It’s DCI finals week, so you get a drum corps analogy. You have no idea what that is, you sort of know, or you marched colorguard in 1984? Well, this is what a DCI champion looks like these days. Drumlines usually begin the season in the winter months with complex and challenging music. In the summer, after hours and hours of rehearsal, that music is usually “watered-down” to something the performers can actually achieve, hence The Hose. I’ve long thought that it might be a more pedagogically-sound practice to write some basic “skeleton” music, and then expand it to be more challenging as performers improve throughout the season. The result would be music appropriate to the performers’ proficiency level (instead of spending time trying to reach something they can’t do, or can’t do well, only to ditch during finals week). Of course, it would take an incredibly patient drum line and staff in the winter to have faith that performer proficiency would improve beyond what appeared to be the “simple, easy beats” to play, and then become something impressive and worthy of playing in front of a crowd. In reality, though, the simple beats are quite rudimental to drumming, just like sheltered vocabulary is to second language learning.
The analogy isn’t perfect, but I was reminded of this thought after reading a comment that would place Rūfus et arma ātra, Agrippīna: māter fortis, and even Pīsō Ille Poētulus in the “easy beats” category of appropriate reading material (and for some seemingly not impressive and worthy due to perceived simplicity, despite being fundamental). There’s this quote from another teacher’s Latin 2 student who read Rūfus in April/May, which could serve as a shocking reality check concerning where our students probably are in terms of reading proficiency, or at least confidence in reading:
“This book was very good. I feel like when we did our army unit this book would’ve been great to read. I knew most of the words, and only had to look up a few, which was nice. The book wasn’t too easy and also wasn’t too hard so it took just the right amount of time to read.”
– Latin 2 high school student on Rūfus et arma ātra
Perhaps the simplicity and humor in Rūfus doesn’t appeal to your university-aged, or 3rd/4th year high school student who’s had school crush the joy of life out of her, so fine. I say give them the book anyway to read within 10min (but don’t be surprised if it takes slightly longer!), and then create an Expanded Reading (ExR) on the spot with the class. Or, create one ahead of time to follow up with immediately. The point is that you start on a basic level, and then interact in a level-appropriate way. Don’t be so quick to judge students’ ability to read a new text you haven’t co-created in class, or of novella-length! Confidence is definitely the name of the game, yet confidence has not been high in Latin classrooms—then again, so hasn’t nationwide enrollment lately <bah dum, CRASH!>
Expanded Reading (ExR):
An ExR is the opposite of an Embedded Reading (ER), taking something simple, expanding it, and adding “unseen” detail (as back stories) whenever appropriate. This is an excellent way to make use of resources across all course levels—not just for 10min during Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) in your highest class, only once. I’ve known teachers who expand ex tempore beginning with one sentence as an exercise (a favorite at spoken-Latin immersion events), but few who have spent time creating these at the text level like they would Embedded Readings for a very simple reason; there hasn’t been enough simple texts! We have plenty of texts none of our students can read, but only a handful of ones ALL students can read.
Here’s an ExR example using the first page of Rūfus et arma ātra as the original:
Original (10 unique words, 27 total)
est Rūfus. gladiātōrēs eī placent. eī placent gladiātōrēs magnī. eī placent gladiātōrēs parvī. bonī gladiātōrēs eī placent, et malī gladiātōrēs eī quoque placent! gladiātōrēs eī valdē placent!
ExR (28 unique words, 49 total)
ecce, Rūfus. Rūfus, cui gladiātōrēs placent, est puer Rōmānus. puerō Rūfō placent gladiātōrēs et magnī et parvī. nōn sōlum gladiātōrēs bonī eī placent—scīlicet—sed etiam gladiātōrēs malī eī placent! Rūfō, ut mōs est Rōmānīs multīs, gladiātōrēs valdē placent! sīc, paene omnēs Rōmānī ab gladiātōribus dēlectantur, Rūfō haud exclūsō.
The ExR is definitely something a more advanced Latin student would be reading, and new “unseen” information about the characters or setting would make it more compelling. Cavē! though, because in this expanded version, the risk of not reading with high enough comprehension (95-98% is just ~1 unknown word from that paragraph) increases because the word count nearly triples. As that word count creeps higher, the exposure to recycled words/phrases drops lower. This is less of a concern as students expand their vocabulary—a slow and piecemeal process—but is of paramount concern when it comes to the novice student reading independently.
Need a reference to begin creating Expanded Readings? Use the Top 52 Most Important Verbs doc and its visualization for ideas! If you do create them, especially for novellas, please share to the Latin Best Practices: The Next Generation in Comprehensible Input Facebook group!