Staying in the Target Language

I’m not sure what to call this.  It’s a little bit process, a little bit of a game, a little bit (okay, maybe a lot) classroom management.  I learned it from my friend and extraordinary CI teacher, Lauren Watson, and to be fair, this is what her process has become in my room.  I’m sure I’ve modified it from her original, and so you can make modifications, too, as you use it and find out what works and what doesn’t in your classroom.  I know now from using it for the last 2-3 years that it is something that students look forward to.  It works like this.

Somewhere on part of a whiteboard in the room, you set up a chart that has a column for each class period that you teach (so part of the brilliance of this is that you can use it for any level that you teach as long as you, the teacher, keep things on level for the class at hand). The horizontal lines indicate three important jobs for this process and a way to document points earned. The effect of the process/game is to encourage students to use positive peer pressure to stay in L2.  This by no means relieves us, the teachers, from having compelling content to work with or from making sure that everything said and read is comprehensible to everyone in the classroom.

The “other goal” which students will be excited about is earning 100 points as a class so that they can have a “Fun Friday.” Fun Friday means doing something fun with L2 (playing games of various sorts) and bringing food if the class wants. You should never let this become “do whatever we want to” but doing something fun and different with L2. Teacher can give choices for them to choose from. If food is brought, it must be with common understanding that you are bringing food to share and not just something for yourself to eat.

Here is a document with the chart laid out and basic descriptions of the rules and process.

The process requires three student jobs.  I usually change the students who hold these jobs every month or every week.  Let students decide.

Iudex–the judge who determines within the first minute after the bell rings whether all cell phones are put away into bookbags.  If so, this earns 1 point.

Horologiarius/a–Time keeper.  This student may have phone out to keep time of uninterrupted time in L2.  For every 12 minutes, class earns 1 point. At the end of class, minutes over a factor of 12 can be banked and added to another day.  E.g. 39 minutes = 36 (3 points) + 3 banked toward the next day. When anyone says anything in L1, time is stopped. If there are more than 12 minutes, points can be earned and then the clock starts again at 0. Minutes under 12 earn nothing.

Auditor–the listener.  This student’s job requires paper and pencil where she/he puts a hash mark for every rejoined used correctly in the process of class.  Rejoinder list should be on walls for reference. Auditor’s job includes both listening for and determining if correctly used. For every 20 rejoinders used correctly, 2 points are earned.  Can only earn in factors of 20, but anything over a factor of 20 can be banked for another day. E.g. 48 = 4 points (2 sets of 20) and 8 points banked for another day.

I have found that the chart on the whiteboard (rather permanently) keeps class interest high, and they begin to see each other’s class score.  “How did 3rd period get 48 points yesterday?”  Any class that raises the bar like that effects all the other classes.  I am often surprised by which classes seem to make the most out of this, and they are most often NOT the class that at first glance seems the “best” or “strongest” class.  The positive peer pressure is real.  If a class has a student who is being something of a “jerk” this process will call him/her to account as one stray word of English and it resets everyone for that day at zero.  They simply won’t allow “jerkiness” to do that to them for very long.

Bob Patrick



Scaffolding for Input and Output–Reading a Class Novel

I am outlining here a process that has organically evolved in recent work with Latin 3 classes.  It began with an assignment that I left with students to do while I was away training for two days in Universal Design for Learning. What evolved on my return is, in my estimation, what I hope is the first of many interplays of Comprehensible Input and UDL.

My original goal: Students will demonstration comprehension of Capitulum 4 of Perseus et Rex Malus which we are reading as a class.

Longer term goal: Students will be able to participate in a conversation in Latin about the events in Cap. 4 or 5 in the book.

I left them with a four frame cartoon block in which they were to draw the events of Cap 4.  They were to choose two sentences from the chapter in Latin to serve as caption for each picture (so, 8 sentences total).

On my first day back, I invited students to tell me what barriers they ran into while working on the assignment I left.  Here is the list of barriers they encountered:

  1. vocabulary that they did not recognize
  2. confusion over using the dictionary at the back of the book
  3. Would liked to have done more or fewer drawings than the required 4 based on the movement of chapter 4
  4. Would liked to have had freedom to use more than two sentences for captions or to have written their own captions in Latin rather than be constrained by what was in the chapter.

Over the next three days we looked at each page of cap. 4, listed words that were problematic, looked them up together in the back of the book (noticed various inflections given there and some omissions of words), and re-read pages with new insight in hand.  Each of those three days, as the last act of the class, I asked students to consider how ready they were to hold a conversation in Latin about Cap. 4. They were to respond on the back of their cartoon sheets (which I took up each day after they added new vocab and context notes each day) with a number indicating personal sense of readiness to hold conversation in Latin about the chapter.

Next goal: students will write a Latin summary of Capitulum 4 in their composition notebook with no specific time limit other than the length of the class period.

After I felt that we had really read and understood Cap. 4 well, I asked them to begin class by re-reading Cap 4, and then using the remainder of the period “to write about all that goes on in Cap 4 in your best Latin.” I told them that whether they did that in 10 minutes or 30 minutes, their only limit was the bell ringing at the end. I had long felt that timing such writing activities created for some students enough anxiety to become a barrier to their success.  So, this was an attempt to remove that barrier.  Indeed, some completed the task in 10 minutes and others took longer.

