Ave atque vale

Ave atque vale

As I prepare to hand over the editorship of Teaching Classical Languages to Yasuko Taoka of Wayne State College, I just want to take a moment to highlight some of the accomplishments of the past five years of Teaching Classical Languages. Special sections on “Spoken Latin” (6.1), “The Tirones Project: Mentoring New Teachers” (7.1), and “Using Pop Music in Latin Pedagogy” (10.2), along with a Special Issue, the “Revised Standards for Classical Language Learning” (9.1), have provided readers multiple perspectives on a timely topic. And articles have covered a wide array of topics, from Erasmus to Vicapaedia, from beginner Latin novellas to teaching the Old and New Testaments to students of Greek and Latin simultaneously, from Movie Talks to learning (and teaching) Latin verb tenses.

The quality of submissions, moreover, continues to increase as those submitting see more high quality examples of articles focused on the scholarship of teaching and learning Latin and Greek, and authors become more comfortable utilizing quantitative and qualitative measures to support their conclusions.  As regular readers of TCL know, the journal is intended to appeal to K-12 teachers and post-secondary instructors who are looking for ways to improve their teaching of Greek and Latin based on active experimentation and rooted in solid research.  Both groups have been well represented as authors in TCL. Likewise, the journal actively attempts to find referees from both groups to evaluate each article (see below).

Over the past five years, 68% of submissions have been published, always through multiple revisions, 21% have been rejected, and 11% are in the Revise and Resubmit phase.  Over that same time period, authors of published articles have been 50% women and 50% men.  Women and men have submitted in equal proportions (50% each). Reviewers who served were 45% women and 55% men.

As my second five year term comes to an end, I want to express my gratitude to the many teachers, grad students, college faculty readers who find Teaching Classical Languages inspirational, stimulating, and provocative.  I am deeply indebted to the generosity of those who have been willing to referee articles. And I especially would like to praise my hard-working and attentive Editorial Board members and Editorial Assistants, Meghan Yamanishi and Keely Lake.  Finally, I wish my successor, Yasuko Taoka, Dean of Arts and Humanities at Wayne State College in Nebraska, my best wishes for continued success with the journal.

This post was originally published as the “Letter from the Editor” in Teaching Classical Languages 10.2 (2019) iv.

Attendite: The Art of Listening to our Students

Attendite: The Art of Listening to our Students

One of the amazing things about language is that there are words for concepts that we must express with multiple words in our first language.  The Latin word attendo attendere is one of those. In beginning Latin, one of the first words a student learns is audio audire “to hear.”  And generally speaking, Latin textbooks do not introduce attendere, yet it is a word that makes us think harder about listening.  It is not just listening or hearing, but “to pay attention, to listen carefully, to be an attentive listener.”  It is a compound formed by joining the prefix ad “toward” and tendere “to stretch toward, to head for, to exert oneself, or to be inclined toward.”  These definitions reveal the very physical and tangible quality of the verb.  It signifies intention, attention, and being fully present to those we meet.  We might call it “leaning in” to someone’s words.

Over the past several years, I have been blessed to have students in my classes who are eager, curious, verbal, artistic, analytical, outgoing, reserved, creative, some who immerse themselves in details, others who look at the big picture.  All of them are able to learn.  All of them are able to grow intellectually and socially.  If they pay attention to each other, they—and I—discover classmates who can make what we are studying relevant to their peers.  In traveling to Greece, I had one student who is a potter and who looked at vases not just as beautiful objects, but as the products of creative artisans.  They wanted to understand how they were made, and they took special interest in the bottom of vases.  They were thrilled that the Heraklion Museum suspended various perfume jars so that everyone could actually see the bottom of these aryballoi and amphoriskoi.  As we walked through the museum, anyone in the class who was in earshot would gain special insights into making vases and their cultural significance.  Most importantly, the students in the class learned to ask new questions and were pushed to examine the ancient world through a new lens.

