Tuesday, September 11, 2012

They Won't All Be Classics Majors -- IRL enjoyment of reading

A discussion was recently held on an online forum quoting a recent post from Stephen Krashen:

Indoctrination into the classic literary canon supersedes all other aims for the readers in our classrooms. Teachers can always point to a few students who love these classics, but I argue that they are a minority or that few become future readers as a result. Why would they? Every student that moves through our classes is not destined to become an English literature major and we cannot gear our teaching as if they were. (Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer, p. 124)

The question was raised: What if we taught Latin so that every student could make progress and enjoy reading? I'd like to address that today.

I always loved reading growing up. I still do. I read every chance I get: in bed at night, during commercials, and (much to the annoyance of my husband and daughter sometimes) while waiting for food in restaurants. I love books. My daughter, on the other hand, is not so eager sometimes. She's learning how to read more difficult books as she gets older and she is talented at it, but sometimes quickly loses interest or just refuses to try at all. As Latin teachers, we often have very similar experiences with Latin students. Sometimes it is because they've been told how difficult Latin "is" and lack faith in themselves. Sometimes it is because they are struggling and the communication link between us has failed or been dropped. Sometimes it is because (and this is often the case) they feel like they are doing something that they have no interest in or don't see the point in.

I firmly believe that if we address these three points, we can have students enjoy reading and communicating in Latin. Today, I'd like to provide you with some techniques to help inspire reading for enjoyment, enrich the reading and curriculum you use, and provide some real life experiences as to what this kind of instruction can do for you and your students. 

  •  John Piazza suggests that rarely are textbooks set up to help students enjoy reading. He suggests two ways to combat this and help foster a love for and proficiency in reading
    • Create stories with students and have this be the basis for in class reading. You can do this using Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Story-telling and by Asking a Story. (I've included a link to Rachel Ash's write up of her SCOLT/FLAG presentation on this). This method involves students and gives them a way to show interest. If they are interested, they will come back.
    • Create embedded stories based on textbook readings. When using this method, it is important that students are able to understand at least 90% of the material and that there are no more than 5 glosses per page. This method sets students up for success in reading. When they succeed, they will read more.
  • One thing I'm doing this year, with the help of John Piazza's notes above and guidance from Bob Patrick, is to use embedded stories. I'm trying to reach my upper level students by using embedded versions of news broadcasts from the Nuntii Latini website (Nuntii Latini is a Finnish radio station that broadcasts the news in Latin every week). Here is our process:
    • We listen to the original broadcast and read along the original transcript twice
    • I retell the story using an embedded version (simplified vocabulary)
    • I circle with comprehension questions and answer student questions
    • We finish with a five minute timed write. Students write everything they can remember.
  • This is the first year that I've had a fourth year in a separate class. One of my goals, especially for those students who chose the AP route, was to expose them to more reading and literature, but do so in an enjoyable manner.We spent three weeks on poetry and are now beginning a proverbs unit. Even though this is assigned reading, I only did topics that could be related to current events or something they can discuss and relate to. While not a perfect example of compelling input, I did have one student say the other day, "Wow, I really like this. Can we do more?" I think this is something we strive for. Students to take an assignment and own it. In my proverbs unit, I am asking them to own it even more and asking them to relate personal experiences to the reading. Granted it is short, but meaningful.
  • A colleague of mine and guest blogger, Keith Toda, writes about a story he introduced to his students the previous year. The story was not finished yet and so he only introduced a piece of it. This year, with a 2 month summer break in between, students approached him to ask for the next bit. I cannot think of anything more exciting than to have students asking for more reading! 
Keith points out an interesting thing. What we Latin teachers need more of are adapted works in Latin. Things that kids know or are hearing about in other places that we can give them in Latin. The problem is with some of the ones out there, is that the Latin is too difficult for even third and fourth year students. What we need are adapted texts that we can offer to Latin I, II, III, and IV students for enjoyable reading. John Piazza also suggests that while many texts that are in Latin need to be modified, students will accept more and difficult input if they are really enjoying it.

I would like to finish with this: last week we took our daughter to the bookstore. Over the summer she was able to see me reading for pleasure and talk about reading. She asked if she could start reading chapter books. Now, a week later, she puts herself to bed every night with her book and she is so proud, she often takes it everywhere with her (and models my bad habit of reading everywhere). I believe this can apply directly to the Latin classroom. If we as teachers show passion and enjoyment for reading in Latin, then we have the tools to inspire students to enjoy reading as well. Students are often afraid of reading because they don't think they can do it. If we teach our classes so that everyone can make progress and enjoy reading, then we open the door to compelling input and can give students the tools they need to enjoy reading.


  1. I love this! I am often daunted by the amount of time it takes me to modify just one text to the right level for a particular class. It would be great to start some type of database or collection that teachers and other Latinists could contribute to and use. I know there are some Tarheel Readers that are great for the classroom but it does take a while to preview them and see their level & whether they've been edited.

  2. Hi!

    Have you checked out embedded stories? They are simpler to edit because you leave the grammar as it is and only simplify the vocabulary. You finish by allowing students to see the original form so they can make vocabulary connections. It has worked really well in my classes so far.

    I agree with you though, we need a database or collection of edited works for us to collaborate and work with!

  3. I am trying to create and share some embedded readings and simpler stories based on the Cambridge series as well for my TPRS based classes. I would be happy to contribute to such a database. However, when I have posted ideas, and even an example on the best practices page I have received absolutely no feedback which is discouraging. I am no means an expert in this, but would love to be involved in a collaborative effort.

    Dave Talone

    1. Dave,

      Send my a private message via email. I think I have some answers for you :)

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Miriam,
    Thanks for this great post! When Ann and I started developing the Tres Columnae Project materials, one of our greatest motivators was to build a set of stories that could be used as compelling input in themselves, but could also build a community that would create and share embedded stories, extending stories, alternate stories, adapted stories ... all kinds of stories for other community members to share and reuse without any copyright concerns.

    I think my Latin III students this fall -- and certainly my non-AP Latin IV's in the spring -- will be doing a lot of story creation and adaptation, too. Let's keep each other posted!

    1. Sounds great! I am excited to see where all these ideas can take us. Surely reading isn't just for the elite Classics majors anymore :)