Then, there was the HUGE little surprise that became an excellent learning/teaching moment that has changed forever part of my teaching process. In one class, I asked students to re-read and then write, and a small rebellion arose.  “Aren’t we going to read this chapter first?”  I reminded the student that we had just spent two class periods reading, clarifying vocabulary, etc.  “But I wasn’t reading the pages.  I was just scanning for words I didn’t know.  I really don’t know what’s going on in this chapter!”

What is the difference in scanning for unknown words and reading something for understanding?  That has become the guiding question that I simply took for granted.  On that day, in the moment, I allowed that anyone who felt they still needed to read for understanding could get the books out and re-read again, and then do their writing.  Others who felt that they understood the chapter could begin their writing immediately.  Otherwise, they all had the remainder of the class time to do the writing.  About 12 students (out of 30) chose to get the books and read again for understanding.  Within 5 minutes, they had all returned the books and began their writing.  Everyone finished their writing by the time the period ended.

Since then, I have been using the following kind of scaffolding that is grounded in comprehensible input (establishing meaning, listening to understandable messages, reading understandable and compelling story) supporting new opportunities for speaking and writing in Latin (output). In short order, the scaffolding looks like this:

1. Create some sort of note-taking sheet as a processing tool. (Do not mistake this for explicit teaching or a worksheet or a study guide or a review list–it is simply about processing).  I like to give them a one page sheet with a square for each page in the reading in which they can note new words and other items that may be interesting or helpful to them. I create this by inserting a table on a page that is 2 x 2 and as large as they page will hold (so 4 squares on a page).

2. Ask students to scan the first page for unknown words.  This does not take long.  They then call out these words which I write on the board and then begin to give them hooks for thew new words–connections to forms of this word they already know, antonyms, snynonyms, English cognates or derivatives, and simply the English meaning.  This is establishing meaning.

3. Ask students to read that page for understanding. After they are done, ask where they need help understanding.  Field those questions and offer help or see if another student want so to be the teacher for that question.  This is a mini example of where students can be the co-teacher. Ask them if they are “seeing the movie” in their heads as they read.  I don’t think we can do too much to help students really experience reading in a second language.  Too many of us Latin teachers never had that experience until we sought it on our own.  We became excellent speed translators and thought that was reading.  We can be the teacher who helps our students experience reading in Latin.

4. Ask students to write in the box on their paper a short English summary of what’s happening on that page. This is something that those who practice Story Listening do after they have listened to (input) and watched the drawing of a story.  They simply write the story in their L1 to demonstrate comprehension.  This helps confirm in the mind and confidence of the student that they have actually read and understood something.

5. As the reading of a chapter or story progresses, begin to ask students to rank their ability to write or to hold a conversation in Latin about the story/chapter.  Use the scale above or one of your own making.  Keep it simple.

6. Give them an open ended period of time to write about a story, a chapter, part of a chapter or a collection of chapters.  It’s not so much what they write about as that they feel prepared to write about what they understand.  I am also moving toward doing this more often than less often.

7. As a part of each day, for several days, form a circle of students who have indicated that they are ready to hold a conversation about a story/chapter, etc.  I do this in groups of 8-10 (I have classes of 30-32).  We sit in a circle in the middle of the room.  Everyone in the room re-reads the intended material, and then I conduct a conversation about the reading with questions and sometimes PQA kinds of material.  Students in the circle participate while those outside the circle listen.  For those in the circle, this is output.  For those outside the circle it is more input.

8. Give a small quarter sheet of paper to students outside the circle to take notes on just one of the students in the circle–what they say in Latin and how they participate in the circle.  I also ask one student to takes notes on me and how I conduct the conversation.  Their observations are very helpful. All of this creates a kind of Socratic circle process, and gives me good notes on the experience.  I give those in the circle a speaking assessment based on those student observations notes and my own observations.

9. Continue to hold a circle each day with a new group of students making sure that the “least prepared” are the last to do so.  By then, they have 2 or 3 experiences of additional input.

This sort of scaffolding of input and output begins to form layers especially with a class novel such that you are always doing some pieces at the same time (e.g. establishing meaning of words on newest pages while holding conversation circles on older pages and re-reading more recent pages for understanding).

Just before a second day of circle conversation, I asked a class to re-read a chapter.  At the end, one of my more challenging students became extraordinarily excited.  He jumped up and down saying–I did it!  I read the WHOLE thing and I understood it.  I mean, man, like I understood it like it do English when I read it.”

That’s what this is about.

