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

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Dealing with Vergil – A New Hero?

In my last post “The Inclusivity of Latin? Part II”, I discussed a few different authors I had looked at in a new way, considering the question of inclusivity. Today I’d like to look at Vergil. I want to start by saying that I am not disparaging the traditional way of looking at any of these authors, but rather, considering the ways we can use what we have to create a more inclusive classroom. One way we can (or rather should) do that, is by not furthering the white supremacist system of whitewashing Roman history, literature, etc. In this and subsequent posts, I’d like to provide a starting place for teachers who would like to consider these classics/classical stories from another perspective.

Vergil’s Aeneid  – The Story of Dido

  • The Story – Consider what part of the story you are going to use. Consider providing background information as well. For my Latin I’s, we read the backstory of Dido including her husband’s death to set the stage for the type of queen she’d be. Often, when Vergil is read, this is glossed over or discussed in a lecture. If we discuss it as part of her story and as equally important as her relationship with Aeneas, we give her depth and make her – as a woman and as a woman of colour – equally important to Aeneas.
  • Qualities/character – This is a great opportunity to bring in the ideas of virtus and pietas. These questions are great for discussion and help give a clear image of Roman vs. non Roman. Bearing in mind proto-racism, the discussion of Dido can take a turn that is compelling, comprehensible, and caring for students. When we consider Dido as her own person, rather than as a stopping place or “character building” experience for Aeneas, it is clear how rich and deep her own tale is. My students connected with her and were moved by her story. Yes, Aeneas will very likely come off as arrogant and as a not great guy. This is okay. They can learn plenty about his heroism in AP. You may consider, however, whether he truly shows virtus and pietas, especially when Dido is considered as her own person.
  • Images – When considering what images you will use to show Dido, I strongly recommend using ones that are true or closer to what she might have looked like. Dido’s background may have some debate or discussion with it, but she would not have been a white or western European woman. You may need to look outside the typically accepted canon of images (i.e. outside of statues, renaissance paintings, etc.). Look for amateur artwork that protrays her as a woman of colour. There is a fair amount of modern artwork or digital artwork that one could use for this. Avoid images where she is wearing typical Roman garb if you can.

I will say a few final words on how this unit continues to play a role in my class.

  1. Students considered Dido’s character from a strong female perspective. We considered her story and her decisions free from Aeneas, although we did discuss Venus and Iuno’s role.
  2. Anna was part of her story as well (as she should be). Later (as will be discussed in my next post), Anna came up again in Hannibal’s story – also as an independent female character who took on Iuno and demanded things from her.
  3. We have continued our discussion of qualities, including virtus and pietas. Dido’s story is brought up frequently when we discuss these and others.

I’d love to hear your questions about this type of unit! How have you made Latin, in itself, more inclusive in your choices of literature, images, and discussion?

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Comprehension Checks

One way to keep the Latin classroom inclusive is checking student comprehension, and doing so often.

Comp checks occur a) when responding to non-verbal cues from students (see Miriam’s Teaching to the Eyes), or b) asking questions in case students are falling through the cracks in larger classes, or just not self-advocating when Latin isn’t clear. The basic comp check questions we ask are in English:

  • “What does X mean?”
  • “What did I just say?”
  • “Did I just say that…”
  • “What did I just ask?”
  • “Did I just ask whether…”

You might want to check comprehension for other reasons, such as engaging the student who appears unfocused. Often, a comp check shows that the student was indeed listening, and does understand, but not always. Comp checks, then, are an additional tool for classroom management (MGMT).

When we check comprehension, keep in mind that we shouldn’t expect a precise 1 to 1 Latin –> English translation, especially when we ask our slowest processors. If they mix up persons, tenses, or leave out anything that isn’t a big content word holding meaning, they’re right on track. Research suggests that each time we encounter a word in a meaningful context we acquire about 5% of the meaning of the word (Nagy, Herman and Anderson, 1985), so the “gist” during a comp check is just fine.

Safe Comp Check
When it comes to our slowest processors, we can honor their internal syllabus by checking their comprehension often, yet without always calling attention to them. One strategy is to do the comp check on the student NEXT TO the one giving you a non-verbal cue of not comprehending. The slowest processor who didn’t understand will have meaning clarified without being called out.

