Building Community Before Teaching Language

A year ago, my Latin colleagues agreed to use Christopher Emdin’s wonderful book for a book study and professional development. White Folks Who Teach in the ‘Hood And All the Rest of Y’all: Reality Pedagogy, is a must have manual for teachers in today’s education spaces. The majority of teachers are still white while the majority of students in public schools is at the 50% mark for students of Color or just beyond that. This is not a book review, though, and while I want to urge everyone to get it and study it, I’m really writing to talk about one take away for me from our study.

Building Community.  It may be the thread that runs through all of Emdin’s work, but he particularly hones in on it in his chapter called “cosmopolitanism.” In the second half of last year, I found ways to begin to work on building community in my classrooms in ways that I had never done before, and the results were very positive. With summer to simmer on some of these ideas, I have made some decisions about building community in my classrooms this year.

  1. Building community takes priority over teaching language. I am teaching Latin 4 and Latin 5 this year with seniors, and I am chomping at the bit to get started with students whom I largely know from earlier years of instruction. This year, though, I made a personal commitment to spent the better part of the first two weeks focusing on community building.  I am also weaving in some items that will actually be Latin based, but the primary focus of every class is building community.
  2. You can use all kinds of “get to know you” activities and some may organically emerge.  So far, I’ve invited students to:
    1. tell us something special about their summer.  I made a point of saying that it was their choice–something small, something big, something happy, something funny, something sad, but something special about summer.
    2. tell us something their Latin teacher last year did (including me if I was their teacher last year) that helped them make progress in Latin. I promised to pay attention to their list and do more of those kinds of things.
    3. play two truths and a tale. We sat in a very large circle so that we could all see each other and one by one told three things about ourselves, one of which was false.  Group voted on what was the false item. It was a gentle, fun and curious way to gain insight into the people in the room.
    4. reflect on self-confidence, motivation and anxiety.  These are the things that make up the affective filter, and while I know that as the teacher in the room, we rarely ask students to reflect on how those function inside of them.  I asked them to write one day about them, and then the next day, after re-reading what they wrote, to draw a colored picture or symbol, abstract or concrete, that reflected the interaction of the three inside of them. While they colored, I read their writing.  Then, they chose a place on the bulletin board to post their drawing.  My bulletin board that only has SALVE! at its center is now surrounded with 90ish colored representations of self-confidence, motivation and anxiety.  Some are whimsical.  Some are serious.  Some actually sort of break my heart. Others make me smile. I’ve added a few examples to this blog.
    5. play speed dating with some questions that they had 30 seconds to share with each partner sitting across from them like: what’s your favorite food? Where’s your favorite place to go? What was your most embarrassing moment?  Who do you most admire?
    6. I’ve asked them to reflect on what the word “journey” means to them, and we’ve put the brainstormed list on the board and briefly reviewed it each day (iter) is the theme that I want to work with in Latin this year).
    7. I began introducing phrases that can be made with iter and began circling them with personalized questions.
  3. I assigned some jobs that were specifically for the purpose of community building.  There are 5 jobs and 6 positions because one requires two people.  These job holders are in position for three weeks, and one of their aims–besides doing the job assigned–is to increasingly do their jobs “Latine tantum.”  They can always extract language they need from me, but I have also begun keeping a list of words and phrases for them to use and posted to our online digital classroom.  At the beginning of our second week of school, all of them in all classes are attempting to do their jobs in Latin.  They will each be assessed on their use of Latin by the end of there three weeks.  My intention is that students will cycle through these jobs all year long, so this group of job holders will do them again a few more times before the year is over.  What jobs you ask? They are listed below, and here are the slides introducing them.
    1. Dux Telephonorum
    2. Dux Sermonis Orientis
    3. Censor
    4. Distributores (2)
    5. Aestimator

We are just in our second week of all this as I write, but each day, each Aestimator drops a hand-written note to me in a special mailbox I created just for this purpose.  These little notes reassure both my heart and my brain that I’m on track.

Hodie, sessio interest.  I thought everyone was enjoying the lesson.  We actually have more people talk at the gloriemur et queramur.  Everyone is getting more comfortable in the class.  * Everyone looks fine and happy to be here!

Everyone liked today.  Since we have a small class, we are starting to form a family.  These activities are drawing us closer. (This student doesn’t know that the same thing is happening in my larger classes, too).

The class activity was fun and entertaining because it offered an opportunity for us to de-stress and learn more about our classmates.

I feel as if the topic about anxiety and self-motivation is really good.  The brag or vent with a student leading is a good idea.  The jobs make the class more interactive. 

Bob Patrick

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