A Year in F7 – Weeks 19-20

This is where my plan of making public my lesson plans falls apart a bit.

This is not a lesson.  It is a confession.

My son was born in late December, and during these two weeks I was out on paternity leave. I had grand plans for comprehension-based, communicative, creative assignments. In the final weeks of preparing for a new addition to the family, however, providing compelling input-centered activities faded into the background.

And I caved.  Big time.

So, for the first time in three years, my students in Latin I got a taste of old school, traditional Latin.

I brushed the cobwebs off my classroom sets of textbooks, long exiled in a corner cabinet.

My students read about Caecilius and his family in Pompeii (Cambridge Latin Course) and the “adventures” of the Cornelius family in Ecce Romani (adventures such as reading a book under a tree and knocking a statue into a pond). The students translated and completed a few of the exercises.

Some observations:

(1) While saying that the students enjoyed these assignments may be an exaggeration, the feedback I received was that they were “okay” and “not too difficult.” Most people self-reported that they finished in 10-15, maybe 25-30 for longer assignments.  The longer assignments were translating three Cambridge stories.  Most of their translations were fairly close to the Latin, and the most common errors were typically places where the context in the textbook is ambiguous (some of those Ecce Romani stories were written, I suspect, to be purposely ambiguous or difficult to follow without close reading).   Overall the students had enough Latin in their head to interpret the stories (given the vocabulary on the page).

This is remarkable to me, because I remember at the beginning of second semester, some students were such hopelessly bad translators that they could barely interpret two or three words together without a dictionary and help from the teacher or their neighbor.  Even the exercises (which mostly consisted of filling in the missing word or ending yielded fascinating results.

Many responses were correct, despite the fact that my students have had very little to no formal grammar training (for instance, they don’t know the terms “nominative” and “accusative” and have never conjugated or declined a noun.  Yet the exercises showed that they had developed some natural instincts and using what they read in the story (in addition to the examples in the book), most were able to mostly figure what to put in the blanks or which word to circle.  Again, I never had that type of success when my focus was on grammar and not communication—especially considering that the teacher was not there to provide help, and that the substitute was fairly strict about students working alone and in silence.

(2) As other teachers who use a CI-based /communicative model can attest, coming back after a break was no big deal.  There was no lengthy review, no large dip in student performance or comprehension.  When I returned after the break and two weeks of textbook-based translation work, we just picked up where we left off.  The language that the students had acquired was there in their heads when they needed it.

(3) The textbooks did no damage, I am happy to report.  Nor did they seem to do much good by way of language acquisition. A few students used some names and vocabulary from the stories in their timed write that followed two week after the textbook assignments.  A few weeks after that, however, not much seems to have entered the students implicit system—at least nothing that has manifested itself in their conversation or writing.

(4) I lost of couple weeks, but in the end, it was okay.  It’s about giving the students what they need everyday (comprehensible messages and interactions in the TL), not about dragging them across an arbitrary finish-line denoting where the students “should be.”


One thought on “A Year in F7 – Weeks 19-20

  1. Very glad to hear this. I started the year by having heart surgery after meeting the students for two weeks. I came back to a hodge-podge of knowledge (a sub without Latin knowledge “teaching” a grammar-translation based set of lessons from another teacher). No, worries, I just jumped into a bunch of CI-inspired activities and the students caught on rapidly.

    Now, I’m planning to be out again for a second major surgery. I’m compiling some low-prep activities with resources, not nearly enough, but it’s something, just hoping the sub will be able to wing-it enough to give the students a fighting chance before their end of year assessment (yes, we have that…).

    I’m just glad to hear your students didn’t lose much in the time you were off.

    Congrats on being a dad!


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