One Second Language Acquisition (SLA) idea is that teachers mostly control only the quantity and quality of input—the sine qua non of language acquisition—with the learner’s internal syllabus acting as a major constraint. Conventionally, Latin teachers have been preoccupied with quality of Latin over quantity, which is likely the opposite of how to acquire a language! Furthermore, quality* has different interpretations, especially concerning its comprehensibility.
Recently, John Piazza has been promoting HQ (High-Quantity) Reading—of texts students understand—on the Latin Best Practices Facebook group, and with good reason. Blaine Ray’s recommendation is reading 32 pages a week (half in school, half at home) beginning in the 3rd year, which is quite the challenge for a profession lacking a high quantity of understandable reading material (i.e. texts written with a reasonable number of words, and NOT what some consider appropriate texts)! Right now, there are a couple of ways Latin teachers are working towards that goal…
2) Writing personalized texts
There are about 17 novellas written with sheltered vocabulary for the beginning student, which I’ve been updating on a list, here. These novellas are ready-to-go sources of more understandable input than has ever been available in the past, offering thousands of Latin words for students to read in compelling contexts. As an author of some of those texts, I can share some stats. At this point in the Pisoverse, there are 4 novellas, and 2 readers. This winter, there will be a 5th novella of 58 unique words, which will end up being the longest in the Pisoverse at over 3000 total words! These 8 texts are written with just 300 unique words across them all—a reasonable amount for students to understand by their third year, no doubt containing some new words (because high-frequency is context-dependent). The total word count of these 8 texts is over 16,600. That’s a lot of Latin—twice as much, in fact, since this past October! So, the Pisoverse alone is just one huge source towards the 32 pages/wk goal in the third year. Approx. half of that Latin is available completely free for projecting/printing on each publication’s blog post,which you can find on the Novellas tab.
The other option is to write personalized texts for your own students. Here, “personalized” could mean texts based on details learned in class about the students themselves, or adapted ancient texts on topics that students are interested in. Writing personalized texts for your students daily is one way to provide copious amounts of CI. This is a high-leverage practice, and doubles as the least expensive option (yes, novellas are inexpensive, but 5 copies of all current 17 could run $500. This is quite low when it comes to classroom resources, yet remains a hard sell in underfunded programs in which teachers haven’t yet advocated for text budgets like ELA courses). So, writing personalized texts is one inexpensive way to provide the most comprehensible reading material, yet it also might require ditching some practices teachers ASSUME they must do, yet contribute very little to acquisition:
- Instead of creating worksheets…
- Instead of designing a 1-2 page quiz…
- Instead of grading quizzes at home, or during planning time…
- Instead of creating a translating activity…
…write personalized texts daily for your students!
Not sure where to begin when it comes to writing for the Novice? Read this, this, and this!
*Quality is usually synonymous with Latīnitās, which will be debated ad nauseum, ad inferōs, and beyond, yet another take on quality of input is in the richness and clarity of meaning. The ancient unadapted short sentences found in “Wheelock’s” and “Learn to Read Latin” textbooks hold very little meaning for the beginning student—not to mention some degree-holders—which calls into question the quality of input if only few can understand that level of Latīnitās. After all, even the best examples of single-sentence Ciceronian Latin can be meaningless to most! Quality, then, can be seen as messages that hold a great deal of meaning, and not just messages of a particular style consistent with great ancient authors.
Here are 50 new lines of poetry including dactylic hexameter, hendecasyllables, and scazon (i.e. limping iambics)!
This collection of poetry from the Pisoverse features a prose description of what inspired Piso’s poetry prior to each verse itself. This provides context and exposure to the words found in each verse, adding to its comprehensibility. Despite the lack of a single continuous plot, students should find fragmenta Pīsōnis more readable than the Pīsō Ille Poētulus novella, especially with any background knowledge from reading the other, much easier novellas in the Pisoverse (i.e. Rūfus lutulentus, Rūfus et arma ātra, and Agrippīna: māter fortis). The poetry in this collection includes more “big content words” to clearly convey meaning. fragmenta Pīsōnis can be used as a transition to the Pīsō Ille Poētulus novella, or as additional reading for students already comfortable with poetry having read the novella. The only new word added to the 96 word count from the entire Pisoverse is fragmentum. This collection is 2200 words in total length.
