Posted in cogen

That “Problem Class”–part 3 in a series

Things are beginning to happen because I have created a Cogen group for my “problem class.”  (You can read about it in two previous posts on this blog).   The happenings are slow, but significant.  Since I last posted, my regular Cogen meeting has been interrupted by holiday and inclement weather day, but we managed to re-schedule for another day.  Here is what has happened.

1. The Cogen group decided that having a “talking stick” would help focus the idea of there only being one mic in the room and help them not talk over each other. They agreed that they would like to take turns taking the stick home and cleaning it up and shaping it into their talking stick.

(Side note: the use of a talking stick comes out of indigenous peoples of the Americas.  Emdin coins the phrase–neoindigenous for those students of color who experience a disenfranchisement in all kinds of public spaces including schools. I brought up the idea of a talking stick, but what we are doing with it as a way of focusing respect for one another seems to be both a piece of the truth of the indigenous tradition and the empowerment of students in my classroom.)

2. One student brought in a stick that everyone decided was too feeble and too scrawny to be a true talking stick.  She took the class rejection well.  Later that week, I found a substantial piece of fallen oak and brought it in for students to start cleaning up and turning into their talking stick. They embraced it, and it has surprised me how immediately each day students volunteer to take it home and work on it (that has meant stripping the bark and sanding it so far).

3. The Cogen members say that class is “vastly improved” over what we had before.  Their most recent report includes that people are more respectful and that they feel more like they belong to each other.

4. Recently, in the middle of a movie-talk, one of the Cogen members happened to be running the video (stop and start) for me–which by the way–he volunteered to do, something he never does.  He called for a “time-out.” I agreed and gave him the floor.  He was having what would become apparent soon a real insight into language.  This is a student in Latin 3.  In so many words, he questioned and then realized that people who speak other languages actually have experiences and thoughts just like he does in English.  Our movie talk included the word and experience of a “somnium.”  He found it hard to believe that ancient Romans actually had dreams because they didn’t know the English word “dream.”  Before I could respond to that he proclaimed:  Oh my God!  they had the word “somnium!”  That’s what they actually said about that experience.  It was a somnium!  (Latin teachers may be wondering what too him so long to realize this, but language learners wake up to the power and distinctions of language when they do–and not a minute before).  I was very grateful for this time-out moment.

5. In our last Cogen, I was able to recall this moment of his and notice that it happened during a movie talk when they were particularly focused on what was happening and our story in Latin.

6. We agreed to create a GroupMe so that we could communicate with each other outside of our meeting times.

7. I asked them if there was anyone in class that I should be concerned about.  They identified one student who is easily distracted, and they suggested that I try asking him privately what sort of things I could do to help him stay focused.

It’s still a messy class that happens and the end of the day.  I don’t find myself dreading it anymore.  I leave feeling like we are beginning to work together.  I really look forward to the Cogen.  I feel like I am forging some bonds with that small group that magically transfer to the class itself.

My only regret?  That I didn’t start the Cogen group earlier.

Bob Patrick

Posted in cogen

That “Problem” Class–Part 2 in a Series

“Thank you for reminding me–if you had not reminded me yesterday, I might not have made it this morning.  I didn’t feel like driving so early, but I came anyway.”

The first student came in 10 minutes early for our second Cogen meeting (which I described here, if you missed it) this morning. I already had the cinnamon rolls and double chocolate muffins and orange juice set out, John Legend playing on Pandora, and so I invited him in and we began chatting.  Soon the others arrived.  I thanked them for coming, and while they started eating, I reminded them of our rules:

  1. No one is special in this group–we all stand on equal footing.
  2. There’s only one mic.  We listen to each other and don’t talk over each other.
  3. We all take responsibility for any actions that we agree upon for the good of our class.

I asked them to tell me how their first suggestion–having a five minute check-in at the beginning of class with a vent or a brag–went this past week.  They told me that it was very positive–that it’s a friendly way of starting class, that while people come in scattered and separated, it served to pull us together as a group.  They said it helped “smooth out the week.”  I thanked them for the idea–it was totally theirs.  I told them that it had gone so well with their class that I had begun doing it in all my classes.  They seemed surprised and impressed that one of their ideas made it into all of my lesson plans.

They also told me these things:

There have been fewer times this week when you have had to call people down  (including mostly me).
Class has felt better.
I wasn’t angry to be here.
It has felt like home.

