Thursday, June 12, 2014

Stultus

This is a great post choral reading idea which I got from James Hosler, a fellow CI Latin teacher in Ohio. It is really simple but goes a long way!

Following a choral reading of a story:
  1. Give the laser pointer to a dependable student (one who understands Latin word order well) and ask that student to point to the words of the story which you just read through together.
  2. Now YOU the teacher will translate the sentence aloud into English, as the class listens and watches.
  3. The difference is that you will deliberately make some mistakes (either vocabulary or form) when translating aloud
  4. When students hear you make a mistake, they will yell Stultus or Stulta, depending on your gender (or maybe some kinder word).
  5. You as the teacher will make the necessary correction and then move on.
Observations
  1. Students really get into this. When I first tried this out, I was not sure how they would respond but gosh, they loved yelling "stultus" at me.
  2. Because students had the opportunity to call me stupid in Latin, they really paid attention to the story and to my translation
  3. This was a great way to do some pop-up grammar when I made a mistake
  4. This was another way to get students to read through the story in a different way
  5. This was a great way to use the words stultus/callidus in a context, because if I get a sentence correct, I say, "Ha, ego non sum stultus, sed callidus!" or when students correct me, I say, "Babae, vos estis callidissimi!" 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Choral Reading

When reading through a story together as a class, one technique to use is group choral reading/translation. This will require:
  • projecting the story onto a screen
  • a laser pointer
When you think that the class is familiar enough with the vocabulary and language structures of a particular story, project that story onto a screen. As the teacher, read the first Latin sentence aloud to the class, using the laser pointer to point to each word as you read it left to right. THEN have the students as a group chorally translate that sentence into English, while you, using the laser pointer, point to the Latin words IN AN ENGLISH WORD ORDER. After that, move onto the next sentence, repeating the process.

Now some of you may be objecting, "Hey, I thought the idea was to get away from translating Latin into English. This does not seem very CI." And quite honestly, I had some reservations about it too in the beginning. The difference, however, is that this activity is not our primary goal: All we are trying to do is establish meaning. This is why according to Bloom's Taxonomy, translation is a low-level skill.  Translating itself is not my end goal activity, but rather it is a step towards a post-reading activity in the language. NOTE - though translating may require higher level skills in order to establish meaning, the end result is still the original product just in a different language; no new product has been created in the target language, which is the sign of critical thinking.

Observations
  1. Doing a translation into English helps establish meaning. Yes, I want students to be able to work with Latin in Latin, but it can become very easy for students to answer Latin comprehension questions about a story without needing to understand what is being communicated if they are savvy enough, e.g., a quis question usually is answered by the subject, a quid agit question is answered by the verb, etc. 
  2. In doing a choral translation, no one is put on the spot. Therefore, students' affective filters are low.
  3. Following the laser pointer in both Latin and in English helps students to see the structure of the Latin language but yet how we must construe it in English in order to establish meaning.
  4. Translating chorally is a way for students to help each other out. If a student does not know a word or form, they hear others saying it.
  5. Choral translations are a great time to do pop-up grammar/grammar timeouts, since everyone is focused on the screen.
  6. Translating a story together aloud from a screen is so much better than having students read it from a book in front of them. In a choral translation, I am able to see students' eyes and to hear their voices. If I do not hear enough students translating aloud together, then I will call them on it.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Limiting Vocabulary

In 1960, Bennett Cerf, the co-founder of Random House Publishing Company, bet Theodore Geisel that he could not write a children's book using only 50 different words. Geisel undertook this task and under the pseudonym Dr. Seuss, he wrote the book Green Eggs and Ham. And yes, only 50 unique words are used in the entire book.

Theodore Geisel's Green Eggs and Ham is a perfect example of the TPRS mantra "Shelter/Limit Vocabulary, not Grammar," and it is this mantra which really rubs a lot of teachers the wrong way. "What? Shelter/limit vocabulary? A language does not consist of a few words and nor does it exist in a vacuum! The more words which a student knows, the better he/she will be able to communicate or to read!" And yes, there is some degree of truth in that: we do indeed want our student to be able to communicate and to read. The issue at hand though is that we overload our students with WAY TOO MUCH vocabulary all at once, while forcing them to learn language structures at the same time. The result: they end up knowing neither well. 

If you were to ask your students of any level of Latin which vocabulary words they knew best, most likely they would respond with words from the beginning weeks of Latin 1 - for my students, even if they were AP students, those words would be the CLC stage 1 words: pater, mater, servus, filius, canis, tablinum, atrium, culina, hortus, via, triclinium, est, scribit, bibit, sedet, laborat, dormit, etc. And though shocking at first since these students are three years removed from Latin 1 and have "learned" so many more words since then, at the same time, it is not surprising. Why? Because those limited words are repeated over and over in their readings in the opening weeks in various configurations, therefore, students really have no choice but to internalize/acquire them. After that, though, the curriculum becomes a mad dash of overloading them with a massive amount of new low-frequency vocabulary words while introducing new language structures. To quote my friend Evan Gardner, founder of Where Are Your Keys?, as a result, students end up "burning unnecessary memory bandwidth."    

Now focusing on a limited amount of vocabulary does not mean that no new vocabulary is ever introduced but rather, that the amount is controlled and that the choice of words is deliberate. This allows for continued repetitions and when that word is introduced in a new language structure, students can solely focus on the form - and if the context is comprehensible, it may not even be necessary for students to focus on the form, since the word just "translates itself" due to context. 

Just because the book picks various words for their "vocabulary list" does not mean that students must learn those particular words. On the average, CLC has around 35 words in its stage vocabulary lists - WAY too much, and in my opinion, around half of those words are not important. Though they may help a particular story, big picture, they are not used enough later on to merit having students know them.

So how does one limit vocabulary?
  1. Focus on high-frequency vocabulary first. I will leave you to define "high-frequency," because to every Latin teacher, that will mean something different. For some it will mean the most commonly used words in classical literature, while for others, it will mean words which are most frequently used in a particular textbook series or in a story, and yet for others, it will mean those words which are most commonly used in any language itself (words such as be, want, have, give, take, go, etc).
  2. Don't focus on cognates too much. Again, students can "burn unnecessary memory bandwidth" in learning cognates. Now if like French, the word is a faux amis (false friend) and not a cognate but looks like one, then definitely focus on the word.
  3. Once you determine the words on which you will focus, then these will be your foundation for TPR, TPRS, etc. 
  4. Once students have acquired these words, then these particular words will become the ones which you will use to introduce new language structures. Again, this way students will only have to focus on the form, not the meaning of the word AND the new structure.
Even though vocabulary has been limited, it is still possible to create engaging and compelling stories with a few words. Look at Green Eggs and Ham!