Bob Patrick

What If We Considered Restitution

My Latin colleagues and I have been studying and reflecting on the work of Dr. Christopher Emdin this whole academic year and working to implement his “reality pedagogy” into our CI Latin classrooms. The two work together so well that I also have made his book, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood and the Rest of Y’all Too, required reading for the grad course I am teaching at UGA this spring. I strongly encourage all teachers to get this book and start a disturbing, necessary, powerful journey into yourself, your practices, the young people who show up or who COULD show up in your classrooms.
As Latin teachers, we have to cultivate and recruit those who come to our classes. You all know that this has been a driving passion for me for the last two decades of my career as a Latin teacher–who we teach and who we don’t, the things we do, consciously and mostly unconsciously that keep students of Color out of the Latin classroom. We believe (we say) that Latin has so much to offer young people. If it does, why would we not want ALL kinds of learners, students from ALL backgrounds in our classes? Part of it is that we who teach Latin, mostly white folks, don’t know what we don’t know, and what we do know often scares us because we don’t know what to do about it.
Christopher Emdin‘s book. Go get it. Find someone to study it with you.
Yesterday, he was the featured lecturer at UGA’s Mary Early Lecture series. All five of us took the last hour of school off, journeyed to Athens, GA and beheld him in person. Words don’t suffice to articulate how powerful he was. One thing he said that gave me a way of thinking about my own life and work is this consideration of “restitution.”  What if restitution in this country towards People of Color meant for white teachers to give back from their lives to those young people who have been shut out of the “tribe” of education, life and success in this country?  In many ways, that’s what I feel like I’ve been aiming at during my 30 years of teaching–especially the last 20.  His book is a powerful piece of that for me.  That’s why we have created a huge Latin program (next year 7 Latin teachers from middle school to high school here teaching over 700 students) here with the multi-cultural mix that is Parkview High School, where all kinds of learners are successful in Latin, where we have a zero fail rate.  This is not me boasting.  This is me inviting–all of us–to re-vision how we teach, what we teach, to whom we teach.
If Latin is so valuable, isn’t it valuable to all learners in our schools?  Who are the learners not yet included in our schools?  Isn’t this the work of restitution that we who are white Latin teachers could take up as our call?
Emdin ended his pentecostal service (read the book, you’ll understand) with an African proverb. For me, it says it all.
“If the youth are not initiated into the tribe, they will burn the village down just to feel the warmth.”

In our program at Parkview, we say that CI is about comprehensible, compelling, caring work in Latin. Emdin’s book just so happens to organize into 7 C’s! All 7 of them help us fill out what that Caring part is about.

Bob Patrick

Scaenae–Alblative Absolutes in Targeted Communicative Activities

Goal: students help create a list “scaenae” (literary backdrops that Latin does with Ablative absolutes).  Then, they vote on their favorite. Teacher uses the top picks in “one phrase images” in the same way as one word images.  This is where a chunk of Latin words acts as one. They may also be used as story starters for small groups to devise.


Class Activity

Tell the class that we are going to create some “scaenae” together, that a scaena is a staging backdrop for a play to happen against.  Latin does this all the time in what are usually two word phrases known as ablative absolutes.  They can end up in several forms, but here are a couple of formats they represent most of these literary “backdrops” (write these on the board):

With ___________  ___________ing


With ___________ ____________ed


Ask students to generate these word backdrops.  You might give some examples in English first. Ask them what such a backdrop scenery suggests to the reader before going any further.  They will see that these scaenae can foreshadow what is to come. 


With the sky burning

With pigs flying

With everyone crying

With the forest burned up

With the nest built

With the monster slaughtered


They can go completely from their imaginations, or you may have a list of verbs for them to consider.


For this Latin 3 activity, I listed these recently new and brand new words:

iungere–to join

Mirari–to be amazed

Mutare–to change

Occupare–to seize, to fill up

Pati–to suffer

Premere–to press, hold down

Queri–to complain

Solvere–to loose

Subire–to go up under



With the teacher’s help, they make as many scaenae (ablative absolutes) as possible out of their imaginations or from listed verbs or both. The teacher then creates a google form with the Latin and English equivalents.  The invitation is to vote on the scaenae that they like the best.  If you teach more than one section of the same level, put them all into the google form and better crowd source the possibilities. 


One Phrase Images

The google form will show which were the top pics.  Over the next several days or weeks, you can choose one of the top pics as the starting point (the background) of a one word/phrase image story.  Do all the usual things:

  1. Pick an artist who sits apart from the whole to draw what you create.
  2. Ask who, what, where, how, why questions of the orginating scene.
  3. Since this is Latin using ablative absolutes, make it clear that the noun in the scaena cannot be mentioned in the rest of the opening sentence.  It can, of course, thereafter. You might give them an example. If the opening scaena is “caelo ardente” that is the backdrop to the story. Caelum cannot be mentioned in the remainder of the first sentence.  After that, of course, we can talk about the sky all we want.
  4. Continue until you have a story or until time runs out.  
  5. Have the artist show the picture.
  6. Perhaps take photos of the pics and pull one out for a timed write later.
  7. In this sort of thing, they are free to add in some more scaenae if they want as the story progresses.

Small Group Generated Stories and Pictures

  1. Put the most popular ablative absolute on the board, and invite the class to use it as a story starter and help you create the opening line.
  2. Once you have the first full sentence of a story on the board, divide the class into small groups.  Each group is to write the first sentence on a piece of paper.  They must then create a micro story with the following elements.
  3. 5 more sentences to tell the whole story.
  4. Story must have a problem and a solution.
  5. Story solution best if it comes as a surprise.
  6. Picture in color on card stock depicting the the micro story.

Any stories generated from the above can be edited and prepared by the teacher very quickly for use as warm ups, brain breaks or other activities in the classroom.  One use that I have in mind is to use two per week to read and discuss together (20 minutes) and then have them write for 20 minutes about the story and adding to it.


Upper Level Work: CI and Communicative Tasks

Perhaps the most common question that I hear from attendees at CI workshops that I facilitate–beyond the basics–is about using CI and Communicative Tasks at the upper levels.  At the high school, that means Latin 3 and above in my opinion.  In this post, I am sharing some observations and a set of tasks that I have designed for a fourth year class (though it is called Latin 5) that I am currently teaching.