I will be honest to say–that last one landed deeply in me.  Class has felt like home. That’s what I really, really, really want.  I told them so, and thanked them for the feedback.

For this week’s discussion, I asked them if there were something that all five of us might agree that any one of us could do that would make class a more positive experience.  “That’s a tough one,” one of them said.  Then, almost immediately, they began talking about how much liked brain breaks.  I’ve made a concerted effort to collect and use some new ones this semester, and they noted which ones they like the best.  I asked them if Brain Breaks had any effect on the rest of their learning during the period.  They agreed that it did if for no other reason than it made them want to continue with whatever we were doing.

So, I shifted to Brain Breaks.  I told them that I had planned one brain break for each day, usually for right after our first activity.  Perhaps the thing they could do is to let me know if and when we needed a second one during the period.  They immediately thought that was a good idea.  I asked them whether that needed to happen out loud–meaning one of them would suggest out loud that maybe we needed a second brain break, or would it be better for them to communicate that silently to me with some sort of high sign.  They thought about that for a minute and then one said:  I think if we say it out loud, and you take the advice to do another brain break, that would come across a really cool to the class.  That would be positive.

Done!  Secretly, that’s what I was hoping they would say, but it needed to be their choice for their reasons.  We all agreed that that would begin today as something they took responsibility for in making our class more positive.

My sense of better and their sense of better

In reflecting over the last week and this morning’s second cogen meeting, I realize that my sense of class being better is different than the students.’  I did think that this class was going better because of the five minute check in–so much so that I instituted it in all my other classes.  Some part of me, though, still measures “better” by what makes me comfortable. That’s been the thorn in my whole teaching career. Those things, conditions, behaviors and outcomes that would have kept me comfortable have invariably not been the things that help students make progress in this language. This class still comes in at the end of the day–tired, rattled, anxious, depressed, mouthy, loud, and willing to stir each other up for no apparent reason. And, the five minute check in has curbed much of that and brought us together as a group of people trying to get things done. My cogen group helped me see this more clearly this morning and, hopefully, create some additional avenues for that reality to deepen.

Bob Patrick

Posted in Uncategorized

That “Problem” Class–Part 1 in a Series

It’s my 6th period class.  It’s Latin 3, and there are 33 of them in the room. This is after lunch for these students and the next to last period of the day.  I have taught many of them before. They represent the full spectrum of the demographics of the school.  Almost every day, it’s a struggle. I see us become our worse selves (I don’t think anyone has reached worst–yet).  What I struggle with is gaining and keeping their attention.  I know that they have at this point of the day little attention left to give.  They are also intelligent and creative people. They can also be aggressive and resistant on almost any issue.  They are beyond “sitting still and being quiet” and other traditional classroom conventions. Perhaps the better point is that some part of me still expect traditional conventions to be a given without having to cultivate any sense of common cultural meaning between me and them!

Last summer I bought and read Christopher Emdin’s book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood . . . and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education (Beacon Press, 2016). I came back to school in the fall and convinced my 4 other Latin colleagues to read and study this book together as a professional learning project. I’ve been working for many years now on my own whiteness in an increasingly multi-cultural world. Emdin is challenging me with language and ideas that I would not easily have discovered on my own. (The enigma of white privilege: it not only elevates white people to access everything in the culture, but it insulates us against seeing that, much less knowing best how to deconstruct it). This blog series is about what I am learning as I put into practice Emdin’s”reality pedagogy.”

The first step is to form a cogen group.  Cogen is short for “cogenerative.” A cogen is formed with four students in the class who become my advisers who help me create a better class experience. Emdin says that the four students should represent the demographics in the room.  Per his instructions, I spent time pondering that and made a list of four students who filled that requirement.  Then, last week, I asked each of them if they would be willing to meet with me on Tuesday morning at 6:55 for a meeting that would last 15-20 minutes.  I needed their help.  I would bring snacks.  I assured them that they were not in trouble, and that this was a secret group–so not to tell others.  They agreed.

I went to the store the night before and bought cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip muffins.  Honestly, I worried that they would forget to come even though I personally reminded each of them on Monday.  I also (per Emdin’s suggestion) asked an Assistant Principal to stop by during the meeting to congratulate them on being chosen to be my advisers.