If I teach my students to listen attentively, they become not only better at noticing key details but more in touch with their humanity.  For example, in my Women in Antiquity course I ask students to complete a three-part project.  Step One, they choose a woman that they know who lived through an earlier era than their own, typically a grandmother, an aunt, or a friend who is sixty or older.  In pairs, they draft questions about one aspect of the interviewee’s life based on their presentation in class.  It could be education, the spiritual, relationships, women’s health, women’s role in the economy.  Step Two, they interview the woman, identify the most meaningful moments or quotations, and create a seven-minute podcast.  In the process, they compare their interview with their partner’s and notice the similarities, but even more importantly, the differences.  They recognize the diversity of lived experience and how it is connected to a person’s peculiar circumstances as they grew and matured.  Step Three, they write a letter back to the woman they interviewed and compare their experiences with those of women living during the archaic, classical, or Hellenistic age.  The project opens their eyes to a close relative, gives them an opportunity to have a deeply meaningful conversation, and offers them the experience of being an attentive, empathetic listener.

Besides students who bring diverse learning styles to their work, I have had students who are anxious, depressed, distracted, lacking confidence, lacking motivation, expecting perfection, or experiencing sensory overload.  I have students with learning challenges such as dyslexia.  I have had a student on the autistic spectrum who was sometimes too narrowly focused, who was not able to forgive his mistakes, who in frustration exploded in class, frequently at himself, but occasionally at another student.  And I have had a student who is blind.  These cases can be extremely challenging.  Most of us have never had any preparation for handling such cases.  Even if we have experienced one or more of these challenges, every case can be a little different.  Some students have documented accommodations, but some, especially in a language class, discover some of these conditions for the first time.  Frequently, I am not sure how much leeway to give them or how much structure to provide.  This is when I need to pay attention.  I need to give them opportunities to self-disclose, to share their own understanding of how a particular disability or condition affects their learning and their ability to complete assignments.

This term, I had a blind student in a civ course, Comedy: Greece and Rome to Hollywood.  Four requirements for the course were particularly challenging.  The first is the physical aspect and visual nature of performance.  How does one understand a mask or a costume, a set or a theater when the image can’t be seen.  So when students gave a presentation with images, I asked members of the class to describe the image in detail. This helped not only the student who could not see it, but everyone begin to notice the salient details.  Second, a key part of the course was to watch six classic Hollywood film comedies.  How would my student get the visual and physical humor in a Chaplin or Marx Brothers film?  How would he appreciate the scenes of high society in Mae West’s Goin’ to Town? It turned out that this problem was the easiest to solve since there are services, including Netflix, that provide “descriptives” of films specifically designed for those visually impaired.  The third challenge was to perform a scene for the rest of the class.  My student and his partner solved it by choosing the scene from Menander’s Dyskolos in which the cantankerous old man Knemon was incapacitated from falling down a well.  As he was rolled out on the ekkyklema, my student remained immobilized on the cart while the two slaves kept harassing him by knocking on his door and asking for pots.  The fourth challenge was the final project, a website analyzing a Hollywood film comedy and arguing how it exemplifies one of the ancient comic traditions.  So my student watched the movie with descriptives, analyzed the film through multiple lenses (plot, character, humor, gender, ethnicity, and social class), and in the end received help from someone in the Academic Technology Studio to find images and post his insights into WordPress.  The course worked well because we listened to each other attentively on a regular basis throughout the course and strategized how to solve each challenge as it came along.

Of course, not every student has enough self-awareness to express what help is needed.  Not every student is ready to disclose a learning disability or a mental health condition.  Yet it is up to me to gain each student’s trust and to provide opportunities inside and outside of class for me to listen with care.  It is so easy to walk into the classroom and stick to the lesson I had planned.  Yet the unplanned insights that come from my students often connect with others in the class if I can affirm their insights and give them room to maneuver and the opportunity to express their nascent ideas.  It is up to me to be an intentional listener, to be flexible, to let go of my lesson plan when a student has a new question or fresh insight, to listen to what my students are telling me and each other.  It is also up to me to give my students the chance to be listeners.  And it is also profoundly important that I keep learning from my students.  The key for all of us is not just to listen (audire), but to lean in and listen carefully—attendere.

Each article in this issue (10.1) of Teaching Classical Languages offers readers several ways to listen carefully.  In “Something Old, Something New: Marrying Early Modern Latin Pedagogy and Second Language Acquisition (SLA) Theory,” Alan van den Arend reminds us that if we listen to Renaissance pedagogues, we can recognize that many of the effective qualities of being a good teachers were already being discussed and implemented by Posselius, Erasmus, and Comenius.  In the seventh principle of “How Learning Works in the Greek and Latin Classroom,” Ted Gellar-Goad exhorts us to notice how student social identity should be honored through an open, inclusive, and welcoming classroom environment. In “Quid vultis discere? Crafting a Student-Guided Latin Literature Course,” Ian Hochberg provides an outstanding road map how to honor students’ curiosity and to challenge them to become co-collaborators within the classroom, giving them choices what texts to read and what projects to choose.  Finally, in “Teaching the Old and New Testaments to Students of Greek and Latin Simultaneously,” Jim Clauss asks readers to listen attentively to these two versions of the same text and to be mindful of the choices made in composing a text and interpreting it through translation.

