One of the big buzzwords in pedagogical circles nowadays is individualized instruction. We want student-centered instruction whereby lesson plans are tailored to individual needs. This requires a very hands-on approach by teachers fostering closer relationships with students. Motivational factors and the unique learning styles of their students are also required to be front-of-mind for teachers.
It sounds impossible. The demands are high for teachers and in an environment that challenges the quality of life for most who have chosen to serve the needs of their communities, we are also faced with chasing away our best talent.
This concern strikes me not only as a teacher and department chair, but also specifically as a Latin teacher who is very much concerned with the future of our field. We need to be inspiring others to teach our beloved language and also engage future students to dare to dream in Latin. How can we possibly find a path that not only meets but exceeds the expectations of both parties? How can we seriously wow both our teachers and our students?
After all, we teachers are pushers in obsession. The more effectively we can engage our students, and make them passionate about our classes and what we study, the more effectively we can deliver instruction and also reform students into becoming life-long learners. No where is this more critical than in the study of a second language whereby the practicality of such an endeavor seems to be the only payoff imaginable.
This becomes doubly challenging for us Latin teachers. We are defiant when faced with tired detractors complaining of Latin being a “dead” language. And we rightfully should be because there is plenty of research to demonstrate that Latin not only has practical applications, if one should only be concerned with practicality, but that there are numerous other benefits – too many to recount here.
Let’s regain our focus from this digression. Latin needs a reformation, not a revolution. It needs to be reformed using the latest pedagogical methodology that aren’t just being implemented for the sake of using buzz words, but instead to help transform the field into a leading edge choice for second language acquisition. To do that, it needs to move from being a grammar-based method that only aids the 4% of students who are drawn to grammar drills and memorization, but instead cross over into a more natural and intuitive methodology whereby students not only learn to speak the language, but dare to speak in order to learn Latin. It can gain wider appeal.
This has led me to closely consider TPRS and its methodology to help my approach in the classroom. And yet, there is another benefit that seems to need a consideration – pacing guides vs. the TPRS system itself.
I came across this nugget on Ben Slavic’s website. For those of us unfamiliar with the TPRS crowd, he is a notable guru on many of the techniques used. He notes that TPRS is a “student-driven methodology”. There are various activities that teachers carry out that demonstrate this. As always, the main goal for TPRS practitioners is to make the language comprehensible and this comes more easily with repetition. I liken it to heading into the gym – getting those reps in helps develop your muscles and gain greater control. Strength is gained through small but consistent steps. No matter the level of difficulty, getting more reps in of a language will help students gain confidence and familiarity with the language as well as increase their fluency and ability to comprehend new structures and statements. By its very nature, TPRS is indeed student-centered, as Slavic notes.
Here is a great analogy he makes regarding traditional pacing guides vs. the TPRS approach: “the pacing guide is like the old practice in manufacturing of ordering and stockpiling a bunch of materials on a rigid and pre-set schedule – it might sit there for a long time without being used. TPRS is like the more modern practice of ordering “on demand”. As something is needed, it is ordered and used. The second way is simpler, more efficient, and more economical.”
If we can fashion a TPRS approach with Latin, then we can drastically reform not only how we teach the language, but also create a larger niche of users of the language, thereby regrowing its popularity. What is more, we reclaim our pedagogical practices to be at the forefront of what is needed for today’s student. Then again, isn’t education truly supposed to be personalized in the first place? And what better field to see this demonstrated than in the field of language acquisition? If we can do this right, Latin will rise again and take its proper place among language.