For the first time in the modern era of Latin instruction we have a framework which, in the right hands and applied in a thoughtful manner, can provide a truly accessible path of acquisition for all learners who enter our classrooms. The previous set of Standards (1997) paved the way for educators to seriously consider alternative methodologies to a straight grammar-translation model, but these standards were indeed a product of a different time. The new Standards provide an opportunity to rethink, at the most fundamental level, what we are doing in our classrooms and whom we are best serving.
One ought not to discount the significance that this guiding document can, and should, provide for our programs over the course of the next decade. We owe it to all of our students and to the legacy of our programs to be as inclusive as possible when it comes to embracing the successes of all learners, not only the academically talented ones.
In other words, the fundamental question that we should be asking is not “How can I whittle this class down to get a group capable of marching through the AP syllabus?” but rather “How can I ensure that one-hundred percent of my students re-enroll in Latin each year?”
If we focus on the process of language acquisition, and not on the achievement or product, we can suddenly redefine what qualifies as success in a myriad of ways — as not simply what you know about the language, but what you can do in, and with, the language.
This new framework, built upon proficiency and performative demonstration of that proficiency, affords the opportunity for educators to reconsider the goals of their program and wield greater flexibility in designing readings, activities, performative tasks, and assessments.
For instance, under the standards for interpretive listening, a sample progress indicator now reads that “Intermediate-mid learners can understand basic information in stories, dialogues, and other spoken or recorded messages” as opposed to the previous Standards which stated “Students respond appropriately to questions, statements, commands, or other stimuli.” It may be difficult to find the practical assessment application in the latter, but the former opens the door to a wide variety of “text” types, activities, and assessments which afford opportunities to demonstrate proficiency.
Imagine using one of Jessie Craft’s wonderful Minecraft videos in your classroom as a way to introduce the Saturnalia towards the end of December. You have all the components of a recipe for success: stimulating visuals, comprehensible Latin, and an easy path towards practical assessment of your students’ comprehension of what they are hearing in the video. If you pre-teach a bit of the vocabulary, you could show the video a couple of times in class (with or without the subtitles — I’d personally include the subtitles) and then ask your students to watch the video a final time while writing a summary of what they’ve learned about the Saturnalia from the video.
A quick read through of those sheets will tell you a lot about their ability to understand and interpret basic information in that recorded message. It’s a task that almost any learner can do, and do well. And that’s what is important — finding ways for all learners to succeed, through a rich variety of tasks and not simply falling back on the standard “go-to” of chart memorization, sentence diagramming, or translation.
In fact, one could use the above task after viewing the video as a launching point to then have a class discussion about the features of the Saturnalia, dipping into the Cultures standard. One could use that same video with a higher level class as a way to then have that discussion in Latin and thus cross into the Interpersonal Communication standard.
The point is this: when you provide multiple avenues for success, more and more students will feel successful because you’ve intentionally created opportunities to include the wide range of students who walk into our classes each day. When you look to the new Standards as a guide for where your students are headed, and the types of things they will be able to do, it’ll open up doors for greater creativity and greater variety in what you’re asking them to do as a part of the language learning.
Each student will show advances at different rates and in different ways — it’s up to you to provide those opportunities to show success. As we’ll explore in future posts, the new Standards allow for understanding that process of learning the language more accessible to more students.