This post was originally published as the “Letter from the Editor” in Teaching Classical Languages 10.1 (2018) iv-vii.

Perspectives on the revised Standards for Classical Language Learning

Perspectives on the revised Standards for Classical Language Learning

It may come as a surprise that the original Standards for Classical Language Learning (1997) has now been used by teachers for more than twenty years. I still remember when they were new and how transformative they were for Greek and Latin teachers. I was encouraged by them to try new approaches in the classroom and to consider ways to connect language learning to culture and across disciplines. And I confess, although my students have regularly staged a Latin play or a Roman banquet in intermediate Latin, I have never felt as if I have succeeded in reaching broader communities.

The newly revised set of Standards for Classical Language Learning has been “refreshed,” as Bart Natoli describes them, and some significant new components that were lacking in the first edition have been added. Perhaps the biggest change is the first Goal, Communication. Instead of considering listening, speaking, and writing in the service of learning to read, the revised Standards embrace three modes of communication—interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational—that remind us that communication is so much more than any one skill and that these modes intersect and overlap to create stronger and more proficient language learners. Second, the revised Standards provide teachers and learners more help in setting goals and recognizing how they are making progress toward these goals. The revised edition now includes sample performance indicators for different age groups and sample “Can-do” statements that help teachers and learners understand where they fall on the spectrum of proficiency. Third, the Communities Goal has been improved. In addition to saying that students will use their knowledge of classical languages and cultures both in school and in the wider world, the revised Standards emphasize the importance of self-reflection and life-long learning: “Learners set goals and reflect on their progress in using languages for enjoyment, enrichment, and advancement.”

As before, the Standards for Classical Language Learning has been adapted specifically for Latin and Greek based on the World Readiness Standards for Learning Languages. As before, the Standards are not a curriculum guide and do not prescribe what or how to teach. Rather, they provide broad goals for learners and teachers and “describe proficiency levels for students at the elementary, middle, secondary, and collegiate levels.” Most importantly, the revised Standards recognize that learners will progress at different rates and will achieve different levels of proficiency depending on different classroom emphases and methods. In short, the Standards can be used by all teachers and students no matter what approach they take in the classroom.

This issue of Teaching Classical Languages is a special issue devoted to the revised Standards for Classical Language Learning. It contains articles by members of the ACL-SCS Task Force (Gruber-Miller, Houghtalin, Natoli, and Ramsby) and by those who were not members (Ancona, Anderson, Hanford, Major, and White). This special issue features a range of perspectives from those who emphasize material culture (Houghtalin) and those who advocate for new audiences to utilize the Standards (Ancona and Major) to those who design curriculum (Anderson) and create assignments (Anderson, Gruber-Miller, and White). Finally, two perspectives consider the role of the Standards in preparing new teachers (Hanford and Ramsby).

Bart Natoli leads off the special issue, providing a comprehensive introduction to the Standards and setting them in their historical context. Next, John Gruber-Miller places the Standards within a broader educational context. He proposes that the Standards epitomize integrative learning—making connections, addressing authentic situations, recognizing multiple perspectives, and contextualizing issues. In the next two perspectives, Liane Houghtalin shows how material culture offers possibilities for linking language and culture (Goal 2: Cultures), and Willie Major shows how Greek is ideal for making Connections with other disciplines (Goal 3) and responding to student interest. Ronnie Ancona introduces the second half by arguing that the Standards are essential reading for all college classicists. Peter Anderson shows how backward planning and Understanding by Design® provide structural guidance for teachers using the Standards, and he suggests lesson plans for thinking about identity and friendship through the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius. Using a variety of medieval bestiaries, Cynthia White shows how the Standards can inform assignments that blend traditional sub-disciplines of classical studies, such as textual criticism, with new digital manuscript collections online. Finally, Timothy Hanford and Teresa Ramsby offer insights into how the Standards provide structure and guidance for future teachers of Latin as they launch their careers in the classroom. Collectively, these perspectives should offer new insights for those already familiar with the Standards or coming to them for the first time.

