This post includes practical ideas I got from Florencia Henshaw’s and Maris Hawkins’ theory-to-practice SLA (second language acquisition) book. The preface and first chapter contain what’s probably among the best 30 pages a language teacher could read, especially one having little familiarity with SLA, and/or those who missed the Tea with BVP train, and While We’re On The Topic.
My context is teaching first year Latin in a small public high school in a large city. Latin is required. It’s the only language offered. So there. I teach beginning students who have no choice (i.e., this often means no interest or any prior knowledge), and many of them didn’t have a second language experience in primary or middle school. Since “novice learners have a long way to go when it comes to developing a linguistic system” (p. 138), my focus is hardly on any output. Output “helps with the skill of accessing that system” (p. 138), which the beginner is still building, so it’s not a priority. This doesn’t mean no one speaks Latin (students do!). This doesn’t mean there isn’t any interaction. What this does mean is that I’m not thrown off by all the “Get students speaking the TL in just five easy steps!” messages that lead so many language teachers astray. Neither are the authors, although they’ve included stuff in the book for those who might be dealing with an IPA-heavy department (Integrated Performance Tasks), or who might be coming from a more traditional program and isn’t quite ready to give input its due attention. Input is key. I’d actually feel the same if I taught second year Latin as well, and maybe even year three. This would also hold true for any language. That is to say I think all Spanish I & II, or maybe even Korean III teachers would benefit from the same approach: a massive focus on input.
Teaching Latin poems without giving much thought to their metrical structure is a bit like teaching Haikus in paragraph form. Haikus are short and simple, though. If you’re only interested in a Haiku’s content, topic, or message, you could skip the 3 by 5-7-5 structure and students would read a few lines just fine. It’s still a bit silly, but there’s not much getting in the way. Then there’s Latin. If you’re only interested in a Latin poem’s content, topic, or message, its form is unnecessarily obtuse for the reader if you have no intention of really looking at the meter.
Timothy Moore’s article, “Don’t Skip the Meter! Introducing Students to the Music of Roman Comedy” (Classical Journal, 2013), has a clear message, right from the title. For years, I’ve felt the same way. It’s not breaking news that I began writing novellas in 2016 under a similar premise. Considering most Latin students drop after the second year, very few of them ever experience poetry typically read in years three or four. Therefore, my first book shared a glimpse into what Latin poetry has to offer beginning students. I didn’t fully realize that personal poetic pursuit until last year when I unabashedly unleashed 270 lines of poetry straight—no chaser—in ecce, poēmata discipulīs! With facing English, poetry is now available to all Latin students…
I started this blog in 2012—holy moly nearly a decade ago!—as a place for ideas about Latin poetry. At the time, I didn’t have much else to share besides what I knew on an abstract level about meter, and rhythm. My attention turned to understanding a bit of second language acquisition (SLA) as I began teaching. Therefore, I shifted the focus of this blog to sharing more practical language teaching ideas. Needless to say, poetry took a back seat. Still, I kept presenting on meter at Classical conferences. At these conferences, I learned that poetry didn’t make sense to a lot of Latin teachers, and I started lending a hand in what I began calling “rhythmic fluency,” sharing materials, and adding them to a tab here on the blog. I pretty much left that alone for years. It’s time for a reboot…
A colleague reminded me of hexameter.co, the point-earning competitive ancient Latin (and Greek) scanning site complete with leader boards home to the 5 minute rapid scan challenge.
I hadn’t logged in for years, but immediately became hooked once again these past two days. It’s either going to be a healthy break during the school day, or an obsession that leaves me feeling like I have a gambling addiction (i.e. you do lose points, and I’ve caught myself saying “just one more” to regain my highest rating). Here are some observations:
māter ārtium necessitās
It’s rare that I begin a blog post with some pretentious Latin quote that might as well have been in that Tombstone scene. However, it really fits nicely. Why? It seems that every time I experience unwanted confusion, additional work, changes of plans, and really just negōtium in general, I have an idea. The fruit of this day’s frustration is two additional sneaky quizzes to add to the Quick Quiz family. Besides, with Poetry Of The Week now underway for about a month, these have even more purpose…
Here’s that first post with a longer explanation. Otherwise, the process:
- Students get a copy of fragmenta Pīsōnis
- Silient Sustained Reading (SSR) of the nefās est section for 10 minutes.
The new section is a little longer with 107 total words in length, but it also contains four lines of dactylic hexameter. If students finish before the timer goes off, they should reread the previous section, lutulentus ubīque.
After the 10 minutes of SSR, I’ll play the audio, then ask questions about the prose description, and finally recite the featured line of poetry.
Previous Audio Files:
0 fragmenta mea
1 lutulentus ubīque – Rūfus erat lutulentus et is…
New Audio Files:
1.1 nefās est – Rūfus vult lutulārī hodiē
1.2 nefas est – ecce domī est māter Rōmāna et
1.3 nefas est – Rūfus vult lutulārī in Templō
Here’s the first post with a longer explanation.
Since I’ve already done the introductory section last week, students will begin class tomorrow by grabbing a copy of fragmenta Pīsōnis, and reading the lutulentus ubīque section for 10 minutes. This is Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) because everyone is reading the same text. That section is a modest 88 total words in length, and contains one line of dactylic hexameter. If students finish before the timer goes off, they should rereadfragmenta mea, the introductory section about how Piso composes poetry. The introductory section is about 400 words in total length. If you’re just starting Poetry Of The Week, I recommend reading that one together as a class because that’s a lot of Latin for first year students to read independently before reciting!
After the 10 minutes of SSR, I’ll play the audio. Then, I’ll ask questions about the prose description, and finally recite the featured line of poetry.
The Audio Files:
0 – fragmenta mea
1 – lutulentus ubīque – Rūfus erat lutulentus et is…
For this year’s students, learning about the Romans—in Latin—began late in October with a CALP-inspired topic exploration on Roman housing (more on this, later) after months of focusing on the self, class, and community. Exploring Roman housing took place just after students read their first novella, Quīntus et nox horrifica. Upon returning from the December holiday break, students read their second novella, Drūsilla in Subūrā, which featured city-living apartments more familiar to them after the topic exploration during the fall. Learning about the Romans will now continue throughout the year as a new weekly routine begins…
The 238 pages of support for Pīsō Ille Poētulus are finally here! In addition to invaluable information about Latin poetry, this Teacher’s Guide has 13 ready-to-go options for interacting with each chapter of Pīsō! Head to the copier, or project on board. Use them all, or choose a few per chapter; do whatever you’d like!
“Latin texts with only 40 unique words are EXACTLY what the profession needs right now…and we need a lot of them.”
– Stephen Krashen on Rūfus et arma ātra
Rūfus et arma ātra, my latest Latin novella, is available now!