In all of this work, I think it’s is crucial to keep reminding ourselves of what “upper levels” and “more advanced students” really mean.  If these are students with 2-4 years of Latin behind them, they are in general at the intermediate level of reading and listening proficiencies.  Their ability to speak and write (output) may not be that advanced.  That’s a sobering realization, or it should be.  It means that even with our advanced or upper level students, they still cannot really read unadapted texts from most ancient authors.  They can read and understand texts and conversation that fits the description of the intermediate.  You can get the complete set of descriptors for all levels and all four modes here.   I have lifted out those for intermediate reading:

Intermediate High
At the Intermediate High sublevel, readers are able to understand fully and with ease short, non-complex texts that convey
basic information and deal with personal and social topics to which the reader brings personal interest or knowledge.
These readers are also able to understand some connected texts featuring description and narration although there will be
occasional gaps in understanding due to a limited knowledge of the vocabulary, structures, and writing conventions of the

Intermediate Mid
At the Intermediate Mid sublevel, readers are able to understand short, non-complex texts that convey basic information
and deal with basic personal and social topics to which the reader brings personal interest or knowledge, although some
misunderstandings may occur. Readers at this level may get some meaning from short connected texts featuring description
and narration, dealing with familiar topics.

Intermediate Low
At the Intermediate Low sublevel, readers are able to understand some information from the simplest connected texts
dealing with a limited number of personal and social needs, although there may be frequent misunderstandings. Readers
at this level will be challenged to derive meaning from connected texts of any length.

In my Latin 5 class which is made up of 9 senior girls all who chose this class to be taught more as a university level course than our Latin 4 classes, I have given them choice about the kinds of things we read.  They expressed interest in comedy, and we settled on some reading from Plautus’ Mostellaria.  I did a lot of work on vocabulary with them in the usual CI fashion with PQA, Communicative surveys, One Word Images, and then embedded readings of texts.  For them to understand and for us to communicate as much as possible in Latin about what we were reading, we did not read much, to be honest.  We read the Argumentum (which was added some in subsequent centuries but provides a quick overview of the play), and Act 1, Scene 1 in which Grumio and Tranio, two slaves, hurl invectives against each other.  Grumio is the sort of faithful house slave, and Tranio the one who has befriend the young master.  They are out and about enjoying the debauched life while father is away on business.  Hence, the argument between the slaves.  Finally, I moved us to Philolaches (the son) and his speech in Scene 2 where he muses on what it means to be a human being and likens it to a new house.

That’s hardly “reading a play of Plautus,” and yet, it’s plenty for their ability to read and enjoy something of the play.  It has also pushed me to think of ways to keep these excerpts meaningful and compelling to them.

We have done the following toward that end.

  1. Students in pairs re-enacted scene 1 of act 1 using the approach of “same scene.”  That is, I told each pair which emotional quality had to characterize their scene.  4 sets of two did a reader’s theater of Grumio and Tranio arguing: one done sadly, one done ridiculously, one done happily, and one done seriously.  The ninth lone student performed the argumentum as reader’s theater, and because she was the lone actor, she was allowed to choose the emotional quality that would characterize her reading. I created this rubric to assess their performances.
  2. As I write this, they are coming into this next phase.  I have identified a list of 18 maledicta or insults that the two slaves have hurled at one another.  Each of the 9 students will choose two of them out of a bag (typed up and cut into strips).  The entire plan is outlined here, but I will summarize our steps.
    • Find ways in Latin to explain what the word means–periphrastic explanations.
    • Draw a picture which illustrates the name, color, titled in Latin and English, with sentence in Latin describing what the word means, laminated for hanging on the wall.
    • Present their pics and explanations to the class
    • Survey of which names each would find themselves most likely to use in the “right” circumstances. For this, I have in mind the simple list of the 18 maledicta which by now they will all know well and have reference to on the wall, and have them decide which of them they can imagine themselves using in certain circumstances.  That should give rise to some interesting conversatins in Latin about them, their lives, and these words.  In the next bullet, I have in mind some starter sentences that we might use to enter into this. 
    • Aliquem (nomen) vocares, quod illa/ille esset . . . Cur aliequem (nomen) vocares? Vocarem aliquem (nomen) quod illa/ille esset . . . (use periphrastic explanations with pictures to help.
    • Finally, I have in mind some further discussion and writing prompts:
    • Quae qualitates communes sunt inter maledicta?
    • Quae qualitates volumus invenire apud homines cum nomina turpia vocemus.

With the last question, I have in mind a thought that came to me in my own reflection on the readings we have done and our exploration of them. Why do we use invectives against others?  Doesn’t that happen because we are hurt, disappointed and angry because what we really wanted or expected was missing?  If so, what are the missing qualities or the qualities behind an invective that we wish to see?  For me, being able to talk a little about these qualitates (another list of which we have been working on for the last two years) raises this to a different level than one would find in Latin 1 or 2.

With these last two questions, we can have some class discussion in Latin followed by some writing in their composition notebooks to bring this to a close.

By the close of these activities, students will have then read a little of the Mostellaria; discussed the use of invectives in the story and how we might use them and why we use them in our own time.  That means cross-cultural competency at work.  We began this whole unit with some research in the media center on Plautus, Roman comedy, and the Mostellaria.  We might return at the end and ask ourselves why these stories still seem to work by examining the seven elements of story (familiarity, organization, meaning, intention, missing elements, perspective and struggles). My own experience at this level is that I feel like I am always on the edge–the edge of asking students to do more than they can do and the edge of not doing quite enough.  For my own part, I think I must guard against the former.  The traditional program that I was trained in always asked far more than we were really capable of.  Even at the upper levels, the work must be comprehensible, compelling and caring.