At 6:55 the first student arrived.  Within 3 minutes, all four were there, had taken some food and were gathered in the circle.  Emdin says that this first session has two goals: to establish the rules for the cogen and to let them have a positive experience of helping you with something.  That something should be simple, and one of his suggestions is “what is something I can do at the beginning or ending of class that will make our experience more positive?”

As one young man was entering, he asked me: so, Dr. Patrick, how is your morning so far? I told him that it was still pretty rough for me since it was so early.  He responded.  “Yeah.  I think that you never get to see us except on the bad side of the day.”  It was a simple but very revealing comment. He was calm, sleepy and thoughtful. I agreed with him and brought that observation into our short discussion.

While they enjoyed their food, I explained what a cogen was and that I appreciated their willingness to help me make our class a better class. I told them that our cogen group had three rules (straight from Emdin):

  • There is no special person in the group–especially me just because I am the teacher.  While I am the Latin expert and quite frankly the expert on teaching, I am not an expert on their experience or what it means to be a 16, 17 or 18 year old.  I am not an expert on what it means to learn in my class or what it means to be a student in this school.  We all bring some expertise to this, and that’s why I asked them to help.  None of us is special. All are important.
  • There is only one mic.  I had already begun using this idea and phrase in class to mean: when someone is talking we all agree to give them our full attention. It also means that everyone gets equal time.
  • We all agree to work on and take individual responsibility for the ideas that will make our class better.  We leave our meetings with an action plan, and we are all responsible.

They were in immediate agreement, and so we moved on to our one task for the day.  What can I do at the beginning or ending of our class to make class a better experience?  Immediately one student asked:  by better do you mean make everyone happy or do you mean dealing with individuals who may just not want to be in the room that day?  It was a great question and the short form of my response was that I’d like something that would work for both possibilities.  I did note that I always try to be aware of anyone who looks like they are in distress, and I do let individuals leave to take a break, go to a counselor, et al.

Here’s the plan they formulated which does, indeed, respond to both aspects of his question:

  • Begin class with 5 minutes of “check-in.”
  • Check-in can be something that you want to get off your chest.
  • Check-in can be a “brag about me” where you share something good that has happened to you.
  • They acknowledged that this is not enough time for 33 people to check in, but that it would begin to create the sense that this is safe place where what they are going through is important.

In the midst of this, the Assistant Principal arrived.  She joined our circle and congratulated them on being asked to be my advisers.  We did brief introductions and summarized what we were doing.  She was genuinely excited and asked to be kept apprised of how this was going.  She left, and we brought our time to an end.

This felt SO GOOD!  It was genuine interaction with students from the “problem” class. I will tell you that I have been ashamed of that fact.  I am a veteran teacher. I am confident about what I do and how I do it. Building trust and relationship with students is the core of what I do.  Yet, this class did not make that mark.  Often, it was just the opposite.  I attribute that to “the drift.”  You know the drift. It can be any myriad of things that allow us as teachers to slip away from what we know is solid work in human relationships. It can be the simple fact of aging! You will never be as close to their ages as you are this year. It can be other major things going on in your life. It can be the demoralization of bad state, district, school or department leadership. It can be problem parents. It can be the difference in cultures of being a white teacher among young people who are from many different cultural backgrounds. (I presume that the majority of teachers reading this will be white because 75% of all US teachers are white).This short little first cogen experience tapped into some common humanity that simply transcended all of that.

On the afternoon of this same day, the class came in.  Immediately the four students made eye and verbal contact with me that was friendly and familiar.  The connection was made.  I began class by introducing a new thing called check-in.  For five minutes anyone who wanted to vent or brag about themselves could.  Immediately two of the four in the cogen volunteered (took ownership) and several others in the class followed–both brags and vents.  It truly changed the atmosphere in the room to something much more positive than usual.  This is a good start.

Bob Patrick

Posted in CI Mission

ALL KINDS of Learners–Part 3

This is the last of a 3 part series offered this week.

Recently I was talking with a colleague and friend in the math department of my school about what  I’ve written in this blog series.  He remarked at one point:  “Oh, sure.  It’s like teaching math these days as if STILL only 1% of the student population is going to show up in our classes KNOWING that 100% of them have to take the math we are teaching.  And still that’s exactly what many do.” We are not alone in this struggle to teach for ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS.

