I continue to tweak my approach in my Latin classes. As noted before, I have always strived to make Latin a language class at its heart, focusing on learning to speak as opposed to learning to translate. This has been met with very good success for the better part of 10 years now as I switched from a grammar-based method to a natural and intuitive method very early on in my teaching career.
Today, instead of just diving into the reading from our textbook, I decided to try to get more reps in with my students as we continue to develop their ear and gain more familiarity with the language itself. Instead of trying to force students to think in Latin and compose sentences in Latin, I decided to listen to the many other teachers out there who are preaching patience in our approach. I read about this dictatio exercise, which Keith Toda borrowed from the folks over at LatinBestPracticesCIR.com. Basically, this is an activity where students write down what you dictate to the class. Now, I’ve done this types of exercises before, but I always found them to be of limited benefit – perhaps because I was rushing through them to try and squeeze out as much of the textbook as I could. Again, “covering” material is never a good strategy and, as the various voices out there regarding TPRS will remind everyone, textbook companies tend to pack in too much stuff in the first place, making us teachers feel anxious about what we have to cover while at the same time feeling a bit dejected when we can’t get through all of the material that is put in front of us.
The lack of effectiveness, however, must have been tied to my approach and my application. What I read from Toda and LatinBestPractices, is that it should be inserted only minimally and a dictatio could be used as a part of a pre-reading strategy in your program. When you want to introduce new words and grammatical structures, this is an effective way to do just that. For instance, I followed the advice on both of the aforementioned websites in that I came up with 12 sentences for each class (Latin I Honors and Latin II Honors, Capitulum II and XII, respectively). What I did differently is that I used the sentences I created to help introduce not only new words but new structures themselves while also reinforcing those concepts.
I first explained the activity and how we were going to proceed as well as its purpose. I would read a sentence, three times, and then post it up on the board (we have SmartBoards, and I use the pull down feature). Viewing the correct sentence, students would check their work and make appropriate corrections when necessary or write in “optimē!” when they got it right. Each time, students were excited to see when they got the spelling write and they became very competitive.
I also found it advantageous to have students try and guess at the spelling of new words and their forms as well as trying to figure out what was being said. I put sentences together that added up to the gist of what we would be reading about in Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrate (LLPSI). We would then go over the sentence on the board to establish meaning – again, sort of an evolution or a softening of my position on using our primary language (“barbaric” English!) in our class. I would invite the students to respond by asking “Quid significat…Anglicē? and then point to the sentence on the board. I was still checking for comprehension while at the same time students who may be having trouble processing the words would get an “out” from a peer. I took volunteers mostly, but if I saw a student who wanted to just jump out there and give it a try I went with that. I know that we should vary our approaches on who we call on and when, but I still think (perhaps naively) it is better to grab the enthusiastic students who can not only reveal good modeling but also fuel excitement and some healthy competition among the rest of the class.
It was a great confidence builder as we moved on in the dictatio. I purposely posed back-to-back questions that would feature the same words or structures to help students be rewarded for reasonable hypotheses about spelling and structure to only get an extra rep in the next sentence. This reinforced good approaches and thinking about Latin and how it sounds.
I must say, this is very pleasing to see and be a part of. Instead of blindly reading through the text and then jumping into some exercises in the workbook to reinforce what students may have gleaned, we are getting in more repetitions and the language is much more comprehensible to everyone.
Tomorrow, we will jump into the text and I will try and employ the choral reading and circling techniques I have been reading about. Students should be more confident regarding their handling of the text as well as becoming more free to communicate in our target language of Latin.