Use fragmenta Pīsōnis as a Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) option, read as a whole class together, or introduce each fragment as “poetry of week.”
fragmenta Pīsōnis is available…
1) On Amazon
2) As a free preview of the first section (includes 12 lines of poetry)
– Poetry of the Week (free audio files to use)
3) Email me for Purchase Orders and classroom set discounts
We’re 1/3 of the way through the school year. Doesn’t that make you tingle? And why shouldn’t it? In my experience, no matter how much anyone enjoys what they do, everyone just wants to go home at the end of the day, and especially at the end of the school year!
Here is what my Word Walls look like after 12 classes (Latin 1x/wk):
Notice the variation amongst all three, despite a core set of words used throughout. These Word Walls represent “high frequency” as a concept. Even after watching and discussing the same MovieTalk, each class has its own identity…
It was John Bracey who reminded me that if either of us just started discovering CI right now, we’d have NO IDEA what to do or where to begin. It was very clear a few years ago when Story Listening wasn’t as popular, and Ben Slavic had yet to write his Big CI Book, let alone create The Invisibles with Tina Hargaden. TPRS wasn’t even promoting its version of MovieTalk, which is now standard practice in its workshops as the easier gateway to story asking. These all have positively contributed in some way to those teaching in comprehension-based communicative classrooms—don’t get me wrong—but the culmination has also made communicating ideas about CI more complicated. For example, the Teacher’s Discovery magazine has begun selling products branded with “CI,” regardless of actual comprehensibility, let alone amount of input, and some methods mention CI while simultaneously drawing from older methods shown to be ineffective (i.e. Audio-Lingual), and aligning practices with the latest publications from the research-lacking ACTFL. This isn’t a jab at ACTFL, it’s just the reality that most of what they promote is determined by committees, not actual research.
There were fewer teachers interested in CI, too, which meant that there were fewer opinions. In a way, it was almost easier beforehand to be dismissed by most colleagues than it has been lately, falling into debate after debate over what used to be quite simple. Professional groups have also migrated to Facebook, a more active platform. Instead of ignoring messages from a single list-serve daily digest email, folks have been receiving notification after notification on their phones, and responding promptly. There doesn’t seem to be as much time as there used to be to absorb ideas, formulate thoughts, and respond accordingly. For example, while my principles about what language is have been refined since the release of Tea with BVP in October of 2015, many teachers are just now discovering that resource, some of whom have been responding on Facebook with their ideas that haven’t had much influence since the 70’s. It’s becoming difficult to communicate ideas about CI clearly.
So, there are a lot of voices now, which is great, but just not that much support, which is not great, and not as much clarity, which is really not great at all. Many ideas I observe being discussed share no guiding principles, yet teachers go back and forth as if they’re the same thing. Most ideas aren’t, or there’s a crucial difference that one or all parties don’t see. There might be a way to move forward together…
**Updated 10.23.17** Lots of related support and sources cited on the Eric Herman’s Acquisition Classroom Memo Video Playlist for Memo 8.
I just presented at the Vermont Classical Language Association’s 2017 meeting on “A Grammar Free Syllabus, Personalization, and Proficiency in the CI Latin Classroom.” The title of my PPT, however, reflects the possible consequence that if we don’t say goodbye to the grammar syllabus, we might say goodbye to teaching Latin in public schools. It’s a strong claim, but I don’t tend to make light claims, anyway.
3000 additional total words in 28 scenes and stories for the novice reader featuring more vivid descriptions of weapons, deeper character development, mud, fights with animals, retiarii, baths, rumors, mysterious odors, infants in danger, Crixaflamma’s real name, and more…
This is a different kind of teacher’s guide.
Teacher’s Materials for Rūfus et arma ātra are just days away from being published, featuring 28 additional stories that expand the unique word count, and increase sentence lengths. This will provide the novice+ student with 3000 more total words to read in Latin, and is the first of my Latin texts written with deliberate attention to super clear cognates—45 of them!
When it comes to a student-centered acquisition-rich classroom, the main responsibility of a teacher is providing input. Given time constraints, as well as what we know about general anxiety over learning languages, the input (I) should be as comprehensible (C) as possible. Therefore, the teacher would benefit from spending most of their time making the target language more comprehensible, but doing so requires training in particular strategies and techniques.
An oft neglect technique for Latin teachers is the liberal use of cognates.