Bob Patrick


Listening to a Story

I have been using Listening to a Story in my CI classes over the last two years as have my colleagues.  Today, I made use of it in a different way with upper level students and as a result, I learned something for my own practice of it.  I have learned to do what I do by reading and viewing Beniko Mason’s website.  She posts there videos and other materials of her Great Story Reading Project.  If you do nothing else as a result of this post, at least go and learn from her!  I will offer the disclaimer that I do not pretend to represent her or her skillful insight–only what I am learning and trying to practice.

So, the short of it for me is this.

  1. I choose a story that I want my students ultimately to be able to read (so this is backwards design).
  2. I sit down with the story and attempt to draw with paper and pencil a mural like drawing that represents everything in the story–almost to a word.
  3. As a result of that process, I identify 5-6 (could be fewer, might be more, but caveat magister/tra!) words that I KNOW my students will need, and I jot them down on the edge of my drawing.
  4. When I am ready to deliver this story, I make sure I have most of my white board clear, and to one end, I write the need to know words and their English equivalents.
  5. I tell/read the story the first time while drawing the story on the board and pausing and pointing to new words when they appear in the story.  This, by design, goes very slowly.
  6. I tell/read the story the second time with the drawing on the board, pointing to images and new words.
  7. I then hand out copies of the story, and we read the story together.  I pause and allow them to ask “quid significat” questions about anything that is unknown.
  8. I ask them to read the story to themselves silently.
  9. I ask them to turn the reading over and in English, summarize all that they know about the story.
  10. They can keep those, or I can take them up for an assessment.

I’ve been doing this with my Latin 5 students (9 girls) with Latin fables whose themes they chose from Laura Gibbs’ wonderful collection Mille Fabulae et Una.

Recently, I asked them each to pick a single fable out of the collection of fables that had mulieres as characters (one of their top themes).  For their midterm, I assigned them to prepare to deliver that story to the rest of us using the Story Listening approach.  The rubric requires them to:
A. tell the story while drawing (30 points)
B. tell the story again  (30 points)
C. Give a copy to the class and re-read, fielding questions about meaning (20 points)
D. Lead a discussion in Latin about the “septem inchoamenta fabulae” which I developed from Kendall Havens’ Story Proof. (20 points)

We are almost done with the 9 presentations, but today something happened that really opened my eyes to how this practice can be improved, and how I can improve my own practice of it..

The young woman was delivering the fable “Rhodopis et Aquila.”  It was immediately clear that she had spent some time developing the mural-like images that she would use to tell the story.  What nearly knocked me out of my chair in the back of the room was the silence.  Because she took great care in her drawing, she also created longer spaces of silence than when I delivered a story like this.  It dawned on me that as the teacher in the room, I felt compelled to be constantly talking and making Latin words sound through the room.  As I watched this unfold, I realized a truth that Havens makes in his book.  Humans have been telling story for longer than we have had language.

The images began to tell the story in the silence.  Then, this young woman began, slowly, to add the words in meaningful chunks, pointing to the images, pausing and pointing to the new words, repeating meaningful chunks, and so forth, until the entire mural was on the board and the entire story had been told.  I now have a revision of my own “steps” for delivering a story like this.  Given all the prep mentioned before:

  1. I tell/read the story the first time while drawing the story on the board–allowing for spaces of silence while I draw–no rush to fill in words–and pausing and pointing to new words when they appear in the story.
  2. I tell/read the story the second time with the drawing on the board, pointing to images and new words–again, with no rush.
  3. I then hand out copies of the story, and we read the story together.  I pause and allow them to ask “quid significat” questions about anything that is unknown.
  4. I ask them to read the story to themselves silently.
  5. I ask them to turn the reading over and in English, summarize all that they know about the story.
  6. They can keep those, or I can take them up for an assessment.

Doctor a discipula doctus est!

Bob Patrick

Pingite Picturam iam Pictam (Draw the Drawn Drawing)

I’ve created a new activity–I think.  If this is already out there, then I defer to it and whatever it is called.  In Latin I’m calling it PPP, but for other teachers maybe DDD or something else in your language.

This activity requires a little advanced set up.  Needed:

  • Class divided into groups of 6
  • One small whiteboard, markers and rag per group.
  • Three class artists identified at the beginning of class to create the original pictures.  I did this simply by saying:  I need three people who like to draw to take those three seats at the back.  They self identified, and I got real variety among them through the day.
  • A set of vocabulary to base the pictures on.  I had about 15 words, nouns and verbs mostly, that we have been using recently.

Process: Identify three “artists” (students willing to draw a picture), and give them a whiteboard and marker.  Show them the working vocab list and ask them to draw a picture on the whiteboard that is inspired by some of these words.  Tell them that they have no more than 10 minutes to complete the drawing, and more importantly, they cannot let anyone see their drawing.  They cannot even let each other see the other’s drawings. While they are drawing, engage the class in another activity that will take 10 minutes.

So, the activity begins when you have their three drawings in your safe-keeping. The class is sitting in groups of 6.  Using a social-emotional question, identify one student from each group, e.g.

  • Whose birthday is the closest to today?
  • Who put on lotion most recently?
  • Who most recently lifted weights?
  • Who has the most siblings?
  • Who  saw a scary movie last?

The identified student now gets the whiteboard, markers and rags for the group.  They sit in the middle of their group facing the teacher with the rest of their group huddled around them.

The teacher now selects one of the three completed pictures and holds it so that only the teacher can see it. The student who drew the picture being used is asked to sit out of this round, and will be the judge of who does the best job.  The other two artists can join one of the groups as participant.

