Sunday, December 20, 2009

"My Latin Teacher is a Scrooge!"

The last day of school before Winter Break was Friday, December 18. At the beginning of the last block of the day, I had a student, with contempt in her voice, ask very loudly, "How come we're the only foreign language class not watching a movie?" To be honest, the idea of a movie had not even entered my mind.

My plans for the class included a review and quiz on the comparison of adjectives, practice with participles, and then a group-effort translation on a neat story involving a werewolf. Werewolves are the "in" beastie right now!

I do know for a fact that a couple of my colleagues were showing a Christmas-themed movie in the target language as an "extended listening exercise." They have that option and that resource. Good for them.

My thoughts were to bring closure to the regular comparison of adjectives and continue to recognize and translate participles in context. The translation of the story was a timely and interesting exercise and provided us with the opportunity to see both comparative and superlative adjectives and participles in context.

I had a plan and I carried it out. In my mind, the students had made an effort to be in school and come to class (the entire class was present!), and I wanted to make their time worthwhile. Oh yeah, my assignment over break was to place the textbook and the notebook in the locker and to enjoy the vacation. After all, it's a break, right?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

VJCL Storms Richmond

Over 1,300 students, teachers, and chaperones took possession of the Greater Richmond Convention Center on November 22-23, 2009. By all accounts, the 56th annual Virginia Junior Classical League convention was a rousing success! So much Latin energy packed into one room!

Saxum Volvens: Keeping Up the Momentum

We return to school tomorrow after a five days away; before that we had only a two-day week. Needless to say, the students will not be their sharpest when they come into the classroom. What to do?

Keeping up momentum in the classroom is very important, if the teacher wishes to keep the students learning and the material flowing along. The best way to push that stone on which moss is beginning to grow is the catch their attention with something interesting and then ease into a review of the last subject covered. Then slip something new and tie the two together.

My plan? I found a couple interesting clips from YouTube/eClassics... we'll start there.

As a general rule, I do not give homework over breaks from school. I know from experience as a teacher and a parent that many other teachers don't feel this way and a five-day break from school is the perfect time to assign essays and reading and worksheets and... Guess what, most of it doesn't even make it out of the backpack until the evening before the big return. What kind of quality work does that promote? At that point, the notion of learning anything is gone and the need to complete the letter, but not the intent, of the assignments take center stage.

This time of year does create issues with momentum. Fall Break, i.e., Thanksgiving, is over and Winter Break, viz. Christmas and the Holidays, will soon be upon us. There will be many a distraction in the next three weeks, then a two-week break, then wintry weather, then exams, then wintry weather... I wonder if Sisyphus is looking for a replacement soon?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

What's Going on in the Middle?

We came across this line in our AP Vergil class recently:

Quos inter medius venit furor (I.348)

and I finally took the time to really notice what is going on in this sentence. I had always assumed that Quos inter was an example of anastrophe until I realized that inter medius venit could be a good example for tmesis and Quos was simply being used as a connective relative pronoun. At first I thought Vergil was being clever by placing medius in the middle until I moved further back and realized that inter medius venit furor would make a nice synchesis (of sorts), a figure of speech used often in the Aeneid.

My thoughts were not confirmed, though, when I conducted a search on Google for this sentence. There was no discussion (I could find) on anastrophe or such. Indeed, my thoughts were clouded when I realized that other texts read medios instead of medius. Suddenly that emendation makes this line less worthy of comment.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Missing the Mark

The first marking period has now come and gone. Report cards have been distributed, and students' abilities, interests, and efforts are now coming into focus for many parents. For those students who are new to high school, the sorting now begins.

I have some of the best averages ever for students in Latin I and Latin II. Their scores are solid and the results of their preparation is obvious. I even have one student whose work is practically impeccable. I didn't realize it until today, but she has scored a 100 (or better) on every single assignment. Wow! She makes me proud.

