Jim Wooldridge, aka Senor Wooly, once lamented over having to teach a unit on different kinds of fabric. That was his all time low in terms of thematic vocab textbook teaching. Thematic vocab teaching is basically mini units of specialized vocabulary. However, our reality—in a genuine communicative sense—is that people start getting into specialized vocab when they choose to do something…special…beyond common daily needs and experience.
Since archery is my latest thing, let’s use that as an example. There are a lot of specific terms in archery. Of course, if the purpose is to learn about archery in the target language, I’d probably be using that specialized vocabulary. But do I need them all? In a first year class, maybe I wouldn’t have to go quite as deep into the topic, therefore less-specialized vocab could suffice (e.g. “can you teach me how to hold X?” will be more useful to a student than “can you teach me how to string walk after nocking with a finger sling?”). So, not all of that vocab is necessary when exploring a specific topic to learn about the topic. That is, a particular topic explored lightly doesn’t require the use of highly-specialized vocab otherwise needed when exploring it deeply. Think of the kind of learning that goes on in a survey-level undergrad course vs. a very focused grad course. And in terms of vocab, our students are more like kindergartners!
In this post, I’m asking you to consider something, but only consider it…
Right now, I’m filling out our department wishlist request form for next school year. There are 81 novellas, and 10 textbooks for AP (five Caesar, five Virgil). The total cost of novellas is $691.91, and the total cost for the textbooks is $710. The $710 would cover five students enrolled in AP. The $691.91 will fill my FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) library to include everything currently published, as well as build two additional libraries in other teachers’ classrooms, covering all Latin students at our school.
This all got me thinking of some big questions.
- When funds are tight, who do they tend to go to?
- How many Latin programs would choose to fund the five AP students over the rest?
- What does the decision to offer AP really cost a school beyond the $93 exam fee (i.e. teacher training, materials, etc.)?
- Given what we know about AP Latin, how much time, effort, and money should be allocated?
- How do we place value (beyond $) on different classroom materials?
- Which materials provide the most purposeful CI?
- What’s essential? What’s extra?
At least half a dozen times now, I’ve sent a message to other Latin teachers with something like “wow, I really gotta get back into storytelling, with shorter stories, and a lot of them.” Well, now’s the perfect time for that…
In the COVID-19 scramble to replace classroom instruction, many teachers are tossing anything they can at students, often using materials someone else created. This might work out fine, but it also might not. Some of the texts are comprehensible. Some aren’t.
Of course, some students will do the enrichment work, and some won’t. That’s just our reality. Yet the K (constant) in all this is us. Teachers can use this time to hone their skills while also providing input—that students may or may not receive, which is completely out of our control (i.e. what used to be problems with homework is now the entire course content!)—ensuring more productive ways to spend our time…
OK fine, the grammar-translation (GT) method has been used for a few hundred years. It’s still the dominant practice for teaching Latin, and widely known. However, what is there to the method, really? I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but it turns out the method is quite simple. GT actually consists of presenting students with textbook grammar rules they apply to words in order to understand the target language. As a method, then, teachers present rules, but what is GT—really—for the student?
I posit that the entirety of GT can be reduced to memorizing. This makes it less a method, and more just a process. Students listen to or read about textbook grammar rules, and then recall and apply those rules in order to derive meaning. To be clear, this is a fairly complex way to arrive at step zero—establishing meaning. With GT, students not only must do this for themselves, such as consulting dictionaries and grammar notes, which accounts for a lot of “the work,” but the conscious process requires a decent amount of cognitive demand. Actual interpretive communication, on the other hand, either listening or reading, is an implicit, unconscious process, and effortless. In order to effortlessly apply textbook grammar rules while also recalling word meanings, though, a very good, if not uncanny memory, is required. Memory, then, is both paramount to student success with the GT method, as well as something we have no control over…
In terms of input, I’ve observed a few differences between reading independently and reading in pairs, or as a whole-class. The bottom line? Reading independently results in far more input than could be provided in pair, or whole-class activities. Therefore, I wonder if we’re not giving enough time for independent reading, even there are already routines in place (e.g. 10 minutes 2x/week). Could we be better off skipping some or even most of the reading activities in class? Maybe. Granted, independent reading cannot be the only kind of reading done in class since most students not only need input, but also interaction, at least in the K-12 public school context I teach in (conf. Beniko Mason’s more advanced Story Listening students with access to 500+ graded readers). Still, how much less input are students getting with all those activities? Let’s look into that…
Without sensationalizing the global matter, let’s recognize that employers are considering contingency plans for unexpected, or impending work closures. What would employees need at home in order to continue working for a week, or two, or three? This extends to educators and school closures. In fact, our admin have already been asked to prepare. At the very least, having a plan is a good thing for everyone, regardless of risk. However, I’ve already observed unreasonable burdens placed on teachers to invent new expectations, routines, policies, assignments, quizzes, tests, etc. Sure, the situation is extraordinary, but what I’ve seen is missing a few key factors…