This post was originally published as the “Letter from the Editor” in Teaching Classical Languages 9.1 (2018) v-vii.

Creating engaged, empathetic students: Social Justice in the Latin and Greek Classroom

Creating engaged, empathetic students: Social Justice in the Latin and Greek Classroom

Martha Nussbaum in her book, Cultivating Humanity, argues that one of the tasks of the Humanities is the development of the distinctively human quality empathy.  The word empathy, of course, comes from the Greek ἐμπαθής -ές, “affected emotionally, moved,” most often by human suffering or misfortune.

We can learn from the biographer and moralist Plutarch what this word means in his Life of Alexander.  After defeating the Persian King Darius, Alexander the Great sees the king’s mother and wife and two unmarried daughters in captivity.  Plutarch comments that Alexander is “more affected by their own misfortunes than by his own success” (καὶ ταῖς ἐκείνων τύχαις μᾶλλον ἢ ταῖς ἑαυτοῦ ἐμπαθὴς γενόμενος, 21.1), Alexander reassures them that Darius is not dead and that they have no reason to fear what he may do to them.  Plutarch’s example reminds us that Alexander was tutored by the philosopher Aristotle and highlights the Greek general’s compassion and ethical integrity in this instance.

If we, the inheritors of the classical world, are doing our job and introducing stories that move our students, then we are opening their imagination to ponder possible human responses to difficult situations.  If we offer our students templates for virtuous action and negative models of behaviors to be avoided, then we are creating opportunities for our students to think about ethical issues and to imagine putting themselves in others’ shoes.   The key is for teachers is to start with the past and then move to the present, to guide our students to learn to notice situations in antiquity that call for empathy and then to compare these lessons to the present day.  By challenging our students to examine the ancient world through the lens of social justice, they will also be challenged to think about how they might see present inequities and injustices.

How do we help our students learn to reach out to those who are vulnerable or different or beset by suffering or injustice?  One way is by asking students to consider similar situations here and now.  In the process of learning about ancient examples of exploitation or powerlessness or violence, my hope is that students realize that what they are learning about antiquity shapes and informs our actions here and now.  By challenging our students to examine the ancient world through the lens of social justice, they will also be challenged to think about how they might see present inequities and injustices.

I have found that the definition of social justice articulated by Lee Anne Bell makes sense to me and my students.  She stresses that social justice is both a process and a goal.  As a process, we must “keep on keepin’ on,” continuing to make visible the slaves, women, and strangers who are so easy to ignore in our elite authored texts.  The vision she lays out emphasizes the safety and security—both physically and psychologically—of all people, an equitable distribution of resources, self-determination by every person, and the interdependence and reliance of each person in the community on each other.  This vision is the opposite of the rugged individualism of our present day and opposite the fear or despair that so many who are marginalized feel.

In a recent MLJ, Johanna Ennser-Kananen advocates for a “Pedagogy of pain” in teaching world languages  Yet my vision is one of both pain and love, noticing the pain expressed in ancient texts in the lives of slaves, the working poor, the prostitute, the refugee, and other marginalized people and calling it to the forefront rather than ignoring it.  It is a vision that recognizes the lack of agency that so many in the ancient world experienced and resolves to confront it and talk about it.  It is also a vision of love, treating with dignity those who are experiencing misfortune (then and now) and looking at the world through their eyes. This vision calls our students to shoulder a sense of social responsibility toward others in their community and in the larger world and to work with them as allies to find just and equitable solutions.

It is a truism, at least among the general public, that the ancient world is a world apart, a world with marvelous, fantastical stories that has no bearing on the present day.  And if one reads the ancient world exclusively through the eyes of the elite authored texts that have come down to us, it is easy to see world through the lens of the ruling classes, to naturalize the hierarchical world that the Greeks and Romans developed and to miss the plight of non-elites.  It takes effort to read against the grain and to look for evidence for the lives of the working poor, the enslaved, the day laborer, and the refugee.  Yet, the world of Greco-Roman antiquity also offers certain advantages for helping students recognize the dark sides of human interaction.  The temporal, spatial, and cultural distance between the ancient world and the present day makes it easier for students to explore a highly charged topic from a more dispassionate perspective before making a connection to a contemporary analogue.

