Growing a Latin Program (1)–A Story

Our Latin program at Parkview High School has grown from 130 to almost 700 in the last 12 years.  Those of us who teach in the program are clear that teaching with comprehensible input practices and a commitment to all kinds of learners has been key to this growth.  As I look back, I am fairly certain that while there were many turning points that led to this growth, there was one moment that tipped everything. Here’s what happened.

The program had grown enough for us to have a second full time teacher.  Caroline Miklosovic had joined me that year (2009-2010).  We now use Rachel Ash’s handy tag to talk about what we do:  Comprehensible, Compelling and Caring.  Caroline is the very embodiment of Caring in the classroom.  After our first year together, we realized that there was still a whole “class” of students who were never even considering Latin, and we were confident that they could be successful with us.  (NB. Confident does not mean absolutely sure, so there was some risk in what we then proceeded to do.)

I had several conversations with our Curriculum administrator and convinced her that we were looking for those students who routinely fall through the cracks.  They might or might not be the following: special ed,  thought of as successful, be students of color (I mention this because whether we recognize it or not, Latin programs have tended to be very white ), or be on free and reduced lunch program.  They very often are those students for whom no one is thinking about Latin as a course of study.  The curriculum administrator agreed to talk to school counselors about identifying and coaxing a group of 30 students into a Latin 1 class. Caroline would teach this class, and we would be trying something that not too many folks were confident would work.

That year, not one of those students failed, and most continued on with us for 3 or 4 years. We repeated the plan, and had success with the class again. Two years later, Rachel Ash joined us, and the intention was for her to teach that “special” Latin 1 class.  That year, something happened. For some reason, all of those students couldn’t be placed in the same class, and they were mixed into all of the other Latin 1 classes.  What I think actually happened was that by that third year, counselors, the special ed department and administrators were convinced that all kinds of learners were going to be successful in our program–because they were. We’ve really never looked back since then because our program now is made up of all kinds of learners across the full spectrum of our school.

I recently did a demographic study of our school and those who take foreign language in our school.  I can say with data to back me up now that our Latin program (in fact, our entire FL program) looks like the face of our school.  Of the 3000+ students in our school, just over 20% are taking Latin (by comparison, 30% take Spanish and 5% each in French and German).

This is what we now know works for all kinds of learners in a Latin program that is Comprehensible, Compelling and Caring.  I list these without explanation.  That will be a follow up article.

1. Total commitment to teaching with Comprehensible Input
2. In levels 2-4 student chosen themes of study
3. No homework
4. Standards based grading with three important commitments:
A. Assessments look like the teaching and learning.
B. The 80/80 rule: at least 80% of the class must make an 80% or higher in order to move on with the instruction.
C. Regular opportunities to re-assess any standard that fell below 80 with total grade replacement
5. Routine (at least twice a year) survey of students about what is helping, what is not, and
what changes they would make to the way we teach and learn Latin.  The highest ranking information, time after time, is to change nothing.

Moving our program into uncharted waters with the aim of including all kinds of learners in the Latin program was risky and scary when we first did it, and it continues to be risky and scary, though in a different way. That initial risk is probably self-explanatory.  The current and ongoing risk is that we are now committed to teaching Latin to a new group of students each year (in Latin 1) who bring a variety and non-conformity to the traditional Latin teacher expectation that all of us still carry around inside of us.  Every year, walking into a Latin 1 classroom requires us to try to really see the human beings who are in the room and re-calibrate what Comprehensible, Compelling and Caring language teaching looks like so that it meets this group, this year, in the ways that will work for them.  There are no lasting laurels to wear in this approach.  There are wonderful moments, and we do have this huge, diverse Latin program.  I think we would all agree that the risks involved are worth it.

Bob Patrick

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4 thoughts on “Growing a Latin Program (1)–A Story

  1. Bob, great article. This is my first year of untextbooking and I have just started to talk to SPED teachers about trying to get some different students in my classes. It is good to hear that this approach has worked for you. I hope that this approach could help save my program.

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