What is disturbing, though, are those students who receive a printout of their grades and they are surprised or upset that their averages are so low. When questioned as to why they received a 21 on the test or a 45 on the quiz, they readily admit that they did not study. More than once. Often. They don't write down their assignments. They don't take their books home. They don't study for their quizzes. They don't prepare their translations. Why, then, do they think that they should receive a higher grade? In what class are they receiving good grades for next to no effort?

After every marking period, I announce to my students, "If you're happy with your grade, keep on doing what you're doing. If you're not happy with your grade, you need to make some adjustments." Sometimes there are adjustments, and sometimes they continue to be shocked.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Aeneas Meets a Girl in the Woods

Aeneas and his surviving crew are shipwrecked somewhere in northern Africa. He and his right-hand man Achates set off to take a look around and see if they can find civilization or any other survivors. While stomping off through the woods, Aeneas comes across his mama in disguise.

Cui mater media sese tulit obvia silva
virginis os habitumque gerens, et virginis arma
Spartanae, vel qualis equos Threissa fatigat
Harpalyce, volucremque fuga praevertitur Hebrum.
Namque umeris de more habilem suspenderat arcum
venatrix, dederatque comam diffundere ventis,
nuda genu, nodoque sinus collecta fluentes.

Not knowing who this babe-in-the-woods is, Aeneas responds to her greeting,

"Nulla tuarum audita mihi neque visa sororum --
O quam te memorem, virgo? Namque haud tibi vultus
mortalis, nec vox hominem sonat: O, dea certe --
an Phoebi soror? An nympharum sanguinis una?"

One of the first reactions of my students concerning this exchange is that Aeneas has some pretty lame pick-up lines! Their feelings are that Mother Venus has been described in some fairly alluring terms and that Aeneas is trying (unwittingly) to hit on his mother!

Is this Vergil's intention? Hmm... let's take a look. He describes Venus incognita as virginis os habitumque gerens (l. 315). He intends her to be a maiden and reinforces this notion later when Aeneas repeats the word in line 328. The focus is on her mouth (os, line 315) as a primary description by synecdoche. He continues a physical description with her shoulder (umeris, line 318), her hair blowing in the wind (comam diffundere ventis, line 318), and (gasp!) her leg exposed all the way up to the knee (nuda genu, line 320). Why would Vergil give such emphasis to her physical description, if he didn't wanted to paint this image of an attractive maiden bounding through the woods? She is Venus, after all, and deserves a description such as this. If we read this description as an intentional effort at allurement, this makes Aeneas words all the more provocative. He starts off by asking her with a plea (O, line 328) how he is to remember this encounter (quam te memorem, line 328), and he caps it off with the vocative virgo (line 328). Aeneas obviously is not aware that this is his mother, but he makes the assumption that she, based on her looks, is a maiden, not a puella, not a femina, not a mulier nor matrona. He then comments on her heavenly face (haud tibi vultus/ mortalis, lines 328-329) and her divine voice (nec vox hominem sonat, line 329). Again, why the emphasis on the physical? Finally, the weak pick-up line, O, dea certe (line 329). At least that's what my students think!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Translating Cicero in Word Order

I have encouraged my students this year to read and translate their Latin passages in the order in which they appear, left to right. We have endured the "Yoda-speak" and seem to be making progress. After we translate in the word order, we do, of course, go back and "English it up."