Slavery in the ancient world is one place where it is possible to open up difficult conversations about slavery, human trafficking, and systemic injustice in our world today.  Without the production of slaves powering agriculture and commercial establishments, the everyday activities of Greek and Roman households, not to mention the ancient economy, would not have not have been possible.  Similarly, there are multiple Latin texts that explore the plight of refugees and those fleeing in exile.  Caesar’s Gallic Wars, Vergil’s Aeneid, and Cicero’s Letters, especially ad Atticum, Book 3, ad Quintum 1.3-4, and ad Familiares 14.2-4.  Another place to witness the cultural and linguistic heterogeneity of the Roman world can be found in Pompeii and other multi-ethnic cities.  The varieties of Latin manifest at Pompeii and the bilingual inscriptions across the Mediterranean attest to the varieties of Latin or Greek spoken by different ethnic populations, much like the world Englishes spoken around the world spoken by colonized peoples as well as indigenous communities (World Englishes on TED).  For more ideas, see Glynn, Wesely, and Wassell.

While some of these examples align with more advanced classes, how do we bring questions of social justice to the foreground in a language class, including beginning classes?  It starts with posing an essential question that shapes a unit and motivates curiosity among students.  For example, instead of a unit on Roman food, a unit that describes the general types of foods eaten in the Roman world, the essential question might be “How do diet and dining practices reveal Roman social structures?”  Such a question leads not just to what was eaten, but also by whom and under what circumstances.  Similarly, in a unit on Roman education, the essential question posed might be “How does the Roman education reveal a rigid class structure within Roman society and a lack of upward mobility?”

After posing an essential question, the next step is to narrow the focus of the unit to specific language tasks and concrete cultural products and practices.  For example, beginning students might well be able to notice class based differences in diet by comparing in Latin one or two recipes for the simple, traditional foods that Cato the Elder highlights in the De Agricultura with one or two by Apicius intended for the upper classes.  They could talk about which ingredients are available to farmers, to working city-dwellers, and to Roman elites (see Giacosa or Dalby and Grainger).  In a unit on Roman education, students might read a simple dialogue about getting ready for the day or coming home for lunch.  In both dialogues, the boy (note the masculine bias) addresses a slave, thereby reinforcing the social hierarchy (Dickey 12-13, 26-27).

Finally, the third stage in creating a social justice unit is to link what students learned about the ancient world with ongoing issues of inequality in the modern world.   For example, after comparing the availability and price of ingredients for the two dishes, one could also ask who prepares this food and where.  How are those who prepare the food at home or in bars treated?  In the ancient world, there might be male or female slaves who prepare meals, but they are typically slaves in elite households (see Green).  How does gender inform who prepares food at home in today’s world?  What sort of treatment and pay do foodworkers receive in restaurants today (e.g., Chen)?  Likewise, after exploring the limited literacy of Roman children and the preponderance of the apprenticeship model among Romans, it is a short step to ask students whether the lack of mobility seen in Roman society is paralleled in the United States.

In sum, applying a social justice lens to the ancient world teaches students what questions to pose and how to recognize social hierarchies and patterns of inequity.  By comparing the ancient world with the 21st century, students sharpen their critical thinking skills and enhance their ability to see similar patterns from one time period to another.  In making explicit the connections between the world of ancient Rome and the present day, students perceive the relevance of the ancient world to our own and are motivated to learn more.  Finally, if given the opportunity to respond to an essential question, they learn to be purposeful and to develop a sense of responsibility for those who are marginalized.  In short, they learn to become empathetic and caring citizens of the world.

This post was originally published as the “Letter from the Editor” in Teaching Classical Languages 8.2 (2017) iv-viii.

Works Cited

Bell, Lee Anne. “What is Social Justice?” Readings for Diversity and Social Justice. 3rd ed. Ed. M. Adams et al. Routledge 2013. 21-26.

Chen, Michelle. “Nearly 1 in 3 Restaurant Workers Suffers from Food Insecurity,” The Nation. 30 July 2014.

Dalby, Andrew, and Sally Grainger. The Classical Cookbook. Oxford 1996.

Dickey, Eleanor. Learning Latin the Ancient Way. Cambridge 2016.

Ennser-Kananen, Johanna. “A Pedagogy of Pain: New Directions for World Language Education.” The Modern Language Journal 100.2 (2016) 556-64.

Giacosa, Ilaria Gozzini. A Taste of Ancient Rome. Trans. A. Herklotz. Chicago 1992.

Glynn, Cassandra, Pamela Wesely, and Beth Wassell. Words and Actions: Teaching Languages through the lens of Social Justice.  ACTFL 2014.

