Friday, August 3, 2012

ACL Institute: Latin Immersion

Linguam Latinam Latine Doceamus!  Latin Immersion for the Beginning Latin Classroom
Presented by Suzanne Henrich

One of the sessions I attended was presented by Suzanne Heinrich of Ascanius.  Ascanius has many, many projects going, all of which seek to help children of all ages get a chance to experience the Classics.

In this presentation, Suzanne talked about a Latin immersion camp Ascanius has developed and some of the practices used at the camp that can be used in your own classroom to initiate Latin immersion--even if it's just for 10 minutes each morning.  She finished by presenting over teaching materials Ascanius is currently developing based on their experience in running the immersion camp.  The materials will already be organized and ready-to-use which makes them a great way to take a first step into an immersive classroom environment.

So, why should a teacher try to create an immersive environment in his or her Latin class?
According to Suzanne, teaching in immersion
  • provides meaningful context
  • teaches students that Latin is a language and not just a code
  • helps students develop direct associations between meanings and the Latin language
  • evens the playing field for students of other languages or backgrounds
  • improves reading and composition
And, most importantly to me, it's fun!  I value fun in my own teaching, so I appreciated Suzanne's emphasis on enjoying class.

Some background on Ascanius' Latin Immersion camp:
  • It is a two-week summer camp designed for middle school
  • The camp offers 10 days of curriculum (2-2.5 hours of Latin immersion material per day)
  • It introduces students to basic Latin grammar, conversation, culture, and Roman mythology
  • Students discuss themselves, their preferences, their surroundings, and the Romans
  • Topics move from very personally-focused to descriptive of the world around them
One of the most interesting things I learned from Suzanne's presentation (aside from the happy news that there are Latin immersion camps for middle school students!) is the concept of transition.  I think that it can be easy to forget how difficult it can be to toggle between two languages.  I know that when I and other teachers meet to practice conversing in Latin, there is a certain amount of time I prefer to sit quietly and sort of soak up the Latin the other teachers are speaking before I am ready to take part.  Yet I had never really thought about that need in my own classes.

At the summer camp, students have a song that they sing to enter the Latin language, and a song they sing to exit back into the world of English.  The important thing is offering a transition, something that helps students activate the Latin in their heads, whether it's a song, a countdown (also utilized at the camp), or even a moment of silence.

Once you have initiated Latin-only time in class, there is the issue of how to introduce new content without using English.  The Ascanius approach uses three techniques:

  1. Students learn the "Words of the Day" (verba huius diei) in a TPR/TPRS type of dialogue.  This gives them a lot of repetitions with some context.
  2. There is a puppet skit that is performed by the teacher.  This dialogue between teacher and puppet illustrates new vocabulary and any grammar structures or idioms that students need to gain familiarity with.
  3. Students watch a video that reillustrates the same vocabulary and structures (you can view some sample videos here--they are still in progress, but it will give you an idea of where they are going with the videos).
You can see that there is a lot of repetition provided to students so that by the time students are asked to use what they know, they have had a chance to truly acquire the vocabulary.  

And they are asked to use their new information.  Students are asked questions in Latin in a system that is again influenced by TPRS.  They are paired up to hold conversations similar to the conversations they witnessed during the puppet and video skits.  Students write in Latin, either answering questions or creating simple, guided compositions.  They are even asked to complete activities that require them to remember vocabulary and grammar structures from the previous days' work.  All of this adds up to a knowledge of Latin that, while it is built in only two weeks, has a steady foundation.

The last point that Suzanne made in her presentation is that Latin immersion can be taken on in baby steps.  Her suggestions for using the Ascanius materials to teach Latin immersion in class:
  1. First week of Latin I class as an introduction to Latin
  2. Setting aside one day a week or a month as a "Latin Day"--or even designating the day after a test, etc. as Latin Day.
  3. Teaching only in Latin for the first ten minutes of class each day.
  4. Using it to introduce certain class topics.
  5. As a transition between activities or subjects.
So how am I going to use this information in my own classes?  

I think it is important to use Latin as a language.  At times in my teaching career I have spent more or less time tantum Latine depending on the requirements in my position, but I have always found that not only do my students respond better to speaking and learning in Latin, they show better facility with the language when reading and writing after we've spent a significant amount of time speaking and listening. 

And isn't that what we're after?