled Reading (RR), just add a parallel character, and recycle the vocabulary from the original as you compare. In the example below, the bold text is my parallel character—Katy Perry.

Ecce Rōmānī – I (Two Roman Girls)

ecce! in pictūrā est puella, nōmine Cornēlia. in pictūrā nōn est puella, nōmine Katy. Katy est puella Americāna quae in L.A. habitat. Cornēlia est puella Rōmāna quae in Italiā habitat…etc.

This isn’t a panacea—the textbook still introduces TOO MUCH vocabulary TOO SOON, but at least now there are more repetitions and something to relate to—instant Personalized Question & Answer (PQA) material. In addition to Recycled Readings (RR), I’ll be creating Embedded Readings (ER) for each chapter using a parallel story. You can read about what I learned at NTPRS about ERs from Michele Whaley, (co-creator of Embedded Readings), here.

So, my plan is to ask a class story, read those parallel stories I shared in the last post, then read the Ecce Rōmānī parallel ERs, and finally look at the RR. From there, we might actually read the original Ecce Rōmānī text, or just move on. I’ll update the document with each chapter throughout the year:

Click here for Ecce Rōmānī Parallel Stories (ER & RR). Feel free to make a copy (under “file”), and change the details to suit the interests of your students.


Parallel Stories

The latest Tea with BVP episode was “Teaching Without Textbooks.” Whether you’ve already ditched the textbook, or still work alongside one, parallel stories are important. Parallel stories include the same language found in a narrative, but the details (maybe plot) change. This year, I’ll be using a mix of parallel stories that compliment a textbook’s narrative, and co-created stories via TPRS.

For years I used TPRS story scripts to ask a story and then type up and read the exact story as a class. I’m now sold on parallel readings that include all the language found in the class story during acting, but now in a new context with details unknown to the students. Following Michele Whaley’s current practices on Embedded Readings, each of our stories will have at least three versions—this builds interest along the way by withholding information (vs. knowing exactly how the class story ends).

There will be more on how I adapt a textbook’s narrative later, but for now, here’s a link to our Latin 1 parallel stories (updated throughout the year in this single document).

Tea with BVP (9.1.16): Teachers with Low Proficiency

It’s clear that non-idiomatic language (hopefully not with structural errors) has an effect on the mental representation of a student. It would be silly to deny that. Although Bill VanPatten advocates for teachers to have high proficiency levels in this week’s Tea with BVP, he also mentions that we don’t know for certain what the negative impact of exposure to low-quality input is over different periods of time (e.g. K-12 Spanish vs. 4 years of Latin). Regardless, I think we should be asking this:

Does the negative impact of using non-idiomatic Latin outweigh the benefits of an improved experience and inclusion of ALL students in the Latin classroom?

If the answer is “yes” in a catastrophic way, an extreme suggestion would be that all Latin teachers below X proficiency level should immediately resign, or at least refrain from creating and/or publishing materials for students. These teachers should attend the available immersion events (e.g. conventicula, rusticātiō, Living Latin in NYC, etc.), listen to Nuntiī Latīnī and Quōmodō Dīcitur, read as much Latin that they understand as possible, and then get back on the horse when they’re up to speed. A less-extreme suggestion would be that they should simply not teach Latin communicatively.

If the answer is “no,” or “yes” in a non-catastrophic way, then the teacher should still definitely seek out those same ways to improve proficiency, but perhaps with less urgency. They should certainly keep teaching, and we could certainly use the published materials.

Personally, I feel that ANY mental representation of language is more beneficial than what has been going on with Grammar-Translation, and my hunch is that the negative impact is nowhere near catastrophic. Thus, it’s only a matter of time until the teacher’s proficiency improves to a high level, which means that each year students will be exposed to richer and richer input.

Note how the most effective solutions to improving proficiency become an issue of access—the immersion events aren’t cheap, and not everyone has a local Latin conversation group with highly proficient speakers. Teachers with more money and time have greater access to understandable Latin. Note, also, how the issue of access brings us right back to the classroom. A CI classroom is about extending access to Latin to all students—students typically left out in the grammar game. Realize, too, that most Latin teachers, themselves, have been denied access to communicative proficiency, and are doing what they can to improve it.

Tea with BVP – Season 2

Season 2 of Bill VanPatten’s show kicked-off today. Click on the first link you see, here, for highlights from the show in just under 15min, but catch the full episode if you have more time.

People have criticized me for not quoting many Second Language Acquisition (SLA) researchers other than VanPatten. Until the others make their work accessible by coming out with their own show, or make themselves more available by answering my emails and phone calls, I’ll continue to promote a guy whose work easily applies to what we do in classrooms—especially at the secondary level—and is advocating for positive change in our departments.

Here’s a 30sec soundbite from Episode 28 that covers 1) context as a “straw man,” 2) language acquisition vs. time, 3) setting realistic goals, and 4) ability vs. knowledge:

Language Acquisition Takes Time (Episode 28)

How Comprehensible Must Reading Be?

Marcos Benevides’ Slideshare PPT has been floating around for over a year now. It’s a powerful illustration of how unknown words affect reading fluency (speed + ease), especially for anyone who thinks students will be OK reading anything that’s less than 98% comprehensible.

Still, the syntactical clues in Marcos’ PPT helped native speakers. In order to simulate a student’s reading experience more accurately, I removed those clues. Here’s the result (download, here, for sharing):