Posted in CI Mission, Standards

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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Posted in Standards

In Defense of the Standards 1; A General Framework for Accessibility and Inclusiveness

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.