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I Need to See Your Eyes

We don’t know what our kids walk in the door with. We don’t and there is no way of knowing… unless…

  • we make our classrooms safe places.
  • we ask our students if they are okay.
  • we allow our students to feel successful and enjoy our time and space.
  • we teach to the eyes.

The fact is, there are many divisive and marginalising things that happen in our schools and classrooms every day, whether we realise it or not, whether we mean it or not. It is the truth. We cannot control it all, but we can control it in our rooms and in our teaching. Comprehensible Input is key to making this happen.

As teachers, we must make our rooms safe places, and I don’t mean that as a joke. So many times over my years of teaching I’ve heard stories from students asking for advice or help when a teacher allows bullying in a room, or is a bully themselves. We must be the deciding factor when it comes to the treatment of other in our room and we must make sure that the treatment is fair and inclusive to all.

The content of our lessons must be inclusive to our students. The context of our lessons must be inclusive to our students. Our classroom rules, whatever form they come in, must be inclusive to our students.

I plan to discuss some specific strategies for the day to day in a later post, but the key in my room is this: I teach to the eyes. The eyes of a student can tell us so much about what they are understanding, and going through. While teaching to the eyes, we can make quick changes to include more students as well as see just how effective the things we do are. Is a student whose head is down really just tired? Is he giving up because he can’t understand? Is he giving up because he feels he doesn’t have a place in our rooms? It is not his job to make himself feel included in the class and by the teacher. It is our job.

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Your Latin Program: Exclusive or Inclusive? (1 of 3)

Some have described the way I teach languages as ideological or dogmatic—other contributors to this blog are no strangers to that criticism, either—and it’s certainly true that a lot of my teaching is directly informed by definitive research, but I no longer feel the need to espouse and cite research to arrive at the following, in classic chiastic (< chiasmus) form:

1) ALL humans can acquire a second language.
2) Few humans learn about languages.
3) Programs based on learning about Latin are exclusive.
4) Programs based on acquiring Latin are inclusive.

Reasons for #1 should be obvious in that all humans are “wired” to communicate. Reasons for #2 are unclear, though lack of interest is most likely the cause—an example of how important compellingness is—but the result of programs focused on learning about Latin has two crystal clear outcomes; at best, very few students remain in the program; at worst, enrollment is less-affected because the program is already exclusive to the few students who learn about languages anyway. In both scenarios, the few exceptional students serve as validation for a Latin program’s success—this in spite of most students who could have been included.

This is a social justice fail.

The question, then, for another post is “how do I base my program on acquiring Latin?”

**Read the second, and third follow-up posts**

Posted in CI Mission

School isn’t Exclusive

It used to be exclusive. Education was something for the elite and wealthy; schools were founded to provide, at a cost that necessarily excluded a large percentage of the population, elevated status and superiority to the uneducated masses. Even once free public education was established, a difference arose between the wealthier families who could afford for their children to continue their education and the poorer families who needed their children to work. And when education became compulsory (first in Massachusetts in 1852, last in Mississippi in 1917), it was still geared toward “weeding out” students who were not likely to be college-bound. So it was kept exclusive, difficult, and “rigorous,” and no one had to argue that Latin had a purpose in that setting.

I am personally glad that the rhetoric and drive of school has shifted towards inclusion. I believe that every student can learn and has a right to learn, and it is my job to make sure that learning happens. I have known too many people who gave up because they did not fit the elite mold that schools pushed students into–even as recently as the 1990s–usually because of learning disabilities or poverty. It’s shameful. It’s wasteful.

I work very hard in my classes to make sure that all students have a path to success. Sometimes they fight me, because they are used to being ignored or allowed to fail, and I keep pressing them to succeed. Luckily I am extraordinarily annoying. I almost always win these struggles.

This shift towards inclusion means change for Latin; I am no longer considered a sine qua non member of America’s teaching force. I have to campaign for the viability of my subject, and if students don’t buy in to my class or feel welcome there, my numbers will plummet and I’ll be out of a job.

That’s not why my classroom is inclusive, it’s why my classroom MUST be inclusive.

