Interverbal Fan Fic

I haven’t given midterms in years. Back when I did, though, it was a self-assessed analysis of fluency writes (I no longer do any sort of timed write, either, but that’s another story). Now, aside from the infuriating last-minute “all courses must have a midterm” decision we got hit with coming back from holiday break, I had a major discovery when giving the [ungraded] midterm this year.

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Translating Isn’t The Problem

When the updated Standards for Classical Languages were shared, one key difference was the near-omission of the word “translating” as an active task, mentioned just once under a description of advanced learners at the postsecondary level (i.e, “Learners conduct research in the target language or assist in the translation of resources for the benefit of others.”), and then appeared in one example learning scenario submitted by a university professor. Granted, these standards have been in draft form—somehow—since 2017, but Latin teachers have been lauding that lack of “translation,” preferring nowadays that students focus more on reading Latin than doing translation exercises. However, it turns out that translating, per se, isn’t the problem…

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Quīntus et īnsula horrifica (the prequel): Published!

Before Quintus and his parents had money and moved into their house, the family lived in a small Roman apartment. Times were simpler back then, but no less spooky! In this tale, Quintus is 100% scared of the dark, but wants to appear brave in front of his parents. To make things worse, Quintus receives paranormal visitors night after night…or does he?

15 cognates, 20 other words
750 total length

This one’s real short, on purpose. I’ve had the most success in class with the shortest books. Since Latin novellas first started popping up, teachers have noted that the whole-class reading experience can drag on for beginners. Therefore, books around and even under 1,000 total words seem best for a quick read at the start of Latin 1. This book is a prequel to Quīntus et nox horrifica. The new book is similar in reading level and scope to our first books read, Mārcus magulus and Olianna et obiectum magicum. It draws vocab from them, too. īnsula horrifica could also act as a stepping stone to the original for students who want to read what is now “the sequel” on their own once independent reading begins.

Beyond that, the content mirrors what has been our comparison of elite Roman villas and common apartments. This is part of our exploration of Roman topics in Latin 1, and this new book provides a backstory to the social mobility Quintus’ family experiences. Lots to talk about. Or not, and just read for entertainment. Also, there will be an audiobook just like the original tale. We’ve got until October for that, though. Stay tuned. Enjoy!

  1. For Sets, Packs, and eBooks order here
  2. Amazon
  3. eBooks: Storylabs

Flex Time & Google Days

“You teach the kids you have.” I like this nugget of wisdom. It doesn’t matter if previous classes of students did this or that. Everyone must teach the students they have in the room, not anticipated students, or former students. Sometimes what the students in the room don’t know can be surprising, but the only thing that matters is what we do about it. For example, I’ve been perplexed by the lack of digital literacy I’ve been seeing with incoming 9th grade students. Rather than shake my head, pretending that lack of skill isn’t my problem, I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to do something even if it has less to nothing to do with Latin. Why? Because I teach the kids I have, and these kids need to be able to navigate Google Classroom, and I’m tired of pretending it’s fine. The plan? Each week, students will have 20 minutes to organize their learning after another 20 minute independent learning session. The latter part isn’t really new, so let’s start with that:

Flex Time
This independent learning time worked out really well last year. I checked my planning doc and saw that between December and June we had Flex Time a total of eight times. I’ve curated the options, most recently removing Quizlet since I find it less useful when not immediately followed by a whole-class Live session before reading the text. New for this year will be to encourage an ongoing project. Is the goal to read as many novellas as possible? Is the goal to work through an entire textbook? Is the goal to learn about a specific Latin-related topic? Instead of bouncing around the Flex Time options every few weeks or so, students will now choose an ongoing option for this new weekly routine every Wed/Thurs. Yes, they can switch if they really want to, just as long as they reflect why (e.g., “I liked the idea of having textbook structure, but I think Caecilius is boring.”).

Google Days
The second half of Wed/Thurs each week gives students time to check feedback and submit learning evidence (Google Classroom) for Latin class. Once done, or if already caught up, the remaining time is for checking school email (Gmail) and responding to other needs, such as correspondence with teachers, and/or completing other class Google Classroom assignments. No, it does not bother me if a student ends up doing 8 minutes of math at the end of Latin. I’m teaching the students I have, and it’s clear that they need something like this. What I will do is make sure this rolls out smoothly. What I won’t do is hang out at my desk and overestimate my student’s independent learning capability. This kind of work with 9th grade requires heavy monitoring, not unlike the first minutes of independent reading. That is, if I think students are going to magically grab a book and be quiet on their own within 10 seconds, I’m fooling myself. Yet every time I take those first moments to ensure the majority of students—yes, majority, because we can’t have it all, all the time, everywhere, all at once—settle into a task, I’m always rewarded with my own quiet time to read, with the occasional look up, make eye contact, and stare down the kid who’s goofing off until they get back to the book. It works. You just have to commit to both: monitor the room, getting kids on task at the start of an activity, and being unwavering with a teacher look at the ready.

