Writing Workshop & Challenge #2

People have all sorts of things to say about the Latin being written these days. Sure enough, the vocabulary decisions I made for writing Challenge #1 were questioned almost immediately. While there’s no need to defend any of those decisions, it’s definitely worth looking at why those “core” 19 words were chosen and how they’re useful for storytelling. So before we get to Challenge #2, consider this a mini little writing workshop. Cui dono…? No one in particular. Let’s take a look at those words…

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November Writing Challenges

I’m a big fan of process over product—so much so that I don’t love sharing a bunch of ready-to-go class texts. I’ve been hesitant because the process of creating a text together as a class is more important than teachers having a print-and-go option. Granted, some of those for cultural exploration are available despite strongly encouraging teachers to focus on the process of writing their own. This all goes back to the #ACL100 presentation I gave with John Piazza and John Bracey, with contributions from David Maust. We showed how to do that under a “connect, explore, create” framework. Check out the Slides if you missed them.

Why the fuss? The idea is simple: when teachers don’t know what to do, they take anything pre-made and use it. Sure, this accomplishes one thing, the end, but what about the means? When the point is going through some kind of process that results in those products, it makes sense to focus on supporting teachers honing those skills. This is goal #1 of this post. For goal #2, I’ve been writing Latin using very, very few words, but my students could use more voices than just my own! Latin novellas being published still span quite the range. How about some more books at the lowest of levels?

Writing Challenges
November is time for the national writing month trend, so I thought it’d be a good way to get more teachers writing fewer words of Latin. At first glance, that doesn’t seem right, but what I’m talking about is setting parameters like writing a very short text using 20 unique words. I encourage teachers to use whatever grammar they need to express ideas, especially those that tend to be delayed until “advanced” study. However, sheltering grammar is a lot easier than limiting the number of words used to tell a story. Sheltering vocabulary is a particular skill that gets us the most leverage, but takes some practice. Let’s hone that. Consider this self-directed PD.

So, over the next weeks I’ll be adding some challenges to the Latin teaching community, for the Latin teaching & learning community. Submissions will be anonymous—or not—and the spreadsheet will be shared with everyone to view, copy, and read. That means if 10 Latin teachers each submit a short story using a particular set of words and some parameters, every Latin teacher with the link will have the option of reading any number of them with their classes. The best part? We can reasonably expect the texts to be of a similar level given the parameters. Latin 1 is about to get a whole lot of reading options. Well, maybe. That all depends if you’re up for the challenge!

Challenge #1
Write a short story about an animal using any of the following core verbs and function words:

  • esse, habēre, velle, īre, placēre
  • et, quoque, quia, sed
  • ā/ab, ad, cum, ē/ex, in
  • ergō, iam, nōn, subitō, valdē

Plus, the following additional words (excluding names, and different forms of words), scalable to your challenge level:

BOSS level sheltering: no more than 5 additional words
CONFIDENT level sheltering: no more than 10 additional words
NOOB level sheltering: no more than 15 additional words

Here’s the form for Writing Challenge #1. And here’s where I’ll put the stories once they start rolling in.

FAQs

How do I begin?!
If you’ve never written Latin for the beginner by sheltering vocabulary, start with three basic sentences. From there, fill in some details, and start to repeat words in different combinations of sentences. Break up longer ones into two or more, adding a new detail to each one. Count up everything, then add/remove individual words and sentences to get your story.

What if I use “nunc” instead of “iam?”
Bro, just submit using “iam,” then change your own text by doing a quick ALT+F (or whatever) to replace with words you use, or words your textbook/department forces you to use. Same goes for adapting other contributors’ stories.

How few is too few?
There really isn’t a bottom to this. If you can write a paragraph of Latin using five words from the core/function list and manage to use only two additional words, do it! A very short story using under 10 words is certainly BOSS level sheltering, and it’s gonna be SUPER helpful for beginning Latin readers.

How long?
Good question. A story with the full 34 words that amounts to just four short sentences isn’t gonna help beginning students very much. The key is to recycle words so they come up more than once, twice, thrice, or more! Maybe the result is a full page, big font, with each sentence on its own line. Maybe that’s block text of two to three paragraphs long. Depends your sheltering level. If you do manage to use just 10 of those words, you’re gonna run out of things to say at a certain point.

What kind of additional words?
I have no interest in getting into a semantic debate about any word, whatsoever. If it’s Latin, and appears somewhere, and you could make a reasonable case for using it (but no one’s gonna ask you to do so), use it. If all your students are native French speakers and you want to use 15 other words that look a lot like French ones, please do. Remember, anyone who contributes can grab any story and adapt it however they see fit. I might take your uber-Classical vocab and riddle it with late-Latin. Your choice & my choice.

