How Simple Is This Text?

Following Carol Gaab, and M & M (i.e. Mira Canion & Martina Bex), here’s a quick post on how I’ve organized the Pisoverse. While those authors have hundreds of titles to address, I have just 8, and they’re much smaller in scope. After all, I write novellas, not novels. Still, there is method to my madness…

There are three general levels within the Pisoverse. These levels correspond to the color-coded word count button on the cover, as well as the physical size of the book. Sheltered (i.e. limited) vocabulary isn’t everything—although I would argue it’s most things—so check out other factors that contribute to the writing at each level.

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Alpha
This level is includes grammar that otherwise is delayed for at least a year in conventional curricula, yet does so only as long as messages remain short. This means that with the exception of the quirky novella, Pīsō pertrbātus (due to an intended effect), you won’t find relative clauses, or other grammatical constructions that lengthen messages. These books are able to be read early on, and are an absolute breeze for upper level students. A main purpose of these books to give students confidence while reading. Thus, setting up a positive experience and precedent for Free Voluntary Reading (FVR), and texts as a whole class.

On a side note, I’m not sure there could ever be too many novellas at the Alpha level! Sure, Rūfus lutulentus borders on the line of being hideously easy to read by most students, but even a teacher’s Latin II student has this to say about Rūfus et arma ātra:

“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.”

So, for all the students like this one, halfway done with high school Latin and feeling like an Alpha book was the Goldilocks level of comprehension and confidence, I’d say we could use more of ’em! Also, the idea of reading a 1200-2000 word text—each week—on a new topic from classical antiquity is exciting, don’t you think?

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Beta
This level offers more narrative creativity due to expanding vocabulary, and feel more like novels due to the length. For example, Drūsilla has about 2x as many unique words as Pīsō perturbātus, and is also 3x the length of Rūfus lutulentus! You’ll still find shorter sentences, but additional function words, such as conjunctions, and adverbs, make some sentences much longer than those in Alpha. Also, the flexible word order is felt more when reading, and subjects are usually restated only when needed for clarity. While all novellas contain illustrations, this level has fewer ones, especially those indicating a change in speaker.

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Gamma
This level represents the ceiling of the Pisoverse. Students encounter longer sentences due to certain grammatical constructions that otherwise would be too long to process for the beginning student (N.B. the grammar/word formation, itself, doesn’t pose a problem, unlike what I was taught. Instead, it just requires longer processing time, but that’s something beginning students lack).

Pīsō Ille Poētulus has about 2x the unique word count as the books in the previous level, whereas much less separates Alpha from Beta. Also, the density and frequency of unique words begins to drop at this level. For example, the texts of Beta and Gamma are similar  in total length, (and longer in the case of Drūsilla et convīvium magārum!)yet the unique word count doubles at the Gamma level. That results in less repetition of certain words.

N.B. Pīsō was the first novella to be published. It certainly means something when I, as well as Andrew Olimpi, a prolific author of adapted myths and texts from antiquity, have decided to make all subsequent novellas much simpler than our firsts!

Books at this level have more function words (i.e. conjunctions, pronouns, adverbs) besides the big content words (i.e. nouns, adjectives, verbs) that students derive the most meaning from. In addition, the two novellas at this level also have the added complexity of exposing students to meter given the Latin poetry content, which—perhaps—is more a complication for teachers than it is students as readers (see Rhythmic Fluency)!

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Mixed
This book—about to get a face lift—soon won’t be the sole novella in its level once the choose-your-own-level parallel novella to Agrippīna: māter fortis featuring Livia’s story is published next month!

These mixed-level novellas are designed with the Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) student in mind. They contain ready-to-go tiered readings that are clearly stated, providing a lot of flexibility and support under one cover; students can self-select appropriate reading material within a single book! The Rūfus-inspired novella above has 28 additional stories across 4 tiers that would correspond to two levels of Alpha, a Beta, and a Gamma. This means that students can read 7 stories at the same level before going back and working their way through each one! With the forthcoming Līvia: māter ēloquens, students can read the entire novella, dropping down a level to Alpha, or moving up to Gamma during the same reading session without missing any of the plot!

Anyway, I hope this has helped shed some light on the novellas I’ve enjoyed writing!
– Magister P

p.s. don’t overlook the Rūfus Audiobook or Pīsō Poetry Album! There’s a new one coming within a few days, too!

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3 thoughts on “How Simple Is This Text?

  1. Interesting method of grouping each level of text! Although I do not teach Latin (I teach French), I am always looking for strategies to implement authentic texts for students of all proficiency levels. For my novice students, I find that the simplicity that you mentioned seems to be one of the most important keys to success! Sometimes finding texts that are appropriate for novice students can be a challenge. Many of the topics you mentioned such as sentence structure, vocabulary, and grammar certainly play a role when selecting texts. In my recent post http://teachinginthetargetlanguage.com/getting-our-students-to-read-authentic-texts-in-the-target-language/, I discuss the idea of getting students of all proficiency levels to read in the target language. I would love to hear more on this topic and what works for other World Language teachers!

    • That’s cool, but I don’t agree with providing students—especially novice students—with unadapted texts, and the reasons for doing so are weak (in terms of making an evidence-based argument). I know that ACTFL et al. refers to these as “authentic,” but even in their definition of “by *members of a language and culture group* for *members of the same language and culture group*” it clearly, and importantly leaves out a particular group…students of the language! Sure, some students will derive some meaning from some texts under certain conditions. Lots of “ifs” for me, and in the case of Latin, the extant unadapted texts are at the Distinguished or Superior level. Interacting with those texts as-is doesn’t amount to much for most students most of the time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, though. I like to say “do what you like, just know what you’re doing (or not doing).”

  2. Been building my Spanish language and Latin language libraries. Started as one shelf. But as the Spanish one has grown, I had a couple of realizations….

    1. a random “children’s book” for my four and six year olds was TOO incomprehensible. I started adapting the texts. The adaptations work really well. So much of the practice we have builds their vocabulary and most of all for a parent with reluctant children…..lowers their affective filter. Fancy talk for: they actually like spending Spanish time with dad when they understand the text.

    example was using Lobel’s Fables about a crocodile who likes orderly lines…..adapted text first, then eventually we moved into the full text AFTER MULTIPLE TRIES

    2. Our recent bookstore and library sales have brought me into some TREASURE caches. I started seeing the need to give my children MOST ACCESS to the simple Spanish books (that were least BABY baby in content). Yesterday we read the one about “hearing”. We repeated the phrase for “Listen to the…..” in almost every page. DEFINITELY ALPHA or baby alpha.

    As I processed this weekend’s booty, I discovered I had enough to start differentiating between the levels. As I continue this process and reflect more on your post, I will send you an update.

    – – – – last, thanks for the links, going there next.

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