Friday, March 25, 2016

A Hard Lesson Learned the Hard Way

I've been in my own head a lot lately. I haven't meant to be, but this year I've been working on my master's thesis, which has caused me to become more introspective and much less aware of what is happening outside my own mind.

This wouldn't be so bad (it still wouldn't be great) if it was limited to missing world events. However, I've been so wrapped up in my thoughts and theories and writing that I forgot to watch my students.

The warning signs started in early November, but I was getting ready for my presentation at ACTFL so I attributed my students' restlessness and distraction to the upcoming holiday and heavy work loads from other classes. When we returned after Thanksgiving break, I was scrambling to compose and organize my research into something I could turn in to prove I had spent the semester researching my thesis topic, so I attributed some of my struggling students' difficulties with the readings to not paying attention, because this was easier than stepping back and reassessing my approach, and I didn't have time to do that anyway. I already more or less had the rest of the semester planned, so why would I take valuable thesis time to change all of that?

I had a lot of excuses, and my students lost out. And lost faith in me. Latin was becoming "hard."

I had originally planned to write a blog post between Fall and Spring semesters, because finally, after turning in my research and turning my attention back to my students right before finals, I realized the mistake I was making, and felt I should share it.

I didn't write it, however. I had also been failing a little as a mother, and decided to turn my energy during the break toward my son.

Luckily, the delay means that I get to report a happy ending to all of this struggle.

The year is by no means through, but I am already seeing the result of my rethink. I did my best to start over this semester with my students. I had them read something light to refresh their Latin at the beginning of January, and from that point on I have focused on repetition, slowing down, and making sure there is enough reading and practice that my students really understand the new material.

One of my students who commonly struggles, and who was acting out the most at the end of last semester and the beginning of this semester (I had to earn his trust back), is now participating and comprehending and has declared our most recent reading "easy." My students who were not paying attention or struggling against me because they were frustrated are beginning to to return to me as the charming people I knew them to be last year. Slowing down is working.

It is easy to forget how important it is to go slow and make sure all of your students understand and truly comprehend what you are reading. It is easy to get caught up in goals or time restrictions (either your own or imposed on you). Even though I've been teaching with comprehensible input strategies for twelve years, it was easy for me to get involved in my own ideas and forget to notice my students.

It is easy. So, we need to be mindful. Studies show that students need comprehensible input to successfully acquire language, and moving too quickly takes even simple readings and makes them incomprehensible to students.

Sharing my failing isn't easy; I don't think this is my best-written post, because I have had to work to find the words. But Miriam and I promised when we started this blog to share things that didn't work as well as the things that did, and moving too quickly did not work.

Hopefully this will help someone else think about pace and consider whether he or she is moving too fast for the students in his or her program.

Don't be afraid to go slowly!

(btw, I've been catching up on the blogs I didn't read while working on my thesis, and I came across this post by the great Grant Boulanger, and it also stresses to go slowly!)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Dealing with History in a CI classroom

One of the struggles I've had this year in my CI classroom, in which we are untextbooking, is covering history and culture. These things can be compelling, but so often can be tedious as well. This Spring, my Latin I classes are reading Magus Mirabilis Oz as I write it and I decided to include "brain breaks" (if you will) from the text to cover history and legend. We are covering two major topics with some smaller points as well:
  1. Caesar's De Bello Gallico - geography of Europe, The Druids, relationship with Egypt
  2. Vergil's The Aeneid - geography of Africa and Asia Minor, Dido, basic Roman African history
In part, I am choosing to focus on these because this is where my area of research has been drawn and it is compelling to me. In a much larger part, I am considering the following things:
  • In giving students a choice between AP Latin and Latin IV, covering these two items helps prepare them for that choice and creates a spiral effect in the curriculum. Students who study Vergil and Caesar further already have background knowledge in the matter. 
  • These stories are key to understanding other aspects of Roman history and culture. By looking at these, students are better prepared for higher level discussions later. 
  • These essential pieces of Roman history paint a truer image of what the Roman world looked like. Rome was diverse and Roman ideas were uniquely different than our idea of diversity. 
  • In covering stories like these, I can get more repetitions of the current vocabulary we are learning.
When deciding how to start these stories, I was given assistance by national Black History Month and Women's History Month. I chose, specifically, to start Dido's story in the month of February and am continuing it through March. It was incredibly easy for me to do this and to focus on Africa's role in Roman history because Africa played an important role in Roman history that is often overlooked by many people, teachers or not. Here are the points I considered:
  1. Egypt's role as a trade location and as a connection between the Greco-Roman world and African peoples
  2. Dido's role as a female leader in Africa considering her origins and her husband's death
  3. Carthage's role in the Punic War and as a powerhouse before the war
  4. Two African emperors
  5. Ethiopia as an unconquered land
  6. The presence of diversity in Rome
After starting with a basic geography presentation in Latin, I wrote three embedded stories that told Dido's Story. Each was accompanied with images that ranged from classic paintings to modern interpretations. The stories were no longer than a page each, with images. Each lent itself to a specific discussion and we used specific activities with each.

Dido's Story: regina Carthaginis - We meet Dido on her journey to Carthage. She has just lost her husband, but wants to be a good queen. The other kings in Africa want to trick her, but she ends up creating a large city and is loved by her people. This story ends on the cliff hanger that Aeneas is on his way to Carthage. 

This passage lent itself to a discussion about the important of Carthage historically along with the implications of Aeneas' arrival

Activities Used:
  1. Read and Discuss
  2. Choral Translation
  3. Geography Review
  4. New vocabulary reviewed

Dido's Story: Ira Iunonis - This story gives Aeneas' back story and follows him to Carthage. The focus of this story is the storm created by Juno. It follows what Vergil writes, but in an embedded format. 

This passage lent itself to discussion on fate and free will. We also discussed Vergil's imagery and some rhetoric devices. 

Activities Used:
  1. Read, Discuss, and Draw (including a video I made so that students could check their work
  2. Culture Discussion
  3. Student map building (Aeneas' Journey)

Dido's Story: Mors Amorque- This story picks up with Aeneas in Carthage. We learn of their love and then we learn about Dido's tragic death. We also see Aeneas go to the Underworld and see Dido, where she meets her husband, and true love, once more. 

This passage lent itself to discussion on pietas (duty), fate, and love. We talked about Dido's death and what it meant for Aeneas. This passage also ended up being the most compelling. Students loved and hated this (in a "I want more hate"). They wanted Dido to get real revenge. See more responses

Activities Used:
  1. Circling discussion and prediction in Latin with images from previous and current story.
  2. Choral Translation
  3. Culture Discussion


This was incredibly compelling and comprehensible to the students. They loved the idea of reading what the uppers were reading and they appreciated being trusted with content considered this heavy. They really appreciated my taking time to honour Black History Month and that I chose a woman as our protagonist. They loved the imagery, the language, and the story. They even loved the ending... even though it was sad. 

This has set them up for success (as this is the content on the midterm) and has made them excited to read about Caesar and the Gauls and Celts (who are the same people, but in different areas). 

Did you (and how) incorporate Black History Month into your lessons?