Yesterday, I decided to change course. Instead of being so bullheaded in my approach in teaching Latin, namely, in not allowing translation into English, I have loosened the reigns.
The goal, as always, remains to use Latin as a medium for communication. This is a seemingly strange notion given that Latin continues to be a language designated for reading and translating only in most programs. Yet, as a language with thousands of years of life, it has always been strange to me to treat it otherwise – like a code. Latin is, after all, a language and not a system of writing like hieroglyphics. The speaking came well before the writing and it can be said that we should not learn to speak it but instead speak to learn it.
Today, instead of just diving in and trying to grapple with the meaning in the text, we front-loaded some grammatical structures. I use (and strongly endorse!) Hans Orberg’s Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata for our Latin program. My Latin II Honors students are currently starting Capitulum XII, which in the early reading portion (Lectio Prima) deals with introducing vocabulary like mater, matris, pater, patris, frater, fratris, soror, sororis and introduces the dative of respect. [At this point, students should have mastered all the case endings for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd declension nouns.]
Rather than read and then discuss them grammatically, as well as trying to untangle the new Latin words, I decided to focus on establish meaning first and then use the grammar (dative of respect) in conversation. The idea is to follow the Comprehensive Input (CI) model that is highly touted in the TPRS/TPS modalities.
What I did was start with what I believe is referred to as a PQA (Personalized Questions and Answers). I started by informing the students some of my family background “Ego habeo duōs fratrēs et unam sororem.” I then asked my students, “Quot fratrēs et sororēs habeo?“. The students responded and if they happened to use the nominative instead of accusative form, I just repeated it back to them corrected instead of pointing it out to them. After warming my students up, I then went around the room and asked several of my students to answer the question, “Quot fratrēs et sororēs tu habēs?” With each student answer, I repeated it back to them to seek clarification and then I turned to the rest of the class and asked them to verify what we just heard, “Quot fratrēs et sororēs is/ea habet?” We then adjusted our answers as necessary.
What I discovered was that this discussion in class went on for a lengthy amount of time and the students were much more engaged and involved. They were interested in trying to get it right. A student who has a tendency to wander off and lose focus, whom I usually have to rope back into class, actually wanted to try again to get it right and perfect his response.
More importantly, we were able to get much more practice in. I usually have my students do a lot of work out of the wonderful workbook that accompanies the text. The exercitiaare very efficient and are built heavily on the vocabulary and grammar right from the text – they compliment each other very well. The problem is, that in trying to go around the room and get everyone to verbally practice, there gets to a point where there are not enough problems to go around. Students would then face boredom answering the same question over and over, and only verifying whether or not they got the correct response. They shut off their minds to learning and listening for the language. By going around the room and asking the same question, we get varying responses which are tailored to the individual response. It also put the rest of the students on edge as they were forced to listen and try to develop not only their aural skills but also comprehension. The reps were increasing and, like getting work in at the gym, only benefit the student.
We then moved on to using the dative of respect. I informed the students that they could also use a different construction that means the same thing. I again related it to myself, “Ego duōs fratrēs et unam sororem habeo.” means the same thing as “Duo fratrēs et una soror mihi sunt.” I then asked the students again, “Quot fratrēs et sororēs habeo?” and fielded the responses. I then changed the question, “Quot fratrēs et sororēs mihi sunt?” Again, I fielded the questions and adjusted responses as needed. I then went around the room and asked various students the same questions, verified with them and then opened it up to the rest of the class.
After several more rounds of this, our class time had almost been exhausted. Even though we have not set our eyes upon the text for our reading today, we spent our entire class in dialogue, conversing in Latin and working through the structures as well as getting reps in with the new grammar and vocabulary. I could sense the students were a bit surprised at how much they were able to do and they left in a quiet confidence.
I am very excited and pleased with these initial results. This is precisely what I have been after but I have been forcing it from the wrong angle all along! This happened just by scratching out a few questions in my mind and then repeating them around the room. I am going to formally develop questions for PQA’s before each reading to help get those reps in with the vocabulary and grammar that my students will be seeing and working with. I will then update my experiences here on Romae in order to share with other Latin teachers who may be looking for similar solutions.
So stay tuned!