In his First Oration Against Catiline, Cicero writes in chapter 11:
Tune eum quem esse hostem comperisti, quem ducem belli futurum vides, quem expectari imperatorem in castris hostium sentis, auctorem sceleris, principem coniurationis, evocatorem servorum et civium perditorum, exire patiere, ut abs te non emissus ex urbe, sed immisus in urbem esse videatur?
When we approach this from the beginning and move from left to write, we end up saying, with appropriate inflection of our voice in English,
"Do you [something] him whom you have discovered to be an enemy, whom you[etc.], whom you [etc.], whom you know to be an author of crime, a chief of conspiracy, an inciter of slaves and of evil citizens, to leave you will allow..."
The advantages of this technique allows the student to know immediately that the speaker of the passage (in this case, the personified Republic) is asking a question of Cicero about Catiline (Tune eum). Then there are three full relative clauses and then three more relative clauses abbreviated by ellipsis, and then an infinitive and (finally!) the main verb. If a student were to hunt and peck through this sentence, she would be hopelessly lost. Indeed, after the first reading in Latin, the relative clauses would be easily identified and mentally bracketed, then leading to a easier discovery of exire patiere to complete the main sentence. The students do need, of course, a prompt that patiere is really a patieris. The student then passes to the rest of the sentence, a subordinate clause, happliy marked by the ut.


All Hallow's Eve has come and gone, and here I sit in the early morning. The time will fall back soon, so I will get an extra hour of sleep in there anyway. I have my playlist from iTunes running in the background (the latest album from Steve Perry) and I have been searching the various blogs related to classics, teaching, and other such things. I then remembered I had a blog...

My last post heralded my decision to teach Cicero's First Oration Against Catiline this year and I do not regret the decision. Reading, translating, and understanding Cicero requires much from a Latin student, and he has certainly provided that. Most students have responded well, and we are slogging our way through. I have had to jump through portions of the text, though, in order to keep it interesting and moving along. I have plans to stick with my tribute to Latin prose and teach some letters from Pliny the Younger next. He's always fun.

The class reading Cicero is moving quite slowly, though, because it is combined with AP Vergil... yeah, that's right, I'm teaching Cicero and Vergil in the same classroom at (roughly) the same time. Things are working fairly well, but this is, by no means, the best way to do things. My Vergil students are moving slowly, too, but the other alternative was for me to not teach them at all.

The way my class works is that it meets on the block during which the lunch shifts operate. I give my full attention to my Cicero students for the first half-hour while my Vergil students eat lunch. During the next hour both sets of students work on reviewing particular points of Latin grammar or syntax, sight translating, or similar cooperative work. When the Cicero students go to lunch, I teach the Vergil students for half an hour. Yeah, that means I don't eat lunch, but that is survivable.

My frustration is increasing lately because I am realizing that I cannot teach what I want to teach in the way I want to teach it because of my workload. I have five preparations spread through six classes which meet every other day. I am barely keeping my head above water and, occasionally, I do go under and claw my way back to the surface gasping and sputtering. I've always called this my grand juggling act -- I can almost keep all the balls in the air but don't expect me to do anything fancy with them. Sometimes I drop the some of the balls, but I pick them up and keep tossing.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Vetus Novus Homo

"Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra?" It has been quite some time since these words have been heard aloud in my classroom. I have to admit that I have not taught Cicero since way back in the mid-90's. When the Advanced Placement bandwagon ran roughshod over our school system's curriculum over a decade ago, the emphasis in Latin turned away from the authors of Latin prose and grounded itself solidly in poetry. Since that time we have usually finished the Latin II textbook in the first quarter or half of Latin III and then spent the balance of time in making the transition to the reading and translation of authentic Latin literature. Sure, prose authers were a big part of that, namely selections from St. Jerome's Vulgate, some letters of Pliny the Younger, and some war correspondence from Caesar, but there was never room or a time for the rhetoric and philosophy of Cicero. I reluctantly pushed him aside as Latin IV and V alternated between the epic poetry of Vergil and the lyric and elegiac poetry of Catullus and Ovid. Now, times have changed.

