“…& Classical Humanities”

Almost every degree and teaching license I know of related to Latin attaches “& Classical Humanities” to the end. That is, it’s rare to study and teach the Latin language without also studying and teaching Classical Humanities.

Why is this?

I know, I know. They’re two peas in a pod. It might seem obvious since the culture most associated with Latin is Roman, part of the Classical era. Yet Latin has been around for thousands of years, right? Many cultures have used Latin, and not all of that Latin has been about the Romans, either. Consider teaching Classical Humanities without Latin. It’d be a history class focus on a particular time period, right? That’s like a history class on 18th century Spain. Now consider a high school Spanish language class. Surely, students don’t learn only about the18th century, much less Spain’s entire history, or even focus on just Spain at all! There are tons of Spanish-speaking cultures that have written about a ton of different stuff, and Spanish language classes take that into account.

Why not Latin?

Of course, the context of a Spanish class seems different, but is it, really? The Latin language didn’t die with the fall of the Roman Empire. In fact, non-Roman cultures have now been using Latin longer than the Romans existed. I’m not saying there are now more texts written by non-Romans than Romans. Then again…

TheLatinLibrary.com
The second I wrote that, I suddenly realized I had no idea whether it could be true. In what a colleague would say is very “on brand” of me, I ran some numbers through Voyant Tools, taking all ancient Latin texts from TheLatinLibrary, and comparing the total words to the Miscellany, Christian, Medieval, and Neo-Latin categories. It must be noted right away that this doesn’t represent all of the world’s extant Latin. In fact, I’m reading a work of elegiac couplets from the 15th century by Vincent Obsopoeus that’s nowhere to be found on TheLatinLibrary. There are thousands of words of Latin in there, but it won’t appear in my data. You won’t find works like Cornelia, or Ora Maritima, either. There’s no Hobbitus Ille in the data, and women are utterly underrepresented, with perhaps just Sulpicia and Egeria included in TheLatinLibrary at all. So, my source has its flaws, yet what we have of ancient Roman Latin is all there, or nearly all there, and these estimates* help put things into perspective. Of course, I went into this wondering if the world has surpassed the Romans in writing of Latin—prompting more inquiry into why the Classical Humanities are still a focus in high school Latin study—and the truth is undeniable, especially when acknowledging there’s so much recent Latin unaccounted for. Bottom, line, far more Latin has been written since the Romans than what you see here, which is already more than what we have from them:

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“Not-Reading” Synonyms

It would take a proficient Latin speaker about 7 hours to read Caesar’s Dē Bellō Gallicō—in its entirety*—at a slow pace (i.e. half the average reading speed).** For comparison, a proficient English speaker reading at the same pace would take over twice as long to get through The Hate U Give (~15 hours). One of these texts is level-appropriate, and now commonly used in 9th grade classes along with 4-5 other full length books and many other short texts throughout the year. The other is nowhere near level-appropriate, yet commonly used in 11th or 12th grade classes as roughly half the year’s focus—certainly not in its entirety—with selections comprising just 13% of the full text. It should be clear which is which, and any K-12 teacher who says their students read Caesar is being as truthful as today’s outgoing president, who has mislead and lied over 29,000 times in office.*** Yet if not an outright lie, the claim of reading Caesar is still highly misleading, and should be addressed ASAP…

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Vocab Lists: Sheltering, Grammar Audit, and Creativity

**Updated 8.19.20 – The DCC core list of top 1000 Latin words has just 100 cognates.**

sīgna zōdiaca Vol. 1 was published at the end of July, bringing the total vocabulary found throughout the entire Pisoverse novellas to 737 unique words, of which 316 are found on the DCC core list, and of which 319 cognates (see my last post on cognates), including 52 found on the DCC core list (i.e. Pisoverse cognates account for over 50% of the total DCC cognates). That vocabulary size is quite low for what is now almost 50,000 total words of Latin for the beginner found in 19 books. This is what is meant by sheltering (i.e. limiting) vocabulary. Of course, that sheltering didn’t just happen by chance. There have been many decisions of what to keep and what to let go, the process deliberate, and at times methodical. In this post, I share ways to shelter vocab in novellas, and how those same practical steps apply to more informal writing done in the classroom with students…

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Skip The Activity?

