Text Coverage & DCC’s Top 1000

**Updated 2.25.21 with details from this post**

The DCC frequency list is often consulted for choosing which words to use when writing Latin for students. It certainly makes sense to use ones they might encounter over and over again vs. those they might not, but *how* frequent are these frequent words? In particular, I was curious what a student could probably read having acquired the Top 1000 words on DCC’s list. Here’s some quick background…

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Latin Students & Scholars

When looking at other not-Latin course curricula in schools, it occurred to me that Latin classes are typically taught as if all students will become Latin scholars. That’s kind of crazy. What’s even crazier? Most teachers don’t have the expectation that all, or even some of their students will become Latin scholars. However, it’s definitely how Latin has been taught, historically (re: goals not aligned with practices). Sure, some schools have the “honors” distinction, making other courses “college prep,” and a common goal of the K-12 system is to prepare students for college. However, does every subject prepare its students to be scholars of that subject before they get to college?

No way.

Let’s look at some examples. I asked my colleagues if a student could a) go on to study their content area’s major in college without taking additional electives beyond basic high school graduation requirements, or b) would they need that kind of boost to get into a program and become a scholar in the field? These were the responses:

Math
“That’s a great question. For the most part, the specialization or focus on math would occur in college. While it would definitely be beneficial for a student to have already taken Calculus or Statistics, AP or otherwise if they’re entering a math field, it’s not necessary. They would still be able to take those courses offered at the college level and pass, assuming they had gained the necessary prerequisite knowledge from their high school courses.”

Science
“In terms of jumping into a science major with little to no background, I think this is the case with the majority of students. They will certainly pick it up in college. YES – high school students could hypothetically have had no science and still become scientists.

ELA
“No typically they would just jump in with 100 level intro courses.”

So, high school courses provide the same level of understanding to both humanities-bound students and STEM-bound students, regardless what students are goin on to study, and it’s only in college that study begins to get specialized. Just as you wouldn’t expect every high school graduate to be a math scholar, every student shouldn’t be expected to be a Latin scholar, right? Yet the literature Latin students are asked to read—typically—is waaaaaaaaay too high. If high school graduates of every subject start their college major at a 100 level course, why are Latin students—in high school—expected to read literature you’d expect in a 200, 300, or even 400 level college course?! There’s just no solid rationale for this scholar-level of study to begin in high school.

To boot, the real story is a bit more grim when you consider how many Latin students bound for Classics programs *do not* continue at that supposed level anyway, instead repeating basic 100 level Latin courses once in college anyway. So, if every high school program prepares students to be independent learners, pursuing whatever major they want in college, why on Earth have Latin teachers been fussing around with texts waaaaaaay beyond the reach of what’s level-appropriate, even to become a scholar in that field?!?!?!

It’s inexplicable.

“Not-Reading” Synonyms

It would take a proficient Latin speaker about 7 hours to read Caesar’s Dē Bellō Gallicō—in its entirety*—at a slow pace (i.e. half the average reading speed).** For comparison, a proficient English speaker reading at the same pace would take over twice as long to get through The Hate U Give (~15 hours). One of these texts is level-appropriate, and now commonly used in 9th grade classes along with 4-5 other full length books and many other short texts throughout the year. The other is nowhere near level-appropriate, yet commonly used in 11th or 12th grade classes as roughly half the year’s focus—certainly not in its entirety—with selections comprising just 13% of the full text. It should be clear which is which, and any K-12 teacher who says their students read Caesar is being as truthful as today’s outgoing president, who has mislead and lied over 29,000 times in office.*** Yet if not an outright lie, the claim of reading Caesar is still highly misleading, and should be addressed ASAP…

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1969: 50 Years of “4%ers”

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 considering the 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:

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The Cost Of Education: Value Analysis & Equity

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?

Forced Input

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…

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

**Updated 2.25.21 with details from this post**

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 known in order to just…read…a text. According to Nation’s research, then, Latin students must know about 6,175 words they encounter in the text in order to read the AP syllabus texts. That’s a text written with 1,100 words. 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 the Latin on the AP, and that varies from learner to learner. Even if they were, though, 750 is still only 68% of the vocabulary at best. Although this percentage isn’t the same as text coverage since it doesn’t account for how many of the 1,100 words repeat, it’s safe to say that the number isn’t going to be wildly higher. Even approaching 80% text coverage is not good. 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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Tiberius et Gallisēna ultima: Published!

Here it is.

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“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…

Here’s the third post this week with thoughts on assessment in addition to Friday’s on self-grading & batch assessments, and Thursday’s on averaging & delayed assessments.

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…

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