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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The Problem With Circling & Solutions For Questioning

Circling isn’t an activity (e.g., “OK class, let’s answer some circling questions”) or something you plan to last 20 minutes during the next class. It’s a strategy, and Von Ray was right. In 2017, he told a small room of TPRS workshop participants if there’s no breakdown [in processing the language], we don’t circle. The strategy was developed as part of collaborative storytelling. No wonder that’s the context in which it works best! Sure, any language learner will benefit from getting micro-exposure to a small set of words, which is what takes place during circling and during the TPRS 2.0 update of triangling (i.e., circling with 3rd, 1st, and 2nd verb persons). Yet, there are times when circling falls flat…

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“P1 Pausa”/Sub Plans/COVID Plans/General Good Idea

With COVID once again making its rounds. If I were out this time of year, I’d have almost NOTHING productive for first year Latin students to do on their own for a whole week. Last January during the Omicron madness it was a completely different story. Students could read on their own and in small groups with minimal supervision by that time. A sub could have run those classes if I had been out.

But now? No way. Unless…

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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.

Common Ground (Henshaw & Hawkins, 2022): First 30 Pages All Language Teachers Should Read

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.

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Possession Expression: The “mihi” Game

The communicative purpose of this game is entertainment and winning, although a quick follow-up connection prompt or two gets students thinking about what they learned about each other (i.e., similarities and differences). This will work best introduced at the start of next year after Slide Talk and getting students their own story as work your way through the slides and personal interests (i.e., “Cui placet?” and students yelling out “mihi!”). Then, bring this game back throughout the year with other things students own (e.g., clothing colors, pens/pencils, backpack, iPhone series, book from ELA class, Science teacher, names even, etc.).

I got the idea for this when thinking of the three common ways to express ownership in Latin. While I vary my questions in class, I cannot say that I repeat questions about ownership in all three ways, Yet it would be helpful for the learner. It provides additional input to those ready, and gives processing time for those who need it. I remember this strategy being used quite a bit by Terrence Tunberg at Conventicula Lexingtoniense et Dickinsoniense.

Gameplay
Ask a question, and students race to be first to yell out “mihi/ego/meum!” earning a point. Most points wins. Alternatively, you could do a BINGO! thing and have everyone tally when the statement applies to them, and finding out who had the most at the end. For placet questions at the start of the year, the one response is mihi. After you move on to possession, vary the expression for more variety. Just project this chart showing each possession expression and their response, and pose a question to the class, such as “Cui est nōmen ‘Lailah?'” or “Quis librum The Hate U Give habet?” BONUS: Get students to look around and generate that list for you. EZPZ.

If you wanna increase the challenge, make sure the response matches the question, vary which one you use, and for upper levels ask for a longer response for Cūius questions (e.g., “meus liber est”). Although this game could be played with zero prep just observing similarities in the room, it might be a good idea to have a slide with some vocab handy (e.g., words for clothing, school supply vocab, etc.). After the game is over, have students write down a few similarities they had with other students, or do a Write & Discuss (Type ‘n Talk) as a whole class going over the comparisons.