Independent Reading & Speaking Latin

I recently updated the Universal Language Curriculum (ULC) to include ongoing Class Days and Culture Days. This provides more of a balance to the year without the previous “Unit 1/Unit 2” structure that each lasted approximately an entire semester. I also made sure to list independent reading as a key component. Yeah, I obviously have a stake in whether teachers build class libraries and include my books, but the whole reason I got into writing novellas in the first place is because I bought into the idea of independent reading tenfold…

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Mārcus magulus: Published!

Marcus likes being a young Roman mage, but such a conspicuous combo presents problems in provincial Egypt after he and his parents relocate from Rome. Despite generously offering magical medicine to the locals, this young mage feels like an obvious outsider, sometimes wishing he were invisible. Have you ever felt that way? Marcus searches Egypt for a place to be openly accepted, and even has a run-in with the famously fiendish Sphinx! Can Marcus escape unscathed?

11 cognates + 8 other words!
800 total length

In 2017, I heard Jason Fritze say that “TPRS is basically the art of communicating using no words.” I’ve been drawing from that quote for years, writing stories with as “no words” as possible. This book truly pushes those limits. If you or your students have found any success with the ultra-early beginner Rūfus lutulentus, this new Mārcus magulus will not disappoint. The former will still have its place in the FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) library. However, effective immediately, Mārcus will replace Rūfus as the very first whole-class novella we read for 2021 and beyond. This new book is shorter, more engaging and intriguing (i.e. moves along quickly!), and comes out even a bit easier—if you could believe that! The audiobook also features a noticeably slower speech rate. Michael Sintros (Duinneall) has done another amazing job on the music. Here are excerpts:

Chapter 1 Excerpt
Chapter 4 Excerpt
Chapter 5 Excerpt
Chapter 6 Excerpt
Chapter 7 Excerpt

Mārcus magulus also has a few new features. There are two lists after chapters two and five that include summaries of what’s been learned so far. These short statements can be used to check understanding while building a sense of Marcus’ experience in Egypt. There are also some post-reading discussion questions that I’ve redacted in the screenshot below so as to not spoil the book.

  1. For Sets, Packs, eBooks, and USB Audio, order here
  2. Amazon
  3. eBooks: Storylabs
  4. Digital Audiobook

No More Reading At Home! & Look, Listen, Ask: What’s Your Focus?

On my path towards simplifying everything I possibly can about teaching, this next grading idea is quite promising. Don’t get me wrong, my expectations-based grading rubric has worked wonders in terms of flexibility, equity, and efficiency. This new idea just complements the rubric by aligning more of what is expected during class with arriving at the course grade. It also adds more varied gradebook evidence.

In this most-unusual of teaching years, one problem we ran into was how to get evidence of learning, especially when students weren’t in class. The best solution I used was called My Time, the form students filled out to get equal credit by reading on their own and showing their understanding. Otherwise, the typical evidence I collected was fairly simple: upload/share a picture of the day’s “work” done in the notebook. At some point, though, I noticed that students weren’t reading daily from the digital class library—a major course expectation—so I replaced that weekly notebook pic with checking the digital library (Google Doc) and reporting how many days students accessed it. To my disappointment, though not to my surprise, very few students were spending any time at all in the Google Doc. Admittedly, there’s no way to know if the students who did WERE reading, and we gotta take that on faith, but the majority weren’t even accessing the document! So, effective immediately, I’m removing all expectations of students reading at home. This is BIG! However, I’m still maintaining the expectation of reading something old and something new, every day which means the adjustment is to build this into class time for about 5-10 minutes. This is different from FVR (Free Voluntary Reading), which lasts 15-20 on one to two days a week. I like “Free Reading Fridays” and then “Read Whatever Wednesdays” when it really gets rolling. Also, it doesn’t matter if a kid goes home to a peaceful room and naps, then spends hours reading for school, if they go directly to a part-time job, or if they take care of family members. This update is more equitable, and maintains a focus on reading. A simple Google Form follow-up (“What Did You Read?”) is evidence for the gradebook.