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The Value of Student Feedback

Teaching inclusively in a language classroom tends to look much different from what’s typically expected. This makes sense, considering that conventional practices are based on teaching subject matter, not languages. In fact, most programs even train teachers to teach language only as subject matter to be learned. This must change, but for now serves as the main  reason behind so much misunderstanding.

Last year, the principal first visited my classroom in December to have the only discussion about my teaching since school began. Needless to say, my teaching was not what was expected. There were even doubts as to whether my practices were having a positive effect. I certainly knew they were, but as a teacher in a new school I had very little influence. I figured that student testimonials would be enough to support and validate what was going on. They did. Here are the two prompts I asked students to respond to:

1) This year’s Latin class is different from other language classes you’ve had in the past. What are some things we’ve been doing to help you learn? 

2) What are some things we could change to help you learn better?

In class, I often make statements distinguishing between “knowing about” a language (i.e. learning subject matter), and “knowing” a language (i.e. acquiring). Since the prompts were student-friendly, however, I didn’t bother with the learning/acquisition distinction. Here’s the first response to start unpacking:


Notice how this student has already had a negative Latin experience “only learning through the textbook.” Some students with that experience drop Latin as soon as they can. This particular student probably decided to take Latin in order to fulfill college entry requirements, and didn’t expect to be so successful. I’m glad they were surprised! Also note how this student recognizes the benefit of higher exposure to fewer words (i.e. shelter vocabulary). A more common term is “repetition,” but that can be misunderstood to result in drill-like practice, or just lead teachers astray in what the actual goal is of providing multiple exposures to fewer words.

Although the second prompt was designed to elicit criticism of current practices, this student’s response actually supports what’s going on by asking for increase in use of one of them! In fact, nearly every student responded this way to the second prompt. I like how this student values our short Brain Breaks. They are important, but often neglected. If more teacher’s could feewhat it’s like to learn a new language again, we’d be in better shape.

There’s a lot we can learn from what our students say about teaching inclusively, so I intend to unpack more student feedback. In this first post, we’ve seen the following practices used to teach inclusively:

  1. Stop teaching Latin only as subject matter to be learned
  2. Untextbooking
  3. Sheltering Vocabulary
  4. Using Brain Breaks
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Ditching the Phrase “Struggling Student”

I hear this phrase a lot.

Many language teachers lament about staying after school to help a “struggling student,” that a student is “struggling” with grammar point X, or that they have a group of “struggling students” in their second year, Spanish 2 class, etc.. When it comes to language acquisition, however, there’s no struggling going on, at all. Bill VanPatten recently had something similar to say on Tea With BVP Live From OFLA (Episode 54).

Unless the student has a disability—not a learning disability, but a communication disability in the native language, which even then might not be an issue because students with severe non-verbal disabilities show signs of understanding language spoken to themno student should struggle to understand language in our classes.

These students might have behaviour issues that negatively impact our daily routine and flow of comprehensible input, but that has nothing to do with language acquisition itself. We are all capable of understanding and acquiring a second language. Therefore, “struggling” is only in reference to something else, usually related to explicit grammar instruction, or forced language production, and the assessments that leave students excluded.

For most teachers, then, a “struggling student” is just a student whose acquisition rate is slower than the curriculum pace—a pace that also excludes most students. **Newsflash** ALL LEARNERS have an internal syllabus that WILL NOT CHANGE just because your program moves at speed X, or you explicitly teach Y. In fact, your program’s curriculum is designed for only one student’s pace. The sad part is that you might not even have a student who acquires at that particular rate, this particular year in any particular course!

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We Are Not Alone: Discovering a Nation of Advocates

One of the central challenges we are trying to address in this blog (that of shrinking and/or homogeneous classes) is magnified in, but not limited to, Latin programs. Although I was frustrated and disappointed to hear it, I was also somewhat relieved to learn that modern language teachers and programs frequently suffer from the same problems that Latin programs suffer from: lack of retention beyond the first two years; homogeneous and exclusive upper-level classes, consisting mostly of white children whose parents are highly educated and/or wealthy; an increasing focus on study of the language itself as preparation for the reading of too-difficult texts in the 3rd and 4th years; and test preparation becoming an increasing priority in “honors” courses.