So, the second 20 minutes of Wed/Thurs is also for students to add learning evidence, submitting work from the previous week in addition to what they did during Flex Time. For example, they could attach a notebook pic from Mon/Tues annotation task, as well as a statement about something they learned from their Flex Time findings, how much they read of a book, what they were working on, etc.

Independent Reading Lessons

When it comes to the fairly recent phenomenon of independent choice reading for Latin, how do students choose what to read, and what do they do when flipping through the book? These simple lessons get students thinking about why we want them reading level-appropriate books and to understand how important it is to choose ones that feel easy, as well as what we mean by actual reading (vs. some other close reading, skimming, etc.). Most importantly, perhaps, we want to show students the difference between what a translating experience and a reading one is. These two lessons are scalable, but I recommend taking at least 15 minutes.

A) How To Choose A Book (requires novellas with full glossaries)

  1. Students choose 3 random books from the library.
  2. Read/”read” that book, using the glossary for unknown words (~3 minutes).
  3. Count up total words read/”read.”
  4. Repeat with other two books.
  5. Share & Discuss.

Students should have a range of words read (e.g., 20 to 200). Mention that some might have been unlucky enough to have chosen the three highest level books. Obviously, they’re not gonna get as much out of a higher level book. The main thing to point out is that the book each student read the most of should be the kind of one they choose during independent reading. Strategies like “if you have to keep flipping,” or “if it feels too much like work” should send the message to get a book that’s at- or below-level, resulting in optimized input. N.B. get this poster from Eric Herman if you don’t already have it. I constantly point to it during class to show priorities (i.e., 1 = lots of Latin, 2 = must be comprehensible…). Once they get the idea of which kind of reading level will be most helpful, because you still get a lot out of books that are easily read and below-level (see Bill’s tweet below), do another mini lesson on how to read.

B) How To Read (or, Reading vs. Translating)

  1. Read book as fast as possible, skimming and getting the gist of what’s going on (~1 minute).
  2. Count up total words read.
  3. Go back and read for understanding, as if they had to tell someone who didn’t know Latin a) what the story is about, and b) what’s happening right now in the chapter (~1 minute).
  4. Go back and read as if to memorize and describe everything with incredible detail! (~1 minute).
  5. Share & Discuss.

The main point to make is that #1 is waaaay too fast. All that input doesn’t matter if students can’t recall what happened, or have no idea what’s going on. #3 is waaaaay too slow. They’ll never get enough input reading with that much attention to detail while trying to memorize. #2 is what we’re going for: reading with enough comprehension to retell the story to someone else.

Talk, Read & Reread

I’ve been using the basic Talk & Read class structure for a while (i.e., a greeting, quick discussion, and/or some activity “by ear” for about 5 to 20 minutes, then reading, reading, reading for the remainder). That was when I had 40 to 60 minute classes for years. However, switching to an 85-minute block schedule last year really fucked things up. Now, classes feel way too long, I’m exhausted, there’s too much time between class days (i.e., 48 hours) so “the din” of Latin in students’ minds grows dim, and absent kids miss out big time (i.e., now 96-120 hours from class to class if absent just one day).

It turns out that I didn’t write much about the block schedule messing with things last year aside from a blog post or two. Granted, 2021-22 was the first year back from remote learning. That came with unique challenges, and the schedule change didn’t help. Btw, this is my 10th year teaching and my 10th schedule. Even when I stayed at the same school for more than a year, the schedule changed each one. I’m now in the 6th year at the same school. 6 schedules. Anyone wanna place a bet as for next year will hold? So, 2021-22 was a big calibration year for all sorts of reasons, and it’s taken me until right now to actually identify how much the schedule has negatively impacted first year language students. But I have a solution…

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Pīsō senex et sempermūtābilisyllabī: Published!

Piso has grown old. For years, people have been telling Piso how to write his own poetry. They’ve wanted it to sound like the legendary poet, Vergilimartivenallus, widely considered the GOAT, but Piso doesn’t take suggestions from those who don’t write any poetry of their own. Besides, that would change Piso’s verses into something they aren’t—someone else’s. He’s got plenty of advocates, anyway. But the mob persists, and keeps trying to get Piso to change how he writes. Mysteriously, the more Piso tries to write in his own voice, the more things start to get a bit…Strange.