But the brain craves novelty

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Pisoverse Novella Recommendations: Levels & Whole-Class

Back in August, you might have seen my 2020-21 plans for novellas in preparation of remote learning on a reduced 2x/week class schedule. It turned out that with less time spent on Free Voluntary Reading (i.e. none), we read more whole-class novellas over Zoom than I would have preferred, but c’est la vie COVID. That experience gave me some insight into which books work best for whole-class reading, as well as helped me organize books in a different way. There was also Mike Peto’s Read-Aloud that came just in time to change things up with a new kind of reading process.

Following Andrew Olimpi’s system, my books now appear as AA to C (none of mine would be considered Level D or beyond). The general recommendation I’ve given is to read in order of word count. However, I’ve begun making it clearer which books might buck the trend due to higher percentage of cognates, as well as total length. For example, Drūsilla et convīvium magārum is my longest book at 3400 total words. In my experience, trēs amīcī et mōnstrum saevum—a book 1,000 fewer words in length, and with 3x as many cognates—is readable sooner. Books seemingly “out of order” like these can be identified by the word count badges on the front cover to highlight the percentage of cognates. Here are my recommended levels, and order within each, from left to right:

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Novellas: +2 Forward, -1 Back

With new novellas being published almost monthly at this point, opening up titles to choose from, I’ve been looking at how my own sequencing has been changing in the past year. I no longer feel the need to systematically read a) from lowest to highest word count, or b) shortest to longest book, a practice that constantly increases the demand of learners. If you think about it, what’s really the difference between that and using a highly sequenced textbook?! Such practice of constantly increasing demand also presumes learners have attended all classes, and/or develop language ability at the same rate, which is complete nonsense…

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Mike Peto’s Read-Aloud

Get yourself over to the new COMPRHENDED! conference; it’s super cheap and flexible PD you can access until May. As a presenter, my main role is fielding any questions people have about what I presented, but I’ve also had time to poke around as a participant, too, and I’ve got a new activity for whole-class reading. Mike Peto of My Generation of Polyglots has been a champion of novels and independent reading for quite a while. He promotes having texts in your FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) library that students can read on their own, which means at-level, as well as below-level reading options, as supported by research on extensive reading (Jeon & Day, 2016). Still, there might be available texts that students need a bit of scaffolding to read. While most texts Latin teachers use are far above level, this whole-class reading strategy is worth sharing, especially for texts adapted to something closer to at-level (but probably still above-level). There’s also value in this reading approach with texts of all levels, especially in COVID times. I’ve used it with first year Latin students as recently as this week. It’s a robust reading process:

1) Teacher reads aloud as students listen
2) Reread paragraph-by-paragraph as students ask clarifying questions to help understanding (English is fine)
3) Reread again as students come up with comprehension questions that the teacher has to answer
(English is fine)

Step #2 is an opportunity to establish meaning, but that doesn’t guarantee comprehension. The questions in step #3 are evidence that students understand…or not. For example, I was asked “where does she run to?” which is a fine question, only the text didn’t say that the character ran anywhere…yet. That gave me the opportunity to say “ohh, well she doesn’t run anywhere yet, but here we see that she wants to run to the stadium” as I pointed out the word vult. It could be a simple oversight, or the student might have a different mental picture of what’s going on in the story. In my experience, younger students will need coaching on how to ask a comprehension question. For example, I mentioned that “who, what, where, when, why, how?” were good question starters, but then I got a bunch of “why?” questions that couldn’t be answered from the text.

Whereas my go-to reading strategy includes #1 as I help students process the meaning of Latin, steps #2 and #3 of Mike’s read-aloud promote a LOT more interaction. I like how the three steps are concrete tasks that keep the focus on Latin over Zoom. Other reading strategies rely on students holding themselves accountable for paying attention, and/or require the teacher to check comprehension. Over Zoom, that can get frustrating. With steps #2 and #3, it’s very obvious who needs more support (or who just isn’t there at the computer). Don’t make any judgements, either. I suspected a student had bailed, so while others were thinking of questions to ask, or sending me clarifying requests in direct messages—which I always replied to in general chat (e.g. “vult = she wants”)—I sent direct messages to the students I wasn’t certain were even there. Sure enough, they responded with something. This is the Zoom equivalent of the quiet student taking everything in.

