Meis Oculis

Looking at my bibliography, I am a bit disappointed (or am I excited?) that I have not found one article yet that lists the issues of today’s Latin 101 class as I see them. Pace, parsing, and practice have come to the surface as the three biggest issues I think I will be looking for as I continue my in-class observations. At this very moment, the 30 or so students of the 2pm MTWF Latin 101 class are taking their first hour test. I have made it a habit to take their quizzes and tests with them, and what took me 9 minutes is causing many others quite a bit of stress (I know the signs). But it’s good stress, the same I remember experiencing just his morning as I struggled to remember some plural forms on my German 101 chapter test. Their minds are working. They are seeing the paradigms in their minds and spitting them onto paper. Soon, I will be able to see how the class did all together on this assessment, in a confidential manner of course. But I am interested to see how they preform on paper, having seen with my own eyes (now the title makes sense) their progress up to this point. The pace is a bit fast for most (it is a college language course, but Latin does have a lot of grammar that has to be nailed down day one), parsing still comes mechanically, and everyone can benefit from more practice. The class has been wonderful, though, about letting me creepily watch them, jot down the questions they ask, and of course ask them relentless Latin related questions.

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Inter-Library Loan and Latin: 2 Things I Love

Right now, I am enjoying “Latin for the 21st Century”, a collection of articles about teaching Latin at all levels in this new century. Swem didn’t have a copy, so I used Inter-Library Loan and they were able to get me a copy from South Carolina. Unfortunately, you can’t renew such books so I only have a limited time to extract everything I need from it.  And there is a lot. Although I am only focusing on Latin at the college level, there are several articles about movements in elementary, middle, and high school. The 1960s and 70s were dark times for Latin, but since then it has been on the rise in what some call “the Great Counter-Offensive” (I am unimpressed by this name). This renaissance had roots in the grade school and middle school classrooms. Even today, articles about Latin making a comeback detail some 7th grade class dressed in togas. I don’t know how I feel about that, because that’s not “Latin” as much as an appreciation for the Classical World. Kids in togas are cute. But if the article began with an AP class working through “nuggets” of Horace, I would think the average reader would say to himself “I wonder if they ever wear togas to class. Let me check out the Business section now.” Latin language and Latin culture are distinct. One has never been in trouble. Anyway, the book is a big break-through because most of what I have is on early 1900s stuff when I need a century later.

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Reading v Translation

It’s hard to move forward if you don’t know in which direction forward is.

Latin teachers and professors of the last hundred years have had divided opinions over the ultimate goal of their students. Some think that students should be able to quickly and smoothly translate at the end of two years. Others think that reading should be the final receipt. Reading and translation may seem like the same  end, but in world of Classical languages they are oceans apart. The ability read Latin involves mastering the language in a way that a student can read a hundred lines at a speed comparable to a French V student reading Les Miserables. Working out a sentence one word at a time, one grammatical structure at a time, is not reading, it’s translating. Understanding is the defining characteristic of reading. A student can read a Latin sentence, and understand the ideas it is trying to express, without knowing all the vocabulary. How many times, when you read, do you mentally skip over vocabulary you don’t know, but are able to continue right on reading and understanding the full meaning of the sentence? Students in Latin 101 know what it is the have to translate those short “sententiae antiquae” from Wheelock and other textbooks which use real snippets of Latin prose from the beginning. The bits chosen may have easier vocabulary and simple constructions, but many times you end up going “huh?” after translating. It’s hard to understand the meaning in these sentences when they stand along, and you approach them one word at a time.

Not much has changed in a hundred years or so

Most of the articles and reports I have been wading through in my attempt to track changes in how Latin has been taught (in order to discover what’s the dominate style now and how long it has been so) are from the decades around the 1900s. However, not only are many of the very entertaining to read, but it’s very hard to even tell from reading them that they argue a reform in Latin pedagogy from a time when nearly all of the incoming freshmen class to a college would have some Latin under their belts. The authors complain about all the same problems we could find today–few students continue Latin in college, fewer after the second year. The main argument seems to be about the final goal of college Latin: the ability to read Latin or to translate Latin (yes, there is a different, I am detailing what it is at the moment).

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Thinking ahead while in Rome

So, I’m currently at the heart of it all, Rome. Although I’m plenty busy with journal entries, site tours, and eating fantastic food, I’ve been thinking about my honors project and what my summer goals will be. I’m trying to figure out the best way to quantify some of the information I will be gathering from the students, specially their primary major and previous experience with other romance languages. What if the combination of being a math major and having taken four years of Italian is the perfect background to excel in Latin? I say math major because it seems to me off the top to be the best with dealing with systematic languages, but maybe science majors would do better? I don’t know, that’s really a secondary thing because primarily I am working towards helping all students smoothly get through the first year material. Here’s some of my goals for the end of the summer. [Read more…]