18 cognates, 26 other words
800 total length

Who wants satire? I do, I do! You should know that no hexameter was harmed in the writing of this novellula (<– that word is even in the subtitle). In fact, we skipped the meter [almost] entirely. That’s basically it. Oh, and if you’re familiar with Pīsō et Syra et pōtiōnēs mysticae, and/or a personal favorite, diāria sīderum, there’s some stuff in here for ya. So, let’s welcome another <50-word tiny little book to the collection.

  1. For Sets, Packs, and eBooks order here
  2. Amazon
  3. eBooks: Storylabs

November Writing Challenges

I’m a big fan of process over product—so much so that I don’t love sharing a bunch of ready-to-go class texts. I’ve been hesitant because the process of creating a text together as a class is more important than teachers having a print-and-go option. Granted, some of those for cultural exploration are available despite strongly encouraging teachers to focus on the process of writing their own. This all goes back to the #ACL100 presentation I gave with John Piazza and John Bracey, with contributions from David Maust. We showed how to do that under a “connect, explore, create” framework. Check out the Slides if you missed them.

Why the fuss? The idea is simple: when teachers don’t know what to do, they take anything pre-made and use it. Sure, this accomplishes one thing, the end, but what about the means? When the point is going through some kind of process that results in those products, it makes sense to focus on supporting teachers honing those skills. This is goal #1 of this post. For goal #2, I’ve been writing Latin using very, very few words, but my students could use more voices than just my own! Latin novellas being published still span quite the range. How about some more books at the lowest of levels?

Writing Challenges
November is time for the national writing month trend, so I thought it’d be a good way to get more teachers writing fewer words of Latin. At first glance, that doesn’t seem right, but what I’m talking about is setting parameters like writing a very short text using 20 unique words. I encourage teachers to use whatever grammar they need to express ideas, especially those that tend to be delayed until “advanced” study. However, sheltering grammar is a lot easier than limiting the number of words used to tell a story. Sheltering vocabulary is a particular skill that gets us the most leverage, but takes some practice. Let’s hone that. Consider this self-directed PD.

So, over the next weeks I’ll be adding some challenges to the Latin teaching community, for the Latin teaching & learning community. Submissions will be anonymous—or not—and the spreadsheet will be shared with everyone to view, copy, and read. That means if 10 Latin teachers each submit a short story using a particular set of words and some parameters, every Latin teacher with the link will have the option of reading any number of them with their classes. The best part? We can reasonably expect the texts to be of a similar level given the parameters. Latin 1 is about to get a whole lot of reading options. Well, maybe. That all depends if you’re up for the challenge!

Challenge #1
Write a short story about an animal using any of the following core verbs and function words:

  • esse, habēre, velle, īre, placēre
  • et, quoque, quia, sed
  • ā/ab, ad, cum, ē/ex, in
  • ergō, iam, nōn, subitō, valdē

Plus, the following additional words (excluding names, and different forms of words), scalable to your challenge level:

BOSS level sheltering: no more than 5 additional words
CONFIDENT level sheltering: no more than 10 additional words
NOOB level sheltering: no more than 15 additional words

Here’s the form for Writing Challenge #1. And here’s where I’ll put the stories once they start rolling in.

FAQs

How do I begin?!
If you’ve never written Latin for the beginner by sheltering vocabulary, start with three basic sentences. From there, fill in some details, and start to repeat words in different combinations of sentences. Break up longer ones into two or more, adding a new detail to each one. Count up everything, then add/remove individual words and sentences to get your story.

What if I use “nunc” instead of “iam?”
Bro, just submit using “iam,” then change your own text by doing a quick ALT+F (or whatever) to replace with words you use, or words your textbook/department forces you to use. Same goes for adapting other contributors’ stories.

How few is too few?
There really isn’t a bottom to this. If you can write a paragraph of Latin using five words from the core/function list and manage to use only two additional words, do it! A very short story using under 10 words is certainly BOSS level sheltering, and it’s gonna be SUPER helpful for beginning Latin readers.

How long?
Good question. A story with the full 34 words that amounts to just four short sentences isn’t gonna help beginning students very much. The key is to recycle words so they come up more than once, twice, thrice, or more! Maybe the result is a full page, big font, with each sentence on its own line. Maybe that’s block text of two to three paragraphs long. Depends your sheltering level. If you do manage to use just 10 of those words, you’re gonna run out of things to say at a certain point.

What kind of additional words?
I have no interest in getting into a semantic debate about any word, whatsoever. If it’s Latin, and appears somewhere, and you could make a reasonable case for using it (but no one’s gonna ask you to do so), use it. If all your students are native French speakers and you want to use 15 other words that look a lot like French ones, please do. Remember, anyone who contributes can grab any story and adapt it however they see fit. I might take your uber-Classical vocab and riddle it with late-Latin. Your choice & my choice.

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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“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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