― Marcus Garvey
With this post we launch this new blog of reflections that boil down to what we would call “social justice in the Latin classroom.” I am joined here by 9 colleagues and friends who share in this concern from varying vantage points with their own unique voices. Our plan is to publish a new post each Monday. We invite you into dialogue with us.
We have recently seen some tension erupt in social media dedicated to “second language acquisition” in Latin classrooms. I share here some of my thoughts around the issues that have surfaced.
Delivering comprehensible input is what allows all kinds of learners to make progress in the language. Period. It’s like saying that human beings need water to survive. Who can argue? Each kind of student from the most elite academic to the so called “lazy troublemaker” can make progress in Latin in a classroom where understandable messages in Latin are constantly being delivered. I see it happen every day.
Teachers who encounter Comprehensible Input as Theory and Practice find themselves in varied circumstances (some real, some imagined, some a mix of both). All of us have to navigate our way toward CI, and no teacher that I know of who has been doing CI for a while is doing it the same as when they started. We navigate for a while doing a “little CI here and there,” stopping, starting over, trying again. That reality, at first, is a survival mode. A new reality can develop where a teacher just mixes and matches some CI kinds of activities into more traditional modes. Wittingly or unwittingly we can reduce a whole approach to language to something like having just a few more things in our bag of tricks. Before long, that mix is not working any better than the previous mix of tricks.
I’ve been at the work of Comprehensible Input long enough now to be able to say this: this work keeps changing me. The more I embrace the theory and work at putting it into practice, the more it requires me to change, the more of the stuff in my original bag of tricks is simply not useful anymore. CI challenges just what it is that I think I’m doing in my classroom. I have loved being able to stand and talk eloquently (!) about all manner of things because Roman culture and history deliver all manner of things to my doorstep. But, no student ever advanced one step in Latin because I did that. They were entertained. My ego grew by leaps and bounds as they swooned over how much I know about so many things. But, when I spend an entire class attempting to deliver simple, understandable and interesting Latin to them, that all changes. And, it’s exhausting. And, it works. And at times it bores me. And every student in the room makes progress. For years now, I and my colleagues doing this work have had virtually no failures in our Latin program.
We are at a place now where we have to speak at times a hard truth: no, teaching a grammar syllabus does not help all of your students, or strengthen your program. It could be contributing to the ultimate demise of your program. To say these things is not to accuse anyone of being a bad person. It is to bear witness to what will actually work for all kinds of students.
As I write this I am planning for an IEP meeting (my 9th or 10th this semester) for a special ed student in my Latin 1 class. Latin is his highest grade. It always is at these things. Comprehensible Input is not about whatever works for me. It’s not about having some extra tricks in the bag. It’s about making a difference–such a difference–that our Special Ed Department is always eager to place students in our Latin program. There is a direct link between the theory and practice of CI and equity in the academic institutions we teach in.