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…

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“Lowered Expectations”

There appears somewhere, in some publication, the following quote:

“…though he does not lower his expectations and students really do still have to memorize things.”

The source isn’t important. The “he” doesn’t matter (it’s not me, btw). It’s the rest of this statement that deserves a duly critique, not an ad hominem. Shall we?

Assumptions
In my research, I’ve been learning about “positionality,” which is making one’s interests, motivations, and assumptions known. I’ve also heard these referred to as “priors.” A researcher’s assumptions might be found in their theoretic framework section, which allows readers to understand the perspective, and situate the entire study. For example, the same study could be conducted by two teachers: one whose theoretical framework supports comprehension-based language teaching, and another who rejects that. Everything, from the epistemological view to the research question(s), data collection, interview protocol, analysis and interpretation—all of it—rests upon one’s assumptions. Well, in unpacking the quote above, we can identify three assumptions:

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“What Novellas Do You Buy, Magister P?”

All of them.

When someone shares the latest novella to the Latin Best Practices Facebook group, I add it to my list, then drop the link into my budget/item request form at school so I can get a copy. I order one, read it, then order more if it’s gonna work well for first year Latin students. I’ll order a lot more if it’s a hit, or maybe 1-2 if it seems good but a little above reading level. Once I notice students always going for a particular title during independent reading time, I might even order enough so we can read some of the book as a whole class. N.B. no, I don’t always finish books as a whole class, especially if it’s been more than 3 weeks of reading.

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Do Now/Activator/hodiē

For a few years now, I’ve been starting class with a calm, focused, 5 minute task for students to do while I take attendance and recover from our not-much-transition-time between classes. This is crucial. I greet students at the door—itself a high leverage practice that tells us so much about how a student might be doing that day and what their needs are—then, when official class time begins, I walk in, and project the task. I say nothing to begin. There’s no corralling, no raising my voice, no vying for attention. Students know that once the greeting is projected, it’s time for Latin. If anyone’s still in that “class transition” mindset instead of a Latin class one, I casually walk around, perhaps supplying them a pencil, pointing to our scrap paper area, or motioning towards the task, and we’re off and running with the start of class. This is part organization, part content, and part classroom management. N.B. this opening all takes place on my projected ONE doc. See this video from 2020 for more details. It’s basically stayed the same, even with in-person teaching.

What’s the task?
Nine out of ten times it’s to copy the date, weather, and a short greeting into notebooks added to throughout class, which serves as some optional portfolio learning evidence. This is the start of the weekly sheet/packet routine. While I no longer use weekly sheets, many things that used to be on them still end up in a student’s notebook, just with less structure and repetition. I like the flexibility now to include all of the weekly sheet content during a given class, or none of it besides the date. Last year, I added a note or two below the date, or some commentary about the school week’s or day’s agenda. This whole idea is really an indispensable way to firmly anchor the start of class, especially when there’s some kind of short task to get things going. Recently, though, I was thinking how to use this class opener for a more robust text. Nothing fancy, but there’s opportunity there. Here are my ideas for this year:

  • Magister P [discipulīs/classī Venetae/omnibus, etc.] salūtem dīcit
    Yeah, why not? If students have been copying “salvēte omnēs” all these years, might as well infuse some conventional Roman stuff each class. We rarely have characters writing letters to each other in class stories, but maybe we could start!
  • More weather descriptions & Q/A adverbs
    Instead of “pluit” or whatever, some commentary/question about rain would be a nice springboard for a quick discussion. In terms of adverbs, I’m thinking of drawing more attention to the Q/A posters by using phrases such as “mihi haud placet.”
  • Center piece: “describe the object, in Latin”
    Several years ago, I started Friday classes with a “guess what it is” or “what’s in the box?” kind of prompt. Drawing from that idea, I’ll either place an object on display, or put an image of something below the day’s greeting, having students describe what they see. This is a different kind of writing we don’t do much of, and I’m hoping that doing more of it will produce rich descriptions of items and characters in our stories.

Pre-, Dum-, and Post-Reading Cycles

In a Latin Best Practices Facebook group discussion months back, I shared that I wasn’t sure I do any pre- or post-reading. I just have a bunch of…activities. While I still think that’s true, I’ve decided to consolidate and organize everything under the pre/dum(during)/post categories to make planning even easier.

I almost can’t believe I just typed that. Planning—for me—already takes mere minutes. With broad Class Day and Culture Day unit plans established for reference, I’ve had no need to plan the class agenda more than a day or two in advance. In fact, doing so becomes a waste of time as things become irrelevant, or causes frustration when plans—inevitably—must change. N.B. I’m able to plan this way because I work under a “forward procedure” approach, which I highly recommend. Still, if there’s a way to reduce planning even further, I’m game.

