I first adopted more realistic expectations of students after understanding how languages are acquired. This was within the first few months of teaching in my first job, so I was lucky; some have never had that opportunity. However, I was still trying to apply what I learned to a textbook program still focused on grammar, so it was a rocky start to any comprehension-based and communicative approach, to say the least. Despite what some might claim, CI and grammar just don’t mix. That is, whenever we decide to teach grammar, even for legit reasons, students are likely not receiving CI.
For my second year teaching, then, I decided to use the textbook Lingua Latīna Per Sē Illustrāta (LLPSI) at a more realistic pace. My plan? I would teach just the first 6 chapters of that textbook to the new first year Latin students entering high school. To be clear, that was a ridiculously slow pace by all accounts. For comparison, some grammar-based programs finish all 35 chapters that first year! My process involved storyasking via TPRS based on the textbook vocab, but a lot of it felt forced. In fact, I taught EVERY word that way before reading sections of each chapter. As a result, chapters took months to teach, and then I noticed students begin to hit a wall around chapter 4. After some analysis I did in 2016, though, I’m not surprised. The first chapter of LLPSI has 42 words, chapter 2 has 35 new words, chapter 3 unleashes another 36 words, etc. By the time students reach chapter 4, they will have been exposed to 113 words, 8 of which they will have seen most.
Fast-forward to now, and my classes have begun reading those first 6 chapters of LLPSI in the final weeks of school. I find it funny how they, too, have hit a similar wall beginning in chapter 4. That’s understandable, though, seeing as of the 113 words, which include a host of low-frequency vocab, my students have only read 66 of them throughout the year. Oh, and they have no interest in the narrative beyond a few laughs during the sibling fight of chapter 3! Still, at least they were able to read the first few chapters with ease having never opened the book beforehand.
Why is this significant?
I spent a whole year teaching the same content to my former students that my current students read within days! There was nothing forced about what we did this year, and as a result they could read level-appropriate Latin with ease. Sure, they hit the same textbook wall due to vocab overload, but they learned more about the Romans, and themselves—in Latin—than my former students ever did! Perhaps more importantly, current students will move on with a positive language experience. My recommendation?
Don’t teach any of your textbook. Just read it at the end of the year.
If my observations can be applied elsewhere—which they might not—students will read with ease up until the same point as if you had taught the textbook the whole time. If you don’t teach to the textbook, you’re free to spend the year communicative with a purpose, taking the last few weeks to read it down. I predict that you’ll also observe what students would have walked away with had you been teaching that textbook. For example, if students can read 10 textbook chapters with ease, that’s probably as far as their actual “learning” goes when teaching the textbook.
Have you already ditched a textbook? Are they lingering around in closets?Try giving them to your current students and see how much they can read! After all, this time of year has wacky disruptions we often need to fill-in with a random activity or two. If you do this, please report back in the comments section!