There’s another force to contend with: the snare of local and state laws that require certain things of us in the way of testing that make some in our number feel that they cannot do anything but the traditional program. Here’s what we know: You simply cannot plan language acquisition on a calendar, e.g. will master the first two declensions and conjugations by the second week of October. Instead, what we typically do is write “will have been introduced to the first two declensions and conjugations by the second week of October” where “introduced to” becomes “I covered” and “you didn’t study hard enough.”  In these cases, the difficulty of what we can do becomes only more difficult, but I maintain that with enough collaboration and creativity, we can may ways to work around these institutional obstacles so that we fulfill the law but maintain good language acquisition practices.  I also readily acknowledge that there are some districts where the legal clamps in place will simply kill programs despite what the teacher may want to do.  That’s a justice issue of another kind.

We CAN teach Latin in a way that focuses on acquiring the language first.  When we do that, ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS will make progress.  All can be rather easily successful.  Down the road, we can teach them some grammar rules that will help them in their writing.  If we want them to read better, understand better, write better and speak better Latin, we can give them Latin that they can easily understand.  It’s that simple, and it’s that demanding.

Why is it demanding?  Our own reality stands in the way–besides the previously mentioned obstacles:

1. Most of us have not ever actually acquired the language that we “teach.” That’s not an accusation.  It’s an observation of fact. Most of us, because we are elite learners, did acquire the language to some minimal degree just by forcing ourselves to stick with the grammar program.  Even Stephen Krashen acknowledges that for the self-driven learner, a grammar program will yield up the occasional comprehensible input. When that happens, acquisition takes place.  But it’s not enough to make us feel confident in our use of Latin as a language of communication.  A well educated enthusiastic teacher told me once:  “I know how to form the imperative, but I have no idea what to do with it in the classroom.”  Making these changes can be personally terrifying.  It’s not what we thought we were signing up for.

2. We are learning to speak Latin years after we learned the grammar rules, and so we suffer under our own processes.  For us, the affective filter will always be a little too high, and our language monitors will always be on overkill.  I watch with sadness how we treat each other at times with the otherwise new, highly creative and incredibly fun wave of novellas that are coming out at our own hands.  The rush of Latin teachers to criticize the “Latinitas” they find or don’t find in these novellas is a painful demonstration of what “learning all your grammar first” can do to us. (NB I am not saying that Latinitas is something to be rejected.  I am noting how a concern for it diminishes creative efforts, creates animosity and obscures what could be collaboration–which is what happens when one’s monitor is over-developed.) Latin teachers have monitors on steroids, and it’s not healthy for us as a teaching community.

3. The Latin speaking immersion programs that have proliferated over the years (in which I have participated and from which I have benefited), actually work on a grammar-translation base and appeal to elite learners. That’s such an enigma.  We go to these events to become better hearers, readers and speakers of Latin (maybe better writers, too), and yet every immersion Latin program that I know of requires that participants “know all their grammar” as a pre-requisite for the program (though there are signs that some of that is beginning to change).  The implication is that you cannot understand, read, speak or write Latin unless you know all your grammar.  We KNOW that this is not how languages are acquired by normal human beings.

Here’s what we can do that will make a difference–invite all kinds of learners into our programs and help them be successful:

1. Make the delivery of understandable Latin–what we say to them, and the reading we put in front of them–our main focus.
2. Make sure that the content of that understandable Latin is compelling to them.  We must work hard to know our audiences.
3. Keep vocabulary for the four years or five years we teach them well contained, high frequency vocabulary, and use whatever grammar we need to create interesting conversations and readings.
4. Teach them the grammar they need when it arises in the early years, and more directly in the later years.
5. Never test them on the grammar that we are teaching them.  Grammar is only retained when used often, and that is the test.  Help them use grammar that they need to prepare their own writing and formal speaking.  If you are not having them do formal writing and speaking, then grammar is not much of an issue as long as we, the teachers and Latin experts in the room, are using good grammar.

I know that that last item will be difficult for many to swallow.  Passing a grammar test for any language proves nothing except that the test taker is good at cramming material before a test.  This is not a certamen contest.  This is not a contest at all.  This is about acquiring a language that is on the verge of disappearing from our schools entirely.  We don’t have time to play around with what works and what doesn’t.  We know that a grammar translation approach does not work to help ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS acquire the language.  The real justice issue, then, is how to move on from what we know, to what we need to do for the survival of the language and inclusion of ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS in our program.  It comes down to this:  if we don’t turn our attention to the kinds of learners we have never appealed to, what we do will disappear.  What we have to offer is good for all student’s, isn’t it?  And their presence in our programs will breathe new life into the very existence of our programs.