Green, Mira. “Cooking Class.” Public and Private in the Roman House and Society. Ed. K. Tuori and L. Nissin. Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplement 102 (2015) 133-47.

Nussbaum, Martha. Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education. Harvard 1997.


The Seal of Biliteracy

The Seal of Biliteracy

It is easy to think that learning vocabulary, grammar, and syntax and exploring Greek and Roman culture are the essential ingredients for learning Latin and Greek. Yet motivation is a key ingredient in the recipe, too. How do we encourage our students to continue studying Latin or Greek? How do we motivate them to reach higher levels of proficiency and reward them for their success? One possible solution is to offer your students the possibility of being awarded a state-endorsed “Seal of Biliteracy.”

So what is a Seal of Biliteracy? The Seal of Biliteracy certifies that a student has attained a certain level of proficiency in both English and another world language, including Latin and Greek. The recognition becomes a part of a  student’s high school transcript and diploma. “It is a statement of accomplishment that helps signal evidence of a student’s readiness for career and college, and for engagement as a global citizen” (ACTFL Guidelines for Implementing a Seal of Biliteracy). Bottom line, it is a way to encourage students to continue studying Latin and Greek, and help them to be open to diverse cultural behaviors and values.

ACTFL recommends that students achieve Intermediate Mid proficiency as a minimum, but that level of performance can be measured in many different ways. This document makes clear that not all languages should be assessed in the same way. To help states understand what are appropriate measures, the National Committee for Latin and Greek has drawn up some suggestions. For classicists, measuring success in Latin can be done through a variety of instruments: ALIRA (ACTFL Latin Interpretive Reading Exam), AP Latin, IB Latin, National Latin Exam, National Greek Exam, SAT Subject Tests. Besides these national exams, state and local assessments can be developed that meet the approval of a state department of education or school district. Most importantly, the NCLG Guidelines recommend that states recognize but do not require students to demonstrate productive use of Greek or Latin in either oral or written mode.

When I first looked into the Seal of Biliteracy a year ago, I was concerned that as classicists and Latin teachers we should recommend a specific score on various exams to indicate the Intermediate Mid level of proficiency. But what I have come to realize is that such a list does not do justice to all the ways that students can demonstrate their proficiency. Some students will have achieved it in reading while others may demonstrate it through analysis and interpretation of a text, while still others through integrated performance assessments or presentations or portfolios.
The possibilities are quite varied. What is important is for students (and parents) to recognize the value of learning a classical or modern language, achieving some measure of intercultural competence, and be motivated to continue that pursuit.

Momentum is building quickly. The NCLG recommendations for implementing the Seal of Biliteracy have been endorsed by CAMWS, JCCAE, and regional and state classical organizations. In just the past few years, more than twenty five states have endorsed the Seal of Biliteracy and many more state legislatures and school districts are considering legislation to implement the Seal. You can advocate for the Seal in your school district or state. To see if your state has approved the Seal of Biliteracy, visit the Seal of Biliteracy website. To learn more about the Seal
of Biliteracy, consult the ACTFL Guidelines for the Seal of Biliteracy to see how you can motivate your  Latin and Greek students to reach higher levels of success. Semper ad meliora!

This post was originally published as the “Letter from the Editor” in Teaching Classical Languages 8.1 (2018) iv-v.

Four Principles of Effective Language Teaching

Four Principles of Effective Language Teaching

Picture these typical language classroom scenarios:  Students are laughing at a story they just heard.  They are quietly sitting at their desks filling out a worksheet.  Students are paired up doing a mutual dictation.  They are busily answering questions aloud about a story they just read.  Students are asking each other about what they did last night?  How would you determine that these activities are effective?  What are some ways you could determine if student learning had been maximized?

In “Stack the Deck in favor of your Students by Using the Four Aces of Effective Learning,” the authors Bulger, Mohr, and Walls—none of them language teachers—point to four principles that teachers can adopt to enhance student learning: outcomes, clarity, engagement, and enthusiasm.  So how might these four principles be enacted in a language classroom, from beginning to advanced?

Outcomes is one of those words that educators like to use a lot, but what does the term really mean? One way to explain the term is to say that an outcome is what I want my students to be capable of doing at a certain stage of learning.  ACTFL and the new World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages (and soon the revised Standards for Classical Language Learning) specifically include “Can-Do” Statements for each level of language proficiency.  For example, students at the Novice High level can “write about a familiar experience or event using practiced material.”   But these outcomes are much broader than what students might be able to do by the end of a class session or the end of a unit.

