Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Date With CASIE (Part II)

I'm not really normally a two-part blogger.  If I have a lot to say, I just sort of put it all in one place and hope you don't get too tired of me halfway through and stop reading.

But this month has been a very, very busy one, and even though I wasn't yet ready to actually blog about the lesson I posted, I wanted to put it up online so anyone who was interested and possibly struggling might have a chance to watch a communicative method in practice.  I don't claim to be the best example, but I do claim to be an example, and when it comes to Latin, there are really too few examples of Latin lessons taught in the language itself.  As an awesome side-effect, another Latin teacher, the wonderful James Hosler, also braved the critiques of his fellows and posted a video of himself teaching using PQA (Personalized Question and Answer--a traditional and effective TPRS technique).

Long introduction.

Myself and John Wilson and Bubo.
I had a really unique opportunity this January.  At a regional conference, I met John Wilson, who organizes monthly Speakeasies for CASIE, the Center for the Advancement and Study of International Education.  We talked while I tried very hard to calm my nerves before a presentation (I am always nervous before a presentation) and thanks to that chance meeting, he booked me to teach Latin for one night at one of the Speakeasies.

I really love the concept behind the Speakeasies.  If you are interested in language and language-learning, you can sign up for a free ($1 donation optional) one-hour course in a variety of languages.  Every month, there is a Speakeasy featuring a different language.  They have ranged from Tagalog to Swahili to Polish, and each lesson is taught, with mine being a necessary exception, by a native speaker.  There is one rule for the lesson: it must be taught in the target language.

This rule was harder to follow than I initially grasped, because initially I figured, hey, I teach using spoken Latin all the time.  But though I have used TPRS since my second year teaching, I eventually realized that TPRS has, almost since I heard of it, had no problem with introducing vocabulary in English as long as that builds meaning.  And now I had to figure out how to teach words like quid ("what"), words I have always introduced by simply writing them on the board with their English translations, in context without English.


How do you do that?

I won't take you through the painful process of the many, many false starts I had when creating the lesson I had in mind.  My creative process always includes false starts--perhaps why I encourage my students to write first and figure it out later.  I also won't take you through my final decisions (they're all recorded in the video of my lesson that CASIE and John were kind enough to allow me to make).

Teaching Latin without English gave me a chance to really think about language, how my students process language, how hard it can be to just want a simple word-to-word correlation and have to settle for vague similarities between word meanings.  How do you teach the word "have" and not end up communicating something more like "want" or "love" or any other possible meaning that could correlate with holding something like you own it?  I didn't want the Speakeasy participants to leave feeling confused or unsure of exactly what the language had been communicating.  I easily admit to being scared that I would be a poor representative of the spoken Latin community and more than once the coward in me considered calling up the many wonderful Latin teachers I know and seeing if I could find a substitute.  I felt just as vulnerable as some students feel, when they have to leave English behind in my class, because it's our safety net.  If they don't get it, I can quickly explain in English, then move back to Latin.

I did draw my words.  Many, many pictures.
Perhaps this is a problem that is not too prevalent in languages with fluent speakers and immersion opportunities.  Latin speakers have had to create our own immersion opportunities, which we do, but I know my progress in the language is much slower and more laborious than I would prefer.  My lack of fluency can hinder my bravado sometimes.

Watching the video I made, I see my nerves coming out during my lesson.  My arms are swinging constantly (also a sign of me thinking on my feet) and there are many significantly long hesitations when I realize I'm not sure how to move forward at the moment.

I also see myself having fun.  Because it was fun.  Teaching is fun, and teaching in an environment full of willing and responsive students is close to unreal.  The energy at CASIE and the Speakeasy was so positive and receptive that it would have been difficult to fail.

I am really excited to continue to take part in the CASIE Speakeasies.  I am already enrolled in one for Gaelic and another for Bulgarian.


  1. "My lack of fluency can hinder my bravado sometimes." +1! I feel that my enthusiasm for spoken Latin often wanes when I start thinking about how much stinking work it will be for me to learn basics I don't know in a way that will create a solid environment of comprehensible input for my students. eheu! But I guess that's part of the challenge, and part of the chip we wear on our shoulders.

    1. Thanks for the +1 :) It is a challenge, and it can be frustrating and tiring. But I agree, it's what we have to go through, and I think the rewards are worth it.