Friday, September 27, 2019

Discipulus Illustris for Vocabulary Delivery

This year has been different than previous years as an Untextbooked language teacher--last year our school district decided to mandate a particular vocabulary list for each level of Latin and this year I am personally in charge of making sure our Latin one students are confidently able to function within that vocabulary list.

It means less flexibility, but I generally welcome new challenges, and I have already been thinking about how to get even more repetitions of vocabulary into my students' lives without it feeling like that's what I'm doing.

One way I've done that this year is to modify the idea of the Discipulus Illustris activity.

There are a lot (a LOT) of writings about and ideas about Discipulus Illustris. The basic idea of the activity is this: you choose one student at a time to be interviewed. The interview is extremely supported, with a guide on the board at all times for every question, answer, and discussion for the class. The teacher does some question and answer with the class over the student's replies, the students write up what amounts to a short paragraph about the student, and, finally, the student is thanked for his or her time.

For much more detailed writings about this activity, you can read the work Lance Piantaggini has done on Discipulus Illustris here and here. He has by and far done the most development on the activity!

Up to this point, however, Discipulus Illustris has generally featured generalized questions about random aspects of a student's life, such as preferred types of food, sports teams, and astrological sign. As interesting as these topics can be to my students, they haven't helped me forward my students' knowledge and prepare them for the readings I want them to be able to comprehend.

This summer I realized I still wanted to do Discipulus Illustris, but I wanted to overhaul the activity to better serve my program. So instead of having one basic interview setup, I started creating new Discipulus Illustris interviews based around the vocabulary I need students to learn for any given story.

It's already been paying dividends. Using "a quo venisti?" ("Where did you come from?") as one of my questions has helped students prompt each other if they get caught on the word "venit." My students can comfortably express the superlative "pulcherrimus" in addition to "pulcher" and they learned the family vocabulary quickly in relation to themselves.

Where do these fit? I interview one student at the beginning of class, then we move on. Sometimes we do vocabulary practice (via Cartoon Olympics or perhaps a silly story that I've made up to get more repetitions in or any other number of things), sometimes we do a pre-reading activity (a dictatio, jigsaw activity, or some other such activity), or sometimes we are reading that day. I consider Discipulus Illustris a warm-up activity to get my students into Latin mode, and they are used to it as such! Plus, since it relates, vocabulary-wise, to what we read, they see the connection.

Some things I think that are worth noting about the way I do Discipulus Illustris that may differ from the way others do it:
  • I don't force students to come to the front of the class. I allow them to, if they want, and I have a special chair for it, but some students are absolutely terrified of the limelight and we are consistently growing our number of special education students. Those students may be comfortable sharing from their seats, but feel differently about being in front of the other students.
  • I encourage students to be silly. There are several things I do to encourage this. I make it a rule that whatever is said in Latin is "true." So if they have twelve lions at home, I don't question it. If they are married to both Arianna Grande and Zendaya, I don't question it. It was said in Latin. I also give some samples when a question threatens to touch on some serious or uncomfortable territory. For example, the same question I mentioned above, "a quo venisti," can put many of my students in a tough spot, since they may or may not be asked a similar question in an implicitly racist (albeit sometimes unintentional) fashion outside my classroom. So I offer several options that let them decide how they want to answer: McDonalds, my bed, Georgia, 1st period, America, etc. That way, some of them really want to delve into the question in a serious way, but some of them have even offered the name of the hospital where they were born, and all of those answers have been validated. When we discuss their families, I ask if their sisters and brothers are good or bad and remind them that the sisters and brothers aren't there to hear them answer. I ask how many wives or husbands they want. Basically, I take questions that could be serious and push them into a different direction while still maintaining the interest of the class and in the same moment create a safer atmosphere for a bunch of teenagers who are still resolving how they want to appear to the world.
  • I keep it short and sweet. No more than 6-7 questions, and we filter in and out questions, keeping only the most popular questions in rotation while removing the ones that just don't get traction and replacing them with new questions that hopefully will intrigue the students while introducing new vocabulary.
This has honestly turned me around on what Discipulus Illustris can be for my classes. I was, at best, luke-warm on the activity, but I really find it to be an essential part of my classes now and I am currently working out the next set of questions with enthusiasm!

3 comments:

  1. I would love to see some of your examples! Thanks for all you do.

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    1. I was thinking I might do a follow-up and just post all the questions we've done over the semester or year.

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