Agrippīna aurīga: Published!

If you like Rūfus et arma ātra, you’ll love Agrippīna aurīga. This might very well be my most engaging text yet, at what I’ve come to see as the the rare “Goldilocks” intersection of comprehension, confidence, and compellingness.

Young Agrippina wants to race chariots, but a small girl from Lusitania couldn’t possibly do that…could she?! After a victorious race in the stadium of Emerita, the local crowd favorite charioteer, Gaius Appuleius Dicloes, runs into trouble, and it’s up to Agrippina to step into much bigger shoes. Can she take on the reins in this equine escapade?

24 cognates + 33 other words
1800 total length

We’ve known Piso’s family is from Hispānia all along. This book picks up on that with Agrippina, our strong mother, back in her childhood stomping grounds. I wanted to write a book with more action that could follow Rūfus et arma ātra. It turns out that I might want to read this before the sword-slinging saga. Agrippīna aurīga is written at a very similar level, though with 24 cognates compared to just two in Rūfus, and besides, I’ve realized that there’s no need to always increase the difficulty and length of each new book. In fact, that might be one way some kids get left in the dust. So, jumping “ahead” a little bit with this (aurīga) only to read a shorter book with fewer words (arma ātra) afterwards not only will go faster, but will also feel more confident a read for the students. Plus, it provides multiple opportunities to re-engage students who aren’t keeping up with reading on their own, and/or are missing far too many classes.

Michael Sintros (Duinneall), who worked with me on the creepy content of Quīntus et nox horrifica audiobook, once again has delivered engaging, ambient music with a new fantastic ancient instrument library. I cannot stress enough how crucial I’ve found these audiobooks to be towards making an unforgettable classroom experience. If I could combine the audio on Amazon as one purchase, I would, but you’ll have to get audio from Bandcamp to listen to with a physical book. Note that the eBooks from both Storylabs & Polyglots have audio included.

Chapter 1 excerpt
Chapter 2 excerpt
Chapter 3 excerpt
Chapter 4 excerpt
Chapter 5 excerpt
  1. For Sets, Packs, eBooks, and Audio—with reduced pricesorder here
  2. Amazon
  3. eBooks: Storylabs & Polyglots (<– now includes audiobook!)
  4. Audiobook
  5. Free preview (through Chapter 5, no illustrations)

Agrippīna aurīga, Mārcus magulus & mȳthos malus: convīvium Terregis

New year, new books!

My observations after reading novellas *as a whole class* during COVID-19 remote learning has convinced me that audiobooks make for the best experience in that format. Narration has its value, sure, but for whole-class reading, the books with sound effects, character voices, and music, really do up the game. I’ve got three novellas coming up this spring, all with accompanying audiobooks. There will be more details upon publication of each, but here are some brief descriptions…

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sīgna zōdiaca Vol. 3: Published!

This last of three volumes contains details about Pisces, Aries, Taurus, and Gemini, and features the myths of Typhon, The Golden Fleece, The Minotaur, as well as Castor & Pollux.

Volume III itself contains 62 cognates and 93 other words (excluding names, different forms of words, and meaning established in the text), and is over 3,000 total words in length. The vocabulary across all three volumes comes to 83 cognates and 117 other words. Including all Pisoverse texts, the total number of words written for the beginning Latin student is now just under 65,000 using a vocabulary of just over 800.

Many details in the first four sections of astrologia are repeated from volumes 1 & 2 to provide each reader with a basic understanding of the zodiac signs. sīgna zōdiaca Vol. 3 is available…

  1. For Sets, Packs, eBooks, and Audio—with reduced pricesorder here.
  2. Three-volume-pack special!
  3. Amazon
  4. eBooks: Storylabs & Polyglots
  5. Audio
  6. Free preview (abridged astrologia section, and Piscēs, no illustrations)