For a lesson to be effective, we need to set smaller goals and then articulate them to the students.  For example, “at the end of the unit, students will be able to describe a visit to a Roman bathhouse.”  In preparing students for that writing assignment, they will have studied a plan of a Roman bath, seen pictures of Roman baths and their decorations, learned about Roman bathing culture, reviewed prepositions of coming and going, worked with verbs that describe typical actions at a bath (entering and exiting rooms, exercising, sitting, sweating, conversing, etc.), and practiced related expressions in a number of ways.  In outlining such a unit, it would be useful for students to see and hear what steps they will be taking to reach that goal, what they “can do,” and understand how language, culture, architecture, time and space intersect in describing a visit to the baths.

Clarity is a term that we may connect with writing rather than language teaching, but it has everything to do with a successful learning experience for your students.  It is correct, but perhaps too easy, to define clarity as a good explanation of a new grammatical concept or reading strategy.  But a single explanation might not be enough for students to fully grasp the new concept.  Clarity means offering students multiple avenues for understanding how a new sound or strategy or concept works in a communicative context.  For example, when introducing new sounds in the language, Hill, Crown, and Leach argue in “Latin at the Middle School Level” that it makes sense to see the building blocks that compose a word, for learners to focus on individual phonemes before progressing to how the sounds come together to form a word.

Clarity also means providing a framework or scaffold on which to hang the new idea.  Such a scaffold helps language learners organize this new knowledge and remember it.  This is what Jacqui Carlon in “Quomodo Dicitur: The Importance of Memory in Language Learning” means by “contextualized word knowledge,” knowing what collocations or other words are frequently found with them.  In short, clarity means breaking down a concept into its parts, connecting a new concept to a known framework, and building up the meaning through many different activities.

Engagement in learning is a lot like being engaged to get married.  The two lovebirds share their ideas, work together on common tasks, enjoy spending time together, and sometimes struggle to reach consensus.  In the classroom, Latin students learn best by doing, by testing hypotheses, by applying their knowledge to new situations.  Learning is a two way experience.  The teacher sets up opportunities to introduce new concepts to students and provides meaningful tasks that involve communication, not just rote practice.  The students respond by using the language productively, communicating ideas, exploring relationships, and solving problems.  Engagement is what Jacqui Carlon means when she argues that “active involvement is vastly more effective in fostering long-term [vocabulary] retention than passive reception.”  In learning vocabulary, this means recycling vocabulary in all four modes (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) and elaborating word knowledge through the study of derivatives, semantic mapping, synonyms and antonyms, and collocations.  Engagement, moreover, is what David Oosterhuis in “Veni, Vidi, Vicapaedia: Using the Latin Wikipedia in an Advanced Latin Classroom” asked of his students when they were expected to compose Latin that could be understood by a larger community of readers on Vicapaedia.

Finally, enthusiasm is often overlooked as a key for deep learning. Teachers who have taught a particular grammatical point or reading passage a dozen times or more or who may be struggling with extra-classroom challenges might see their enthusiasm flag when they get to teach their least favorite text or difficult grammar point yet again.  One way to maintain enthusiasm is what Dave Oosterhuis did when he designed a new assignment, one that would challenge him and his students to learn a new digital resource and to communicate with a broader Latin reading community.  Another is to push oneself to try to use more Latin in the classroom with one’s students, perhaps describing a picture in Latin or retelling a familiar passage from a new point of view or translating a beloved children’s story into Latin.  Enthusiasm is contagious, and the confidence and sense of playfulness that a teacher models translates into increased student motivation and learning.

So to return to the beginning of this essay.  If you are observing a colleague’s classroom or your own, how can you tell if the four principles of effective learning are in fact happening?  If the students are laughing because they are grasping the meaning, if the students filling out a worksheet are preparing to follow up and do a more communicative activity, if the students doing the mutual dictation or answering questions about a passage are truly listening to each other and paying attention to the meaning of the text, if the students asking and answering questions about what they did last night are doing it in Latin, then they understand the learning outcomes and realizing what they “Can Do,” they are gaining clarity and connecting new ideas to familiar ones through scaffolding, they are engaged and involved in meaningful communication, and they are developing a sense of confidence as language learners.

