Stephen Krashen has just shared, for free, a recent article of his about the appropriate place for writing in the language classroom. You can read the article here. It is also listed on the links page of this site.
I see several applications to the L2 classroom based on this article, but they are not what we might typically or traditionally have done with writing in second language.
Krashen briefly recalls previous studies demonstrating that having students write in the second language does not advance acquisition. Cf. the first major paragraph on the first page. The link and references are there for those who wish to look them up.
Even a few years ago, I was unaware of this research and would have argued that having students write was part of learning Latin. I created several practices around that notion, too. In retrospect, the 4 percenters were able to be successful with their writing (meaning that it was comprehensible Latin and largely grammatically correct), but I had no evidence that this actually helped anyone acquire more Latin. My own experience in Latin and Spanish composition classes were equally frustrating. I hated them, and did not feel like I made any progress in either language because of the forced writing. In the Latin comp class, there was no comprehensible input, and in the Spanish comp class the input was minimal.
So, what’s the point? I would now offer the following kinds of writing activities in the Latin classroom, based on the elements of composition that Krashen offers:
1. I would not do any of this with absolute beginners. Perhaps by the end of the first year, or into second, certainly by third and fourth.
2. Ask students to create a short, fun story based on a couple of characters, a problem and its resolution. My favorite right now is to ask them to create a fable with at least two animals, a problem and a moral instruction implied by the story. It must be short. I point out that the best fables are often just a few lines long. This is not a novela or a short story. It’s a fable. For the first ‘writing’ all they do is make a list of characters and some outline of where the story might go. This is the “flexible planning” part of Krashen’s paper. Don’t let anyone skip this. Teacher can help by walking around and seeing what is going down on the list. Students with only one character need to be prodded to have at least two. Students with more than 3 or 4 characters need to be prodded to pare it down.
3. Return that story to them several times through the year–perhaps once a month. First, ask them to carefully and slowly re-read their story, first out-loud to a partner, and then silently to themselves. Then, ask them to improve the story. What you know is that in the intervening month, you have been giving them much comprehensible input in Latin. Writing (output) is always the product of input.
4. Offer no corrections on their papers, but read for comprehension. Point to places where what they have written is not very clear and simply offer: can you make this more understandable?
5. Suggest that because they are working on their story all year long, they may suddenly get an idea for it out of the blue at some time when they least expect it (like while running track, etc). When that happens, they should make note of the idea and come in to see you before or after school and add that note to their paper for the next writing day. Help them learn to expect creativity to happen to them, but also to know that creativity happens when it will.
6. Have them do some creative writing every day–perhaps in a journal–perhaps as a warm up or ending to class each day. Five minutes. Develop the daily habit of writing. It will never be graded for grammar. Only checked for completion.
7. Invite your students to consider that through writing, especially creative writing and regular writing that we simply give ourselves to, we often work out problems and gain new insights. That’s what may come as a result of this.
If such a plan is followed over the course of the year, then in the last month of school, these stories that have been worked on like this for 8-9 months can be edited for grammar and polish, and you now have X number of new stories to share with next year’s students.