I have brushed off Jenney's Third Year Latin, dug through my filing cabinet, and reacquainted myself with this long-neglected prose author. I have always been an advocate of Latin prose and a fan of Cicero and look forward to his reappearance in my classroom. His return has been made possible by the College Board's elimination of the AP Latin Literature examination. The Latin teachers in my system have agreed to teach AP Vergil in the fifth-year Latin class, thus opening up (for me, at least) a class of fourth-year Latin students who now have the opportunity to read and translate a wide variety of Latin authors and works. I know by experience that Cicero will be difficult for many of my students and that the subject matter can be a bit challenging, as well. We'll take it slow and I will make every effort to make the class interesting and meaningful. Updates in our endeavors will follow.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The True Story of Troy, Really!

I watched The True Story of Troy (The History Channel, 2007) on the History International Channel last night. I try to watch as many documentaries on the ancient world as I can. I was, of course, attracted to the presentation by the mention of Troy and the Trojan War, but was immediately alarmed by the title claiming it to be the true story, as if all others were not so true. Indeed, I found very little in the two-hour production to be original or new; what was interesting was the segment on the underwater archaeology and some background information on the site of Hissarlik and the major players, particularly Heinrich Schliemann and Carl Blegen. I also found amusing the narrator's claim that archaeologists have located what they believe to be the "true site" of Troy in a tone which would lead the viewer to believe that it was discovered last Tuesday. Nothing new there, either. The film footage took us back to that familiar arrangement of stones on top of that hill overlooking that plain which we have all seen before.

I have seen several documentaries on the Trojan War, including Michael Wood's epic In Search of the Trojan War, and there were elements from these presentations throughout this "True Story". One of Michael Wood's episodes involved locating and interviewing modern-day bards and I enjoyed this presentation's segment on the bards in Serbia who can still chant an Iliad-long tale on the Battle of Kosovo back in the 14th century. I wasn't quite sure how the producers were checking their facts when the claim was made these bards were telling the unembellished truth about the historical Battle of Kosovo and that these modern singers-of-heroic-deeds prove that Homer did tell/could have told the truth as well. Big leap there!

The literary story of the war, mostly from Homer, but from other sources as well, was well done and the artwork, most of it applicable, was a treat. Much emphasis was given to the sacrifice of Iphigenia and unfaithful Clytemnestra who avenged the death of her daughter by murdering her husband Agamemenon when he returned home. There was also the brief discussion of human sacrifice among the Greeks, but that it wasn't really human sacrifice because slaves and prisoners of war were not human. Hmm...

I was pleased to watch the attention given to the Trojan Horse and the story told by Vergil. All too often this part of the tale gets short-changed (I guess) because this Roman poet wrote as many years, if not more, after Homer as Homer did after the actual events of the conflict, and he stole the story from the Bard and other Greeks anyway. Satisfying was the mention of Aeneas leading his followers of refugees to Italy and the angle that the Trojans were the ancestors of the Romans. I found interesting the whole segment (again, not new) that the conflict was a clash of East vs. West, that Xerxes visited the site of Troy before storming into Greece as if to seek revenge, that Alexander the Great visited the site before setting off to conquer the Persians as if to bring Greek vengeance against the Persians (and the curious story of Alexander taking Trojan armor [Achilles'?] from some ancient museum and wearing it on his campaign, and finally that the Trojans were reincarnated into Romans who finally conquered and absorbed that Greek and took possession of Asia Minor, all as the story of the Trojan War coming full circle.

I am always drawn to the explanations given for the Trojan Horse. This "True Story" rationalized this gift of the Greeks (with an aside to tell the tale of Laocoon and his sons) as a siege engine. They claimed that the Hittites and others has this technology and that this was nothing new. No mention was made that the Horse was a metaphor for an earthquake, although earthquakes were mentioned soon after. They missed an opportunity there.

What was most intriguing, and a bit academically uncomfortable, to me was the discussion of Homer. I have never dug deep into Homer's origins and was surprised to learn that he was "thought to have been born" in Smyrna or Chios. They played up the angle that he was born near Troy so that helps to make his story more believable. That's another thin thread there. Mention was made of Homer's blindness and illiteracy, but none of how he actually learned the stories. He was at one point in the documentary called a rock star, filling ancient theaters and stadia (exaggeration my own - I wish I could remember the exact reference). What I repeatedly found disturbing about the discussion of Homer was the notion that the Greek alphabet was invented (borrowed and modified from the Phoenicians), and thus Greek writing itself was invented, for the sole purpose of recording Homer's stories. I don't buy it and I don't believe that the documentary made its case at all on this claim.