A few years ago after I made a presentation at the then APA on CI and TPRS in the Latin classroom, a former mentor of mine approached me with real interest in this work.  I made the remark that I felt that if we didn’t make these kinds of changes in the way we teach Latin–across the board–that fifty years from now, Latin might disappear from our cultural and academic landscape. He stepped back with a surprised look on his face.  “Fifty years?  We don’t have fifty years.  We are lucky if we have twenty.”

Mine is a plebeian appeal.  We know how human beings acquire language.  It requires understandable messages in the language about things that are compelling.  We are sitting on a literary treasury unlike any other in the world.  We can die with it in our elite learning circles, or we can make it available to ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS.  The ones who are not like us.  In ways that work for them.  There are several justice issues here: what’s good for Latin; what’s good for our culture; what’s good for normal learners.  Pick one if you must.  I propose that the solutions are the same for all.

Bob Patrick

Posted in CI Mission

ALL KINDS of Learners–Part 2

This is the second part of a 3 part series offered this week.

In yesterday’s post (which you can read here) I outlined what seems to me to be the perfect storm in our Latin teaching in the US.  Unwittingly, we do the very things that ensure Latin remains small and dying and prevent it from getting into the hands and minds of ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS.

In our current world of high tech and high stakes testing, even fewer of those elite learners are drawn to Latin and other languages.  In the 2016 report of the MLA, all languages taught in the US saw a drop in enrollments, but Latin and Ancient Greek were the highest losses.  We teachers, elite learners ourselves, no longer seem to be able to convince even other elite learners to follow us down the classics trail, and with our traditional methods, non-elite learners have “learned” that Latin is not for them. They learn that because our colleagues in our institutions all think that Latin is too hard for normal learners.  Even the cashiers at the grocery store, when they see my name tag comment with “oh, Latin is hard.”  They all know about the program we have helped perpetuate.  Latin is too hard for normal people, so normal students, much less students with learning disabilities, won’t consider Latin an option.

And yet, normal students, average learners, students who don’t love to read, who stop breathing at the mention of grammar, who come from a variety of home situations and an even larger variety of ethnic backgrounds are quite capable of acquiring a language, even Latin.  Latin is not different.  I am often amazed at the number of people who want to argue about that.  Once they’ve made their arguments, what they have actually argued is that Latin must be the focus of elite learning circles and that’s why it’s different.

Latin is a language.  It has a large body of literature which most of us agree (even when we agree on nothing else) is why learning Latin is worth the effort–to access that literature on its own terms.  If that is the case, do we not want ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS to access this rich literature?  If our answer is anything but yes, then we have to consider what it is that we are actually trying to protect.  I have never heard anyone admit that they don’t want all kinds of learners accessing Latin literature. I do often hear them resisting any change to how they understand teaching and learning Latin. As I listen to Latin teachers argue for not changing things, these are some of the things I hear them defending.

1)  The tradition of how we teach feels comfortable to us. The cadre of teachers who are ourselves elite learners is one that we enjoy belonging to. We don’t want to lose our membership in this comfortable and supportive circle of people who love what we love. I am very sympathetic to this need to belong and be supported. Taking the approaches that I have often have meant giving this up for myself, and that is painful.

2) It might be that we are hedging against the hard work we have to do to learn to teach Latin as a language in ways that work best.  There are best practices that work for Latin and for ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS.  A growing number of us have been sharing those for over a decade now, and we are clear that it’s hard work to make the shift from grammar-translation to comprehensible input.  Workshops are proliferating at various conferences in which we teach each others how to help ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS acquire Latin.  The result of that is a growing number of teachers stepping outside of the comfortable circle of elite learners, and they are all finding out how difficult this is.  Anyone who pretends that leaving grammar-translation behind for CI and other best practices is easy is not being honest.  It’s hard, and it can be scary.

3) It might be something more sinister–some notion that Latin belongs only to white, affluent people.  No one will admit that and way too many white people want to argue about this.  That very knee jerk reaction ought to give us pause, but it doesn’t yet. What if, in the recesses of our experiences, there is something of truth that needs the light of day shown on it? The truth is that NONE of us has escaped being infected and affected by the system of white supremacy. So, how do we bring that, unwittingly, to our classrooms?  I want to know.  I desperately need to know how I bring that infection and affect into my classroom because most of my students are of Color.  They suffer enough without having to suffer me in self-ignorance.