Does this sound familiar? It does to me, after over a decade spent teaching Latin and interacting with other Latin teachers. But I was happy to discover that there are many many more modern language teachers out there who, like us, are trying to address these problems in order to save their programs and maintain a sense of relevance to their school culture.  In an excellent example of this effort, Grant Boulanger, a Spanish teacher in Minnesota and finalist for ACTFL’s 2016 teacher of the year, has isolated this problem as he sees it in modern language programs. In this article, he argues that if teachers can focus on the 90% target language goal set out by the ACTFL (and by making sure 100% of that 90% is comprehensible and relevant to students’ lives), teachers can realistically work toward a second goal of 90% retention through all four years of a language.

In addition to pointing out the problem, he is suggesting a few solutions and strategies which are rooted in the research of how people learn language, and the fact that anyone can learn a second or third language if it is presented as a tool of communication rather than a subject of study (i.e. linguistics, philology). What, specifically, does Boulanger suggest for making this happen? I offer a few quotes from his article, with my own reflections on how they could have a positive impact on Latin classrooms

“Language educators are gatekeepers. We impact students’ ability to be accepted by post secondary schools.”

The history of our discipline is tied in with the notion of exclusivity. Whether or not we realize it, Latin teachers in particular serve as gatekeepers. This can happen on-campus, to the extent that Latin students are likely part of a cohort who organize their entire schedule around an academic track, which others do not have access to. Beyond high school, we know that Latin looks very good on college applications. If we do not allow all kinds of students to be successful in our Latin classes, we deny certain students this important benefit. Again, we are gatekeepers within the school and beyond.

“Conversations must shift from simply retaining students to ensuring that programmatic and pedagogical decisions intentionally acknowledge and address educational equity for students of all backgrounds.”

Here Boulanger is addressing the important causal connection between pedagogy and retention. Sometimes teachers think of equity as providing individualized attention outside of class (a burden that many teachers take on without compensation). But if teachers are implementing more equitable practices in their daily work with students, meeting their needs in class, this may in fact mitigate, or at least reduce, the additional work that so many teachers do for the sake of their struggling students

“…when the focus is on learning about the language, with an unbalanced emphasis on manipulating discrete elements of the language, we unintentionally advantage some students. Well-meaning teachers may inadvertently be contributing to the problem. What we teach and assess, how we teach it and, most importantly, why we are teaching are all factors that contribute to the confidence and trust our students have in us and in the language learning process. Without high levels of confidence and trust, our students will not voluntarily enroll in higher-level language courses.”

In the interests of “rigor” and “high standards,” language teachers often provide instruction and assessments that are not necessarily effective in promoting acquisition, but which reinforce the gatekeeping and exclusionary practices that the teachers themselves thrived in, while undermining the confidence and success of students who are from different backgrounds.

“Emphasizing comprehension allows all of our students to experience high degrees of success, without added anxiety associated with production before they are ready. ”

When we require students to produce spoken and written language too early and to a degree of accuracy that is not level-appropriate, we often do so at the expense of providing input, which studies show is more effective in fostering production of language, than output-oriented practice.  One takeaway here is that focusing on providing comprehensible input will allow all students to have a successful experience in the language, while more efficiently helping them make progress in their language proficiency in terms of what we know about how the brain acquires language.

I think an understandable and legitimate response to this line of argument could be: “Why can’t we help marginalized students to reach these high standards, rather than change the nature of curriculum and assessment? Isn’t it discriminatory not to expect the same results from all students?”

This would be indisputable if (a big “if”) the high standards and results assumed in this objection actually represented language proficiency. Boulanger’s article (and this blog) is inviting teachers to re-think our traditional notions of what it means to be proficient in a language. He is asking us to consider the important distinction between proficiency (which is based on using a language for the purpose of communication, something that pretty much everyone is capable of doing well),  and a set of skills on the other hand, which may have some overlap with proficiency, but by its very nature rewards students who have been prepared by their upbringing, and who have more support in their lives and communities.