This post was originally published as the “Letter from the Editor” in Teaching Classical Languages 7.2 (2016) iv-vii.

Bulger, Sean M., Derek J. Mohr, and Richard T. Walls. “Stack the Deck in favor of your Students by Using the Four Aces of Effective Learning.”  Journal of Effective Teaching 5.2 (2002). Web. <http://www.uncw.edu/jet/articles/bulger/>.

Making the Leap: Developing Communicative and Cultural Activities for Petronius’ Satyrica

Making the Leap: Developing Communicative and Cultural Activities for Petronius’ Satyrica

Making the transition from beginning to intermediate Latin need not be a leap, but can be a series of smaller steps designed to prepare students for reading authentic authors. This presentation will show the process how to design activities that integrate communication and culture, that simplify the text, and that also help prepare students to learn key vocabulary and cultural background so that they can read a Latin writer like Petronius. Topics include baths, housing, food, banquets, dinner conversation, games, funerals and commemoration, each illustrated by activities and projects tested in class by the presenter.

Petronius Presentation

LAT 205 Syllabus: Petronius

Pre-reading Activities

Trip to the Baths (Ch 1)

Vocabulary for game-playing (Bob Patrick)

Regulae Trigonis (Bob Patrick)

Inside the Roman House (Ch. 2)

Quomodo vides (Chs 2-3)

In Sickness and in Health (Ch. 5)

Funus et pompa (Ch. 8)

Post-reading Activities

Meeting the Familia (Ch 1)

Terms of Endearment (Ch. 7)

Quis sum? (Chs. 7-8)


Condimenta, frumentum, legumina

Poma et holera

Caro et aves et victus maritimus


The Mentoring Continuum

The Mentoring Continuum

Perhaps one of the most overlooked areas of teacher training is mentoring.  When I think of the people who made a difference in my pedagogical training, I think first of my dissertation advisor who took the time not only to guide me in my research and ask hard questions, but also to visit my classes on multiple occasions and write up a full page of notes to help me improve.  I think of my colleague in French who motivated me to become more sensitive to women’s studies and feminist approaches.  I think of my high school Latin teacher who showed me that Latin could be both intellectually challenging and fun.  I think of my colleagues at Cornell College who are as likely to talk with me about teaching, assignments, and students as they are about governance or committee work or life at home.

Yet when I think of mentoring, I also think of the many part-time visiting professors who have taught at my institution.  I have learned from so many of them.  While some are eager to have a conversation with me in my office, over lunch, or walking down the ped mall, others have been reluctant to engage in that exchange.  Perhaps they are too busy.  Perhaps they think that how we teach is less important than research in other areas of the ancient world.  Perhaps they are afraid of showing a lack of knowledge or skill. Or perhaps they feel like they are successful at what they do, so why change or expand their repertoire of pedagogical activities or approaches.

Just last week, as I was updating our department webpage, I stumbled upon a list of all the students  my colleague and I have sponsored for our annual Student Symposium.  The Symposium is an amazing day every spring when the college celebrates the academic accomplishments of our students who present their research as an oral presentation or as a poster.  Some have developed or expanded a paper from a class.  Others have condensed their thesis into a fifteen minute talk.  What I most noticed as I went through the list was how much I remembered that experience with each student, probing, asking questions, brainstorming ideas, thinking about how to reorganize and express the ideas for a general audience.  It was a series of moments that prodded them to see themselves as capable and professional adults.  It was those moments of collaboration and trust that deepened our relationship.  As a result, I consider each and every one of them not just a student, but also a friend.

This issue of Teaching Classical Languages features a special section, “Perspectives on Mentoring Latin Teachers.”  It contains personal essays from Latin teachers who are just beginning to those with many years of experience.  It contains much wisdom about how we can both mentor and be mentored.  The mentoring described can take place in a busy congregate faculty lounge or in a beginning Latin classroom or in a methods course.  It can take place seemingly casually or quite intentionally.  Significantly, in every case it involves two people who want to grow in their pedagogical exploration and are willing to confess their lack of knowledge or their desire for more.  And although the authors of these essays do not explicitly mention it, these meetings evolve into relationships that strengthen our common intellectual enterprise and that blossom into genuine, and often intergenerational, friendships.  I hope that these perspectives on mentoring will awaken the desire for you to become more involved and more intentional in mentoring your colleagues and students.

This post was originally published as the “Letter from the Editor” in Teaching Classical Languages 7.1 (2015) iv-v.