Unless you’re an island of one, a program Mission & Vision is a good idea to keep the department heading in a similar direction, even if things don’t start out that way. I put a lot of time into crafting the document last spring, and just had some help from my admin for the final touches. Once that was squared away this week, I could hand in my 2018-19 Syllabus. Let’s unpack all that…
Already, the first sentence is innovative, sadly. Latin programs haven’t had the reputation of being understandable, overflowing with Comprehensible Input (CI). Our program will be. The second half outlines the Universal Language Curriculum (ULC) Essential Questions of “Who am I? Who are we?” and then “Who were the Romans?” Now, I usually cringe when required to align my practices with blah blah “edubabble,” but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I hit all but one of the state and national C standards (i.e. culture, connections, comparisons, community, all through communication). This was completely unintended, which gives me hope that at least some edubabble can support best practices. I added the 5th C (which happened to have been the easiest of all to include because it was mentioned later—communication).
It’s important that we keep an eye on context. For example, Beniko Mason’s research suggests that learners only need to listen to 2-3 stories each day in order to develop a decent level of proficiency over a few years. That’s just not gonna fly in most K-12 contexts, especially in public schools (vs. Waldorf, other private schools, etc.). So, research needs to be applicable to our teaching context.
Note “progress towards implementing.” I included this because the best practices should not feel prescriptive to new department members, but the trajectory of the program should definitely be clear from what’s stated. The first of four best practices stresses the importance of what sooooo many language teachers overlook; any discussion of culture is assumed to be through communication in the target language. So, those textbook “culture sections” in English just don’t cut it in today’s teaching, which also means learners should be given level-appropriate texts to read to then learn about the target culture (vs. something to attempt to derive meaning from, and then grab an English translation to actually learn the content). The next two best practices allow some wiggle room for teachers who otherwise just don’t know what to teach besides grammar. I’m very sensitive to anyone in such a position, and this is the most hedging I can do on the issue because we know what happens from explicit grammar instruction. The last best practice is really about the paradigm shift from the old thinking of translating in order to understand to the new thinking of translating what is already understood, which also has pedagogical implications in terms of what texts we’re giving learners (i.e. NOT unadapted ancient texts, but instead level-appropriate texts, and a lot of them).
The second half pf the Mission gives a bit of rationale, while also showing that there are realistic expectations of department members. “Invitation” is an important concept when it comes to teaching practices. For example, I would never require other teachers to do Discipulus Illustris (Special Person), but if they’re look for how to connect better with learners, or observe my class and want to know more, I’ll be right there with support.
Unlike the Mission & Vision, the Syllabus is very learner-friendly. I’m up front about communication being first and foremost, even if it might seem unusual for Latin. After all, it’s a language, and such expectations are outlined in the state and national 5 Cs. Also, I also don’t mention any specific teaching strategy, or method. Kids don’t care about that stuff. They usually just want to go home (like everyone working in the building).
This section is a bit of disguised Second Language Acquisition (SLA) with a learner-friendly look at de-emphasizing explicit grammar knowledge. I also get into what Bill VanPatten has suggested we now call “developmental forms” in place of “errors.” This restates the format of the course (i.e. “Who am I? Who are we?” and “Who were the Romans?”), and then there’s a bone thrown in there for what hoi polloi usually associate Latin with. None of that is untrue, but I wanted to show more, adding that we’ll be celebrating all languages, not just Latin & English.
This states that learners are expected to read even though we won’t have assignments due for homework. This also addresses any “Latin class is easy”—which is the greatest victory of all time—otherwise in a negative light by offering an alternative way of thinking about rigor as it applies to communication (and not academics). Note the learner-friendly bit about metacognition and the difference between learning & acquisition. This also lays out my Classroom MGMT plan in a nutshell.
The last section is the fun part. Grading & Assessment are my favorite topics in education, so I put a lot of thought into clearly stating how class works. This states that we COULD have a quiz every day, there’s no risk for a low score, and scores WILL be looked at. There’s also a learner-friendly description of that 0% grading category, as well as a krash[en] kourse on Comprehensible Input (CI).
The next pages of the Syllabus include the one rubric, which I don’t expect many learners to read, Eric Herman’s awesome poster, which I don’t necessarily expect learners to understand fully—both of which are more for those clever adults at home—a sweet toon idea I got from Mike Peto, and my DEA rules with accompanying homework assignment. The whole Syllabus is 3 pages, with the 3rd page to be returned to me, filled out and signed by the end of the week. This helps me connect with adults at home right away, and also gives me some useful info about what everyone is worried about.
Also, I do NOT go over any of this in class. The first weeks are about establishing rules & routines that I’ll cover everything as it comes up anyway. No need to waste a day of “read along with me” that learners probably get from other classes. If the surveys that come back include many similar concerns, I’ll quickly address them one day. Otherwise, we’re moving on.