Notice that this is not a compromise of rigor or academic seriousness. Rather, we are channeling this rigor into developing skills which are content-based and communicative in nature, and therefore in line with what we know about how language functions in the brain. By setting high standards that are acquisition and proficiency-based and therefore are by nature equitable and do not favor one socio-economic or cultural group over another, we can move forward in our work with confidence that we are supporting all students in our classrooms, and not leaving any of them behind because of where they come from or where they’ve been.

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The Inclusivity of Latin? II

The question was posed on my last post about where one might begin to find resources, and I think this is a good place to start when considering whether or not this language and culture we so love is, in its nature, inclusive. In my opinion, we must expand our view of what is part of our accepted Latin canon in order to discuss this, however. Allow me to start by saying that I am not saying we should ignore the typically accepted list of authors that students, and we, should read. I do ask that we consider what use these authors have in our rooms, or the selections we choose, if they only promote a part of Roman culture. To that end, I’d like to share a few examples of what I’ve done in my own classroom.

  1. Vergil – The Aeneid – Typically, one reads this in 4th/5th year from the AP syllabus. Last year, Latin I students read an adapted selection from Book IV regarding Dido’s death. We read this considering Dido, rather than Aeneas, and the idea of virtus.
  2. Livy – Typically, this author is considered when regarding certain aspects of history, including the Punic Wars. Students, this year in Latin II, had already decided they wanted to read about Hannibal. Rather than reading from Livy, however, we read from Cornelius Nepos and Silius Italicus. We also focused on Hannibal and Carthage, rather than Rome.
  3. Caesar – De Bello Gallico – Typically, one reads excerpts of this early on, and follows up with AP syllabus selections in 4th/5th year. Last year, Latin I students read a teacher created story about Caesar and his wives/loves. Then, students used this work, indirectly, to discuss geography and virtus.
  4. Pliny the Elder – Naturalis Historia – Not typically considered part of the general canon, my students have read quite a few selections from this author. I have a personal interest in that my Master’s thesis relied heavily on work with Pliny. We used this text to discuss proto-racism, geography, and history. We also used this to connect to medieval and modern history, art, and science.

These are just the authors we have encountered in part this and last year. Next year, I intend to include more. In my next posts, I will expand on each author, one at a time, and discuss how I handled this in class and used the resources I’ve found to make my classroom, and my content more inclusive, and to take advantage of the inclusivity present in Latin literature.

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

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Latin’s Dark History With Light-Skinned Learners

Rereading John Bracey’s post got me thinking again…

I used to work at a school that prided itself on being “part of a multicultural community,” but that tends to be the type of thing you find written on a school’s website that’s just for show, or to check a box for NEASC accreditation. I can say that it certainly wasn’t obvious from my Latin classes. In fact, if I didn’t have to walk down a different hallway to use the restroom, I wouldn’t have known that there were so many students of color in the school! I’ve asked myself, just as John put it, “why were so few black and brown students in my Latin classes?”

With a student body of 39% non-white, you would expect there to be more than one student of color in the AP Latin course, but no, there was only one. In contrast, I had 4 non-white students in Latin I—a number that was closer to representing the rest of the school, though nowhere close to the school-wide demographics. This, of course, is representative of the low retention rates we expect in traditionally exclusive programs, but what exactly causes students of color to drop out in the first place? John was looking into why they don’t sign up initially, but there’s also the matter of why the ones who DO sign up don’t continue. The latter issue probably has to do with the same reasons all students drop traditional language classes after 2 or 3 years, namely, the unbalanced and no longer supported practice of explicit grammar instruction and, expectations of hyper-accurate translations, but there’s not enough data to look at because of the the former issue.

The data we do have, though, shows that something remarkable happens to level the playing field when we base our programs on acquisition, so I encourage everyone to think about improving access to Latin via inclusive practices, and eliminate the ones that lead to exclusivity. Yet, what will it take to enact change? I, for one, even voiced my concerns about the exclusivity of the Latin program at that school I was teaching at, but others didn’t want to face the issue. A cowardly move, perhaps, and uncomfortable at the very least, but no one said that fighting discrimination was going to be easy!

So, what are you doing to help, how have you made inclusiveness part of the conversation in your department/school, and what advice do you have for others looking to make a difference? Share your thoughts in the comments section.