I also found fascinating the stories about Carl Blegen and Heinrich Schliemann. It seems that ex-patriate Blegen was actually the first archaeologist and had been digging in and around Troy for years before Schliemann arrives on the scene. Blegen had quite a few objects and artifacts to show Schliemann when he comes in search of his boyhood dreams. I was a bit surprised to hear that Schliemann, always the sensational showman, "stole" the hill of Hissarlik from Blegen and claimed to have found Troy when Blegen had already decided it was there. More interesting, and a little disturbing, was Schliemann's background. He was always, uncannily, present and lucky for the discovery of gold and amassing of wealth. He speculated on and benefited from (and participated in?) the Gold Rush in California, he was present at, worked for, and increased his wealth with the Czars in St. Petersburg, and then (strangely), there was some story that Schliemann dressed as a Bedouin, circumcised himself (!?!), and snuck into someplace in the Middle East. These are tantalizing elements for the True Story of Troy.

So, was the story of the Trojan War true? This documentary certainly does not prove the story true. There was certainly not enough new evidence presented to make its case. I would argue that the truth of the story (interesting, to be sure, and admittedly fascinating to me) is not important. When the epics are read and enjoyed, when those thoughts and images and messages from the past are relayed, scientific and historical truth is not needed or even required. Are other works of ancient literature true? How much of the Aeneid can we really believe? How much do we want to believe? Why can't we accept that Homer is just telling a good story? Modern day epics which immediately come to mind are Star Wars and the Harry Potter series. Few will argue that these are not compelling, well-written, and important stories meaningful and entertaining to the modern world. Centuries from now, though, will archaeologists and historians set out to find the true location of Hogwarts Castle or argue over which sandy planet is actually Tatooine? I hope not, because it really doesn't matter in the light of the stories themselves.

Sometimes finding the truth hurts. The "True Story" mentioned a couple times that Schliemann was disappointed in the size of the site of Troy. He kept digging deeper and deeper into the hill so that he could find what he wanted to find, all the while not paying attention that what he was casting aside as rubbish was what he was looking for all the while. What if Schliemann's excavations had, in fact, discovered that the site of Hissarlik was indeed Troy and that bodies and tombs clearly labeled as the key players in the conflict were discovered? What if he had discovered a written narrative, say, a diary, that revealed that a Trojan War actually occurred but not as Homer imagined it? Would it be immensely disappointing to learn that the real Troy was a wide spot in the road, a man named Priam was chieftain over an extended family of horse-breeders, and when one of his sons, while traveling in Greece, had insulted a Greek mafia boss, almost a dozen ships were launched and these two families feuded for a while.

Not knowing the truth about the characters and deeds or the Trojan War, or the true location of the Troy, does not decrease the value of the story, nor would finding them legitimize it. These pursuits of science would strip away the fantasy, the romance, and the other elements which make a story so appealing, even after two thousand years.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Getting Down to Business

I read an article in the local paper this morning about how small businesses must cater to their clients in order to establish working relationships. Big business pretty much works on the cookie-cutter model, but small businesses can tailor their services to the individual client. A teacher must function in the same way. In order to have a truly successful program, the teacher must establish, cultivate, and maintain relationships with both the students and the parents.

One of my goals this year is to be more aware of the need to establish and work with relationships with what the "teaching industry" calls "the stakeholders." I'll try.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Teaching Caesar

It has been said that Julius Caesar is the most famous Roman of them all. Everyone has heard about Caesar and something of his exploits (right or wrong) in Rome. Many cite their exposure to be the tragedy by Shakespeare... who, I must remind them, wrote literature, not history.

