Lindsay Sears on Tiers!

At CANE’s 2018 Annual Meeting this past weekend, Lindsay Sears gave the rundown on bottom-up and top-down approaches to creating tiered versions of texts. What caught my attention was seeing how just a few messages of unadapted Latin became paragraphs of comprehensible text for the novice. That is, the original 8 lines of poetry (of 46 words; 45 of them occurring 1x) nearly doubled in length with each tiered version. The result is students reading MORE Latin that they understand, especially if they read all tiered versions. Lindsay knows how to tier texts, and she does it well.

Beginning with 8 lines of Ovid that few students could understand without pages of notes and a dictionary, we were shown how to get subsequent versions down to one that ANY novice could read. Her steps were clear and concise; moreso than “make each version simpler.” Here they are as distilled as possible. For bottom-up stories (e.g. text to accompany MovieTalk), reverse the order: 

1st Tier down from original
– begin with a compelling text (already with high frequency words, if possible)
– rearrange order to be clearer & shorten sentences
– break into paragraphs to create white space & supply verbs/subjects

Next Tier
– replace vocab/obscure names with synonyms
– simplify complex constructions (i.e. make meaning clearer, which might mean using the subjunctive!)
– add anything missing

Next Tier
– break up all compound sentences, removing conjunctions
– keep simplifying & remove “flavor text” (i.e. unnecessary) modifiers/adverbs
– replace vocab with high frequency & entire explanatory phrases/sentences!

Next Tier!
– short sentences & basic idea

Writing for the Novice: Fewer Words, Shorter Sentences

When it comes to writing for the novice, nothing is more important than using words students know, and keeping sentences short. The use of fewer words is self-evident. Shorter sentences, however, help reduce cognitive demand, and likely result in more repeated words from restating the subject, and clearly separating contrasting ideas instead of piles of subordination.

Magister Craft’s latest October Equus is the most understandable novice-categorized Latin video out there that doesn’t establishing meaning in the video itself (though complete subtitles in English are available). There are 127 total words, and 86 unique. If we exclude names, and a handful of words with different forms, that brings it down to about 60 words. The most frequently repeated words are est (6), in (6), et (5), caput (4), and equus (4), with another 5 words repeated 2x. Even this most-likely-to-be-understood video is nowhere near comprehensible to my first year students, or any other students who aren’t familiar with about 58 of those particular words.

How to make this more comprehensible for my students? The first step, without reducing the word count, is breaking up sentences (the longest sentences are 10 words in length). This allows us to restate the subject, or verbs with multiple subjects, and then add one or two words from the original longer sentence. As a result, the novice student has more exposure to the big content words that hold meaning, and increases the chance that any new words are comprehended instead of part of a string of new words all at once. Here are examples:

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