AP Latin: There’s Bad News…And…Worse News

I ran texts from the AP Latin syllabus through Voyant Tools:

  • 6,300 total words in length
  • 2,800 forms (i.e. aberant + abest = 2)
  • 1,100 meanings/lemmas (i.e. aberant + abest = 1 meaning of “awayness”)*

Based on the research of Paul Nation (2000), 98% of vocabulary must be understood in order to just…read…a text. According to Nation’s research, then, Latin students must understand about 1,080 words in order to read the AP syllabus texts.

There’s a catch. That 1,080 figure represents the exact words from the AP texts that students must understand, which is a lot. To put that into perspective, it’s been reported that students reasonably acquire ~175 Latin words per year, for a total of something more like 750 by the end of four high school years. Needless to say, there’s a low chance that all 750 would be included in the specific 1,080 needed to read Latin on the AP, and that varies from learner to learner. Even if they were the exact words, though, 750 is still only a text coverage of 68% understandable at best. This is far below Nation’s research. We know that reading starts to get very cumbersome below 80%. This is just one reason why no student can actually read AP Latin. Oh wait

****Those figures are just for Caesar****

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The Latin Problem

According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), there’s a scale of five main proficiency levels: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Superior, and Distinguished. Most states require Advanced Low speaking proficiency to teach modern languages. However, many teachers attain near-native-like proficiency, anyway. To give you a sense of what that means, beyond Advanced Low, there’s still Advanced Mid, Advanced High, Superior, and then the highest rating on the ACTFL scale, Distinguished, for which the following are features:

“A non-native accent, a lack of a native-like economy of expression,* a limited control of deeply embedded cultural references, and/or an occasional isolated language error may still be present at this level.”

*economy of expression
“The use of the most precise and expressive words and phrases, thus eliminating the need for excess description, wordiness, jargon, or circumlocution.”

Of course, most of these teachers spend time abroad, and/or have found themselves exposed to the target language in some other way. Needless to say, modern language teachers tend to be highly proficient speakers, yet at the same time they’re not necessarily scholars who study the language, earning an M.A. in its literature. Granted, it’s not uncommon for modern language teachers to be that kind of scholar while also studying abroad and/or being exposed to input and interaction elsewhere. However, the former certainly isn’t necessary in order to achieve the latter. Then there’s the Latin problem…

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Opportunities To Talk (In A Bad Sense)

Last year, I had the opportunity to watch some videos of a teacher’s rough class—you know, that class we kinda wished would just go away, or fix itself over time, but that won’t because that’s not reality. We need concrete steps to take in order to regain MGMT (classroom management) in all classes, and the first one to work on until it’s solid is eliminating opportunities to talk.

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“Active Latin:” Confusion & Clarification

If you’re within the first years of speaking Latin in the classroom, I urge you to avoid using the term “active Latin.” In a nutshell, referring to “active Latin” is problematic, and just might lead you astray from what you intend to be doing.

A few years ago, some began recognizing the confusion “active Latin” was causing. This confusion is summarized below, with observations of people interpreting “active Latin” to mean that…

  • …Latin was to be spoken all the time.
  • …English was to be avoided, if not eliminated.
  • …students had to speak and write Latin.
  • …grammar had to be taught/learned in Latin.
  • …teaching in such ways meant that one was providing input (I) that was understandable (C) to the student.

**Before I continue, let it be clear that doing or not doing any of the bullet points is not the focus of this post. Instead, the focus is on this particular combination, how it’s referred to as “active Latin,” and its implications.**

When looking at the bullet list, it doesn’t matter what “active Latin” ever meant originally, has meant over time, or now means. What matters is that this confusion led to more emphasis on output, and a more polarized view of teaching Latin, in general. In particular, the combination of the first bullet points above doesn’t cause the last. Due to this confusion, there’s a problematic association with “active Latin,” and CI, which may or may not be provided under the listed circumstances.

Quite plainly, then, just because you’re speaking Latin, doesn’t mean you’re providing CI…

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Input Analysis & Textbook Comparison

One universal thing we can discuss with any language teacher is awareness of how much target language we’re giving students (I, Input), how well they understand (C, Comprehensibility), and the reason for doing an activity (P, Purpose). In fact, this focus is central to our school’s Latin department, and keeping track of input is part of my teacher eval goal.

I covered an ELA teacher’s class last Friday, which means the most productive thing to do was complete some kind of menial task. It just so happened that counting up words is exactly that. So, I compared the input my Albāta class students have received to the Latin found in the first four stages of Cambridge. N.B. I chose the Albāta class section because they’ve read the most total words between all class sections (i.e. 1616 to 1755).

Indeed, Albāta students received about 36% more input than Cambridge (1755 to 1117). Surprisingly, though, the unique word count was also higher by about 24% (221 to 169). I wouldn’t have expected that with such an intent on my part to shelter (i.e. limit) vocabulary unlike what is found in textbooks, so let’s take a look…

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No-Prep Planning: Using The School’s Calendar

On my school’s calendar, there are 10 vacation days, holidays, or 3-day weekends before the school week that lend themselves to a “what was X like?” no-prep discussion. That leaves roughly 25 other days back from the weekend. There’s the classic Calendar Talk, or Weekend Chat, but what else is there? For example, I have a poetry routine, which if started in January leaves only 10 remaining Mondays to actually plan for.

That’s it…10!

With classes meeting 5x/wk, the combination above just took care of all Mondays (i.e. 20% of planning)! This year, I plan to look at the school year more like this, especially as a department, seeing what events naturally lend themselves to providing content (e.g. big sports games, Superbowl, dances, election day, community parades, etc.). Also, that’s just everything we know about ahead of time, let alone any weekend events that get people buzzing (e.g. Notre Dame, community announcements, etc.).

So, how can you use the school calendar to gain even MORE planning and personal time?