I, like a good number of other teachers, was quite surprised (and even a bit disappointed) when the College Board announced that Caesar would be paired with Vergil on their upcoming capstone AP Latin exam. My first thoughts were, "Ooh, how boring!" and "What does Caesar have to do with Vergil? How disjointed can that be?" I am waiting for the CB's announcement of what work(s) and sections from Caesar will be required before I make any final decision on how I feel about this unlikely combination.

In an effort to cozy up to the idea, I pulled out Caesar's De Bello Civile the other evening, opened the text at random, and started reading. Hoping that things would be diffent than his De Bello Gallico, I was sorely mistaken. Most of what I read was about troop movements, crossing rivers, obtaining supplies (and depriving Pompey of them), and worrying about where his transport ships were. Um, not exactly stuff to interest the typical teenager in the typical public high school!

Here's hoping that the College Board will announce an interesting syllabus combining Caesar and Vergil in some sort of meaningful and natural way... and NOT taking the direction of the art of war in the second half of the Aeneid and in Caesar's illustrious career!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

An Old-Growth Forest of Columns

This is what happens
when you don't prune back columns as they grow.
I took this photograph in Paestum in July 2005.

Declining in Greek

We have put AP Latin Literature to bed -- hopefully for not too long a nap. The College Board will issue their proclamation soon about what road we will all be taking in a couple years.

The class is not over yet, though. We are playing in Greek: learning to read and write the alphabet, working with some prefixes, roots, and suffixes, learning some vocabulary, and (today) we learned how to decline a noun. Our goal is to read and translate the first story or so in Athenaze.

So, I write on the board ho anthropos mikros (transliterated into the English alphabet here). My students made me proud several times today. Right off the bat they recognized that Greek had an article.

Another student quickly asked, "Does the -os ending have anything to do with the -us ending in Latin?" I beamed.

When I demonstrated the declension, they were fascinated that Greek did not have an ablative case. I explained that the Greek genitive and dative took up the slack. Another student commented, "Good! I never liked the ablative anyway." (Boooo.....!)

After the declension (and a little prodding from me), they recognized that the omega in the dative singular was analogous to the -o in Latin and that the -oi (nominative plural), -ois (dative plural), and -ous (accusative plural) were not too far removed from the Latin. It is interesting to note that they don't think the -on and -um are close cousins.

I love my students and I love when we are learning for the sake of learning!

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Tatters of the Year

It is Memorial Day and tomorrow we will enter what I have come to call the tatters of the year. The AP and state exams are over. The weather is warm. The finish line is in sight. I try to tell my students that, even though you can see the end of the course, the race is not yet finished. Too many, though, have set their goal well short of that chalk line ahead.

Even though there are still three weeks left in the school year (time enough to learn some new things!) instruction is effectively over. The seniors, who will graduate a week before the end of school and (most of whom) are grade-exempt from final exams, have already stopped coming to school. This has a profound impact on the motication of the rest of the student body who also want to check out early. There are also fieldtrips, assemblies, and other activities to distract them from their studies. Oh yeah, there are still second semester exams to be given...

OK, what to do?

In the words of the Borg (from Star Trek: The Next Generation), "Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated." I have learned that I can beat my head against the wall and drag the students kicking and screaming (or, worse, chatting or snoring) through a lesson on the ablative absolute or I can change things up and work toward application of the material learned in an earlier, more focused period of their education.

In AP Latin, we dutifully said our farewells to the Latin Literature syllabus and didn't look back. We are now learning the Greek alphabet and will try to cover the first chapter or two of Athenaze. I am surprised at how excited the students are to start something brand new. They tell me that it is like going all the way back to starting Latin I, when everything was fresh, new, and exciting. Ah, but our time in Greek will be too short... just a taste for now and encouragement to take it in college.