In terms of input, I’ve observed a few differences between reading independently and reading in pairs, or as a whole-class. The bottom line? Reading independently results in far more input than could be provided in pair, or whole-class activities. Therefore, I wonder if we’re not giving enough time for independent reading, even there are already routines in place (e.g. 10 minutes 2x/week). Could we be better off skipping some or even most of the reading activities in class? Maybe. Granted, independent reading cannot be the only kind of reading done in class since most students not only need input, but also interaction, at least in the K-12 public school context I teach in (conf. Beniko Mason’s more advanced Story Listening students with access to 500+ graded readers). Still, how much less input are students getting with all those activities? Let’s look into that…

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AP Latin: There’s Bad News…And…Worse News

**Updated 2.25.21 with details from this post**

I ran texts from the AP Latin syllabus through Voyant Tools:

  • 6,300 total words in length
  • 2,800 forms (i.e. aberant + abest = 2)
  • 1,100 meanings/lemmas (i.e. aberant + abest = 1 meaning of “awayness”)*

Based on the research of Paul Nation (2000), 98% of vocabulary must be known in order to just…read…a text. According to Nation’s research, then, Latin students must know about 6,175 words they encounter in the text in order to read the AP syllabus texts. That’s a text written with 1,100 words. To put that into perspective, it’s been reported that students reasonably acquire ~175 Latin words per year, for a total of something more like 750 by the end of four high school years. Needless to say, there’s a low chance that all 750 would be included the Latin on the AP, and that varies from learner to learner. Even if they were, though, 750 is still only 68% of the vocabulary at best. Although this percentage isn’t the same as text coverage since it doesn’t account for how many of the 1,100 words repeat, it’s safe to say that the number isn’t going to be wildly higher. Even approaching 80% text coverage is not good. We know that reading starts to get very cumbersome below 80%. This is just one reason why no student can actually read AP Latin. Oh wait

****Those figures are just for Caesar****

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Input Hypermiling Combo: 1 Activity, 6 Days, 24 Texts, 76 Storyboards!

Back in 2016, I wrote about five follow up activities based on one story. I’ve certainly been thinking differently since then, though I haven’t so much as changed my tune as I have changed keys. I’m now cautious of doing many activities over and over using just one story. Despite any novelty, the context remains the same. Surely, that can’t be ideal for acquisition, right? After a while, the student is probably just working with an understanding of the story from memory. Similarly, I’ve been highly critical of Latin teachers for remembering English translations they’ve studied and/or taught over the years instead of actually processing the target language itself. Because of that KEY change, I’ve been looking into creating new contexts with minimal planning effort. Here’s a workflow to hypermile your input:

1) Get a text
2) Read that text
3) Do a new activity that gets you a) more texts, b) drawings, or c) both
4) a) Read those new texts, b) Picture Talk the drawings, or c) both
5) Compile texts, drawings, and glossary into FVR packet

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The Full Glossary Experiment

Yesterday, close to 10 students across all classes asked what auxilium meant. Oh, and here’s the excerpt from that text:

Capture

With questions like that, how often are students aware of all those glosses I intentionally put into class texts?! In the same classes, I also noticed that students were working much slower than I’d expect during Read & Translate. Surely, if they’d been reading at home the process would be much easier. Could it be that comprehension support during class time isn’t helping students read independently at home? Also, it just so happens that two new students began school this week too, so those in-text glosses certainly weren’t much help with almost every other word unknown. At what point might those in-text glosses make a difference, and what could I do to help these new students begin reading on their own?

Based on all those questions, I’ve decided to experiment…

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