The teacher begins, in L2, to describe the drawing that he/she is holding.  The identified student in each group begins to draw what they hear. The group huddled around helps the artist by listening for details that the artist may miss.  The teacher should describe the picture completely 3 times with the first round being very slow and careful. With each round of telling, you can raise the level of the complexity of the language.  For example, the first time, you may say in L2: In the picture there is a family.  There are three trees.  The trees are near the river. The second time you may say: in the picture The family is able to see three trees, and the trees are near a river.  The third time you might say: in the field near the river, three trees are seen by the family.  In oral rather than written terms, you are given them embedded versions of the complete scene each time.

At the end of the third description, the individual creations are brought to the front and placed on the whiteboard rail.  The teacher reveals the original, and the artist of that picture decides whose is the closest to the original. I like to have stickers for the winning teams to receive. 

Repeat twice more with the remaining pictures.  With each new round, have the person who just drew the picture for the group choose the next artist for their group. I’ve included quick photos of most of those produced by these classes.  The original drawing from which I was giving the description is usually in the middle and in color.  

Like anything, as we use this activity which creates more repetitions of vocabulary, focuses on listening and invites creativity, we will find variations that we prefer.  When that happens, please share them on Latin Best Practices on Facebook.

Bob Patrick

What Can Happen When CI Teachers and Traditional Teachers Collaborate

This is a true story.  I teach in one of the nation’s largest and arguably best public school systems.  Our system demands the best from us all the time (which can be exhausting).  In one of those ever arriving demands, we Foreign Language Teachers were told that we needed to work on a five year plan that included updating district standards, creating common semester exam assessments and performance exams, lesson plans and curriculum calendars.  All of these, at this writing, are considered resources and are not required to be used.  The largest concern for their creation was that new FL teachers have immediate access to what they need to get started: standards, lesson plans, a calendar, and assessments. There was a call for volunteers in each language to joint this 5 year effort.

I’ve learned over the years that when there is going to be change like this, from the top down, and there is an invitation to participate, those who show up make the rules. I volunteered as did 7 other Latin teachers from our district.  I think that they would all agree with me that we came as a mix of approaches.  Some of us were CI teachers.  Some of us were traditional grammar-translation teachers. Some of us were “Cambridge reading approach” teachers, and some were a mix of all of the above.  Out of the 8 of us, 5 of us remain in what is now year 3 of the effort. I want to tell the story of what happened in our work that has made this one of the most positive and most hopeful, to me, of such collaborative efforts.  I also hope that it may provide some fodder for others around the world to consider for their own collaborative efforts.

I don’t mind owning that I went into our first meeting concerned that with such varying approaches, this could immediately become a committee of political fights (power struggles) over whose way prevailed. While I am committed to the CI approach, I know that there’s no such thing as arguing others into one’s approach–from any angle.  We humans just don’t work that way, and that is not collaboration.

Here’s what happened in the first meeting.  We agreed that our one, single, common goal was that our students be able to read some Latin.  In fact, I think you can extrapolate this as a truth for all Latin teachers and the follow up.  After that one, common goal, we do not agree on much.  We all agreed that none of us wanted our approaches, our programs (which means our students), or our materials thrown under the proverbial bus because of what our committee did.  So, we agreed on some guiding principles.

1. We would focus entirely on reading comprehension of Latin that was appropriate to each level–which nails our one, common goal.

2. We would spend time using a word frequency list and our own common sense and teaching experience to create a common vocabulary list for each level of work. (I will say more about frequency lists below).  Over that process we decided on 150 words per level.  We stipulated that teachers were free to teach more than that, but that all the materials we created would be bound by that list or have glossed words.  On that note, we also bound ourselves to never have more than 5 glossed words in a story.

3. Upon the completion of the list of 150 high frequency words for a level, we then decided which were for the fall and which for the spring.  We then worked in pairs (usually) to write stories using that vocabulary for semester exam assessments.  The stories were all set in historical Rome (broad terms) and with accurate cultural and historical settings.  We agreed that we could use any grammar necessary to tell a good story as long as what we wrote was comprehensible based on vocabulary.  E.g. using a gerundive purpose expression in a Latin 1 story was not a problem if the gerundive phrase made use of known vocabulary words.

4. Each semester exam had 4-6 such stories. After proof reading and editing each other’s stories, we wrote multiple choice questions for each story.  The questions and answers were all in English.  We made this decision for psychometric considerations.  If we wrote questions and answers in Latin, how would we know that a missed question was because they did not understand the story, or because they did not understand the question.  All of our questions were focused on comprehension of the story and they included basic and a few more complex depth of knowledge questions. There were no discreet grammar, culture or history questions even though, as I have explained, each story was full of good grammar usage and set in accurate cultural and historical contexts. The goal was an exam that would allow all students to demonstrate progress in Latin.

5. When exams were written this way for fall and spring semester for a given level, we prepared a teacher guideline packet with the vocabulary list and a summary of the kinds of grammar that one would encounter in the stories.  EVERYTHING that we wrote in those guidelines were descriptive, never prescriptive.  Our aim has always been to set teachers free to teach what and how they thought best while having some common standards, vocabulary and assessment materials.