Part 3 will appear tomorrow.
Bob Patrick


Posted in CI Mission

ALL KINDS of Learners–Part 1

(This blog post will appear in 3 parts over the next three days)

I have found over the years in doing Comprehensible Input work, creating classrooms and a whole program based on CI, that there is a motivational feature that I simply cannot assume everyone understands or shares with me. That motivating factor is this:  to ensure that ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS are able to make progress in Latin.

In 2011, I made an address to a gathering at SALVI’s summer Rusticatio.  The title of my address was Latin is Not Different. For several years it was featured on the SALVI website (you can read it here if you wish). I tried to articulate publicly what had been a growing realization for me at the time. The Grammar-Translation approach which has dominated Latin teaching for decades if not centuries by now and which has been each of our experiences who teach has worked along some other realities to make sure that Latin belongs only to the realm of elite learners.  Consider these points which are incredibly short summaries of much longer discussions and research:

1. There is no evidence to support that human beings actually acquire languages through studying the grammar, memorizing vocabulary and translating the second language into the first language.  By “acquire” I mean the ability to read and hear the language with direct understanding without the interference of or mediation of the native language. There is plenty of research that shows just the opposite.

2. Latin teachers and classicists are those elite learners who have “learned Latin” this way.  I include several features in the categorization of “elite learners.”  They (we–I am one of them) are those students who demonstrate over time that they are good at academics.  They receive high marks in general, are acclaimed by their teachers and schools with awards for learning, high GPA’s and scholarships.  They often come from affluent or at least very stable homes where winning at the education game was a reinforced message.  They are often white.  I include this issue because white people have simply had more and uninterrupted access to those who teach, to books and libraries, and they (we–I am white) have over centuries created a culture that serves them first above others.  Look at any gathering of Latin teachers or classicists at the number of People of Color.  In my life time, I have been at many where there were NO People of Color.  Finally, I cannot prove it with data, but I guess that elite learners are also often people with higher than average IQ’s.  They routinely report loving to read, loving grammar, and loving languages–all linguistic and language practices that accompany higher than average IQ’s.

3. Latin teachers, then, go to work and put together lessons and build programs that look like what they have experienced.  In other words, without even having to think about it, Latin teachers create Latin programs for more elite learners.  Even in inner city “charter schools” where the targeted audience are children of Color who do not fit the description above of elite learners, I feel sometimes like they are attempting to create a new wave of elite learners.  Those who are admitted (whether by screening or by lottery) will go to school longer, all take Latin from day one, receive extra tutoring at lunch and after school, take the National Latin Exam, join the Certamen team, etc.  These are all features of elite learning circles.  If the Latin teacher is energetic and creative along with a dash of charisma, the Latin program will sustain itself with a flow of elite learners.  If not, or if the Latin teacher moves, or becomes burned out, or retires–often the difficulty of finding someone to maintain the elite learning circle is too much, and schools shut down Latin programs.

Systematically, over time this drive to recreate elite learning programs with Latin will result in the loss of Latin from our academic and cultural landscape.

See Part 2 tomorrow.
Bob Patrick

Posted in CI Mission

Growing a Latin Program (2)–The Working Parts

With the perennial reports of Latin programs that close–very often as a teacher retires–I remain hopeful and curious about the power that Comprehensible Input has especially when it is coupled with a social justice concern in any particular school.  Do our Latin programs look like the face of the school?  Whether yes or no, how do we know?  Who has crunched the data in order to answer that question?  What we have done in our school did not happen over night or one year.  It took experimenting with and becoming confident in our skills as Comprehensible Input teachers.  Dabbling won’t do in this regard. Mixing and matching CI with other approaches won’t work with all kinds of learners because the at-risk students we have been able to recruit simply cannot stand more instability in their lives.  They need to understand on some level that when they are in our rooms, they WILL be successful and they have teachers who know how to support that.

It just so happens that this kind of work is occurring at a time when Latin is slowly disappearing from our schools.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  I often imagine:  what if Latin teachers who are working with Comprehensible Input approaches looked around their schools and began to recruit those students that no one expects to be successful in Latin (or anything else, if we are honest).  In my earlier post on growing a Latin program, I listed the specific commitments that we have made which seem to be the hinges on which our program thrives.  I want to add some commentary to those things.

