0 To 130: Seven Years Of Latin Novellas

In August of 2020, I wrote 0 To 70: Five Years Of Latin Novellas. Well, here we are just two years later having nearly doubled that number!!!! I’ve got two more coming out this year as well, so I’m betting it won’t be long until we hit that 140 mark.

Novellas are no joke. While the majority of teachers who discuss them are K-12, I know of at least one teacher prep program that’s been giving attention to these “new” resources in methods (etc.) courses, as well as various college professors listing them as required texts for their own students to read. This summer, I even learned that my cousin’s wife read an Olimpi book as part of a Midwest Philosophy grad program. And as more novellas make their way into classrooms, teachers and professors are tweaking how they use them. Here are my own findings…

While I don’t envision ever having a curriculum entirely comprised of novellas, I’ve been using them more and more over the years, myself. They’ve made wonderful anchor texts to be used as jumping off points for exploring Roman (etc.) culture, as well as to situate class discussions about students’ lives as they compare characters and settings to their own. Novellas remain a key resource in our successful Latin program that—so far after one year of ALIRA data—has produced 33% of our students within the Intermediate level by the end of Latin 2 taught by Emma VanderPool, with one of her students earning the Seal of Biliteracy (i.e., Intermediate High) as a Sophomore!

Reading Ability
Five years ago, the first book we read after 30 hours of Latin class was Rūfus lutulentus. This was a rare if not unique situation of teaching Latin part-time to students who had it once per week, so that took place at the end of April. Four years ago, the first book we read as a whole class in Latin 1 was Quīntus et nox horrifica after about 20 hours of Latin class in the two and a half weeks leading up to Halloween. This year, we’re finishing that book tomorrow, too, but we will have read that within just one week! We also read two additional books beforehand that didn’t exist years ago, namely Mārcus magulus and Olianna et obiectum magicum. So, the addition of those lower (lowest?) level reading options has changed how soon we get reading something that isn’t a co-created class text, like a story or write & discuss after something like Discipulus Illustris.

Reading Experience
Lower level books have also changed the nature of what used to feel like a “big novella project.” That is, four years ago, preparing for and reading Quīntus et nox horrifica took at least three weeks. This year, there wasn’t really much ado. It was just…”the third book”…we read as a class. Granted, without the big project-like undertaking of getting first year students to read that book after about 20 hours of Latin class, this year we planned a LOT of scaffolding…like…way more than when reading the first two books. It was a solid week of Quizlet, reading, reading, reading, and a couple games. In hindsight, the experience of zipping through the first two books this year was a lot more enjoyable, both from the teacher planning perspective as well as the student class experience perspective. With the first two shorter, lower level books, we were able to do other things during class, not just read one book the entire time (during 85 minute blocks!!!!). Therefore, now that we have a greater variety of reading options before getting to the seasonal spooky book, I’ve decided to write a prequel to Quīntus, making it closer in level and reading experience to the first two books, even using some vocabulary drawn from them. The new book could also act as a stepping stone to the original for students who want to read what will become “the sequel” on their own now that independent reading is about to start in November.

Cream Rising To The Top
I can’t digest very much lactose, so I don’t love this expression. I also don’t care much for the biblical reference of “separating the wheat from the chaff,” but you probably get the idea. Much like how the more familiar, even easier, and more exciting Mārcus magulus replaced Rūfus lutulentus as the lowest level reading option, Quīntus et īnsula horrifica: The Prequel will replace the OG Quīntus as our spooky whole-class tale. Planning for and supporting the most compelling books is the latest thing I’ve found changing with novellas in my class. A focus on writing has been getting as many different books as possible out there for independent reading, especially since the first ones were being read by Latin teachers primarily in a whole-class format. On that note, Keith Toda wrote in his 2017 reflection how a longer book of 4150 total words began to drag on, starting the book November 1st, and reading it at least through February 20th (the last post that mentions starting a new chapter of the book):

“The problem, however, was that as there were ten chapters in the novella, this process began to drag on for students. As the process took much longer to go through it than I had expected, students began to tire of reading the novella and to a degree, to resent reading itself.”

Now, I’m reading the most compelling books as whole-class reading experiences, which in turn is leading to new books that support the ones that do so well, like the Egyptian follow-up Mārcus et scytala Caesaris, the recent sequel, Olianna et sandalia extraōrināria, and the new Quīntus prequel. The other “milk” or “chaff” books still serve their purpose of providing various options for independent reading, but the Top Picks, as it were, are creating more positive experiences for today’s beginning Latin learner.

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