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.

“Lowered Expectations”

There appears somewhere, in some publication, the following quote:

“…though he does not lower his expectations and students really do still have to memorize things.”

The source isn’t important. The “he” doesn’t matter (it’s not me, btw). It’s the rest of this statement that deserves a duly critique, not an ad hominem. Shall we?

Assumptions
In my research, I’ve been learning about “positionality,” which is making one’s interests, motivations, and assumptions known. I’ve also heard these referred to as “priors.” A researcher’s assumptions might be found in their theoretic framework section, which allows readers to understand the perspective, and situate the entire study. For example, the same study could be conducted by two teachers: one whose theoretical framework supports comprehension-based language teaching, and another who rejects that. Everything, from the epistemological view to the research question(s), data collection, interview protocol, analysis and interpretation—all of it—rests upon one’s assumptions. Well, in unpacking the quote above, we can identify three assumptions:

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Latin Criticism: Two Broad Categories

Two years ago, almost to the day, I wrote about Latin shaming in what’s turning out to be a quasi-annual public discussion on Latinity (i.e., quality of Latin). In 2020, the discussions concerned Latin spoken in the classroom as well as published works. This year, I’m told the focus is on novellas, which might have something to do with their proliferation. After all, in February of 2020 there were 52 books. Having doubled that number to 113 as of last week, and going from 18 author voices to 26, there’s a lot more different Latin being written now. Different Latin must lead to more opinions about that Latin. Granted, I haven’t been a part of these public discussions myself, but word gets around. Perhaps the 2023 panel on what it means to teach students to actually read Latin has spurred the latest round of things-Latīnitās. I have no idea for sure. Suffice to say that Latin shaming still plagues the profession. Instead of full-out shaming, though, this post sticks to general criticism. In my experience, there are two broad categories of criticism: that which matters, and that which doesn’t…

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Efficiency & Effectiveness vs. Enjoyment

It’s my 9th year teaching, and I’m done. Finished. Kaputz. That’s it. I’m completely over the approach of talking to other teachers about efficiency and effectiveness. You won’t find me straying into a Twitter discussion circus trying to point out efficient practices for second language teaching. That ship has long sailed. The curtains have closed with me weighing in on comparing the effectiveness of Terrible Practice A and Undoubtedly Much Better Practice B. I might never update my page on Studies Showing the Ineffectiveness of Grammar Instruction & Error Correction, instead ignoring commentary on why I haven’t treated it like a formal annotated bibliography, or lit review, or part-time job. Ah yes, and 2020’s article on grammar-translation could be my final say on the matter.

I’ll be talking about enjoyment from now on.

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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.

Levels
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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A Pisoverse Novella Monthly Sequence: 1st Year Latin

Every now and then I get asked which of my novellas students should read and when. Of course, that depends entirely on how novellas plan to be used. However, there *is* a logical sequence to my books, and it’s simple. Although word count isn’t everything, I’ve found that it’s most things when it comes to the beginning student reading Latin. Therefore, reading from low to high word count pretty much as-is (i.e. 20 to 155) makes the most sense.

The only time this appears to go “out of order” is with books having a high cognate count, which I read a little earlier. For example, Quīntus et nox horrifica has 52 words, but 26 are cognates. I’ve read that immediately following Rūfus lutulentus (20 words, just 1 cognate) since the reading level is close due to the similar number of unrecognizable words between the two books. See this post on how cognates increase the likelihood of Latin being understood. In the list below, I’ve also omitted the companion texts used for additional reading, activities, and as independent reading options. However, when used along with a novella, those are just read at the same time (e.g. reading Syra et animālia along with Syra sōla). Here’s the current monthly sequence I have in mind:

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Free Reading Fridays: We Need More Novellas

Last week, we started Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) in what I’m calling Free Reading Fridays, which is 10 minutes of independent reading at the start of class just before we do some kind of team game. It’s a great way to end the week. I wrote about how first year Latin students have had 143 minutes of FVR so far, but that’s been in segments of 3-5 minutes in the middle of class, with students choosing class texts from their folder. Last Friday was the first day they were able to sit in the back and choose anything from our library…

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30 Hours & First Novella

With students meeting 1x/week—this year only—we just had the 30th class of the year. I compared this to our calendar for next year, which is as if it’s October 9th meeting every day of the week. Now, with constant reminders of routines (since at least one week passes from class to class), and typical testing/school interruptions, and Northeast snow, those 30 class hours could amount to fewer total hours of input (25, 20, 15?!). Total input hours is tough to calculate, though, so we’ll just stick with 30 for the purpose of this post! What does that mean for reading? Cue the first novella…

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