Just a few months after the moon landing, Superintendent John Lawson (Shaker Heights, OH) gave a speech at the Symposium on Foreign Language Teaching at Indiana University. Its age certainly shows. Then again, were it not for the typeface, you’d think some of these statements appeared yesterday in a blog! I find it striking that such “progressive” and “controversial” ideas have been discussed for 50 years, pretty much coinciding with the civil rights movement, yet without much fundamental change to either. There’s no excuse for the latter. As for second language teaching, that’s slightly more understandable consideringthe field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) was hardly established by the late 60s.
To give you a sense of how relevant Lawson’s ideas are today, look at this statement addressing the importance of compelling topics, and what now has become criticism against using unadapted texts driving the AP Latin problem:
There’s also a section, while brief, managing to address topics like teaching to the test, teacher perception of status in their field, elitism, exclusivity, ineffective pedagogy, compellingness, connectedness, comprehensibility, and confidence. All that back in 1969. Holy moly, right?!
That speech also happens to be the source of the “4%er” term that Keith Toda just shared in his latest (and last-for-a-while) blog post. Now, Keith is somewhat of a self-proclaimed man of the shadows not really active on social media, so my first thought was that he didn’t know the “4%er” term doesn’t really come up these days. In fact, I had to go back to a 2015 moreTPRS list email to search for the references contained in here! But maybe that term is exactly what teachers need to be reminded of right now. Let’s start with its history:
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.)?
There’s plenty of talk about forced output (i.e. when students are told to produce language beyond their proficiency level), yet not much has been said regarding forced input. Forced input occurs when students are given a text above their reading level, or told to listen to something beyond their comprehension. Perhaps this is even assigned, and affects the course grade. Forced input also occurs when students are given or assigned anything that lacks a communicative purpose. Forced input is not very meaningful at best, and incomprehensible at worst, which means the target language is less likely to be processed and acquired. Are you forcing input? Let’s see…
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…
“Tiberius is on the run. Fleeing from an attacking Germanic tribe, the soldier finds himself separated from the Roman army. Trying to escape Gaul, he gets help from an unexpected source—a magical druid priestess (a “Gaul” in his language, “Celt” in hers). With her help, can Tiberius survive the punishing landscape of Gaul with the Germanic tribe in pursuit, and make his way home to see Rufus, Piso, and Agrippina once again?“
Tiberius et Gallisēna ultima is over 3200 total words in length. It’s written with 155 unique words (excluding different forms of words, names, and meaning established within the text), 36 of which are cognates, and over 75% of which appear in Caesar’s Dē Bellō Gallicō, making this novella a quick read for anyone interested in the ancient text. Tiberius is available…
1) Just 3 weeks away in-person at 2019 ACL’s 100th Institute June 27-29 (discounted copies, any 5 for $25)!!! 2) Amazon 3) Free Preview (first 6 of 12 chapters, no illustrations)
If teachers were to just stop grading grammar, Latin (and other languages) would instantly become more accessible to students, as well as afford more planning time for teachers.
This is no joke.
There are some teachers excited about grammar and want to share that with students. Go ahead! I’m not saying they shouldn’t, but I’ve observed many (all?) of the negative effects of doing so, especially in K-12 public education, which mostly begin with grading. If you want to teach grammar, just don’t grade it. Here’s why…
Someone on Facebook posed a couple questions to those at the college/university level regarding the preparedness, and subsequent placement of incoming students.
These are excellent questions.
One comment reported that most incoming Advanced Placement (AP) students retake a lower level grammar course in college. Most! These AP students were successful in high school because of significant memorization, but aren’t prepared for grammar the way colleges expect them to be. Perhaps we should look at exposing students to grammar a different way, no?
I’ve asked these questions, myself, yet the few Classics Departments I solicited years ago didn’t collect any of that data beyond a handful of students they could remember from the current year. Oh, would that they had done so!