Friday, April 11, 2014

Writing in Latin, part 2 - What are Some Ways to Do It?

This is part 2 of a continuing series on getting students to write in Latin.

When it comes to having students compose in Latin, the name of the game is INPUT, INPUT, INPUT. In order for student output to occur, they need LOTS and LOTS of understandable input. Output, in a sense, is a logical overflow and outpouring of all of that input which now needs an outlet.

When having students write in Latin, I have three very important rules - I will address the reasoning later in this posting:
  1. When it comes to writing, the goal is to create as much language as possible, THERFORE:
  2. Do not worry about grammar for right now. Do not let that impede you from what you want to write - just write.
  3. Do not worry about spelling for right now. Try to write the word as best you can or to write the word phonetically. Again, do not let this impede you from what you want to write. 
Here are two different types of writing which I do with my classes:

Timed Writes
Directly following an input activity, such as TPRS, Ask a Story, One Word Picture, Read and Draw, Read and Discuss, micrologue, etc., I tell students to get out a sheet of paper and that they will have X minutes to rewrite that story in Latin as best as they can and if they finish with time remaining, they are to continue by writing in Latin what they think happens next in the story in their own words. The idea is that during this set amount of time, they are ALWAYS to be writing in Latin. I remind students, "If you cannot think of anything to write, someone/something can always enter - what does that person/thing look like? Someone/something can do something - what is it? Then what happens?" If students run out of ideas or cannot think of anything, then I tell them that they are to write a list of vocabulary words which they know and hopefully, that list will get their creativity "flowing" again. 5 minutes is a good amount of time for beginners. When they begin to say that they need more time, then slowly begin to increase that time over the semester to 7.5 minutes, and then to 10 minutes and then to 15 minutes. When time is done, students then count the number of words which they have written and are to put that number in a box under their writing. At the top of the paper, they are to write:
  1. their name
  2. the date of the writing
  3. the title of the writing (such as "Stage 18 Timed Write")
  4. the amount of time given
This information is important for their future evaluation. Students turn their writings into me, and I will read them over. I do not grade them, but I will file it into their writing portfolio folders.

Free Writes
This type of writing activity is very similar to a timed write, in that students will write for X minutes. The difference, however, is that instead of rewriting something which has already been "input" into them, students will now respond to a prompt or to a picture and have to write about that. This is a bit more difficult for students in that they are now composing right away, instead of relying on an "input product" first as they had in the timed write. I do not do free writes until students have completed LOTS of timed writes. Same rules and procedures apply here as with a timed write.

To me, a free write allows for more creativity, as the prompt gives more freedom in writing. I am always amazed that even though all students have the same prompt, every student comes up with a completely different story.

Some prompts which I have used:
  1. Brant in Starbucks sedebat, bibens caffeam et legens librum. subito magnum sonitum audivit. 
  2. Ashley nocte per silvam ambulabat, et subito, conspexit aliquid.
  3. Joseph in cafetera sedebat, cantans carmen, et subito, barbara puella cafeteriam ingressa est. 
  1. This is a great way for me to see what vocabulary/language structures students have acquired. I cannot tell you how often I see students write "stock phrases" which I use in my stories such as (person's name) erat iuvenis/puella pravi ingenii (do students know that they are using a genitive of description?!) or (person's name) gaudio/ira/laetitia/tristita affectus est. 
  2. This is also a great way for me to see what language structures/grammar I need to review or to continue to use in order for students to gain acquisition. Even though I do not grade these writings, I do view it as a formative assessment for me to see where students need more help.
  3. Even though students may gripe when I say that they will be doing a writing activity, they actually do enjoy being able to create something in the language. I cannot tell you how often after a writing is completed, I hear students telling each other and me what they wrote.
  4. The original story for a timed write or the free write prompt needs to compelling in order for students to want to write in the first place. If the prompt is Italia est parva patria in Europa, quite honestly, that really is not of much interest for students.
  5. As students become more accustomed to writing, the amount of words which they will be able to write in X minutes will increase. If it does not, then this could be a red flag that I as a teacher am not doing enough input for student acquisition of language or it could be that this particular students needs a little "push" from me 
  6. As students become more accustomed to writing, SLOWLY their sentence structures will begin to become more complex. But let us remember that these students are still novice language learners - do not expect just because the unit is on ablative absolutes that students will be able to produce these structures 100% on their own. 
So what about grammar/accuracy? Shouldn't we be teaching students to be grammatically correct when writing? My answer: yes, I agree but just not in the way that many folks do. Yes, I want students to be grammatically correct in their writing/speaking but at the same time, these are novice language learners, meaning that I should expect a TON of errors. Remember that the goal of timed/free writing is to create as much language as possible in a set amount of time, just not necessarily accurate language.

So where does the grammar correction happen? Although I do not grade the writings per se, I do take a look at them purely to see where I as a teacher need to do more review. If I see that students are writing everything in the nominative case, it shows me that they are still struggling with using the accusative ending and have not truly acquired it, so I will try to pattern that structure through TPRS and other input activities.

But don't grammar errors make it difficult to read what students have written? In some ways it can. Sometimes, I actually have to read their writings aloud to understand what they have written, because I as the teacher am putting on my grammarian hat and am getting all caught up with their errors, BUT as a sympathetic reader (an ACTFL writing proficiency term for novice/intermediate writers), I am able to comprehend what they are trying to communicate, which is the goal.

My own personal experience: in the summer of 2010, I attended my first Rusticatio, a weeklong, spoken Latin-immersion "camp." Even though I had studied and taught Latin for half my life by that time (and was a grammar-lover), I had never communicated before in the language. And let me tell you, it was very difficult! I found myself making what seemed like incredibly basic errors, such as "ego est laetus," and "ego cena parat," but let me also say that being grammatically correct was the last thing on my mind! All I wanted was to get Latin to come out of my mouth; forget grammar!! For me, that was the victory. If I worried way too much over being grammatically correct, then I never would have said anything that summer. What I was trying to communicate was understandable to the sympathetic listener. When correction was needed for the purpose of comprehension, then speakers patterned the correct usage for me but never blatantly corrected me, i.e., no Krashen's external monitor. And as I attended more Rusticationes, I found myself becoming more comfortable with communicating in the language, and I began to correct myself or to become more aware of the grammar needed to communicate (Krashen's intermal monitor). This summer will be my 5th Rusticatio, and I know that I will continue to make mistakes but I am definitely more comfortable making them. I write all of this to say that through my experiences at Rusticatio, I suddenly realized what my own students must feel like in my class.

The next post will address what students will do with their writings as a summative assessment.

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