At this writing, we have completed the above for levels 1-3.  This fall, we will gather again to continue work on level 4, and we will then need to turn our attention to writing sample lesson plans for all four levels as well as a curriculum “guide.”  That last piece may be the trickiest for us.  We have rejected the idea of a curriculum calendar which tells teachers what they should be doing at each week through the year.  Not only is this bad practice for language acquisition, it would turn our collaborative process into something other than full support for all of our teachers and students.  We are toying with the idea of a sort of curriculum map (think giant mind map) with suggestions for delivering new vocabulary, but now I am reaching too far into the future.

Let me say a word about word frequency lists.  In the world of Latin we have several, and in my estimation, they are all useful.  The key issue is to know what each list was built from–that is to say, from which authors were these frequency lists composed.  We discussed several possibilities, but since in our number we had teachers who wanted to use medieval, late, golden and early classical period Latin as well as occasional neo-Latin, we chose to use Mark Williams” Essential Latin Vocabulary: The 1425 Most Common Words Occurring in the Actual Writings of over 200 Latin Authors. As various people have noted, there are some editing problems in this book, but that did not hinder us from using it well.  We chose it for the wide base of authors it covers.  Our process went like this.

A. We took the first word in the list and asked if it were appropriate for Latin 1.
B. If we had consensus, we added it to the list.
C. We organized our list by part of speech so that we could make some decisions based on that as well.  We determined early that since Latin is so verb-dependent, we could afford to have more verbs than other parts if necessary.
D. If there was dissent about a word, we stopped and discussed pros and cons until we had consensus about adding it or not adding it.
E. There were times when we decided that we just needed a word or words because of what we did in our classrooms with spoken Latin regardless of where it showed up on frequency lists.
F. We agreed, of course, that it would be assumed that all the vocabulary in Latin 1 belonged in Latin 2 + it’s own list of 150, and so forth.
G. It became painfully clear at times that a word chosen by the Cambridge Latin Course –our district text (often for apparent cognate value) was not the best word or at times even an accurate words.  E.g. consumere for eating.  We went with comedere instead for classroom discussions of eating.
H. Sometimes, words that were high on the frequency list don’t show up in CLC until later units. At times we made concessions to the CLC teachers and at times we followed the frequency list which means that CLC teachers will have a word to teach before it shows up in their stories.  We tried to do this in an even handed manner.

We now have three lists of 150-ish words each with the most frequent words appearing in Latin 1 and so forth.  I am sharing those lists now (which many have asked for) since they have now been rolled out to our district teachers.  I am sharing them as examples.  I do not contend that they are perfect, or that they should become someone’s curriculum, or that they represent anything except what they are: the produce of our district teachers’ collaborative efforts. No doubt, over time, as we work with these lists and resources, we will learn things that require more editing.  That is the nature of teaching and learning–it’s always an ongoing process.

Here are the three current lists:

Latin 1 common vocabulary

Latin 2 common vocabulary

Latin 3 common vocabulary

Latin 4 common vocabulary

This whole process has made me look forward to each gathering of the committee.  I actually have fun spending 8 hours with this group of people (whoever said that about committee work?) focusing our work on reading comprehension and writing stories with them.  I hope that telling this story–so far as it has gone–can inspire other collaborative efforts among Latin teachers.  As I often say, I think that our language tradition is in a most fragile position these days.  We don’t have time to bicker with one another.  We have to find ways forward together to increase both interest in Latin and demonstrate student success (which in turn generates more interest).  This is the story of one way.

Bob Patrick

Close Reading in a CI Classroom

This is a sort of “report from the field” but it is definitely something I will be repeating and thought worth sharing.

For the last nearly 3 weeks (yes, ’cause we started school on August 6 with students), I’ve been working very hard as a CI teacher.  I have three sections of Latin 3 Honors (33 bodies in each class).  The hard work has been the core of what we do in CI: various activities and processes to help them acquire needed vocabulary and structures for things we want them to read well, in Latin.  Each class is also made up of students taught by 4 different teachers over the years, so there is also the need to do some serious community building.

I’ve been working hard.

Yesterday, we read most of a story that I wrote using the vocabulary and structures that I want them to know. The story is about a man named Quintus who lives in a large, country mansion, alone now after the death of his parents, his sister in childbirth, his evil brother fled after killing a man, and his other brother serving in the military.  Quintus is afraid of a lot of things, never leaves the house, and gets a surprising message one day about a hidden treasure. It gave me plenty of opportunities to talk about Roman wealth, estates, inheritance, marriages, infant mortality, military service, etc.  Let’s be clear.  This was targeted vocabulary and one targeted structure: clauses after verbs of fearing.  I won’t go through all the things we did, but suffice it to say that through various CI activities we built vocabulary around a set of adjectives that can describe physical as well as personality traits (e.g. certus, clarus, gravis, sinster, et al) and expressions of fear that something might happen.

Today, I gave them each a hard copy of the 645 word story, and sent them out into our courtyard in groups of 3 (courtyard?  Yes, finally here in Atlanta we have morning weather in the upper 60’s and low 70’s!).  Their task was to make a list in response to this:  Quid de Quinto scimus?  I gave them a response sheet with these instructions:

Quid de Quinto scimus?  In the spaces below, list all the things we know about Quintus from the story.  This includes what we know about Quintus himself, what he fears, and what we know about his family or his house and property.  If it relates to Quintus, list it.  You may list in Latin only or English with Latin evidence.” (I did tell them that they would receive no credit for English only answers, and from what I can tell so far almost everyone is writing only in Latin).

