The Inequity Absurdity

Consider this a double feature hot off yesterday’s Annual Criticism of Latin, or ACL, report. Why another? I was reminded of a toxic idea floating around that the use of cognates is inequitable. This is absurd.

Reality:

  1. Cognates increase (*increase, not guarantee) the likelihood that students will understand the Latin, especially ones most obvious and familiar in English.
  2. Students with broader English vocab have a higher likelihood of understanding cognates (*higher, not guaranteed), especially the less familiar ones.
  3. Students who don’t have as broad English vocab or who don’t recognize the word in the moment will just see one more Latin word.

This is not inequity.

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Cognate Concerns? It Must Be January…

This year’s Annual Criticism of Latin, or ACL for short, is about a month early. It’s been the same old gripes with the same old assumptions going back to 2018 or so. Almost every concern rests on the assumptions that a student will continue Latin in college and will be negatively impacted somehow by the decisions modern Latin authors have made. That’s two biggies: continue Latin, and be negatively impacted.

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Writing Challenge #3: Description

As we’re winding down the month’s writing challenges, let’s recognize that over just a couple weeks, contributors produced nearly 3,000 words of Latin for the beginner. These short stories share some themes and common vocab. Not bad at all! While sheltering vocab is not everything, it’s most things, but let’s add something onto keeping word count low, shall we? Descriptions. Among other uses of description, a character’s quality or how they do some action becomes an instant question for students: “are you also like the character?” or “would you do things the same way?”

So, Challenge #3 is to write a highly descriptive short story using as few of the following core verbs and function words as possible in order to focus on description:

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

For Challenge #3, there will be an overall unique word limit (excluding names, and different forms of words). Also, don’t forget about referring to the cognate list for adjectives, and don’t forget to make adverbs from them!

BOSS level sheltering: no more than 15 words
CONFIDENT level sheltering: no more than 25 words
NOOB level sheltering: no more than 35 words

Here’s the link for Challenge #3. And here’s where I’ll put the stories once they start rolling in.

Writing Workshop & Challenge #2

People have all sorts of things to say about the Latin being written these days. Sure enough, the vocabulary decisions I made for writing Challenge #1 were questioned almost immediately. While there’s no need to defend any of those decisions, it’s definitely worth looking at why those “core” 19 words were chosen and how they’re useful for storytelling. So before we get to Challenge #2, consider this a mini little writing workshop. Cui dono…? No one in particular. Let’s take a look at those words…

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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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The ONLY 2 Ways To “Do CI”

Nearly everything related to CI is a grassroots kind of thing.

With grassroots, you gotta do most of the work on your own. I’m not saying you gotta work outside of school hours, but you certainly gotta scour the internet and find some PD opportunities. No one’s gonna drop these on your lap. They’re rarely provided by your school, and often in direct conflict with other department members’ understanding so you’re unlikely to get it there, too. Even when you do find something, you can’t make significant changes overnight, either. Fun fact: Supovitz & Turner (2000) found that science teachers made just *average changes* to practices after 40 hours of PD. It wasn’t until the 80 hour mark that *significant changes* were made. How many hours was your last PD sesh? How many hours do you think you’ve spent on learning how to do X in the classroom? Exactly.

So, if you’re looking to move away from outdated legacy approaches and towards more contemporary comprehension based language teaching (CBT)—maybe even with a focus on communication (CCLT)—perhaps under an older or newer name, such as teaching with comprehensible input (TCI), teaching proficiency through reading and storytelling (TPRS 1.0 or 2.0), storytelling while drawing (Story Listening), acquisition-driven input (ADI), or under any other name that does, in fact, give priority to input (i.e., not forcing kids to deal with being uncomfortable while speaking, etc.), there are only two ways to make that change:

  1. Change the texts students read.
  2. Change what you do.

If you have input sources besides yourself, just replace “texts” above with any other form of input, and keep reading. You should definitely be reading a lot in the second language classroom, but the concept applies to other video/audio sources of input (e.g., if you listen to pop tunes with only a handful of lyrics the kids understand, that’s not CI; you gotta change the kind of songs you’re having them listen to, or you have to change what you do so by the time they listen, they’ll actually understand it).

There it is; just two ways. With the former, you either give students a) different texts entirely, or b) adapted versions of the texts you always used beforehand. With the latter, you do things like a) learn how to actually speak Latin (or develop a higher proficiency in the modern language you teach), b) write texts with students (no, not just stories…even a summary of what was learned in class, written in the target language, is probably the best non-story example), or c) change your assessments. That’s it, but here are those options in more detail…

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Reading Latin: What Does That Mean?

Next winter at SCS (Society for Classical Studies) 2023, there will be a panel on what it means to teach students to read Latin. Reading Latin. It seems so obvious what it means, right? But no. What does it mean to read Latin? Of all the approaches to take, looking at data is a good starting point. Let’s start with what reading Latin has meant in the first year Latin classroom for decades…

What better place than the self-described “reading method” of textbooks such as Cambridge and Ecce, Romani? The latter’s first chapter begins with a cold-open paragraph of Latin. Here are the details:

  • 70 total words in length (i.e., tokens, see below)
  • 29 unique words

Text Coverage
Text coverage is measured by tokens, or total words. There are five tokens in the sentence “the bird sees the cat.” Two of the tokens in that sentence happen to be the same word. Therefore, “the” represents 40% text coverage. If the reader doesn’t know “the,” they have a text coverage of 60%. The reader who knows everything except “cat” would have a text coverage of 80%. It’s a simple example, but not hard to see what can happen at that 80% level comprehension-wise. The reader understands “the cat sees the ____,” so the unknown word is a big piece of missing information. Imagine reading a whole paragraph about the cat and ____ without knowing what ____ is and then being asked about ____. That’s not a very fun experience. And now imagine grading some kind of assessment on that experience! Don’t do it!

In that Ecce textbook example above, est appears 7 times and isn’t glossed. You gotta guess what it means from context. Luckily, most kids do. Those who don’t, though, miss out on 10% of the text coverage. A text coverage of 90% isn’t good enough for comprehension to have a solid chance, either (Laufer 1989, Laufer 1992, Hu & Nation 2000, Laufer 2010, Schitt, Jiang & Grabe 2011, Herman & Leeser 2022), but est isn’t the best example. Let’s look a little more into what “reading” means in this first textbook paragraph…

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2021-22 Vocab Stats

I wanted to write a short text using the most frequent words students have read so far this whole year. Although I might have been able to predict what most of those words were, the data was insightful. To be clear, this is a *minimum* amount students have read. I copied text from seven novellas we read as a whole class, as well as any class texts in the digital library, then ran it through Voyant Tools. What does NOT appear in the data is the day’s opening greeting I have on a Google Doc that has the date and some statements, as well as any short Type & Talk that didn’t make its way into an edited text for the digital library. The data also does NOT account for what’s heard in class, which is a considerable amount of the input students have received, especially at the beginning of the year. I can’t say including all that would double the stats for every word you see, but it might for some, and certainly would for the ones at the top of this list. Let’s start with the top words appearing at least 100 times:

  • 1225 = esse
  • 508 = in
  • 439 = nōn
  • 373 = et
  • 300 = velle
  • 265 = sed
  • 186 = habēre
  • 181 = placēre
  • 144 = iam
  • 129 = lutulārī
  • 105 = quoque
  • 100 = gladiātōrēs
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