In my other classes we are moving toward reading and translating. To teach the uses of the subjunctive mood at this point would be a Herculean effort which would quickly turn, I fear, into a Sisyphean labor. These new things are best left for the next school year. Why not take everything we have done this year and apply it to readings and translations in their textbooks and a few outside items I bring in? We can polish these skills and reinforce the material taught this year as an effort of moving toward their finals. Application is to be stressed over acquisition.

It's a plan.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Pegasus in the Wild

Imagine my surprise as I was driving along Route 1 in Ashland and we spied this Pegasus on the side of road! Makes me feel sort of like Bellerophon!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Calling a Spade a Spade

I was listening the other day to a colleague who teaches Spanish. She was talking about the difference between -ar verbs and -er verbs. She mentioned the yo form. Without ever taking Spanish, I knew exactly what she meant, particularly since I had an idea of the origins of these Spanish elements.

I have often thought that I could change the names of the categories of Latin verbs and nouns in order to make the idea of what I'm trying to say clearer for my students. After all, the names are, for the most part, descriptive and help to identify the category or use of the form. When I say something like, "That's an ablative of accompaniment," the students (should) think, "Oh yeah, that noun is the last in that declension thingy and it is being used to show who they're doing the verb with." When I tell my students that the Romans had no idea of what the phrase "ablative of accompaniment" meant, they pause for a moment and demand to know why. I tell them that this is a phrase we, who are not native speakers, have created in order to describe the use of that noun. I also tell them that if they asked the average Latin speaker on the street to decline a noun, he would look at you puzzled and probably run away. At once the students are amazed and confused. I ask them to decline a noun in English. Again they sratch their heads and shrug. I usually give them an example, the best being the declension in English of the pronoun "he" -- I say, "He, his, him, they, their, them." I mention things like subjective, possessive, and objective case. Some of the sharper students eagerly write down this valuable nugget in their notes, others just wave me off and think that I'm crazy. They never learned this in English... why in the world would I be bringing it up in Latin class?

Anyway, I'm drifting off my topic - the names of things. What if, at the beginning of Latin I, when the students are most excited about learning a new language and most impressionable, I called first conjugation verbs "-are verbs"? What if I called third conjugation verbs "short -ere verbs"? The description would go right to the crucial element which determines the conjugation of a verb and, hopefully, this would better enable the student to conjugate it. They might think, "That's an -are verb, I have to keep that -a- in there when I conjugate it." or "Yuck, a short -ere verb... I think something happens to that short e." What does second conjugation really mean to the student other than it is usually taught after the first conjugation?

Taking this idea further, why not change the nomenclature for nouns? Why not have an "-ae declension" or an "-is declension" noun? This name would call attention directly to the genitive singular form. Then the student, looking at puella, puellae would (hopefully) think, "Oh yeah. I need to use those -a, -ae, -ae endings."

Taking this strange idea a step further, why not teach the conjugations and declensions in a different order? With the restraints of "first declension" and "second conjugation" removed, there would be little confusion in reordering the traditional grammar. Having said that, I would probably limit myself to rearranging the introduction of the nouns; I think everyone would agree that teaching the -are and long -ere verbs is easier than teaching those short -ere verbs with all those changes. Declensions are declensions and each requires a different set of endings which must be committed to memory. What Latin teacher hasn't lamented that the students have first and second declensions down cold but they just can't master that pesky third declension? I can't back this up with solid data at the moment, but there are more third declension nouns in the Latin language than any other declension, so why not teach the -is nouns first? Imagine the possibilities of a wider choice of vocabulary words at the beginning of the course. What reinforces the success of understanding -is nouns is what psychologists call the primacy effect -- what is learned first is remembered better than what is learned in the middle.

Before the purists attack me for messing up the natural order of things, I readily admit that I will have to teach my students the tradional nomenclature because all their resources, their textbooks, online help, parents and friends who already know Latin, other teachers, will call an -ire verb "fourth conjugation" and I would not want my students to be confused or lost. I would use my terminology at the beginning and then introduce them to the other names not much later in the course.