1. Total commitment to teaching with Comprehensible Input

What our team has come to see is that the only way for all kinds of learners to make progress in Latin and NOT FAIL is to ensure that on a daily basis, at all levels, three things are happening:  a) students receive comprehensible messages in Latin; b) students are invited to work (stories, readings, adventures, games, movie talks, et al) that is compelling to them; and c) students know on some level that they are cared for. With hats off to my colleague, Rachel Ash, these have become our local “Three C’s.”  Comprehensible, Compelling and Caring.  Simply because they work for all kinds of learners.  This does not mean that any of us still does not experience the nagging, the internal demand, the fear, the taunts of other colleagues that make us second guess what we are doing.  It happens often enough.  But teaching another way also makes promises that I lived out and through for many years:  that all kinds of learners would not be successful and that all kinds of learners would not think of Latin as something they would study.

2. In levels 2-4 student chosen themes of study

This is an important aspect of the compelling piece of what we do.  In the spring of each year, we give students in Latin 1, 2 and 3 a survey of topics that they might want to study for the next year.  These topics are areas of classical study and literature that we each feel competent in (otherwise, we would not offer it), and we allow students to vote on what the topics for next year will be.  We also know, for the most part, by then which levels each of us will be teaching.  Since we do not use a textbook for our curriculum, knowing in the spring what students want to focus on the next year allows us time to begin preparing–either from scratch or from collected materials.

3. No homework

I started this practice, and my colleagues who have joined me have agreed to it.  None of them argued with me, to be honest.  I made this move about 15 years ago as a result of two things.  a) My own observations were that those who did the homework I gave were the ones who least needed it and vice versa.  If I gave a grade, those who could least withstand bad grades received the most of them, and if I didnt give grades even fewer did the homework.  b) I read Alfie Kohn’s book The Homework Myth.  I never looked back.  My own, and now our own standard has become:  a commitment to work enthusiastically from bell to bell knowing that we can do what we need to do in that time, and then give students the freedom they need and want after school for other things.  Sadly, that often means endless homework from other subjects, but we cannot do anything about that.  Not having homework is an appeal to both take Latin and to work hard in the classroom.  Not our initial aim, but we enjoy the benefits of that effect.

4. Standards based grading with three important commitments

a) Assessments look like the teaching and learning.
This is fairly self explanatory.  Our assessments always list what standards we are assessing, and we ask student questions and to do activities on the assessment that look and feel like what we have done in class.

b) The 80/80 rule.
On any given assessment minor or major, at least 80% of the class must make an 80% or higher in order to
move on with the instruction.  This is my own self check as to whether I’ve done my job before I assess.  Because I don’t want to find myself having to go back and re-teach, I make very sure that when I give an assessment, everyone in the room is ready for it.

c) Relax, Recreate, and Remediate days.
We schedule regular opportunities to re-assess any standard that has fallen below 80 with total grade
replacement.  These are about every three week, RR&R days.  Students check their grades on the school portal accessed through their cell phones or other devices, and any grade they have that is less than an 80% MUST be remediated that class period.  In addition, any student who is unhappy with any grade (a 93, for example) can also remediate.  The remediated work totally replaces the previous grade.  With these days in place throughout the semester, we have virtually no failures in Latin.

5. The Big Three Questions, twice a year.
Routinely (at least twice a year) we survey students with three questions.  They write them as open ended response, with our without their names (many do sign them).  We ask them to tell us about what is helping, what is not, and what changes they would make to the way we teach and and they learn Latin.  While we always receive useful information about trends in a particular class, the highest ranking item on these surveys, time after time, is to change nothing.  We tell them that we will read each survey, tally the results and adjust our teaching as a result.  We are accountable to them, and they are responsive to us.

These are the things that I can point to that my colleagues and I do in common.  In and between them, there are many things that constitute the varied personalities and styles that we all have.  As it should be. These are also things that I can point to when other ask about our program, how it works and why we think it’s successful.
When we are looking for a new teacher to join us, as we are right now, I can also point those to these items and say:  how do you feel about these, because these are non-negotiable.  This is another way that we remain accountable to each other and to our students.  We make mistakes.  All of us will be quick to say that we are always and forever still learning how to do what we do, but we have these guideposts.

Bob Patrick