I told them that I would be assessing this standard in my grade book: “Reads Latin for detail and specified knowledge.”  I also told them that I had already done what they were about to do, and that I found 49 different things about Quintus, and so I was inclined to think of their work in these terms for the sake of assessment: less than 30 would = C-F; 30 = B-; 35 = B+; 40 = A- and 45+ = A+.  They formed their groups and went out to the courtyard.  I walked around and answered occasional questions.

It went beautifully, and I say so for several reasons:

  1. They were intense and intently focused the entire class period, working with each other, reading the Latin text and writing their answers.
  2. They asked me really informed questions about the text and which made it crystal clear that they were reading and understanding the Latin.
  3. They did not finish and asked for more time–which I gladly granted for the morrow.
  4. A few told me that they did not feel like they were doing this work correctly.  In each instance, I checked, and they were doing it perfectly.

That last issue led me to ponder a bit.  My conclusion is that they felt like they were “doing it wrong” because this was not a worksheet.  This was close reading of a Latin text for detail and specific knowledge, and I set it up as a communicative task.  While one of my classes was in the courtyard, a much loved and respected colleague from the Language Arts department came along.  She wanted to know what we were doing.  I explained.  She said: “oh, characterization, analysis of a character, close reading of a text. I taught these babies to do this in English, but you have them doing it in Latin!”

Yes.  And it felt really, really good. Today, walking around and interacting with students over this close reading felt so good to me as a teacher. What I know for sure is that this moment happened only because of the 2.5 weeks of hard work, acquiring the language we needed for them to read this story.  When we got back to the room, I told my students that what we had just done was often referred to at university level courses in Latin as “a close reading of the text.”  I want them to know that what they just did was important (and a life skill!), and that they are doing it well.  That they did it well should be more clear to them when they get their papers back marked with a grade, but from what I’ve seen already, they will virtually all be very good.

Bob Patrick

Create community in the classroom–and no, you don’t have to be friends

I am teaching 3 sections of Latin 3 this year.  As they have begun assembling with me this week, the first week back at school, the realities of our very large Latin program become quickly apparent–some really positive, and some just really real.

  • As we have been experiencing, our Latin program looks like the face of the school, i.e. the wonderful multi-cultural mix that is our school is also our Latin program.  No one is excluded.  All kinds of learners are not only welcome, but they are successful.  Last year, out of 700 students in the program, we had 0 failures, and no one is unhappy with that.
  • The variety of places that students are coming from (think adverse childhood experiences) is wider than ever, and because average class sizes are 33 right now, denser.
  • The differentiation in Latin ability in each class fluctuates all the time.
  • And while this last observation may not seem like much, it inserts itself especially at this time of the year.  There was once a time when Latin students could expect to have the same teacher all the way through 4 years of study.  These days our Latin students and teachers really grow to like each other, and so as I look out on my Latin 3 classes, some of them have had me before, some have had Keith Toda before, some have had Rachel Ash before, some have had John Foulk before, some have had Miriam Patrick before, and some of them have had a mix of us before. They have varying feelings about not having “their teacher” this year.  The room, the space we share together is in need of some work so that we can work well together.

I’ve been moved, challenged and inspired by reading Christopher Emdin’s book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood And the Rest of Ya’ll Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education. Emdin is associate professor in the department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.

I have tried something during these first days of school inspired by his work, and I will admit that I have a long way to go in implementing his practices–but that’s my aim.  I’ll write more specifically about that in another post.

Here’s what I’ve done and why.  It was clear to me after just the first day of school that while these were largely juniors who have matured a lot since I taught many of them as freshmen, the energy in the room felt jagged and disparate.  That’s hard to explain, but the best way is to say that it did not feel like a community–not like it did back when I was the only teacher they had.  In that case, by year 3 we all had already learned how to trust and work with each other.

So, on the second day, after I called the roll, I had instructions on the board: Considite vos in ordine alphabeti, a parte dextra ad sinistram.  Once I verified that they all understood, I pulled out my phone, hit the timer and yelled Incipite!

It took the first class 2:23 (minutes:seconds).  It took the second class 4:04.  It took the third class 3:47.  I conducted the next 10 minutes in English.  I asked them to explain why it took them that long to get themselves in alphabetical order.  The answers that came forth?  They did not know each others names–especially last names.  They were waiting on someone to tell them what to do.  They didn’t know that alphabetical meant by last name. They felt shy and unwilling to step up or speak out.

I told them that I had done this because I wanted us to begin to form a community. I defined community as a group of people sharing space together in a way that is good for everyone–and that we would be sharing the space of my room every day, 5 days a week, for 52 minutes.  I observed that they did not need to be friends to form community and that community was not an accident.  Community making requires effort.  I then asked them, in Latin, to find out from those sitting around them, their full names.

On the second day, I repeated with slightly different directions.  They still had to order themselves alphabetically, but from left to right and from the back to the front. The first class took 0:56; the second 0:57 and the third 1:05.  All of them were significantly faster.  I asked them to explain that to me.  They said, in short, that they remembered from yesterday who they were sitting next to, and they learned from yesterday that if they asked people their names and told people their names it worked out much faster.

Here is what I want to drive home for all of us:  acts of community building are as easy to begin as asking and giving a name. An act of community building is easier the second time because of the first time.  And this: acts of community destruction only create more destruction.  Our world is much too full these days of community destruction. We are forgetting how to build community. I want generations of young people growing up behind me to know how to create community.

I have felt, in just two days, the atmosphere in the room change–pretty dramatically. It’s beginning to feel like a little community.

Bob Patrick