This, ladies and gentlemen, esteemed colleagues, will be my experiment for the coming school year. It may be a benefit, it may be insignificant, or it may fail... In any case, the world won't be lost.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hannibal is not yet at the gates...

but there are reports of elephants in the Alps.

Disturbing news arrived from the county administration office today. In anticipation of a very tight budget for the 2009-2010 school year, the topic of class size has been discussed. The report suggests that, unless a class has a minimum of 20 students, the class will not make. The report specifically mentioned that even a combination of level IV and AP classes in world languages may not reach the magic number of 20. The alternative seems to be Adventa and VirtualVirginia. In other words, students will be offered the opportunity to take advanced level classes online or sign up for something else.

This unofficial announcement leaves me a bit stunned and numb. I feel like I've been kicked in the stomach. Am I to teach at three different schools next year? Will I have a combo III/IV/AP in the same room?

It is (hopefully) too early to speculate and give in to a suggested threat. I'll wait a little more before I panic but, just in case, I will read up on how to survive elephants on the battlefield.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Stacking the Tabellae, Sorting the Papyri

I have begun a project of which Psyche would have been proud. I am storing all of my notes, handouts, quizzes, tests, and other school-pertinent information electronically... AND (here's the amazing part) I am eliminating all the hard-copies. I have discovered that I use my electronic files much more often than opening the drawers of my filing cabinets. That's right, cabinets with an "s" -- one at home and one at school, both filled to overflowing and, often, difficult to search. Now I can already read your minds and can hear your warnings:

I) Make sure you have a back-up!

Yup. Got that. I keep my files on my trusty Dell and have a back-up of my files on an external harddrive. That's the storage part. The functional part is that I have my files on a flashdrive and keep a back-up disk at school in case the flashdrive fails... and, believe me, Murphy should have written a law about flashdrives!

II) Don't get rid of all that paper! Think of the trees who gave their lives so that your students could learn Latin!

Yup, yup. Considered that too. I am going through the folders and distributing extra copies I put into storage last year thinking I might use them this year. As the folder empties, I toss it into the garbage.

III) But what about the stuff created before desktop computers roamed the earth?

Yup, yup, yup. Got a plan for that as well. The true oldy-but-goody stuff from the pre-electronic age gets scanned into the computer OR I look for or make a new version. For stuff that isn't easily scanned to recreated... well, some files will have to remain.

I'm not fooling myself and believing that I will accomplish this Herculean labor this year or even next year; it will be most definitely an ongoing process.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Grabbing at Toss-Ups

We returned today from a very poor showing at the Classical Cottage Certamen. For the first time since I transfered to Riverbend, no teams placed in and brought home a trophy from a Latin tournament. I'm not yet ready to declare our teams dead but the interest, particulary at this time year, is beginning to wane. This should come as little surprise. Once the weather begins to warm and the trees begin to bud, students' thoughts begin to turn to other matters... as it should be.

The Classical Cottage Certamen was good but quite small. The flagging interest does not seem to be a factor just at RHS. It was a shame, though, because Susan Schearer does an outstanding job at organizing and running a tournament. It is always a pleasure to attend any competition sponsored by this woman. Thank you, Susan!

We have one tournament left in the year... the "state championship" sponsored by the Virginia Senior Classical League and/or the Virginia Junior Classical League. I have always been confused as to who was actually in charge but the events always seem to work and champions crowned. Participation by RHS may be off for this tournament as well, seeing that it falls on the last Saturday of our Spring break. We shall see...

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Tolkien and the Power of Language

There is an excellent piece in today's (1/3/09) The Writer's Almanac about J.R.R. Tolkien and the power of language. The best quote from Tolkien comes at the end of the article, "I wish life was not so short. Languages take such a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about."