I hear teachers talk about cycles a lot these days, which are kind of like longer planning routines. Since my school went to A/B day block schedule, the whole “Monday = ____ day” is pointless, and the longer 84 minute classes really messed with how I structured it all. This year was a big adjustment to say the least. So next year, I’m gonna give the cycle thing a try as it pertains to pre-, dum-, and post-reading sequences within a single class. This differs from what Elizabeth Davidson shared, noting that her sequence typically lasts 4-6 days. These past weeks, though, I’ve been using the sequences when reading a short text, such as a novella chapter, in one class. As such, the amount of pre- needed for the reading (dum-) is far more limited, as well as the scope of a post-reading wrap-up (usually a game). For the descriptions of everything that follows, see this updated list of activities, which is now organized by timing, not prep…

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As Many Students As Possible (AMSAP) Stories

I asked the iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching Facebook group for ideas on how to get one massive story with every student starring in it. I was able to get a LOT of students into their own story back in the fall, but then storytelling kind of tapered off like it usually does. I still haven’t found a way to keep storytelling going throughout the year with all the other stuff we have to read, so that might just be my M.O., but I’m not ready to just accept things as-is. Besides, I’m more than enthusiastic about stories and am always on the lookout for collaborative storytelling options that don’t have any acting. The following idea is a combination of Mike Peto’s and Karen Rowan’s suggestions:

Prep:

  • On index cards, students write their name, something they like/like to do, and a role they’d like to have in a multiverse where anything’s possible.
  • Collect cards.
  • Put students into groups.
  • Shuffle and redistribute cards to groups.
  • Groups brainstorm possible connections and story elements based on card info.

There are two different ways to play: either the class works together and story isn’t done until all cards are gone (or class ends if doing this in one block), or the first group to get all their students in the story wins. I asked my students which one they wanted. All classes chose to collaborate, and got between 7 to 13 students into a story in about 30-40 minute. I also began by showing subsequent class sections the other class stories. By doing so, a competition emerged naturally where students to get more students into their story than the other classes.

Process:

  1. Pose a question (e.g., “Where were they?”).
  2. Give students time to discuss in their groups.
  3. Accept one group’s suggestion, or class votes.
  4. Repeat.

Notes:
– It will help to have one rule: a group can only suggest a single student at a time. This avoids a “who were they with?” question resulting in a list of all the students, lol.
– The group brainstorm and discussion result should help create a more coherent narrative.
– Even in the group-only win condition, a teacher goal could be to get every student into the story, so when you accept suggestions from groups, do so evenly, or at least don’t take them from just one or two groups. The winner should definitely be the group that contributes to making the most enjoyable story, but you can extend the storyasking process to include many students, their interests, and roles within the fantasy world.
– Use a target-language, or code-switch format depending on level.

Olianna et sandalia extraōrdināria: Published!

Olianna learns more about herself and her family in this psychological thriller continuation of “Olianna et obiectum magicum.” We begin at a critical moment in the original, yet in this new tale, not only does the magical object appear to Olianna, but so do a pair of extraordinary sandals! Olianna has some choices to make. How will her decisions affect the timeline? Will things ever get back to normal? If so, is that for the better, or worse?


20 cognates, 20 other words
1500 total length

While many Pisoverse novellas contain references to each other, none of them are what I would consider a sequel. This new book is different, though, picking up immediately in mediās rēs of an event towards the end of Olianna et obiectum magicum. As a true sequel, then, Olianna et sandalia extraōrdināria was deliberately written to include almost all the vocab from the original. The result is a book with 40 words, but just half are new. This reduces the vocab burden for any reader already familiar with the first book.

  1. For Sets, Packs, and eBooks order here
  2. Amazon
  3. eBooks: Storylabs

Rethinking “CALP”

A few years ago, second language teachers I knew began borrowing terms and concepts from the English Learner (EL) world. I teamed up with John Bracey, John Piazza, and David Maust to present some of these ideas to Latin teachers at ACL’s 100th Annual Meeting in New York. The biggest impact the four of us found was looking at how to explore Roman topics as a class in Latin (vs. English), and we did this using a CALP (cognitive academic language proficiency) framework. It turns out that CALP is an older term that could use some updating.

CALP was originally conceived by Cummings in 1980/81 to describe the kind of language that students encounter in an academic setting as opposed to BICS (basic interpersonal communication skills) used for socializing. Within that framework, Cummings wrote that there’s social language and academic language, and that the latter is more complex and advanced than the former. However, critics such as Scarcella (2003), MacSwan & Rolstad (2003), and Bailey (2007) pointed out the deficit mindset in characterizing social language as inferior to academic language. Therefore, lest we continue to build walls, it’s time to update the term, and we’ve got options…

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