My classroom is inclusive because I always wanted an inclusive classroom. I have always read language acquisition research, I have always attended any and all conferences, workshops, and training opportunities I could afford, I have always tried new things and taken chances with my classes, and I have always worked with my students to make them feel valued, important, and successful in my classes. No matter their creed, race, special needs, or economic background.

Teaching inclusively is necessary; moreover teaching inclusively is rewarding.

Posted in CI Mission

Pro Quo?

The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself,
but the ends you serve that are for all, in common, will take you into eternity. 
― Marcus Garvey

With this post we launch this new blog of reflections that boil down to what we would call “social justice in the Latin classroom.”  I am joined here by 9 colleagues and friends who share in this concern from varying vantage points with their own unique voices.  Our plan is to publish a new post each Monday.  We invite you into dialogue with us.

We have recently seen some tension erupt in social media dedicated to “second language acquisition” in Latin classrooms.  I share here some of my thoughts around the issues that have surfaced.

Delivering comprehensible input is what allows all kinds of learners to make progress in the language. Period. It’s like saying that human beings need water to survive. Who can argue? Each kind of student from the most elite academic to the so called “lazy troublemaker” can make progress in Latin in a classroom where understandable messages in Latin are constantly being delivered. I see it happen every day.

Teachers who encounter Comprehensible Input as Theory and Practice find themselves in varied circumstances (some real, some imagined, some a mix of both).  All of us have to navigate our way toward CI, and no teacher that I know of who has been doing CI for a while is doing it the same as when they started.  We navigate for a while doing a “little CI here and there,” stopping, starting over, trying again. That reality, at first, is a survival mode.  A new reality can develop where a teacher just mixes and matches some CI kinds of activities into more traditional modes. Wittingly or unwittingly we can reduce a whole approach to language to something like having just a few more things in our bag of tricks.  Before long, that mix is not working any better than the previous mix of tricks.

I’ve been at the work of Comprehensible Input long enough now to be able to say this:  this work keeps changing me.  The more I embrace the theory and work at putting it into practice, the more it requires me to change, the more of the stuff in my original bag of tricks is simply not useful anymore.  CI challenges just what it is that I think I’m doing in my classroom.  I have loved being able to stand and talk eloquently (!) about all manner of things because Roman culture and history deliver all manner of things to my doorstep.  But, no student ever advanced one step in Latin because I did that.  They were entertained.  My ego grew by leaps and bounds as they swooned over how much I know about so many things.  But, when I spend an entire class attempting to deliver simple, understandable and interesting Latin to them, that all changes.  And, it’s exhausting.  And, it works. And at times it bores me.  And every student in the room makes progress.  For years now, I and my colleagues doing this work have had virtually no failures in our Latin program.

We are at a place now where we have to speak at times a hard truth: no, teaching a grammar syllabus does not help all of your students, or strengthen your program.  It could be contributing to the ultimate demise of your program.  To say these things is not to accuse anyone of being a bad person.  It is to bear witness to what will actually work for all kinds of students.

As I write this I am planning for an IEP meeting (my 9th or 10th this semester) for a special ed student in my Latin 1 class. Latin is his highest grade. It always is at these things. Comprehensible Input is not about whatever works for me.  It’s not about having some extra tricks in the bag.  It’s about making a difference–such a difference–that our Special Ed Department is always eager to place students in our Latin program.  There is a direct link between the theory and practice of CI and equity in the academic institutions we teach in.

Bob Patrick
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Welcome to the Inclusive Latin Classroom

Welcome to ILC!  We are a group of Latin teachers from all over the United States, colleagues and friends, veterans, mid-career and new to the profession.  Between us, we teach Latin in middle schools, high schools, and universities. We all have in common that we have embraced the theories and practices that make up Comprehensible Input.  We are clear that teaching Latin with CI has the power to create an inclusive classroom where all kinds of learners are welcome and capable of progress in the language.

We all want to be better at what we do, delivering the Latin language in understandable messages that are compelling for the success of all kinds of learners.  We know that means continually growing as teachers. We invite you to follow us and to join us here each week to reflect on the issues that face us.

Rachel Ash                                 Miriam Patrick
Justin Slocum Bailey                Bob Patrick
Kevin Ballestrini                       Lance Piantaggini
John Bracey                                John Piazza
David Maust                               Keith Toda