Thursday, August 20, 2015

Some Bumps on the Road to Teaching a Novella

I have never taught a novella before. Okay, correction, I've taught novellas and novels in Language Arts (mostly in students' native languages), but I've never taught a Latin novella before.

Because I've never had one.

There's a plethora of Latin out there--endless tomes--and there are some (by no means a plethora) Latin adaptations of modern materials, so it would seem like I should have taught a novella before. However, none of those materials are good for beginning students, and even though thanks to embedded readings and comprehensible strategies I'm using authentic works, they are short passages and sections of larger works, not extensive in nature.

Needless to say, there have been a few false starts, and I can't even guarantee that I'm on the right path even now, but here's things I have tried and what I'm currently trying:

Groups decoding with reading aloud after

The very first thing I tried was to have students in groups translate (aloud, not written) the first scene of my novella (technically a play, but at 37 pages, it counts as a short novel) together and, once they had worked out the meaning, I read the scene aloud to them with emotion, since it is a play and therefore meant to be heard.

Pros: Students were tackling longer readings than they ever had in Latin I. There was laughter (good, because the play is a comedy) and students generally had a good idea of what the main struggle between the characters was.

Cons: While students had a good idea of the basic plot and struggle, they missed a lot of the detail and did not gain the level of review and reading fluency I was looking for.

Groups decoding with whole-class review after

Because I was worried about the level of comprehension after the first scene, I moved on to doing a whole-class review after students translated in groups. I simply went through lines, clarified meanings, and made sure that the play-by-play was perfectly understood.

Pros: Students knew what it said, if they could stay focused the entire time I talked. There was laughter (but not much).

Cons: It just seemed flat. It seemed to ruin the scene, honestly, and the scene became less enjoyable for all of us. In addition, I felt the comedy was getting lost.

Reading to the class with circling

Instead of letting students work their way through a recent scene first, I read the scene to them, worked them through the meanings of every line, asked questions about every line for clarification, and then discussed cultural necessities to help students understand the situation and humor.

Pros: Despite having each line talked into the ground, students seemed to enjoy this scene more. We even played VINCO (inspired by Martina Bex's strip bingo post, but regular bingo boxes that were marked off as we progressed through the scene) during the scene and some students forgot to mark off vocabulary because they were so involved in the story. Helping them find that humor angle and helping them understand the lines very thoroughly (and acting my heart out as an ugly-crying-unreasonably-unhappy Adulescens) really made the experience much more enjoyable for both myself and my students--while they had a secondary task (VINCO).

Cons: Without the secondary task (we didn't finish the first day and I didn't want to break out the VINCO cards for just a quarter of the scene), this began to fall flat. Also, my throat very sincerely hurts because booming through that scene so repeatedly after only a week and a half back to work did a number on it.

What I think I'm learning:
  1. Students are dealing with longer readings so much more positively than they did last year and that is the only kind of reading they are doing. I have three guesses as to why:
    1. They haven't been in class since last year and have forgotten the average length of the stories.
    2. When they see 37 pages, any time I'm just focusing on two pages seems like a small amount.
    3. The scenes are all based on review vocabulary, so perhaps there's just ease in the reading that keeps them from worrying about the length.
  2. A secondary focus is helpful.
  3. Cultural context is a must. They need to know that it's extra funny for a slave to talk back to his master in Ancient Rome and that crying incessantly over a girl is very unmasculine especially when most marriages are arranged and love is not a normal life goal.
  4. I naturally think in terms of physical comedy (competitive speech student here) and forget that my students probably don't. I need to help them fill that gap.
What I'm doing next:

After I finish reviewing the current scene (we're doing a read, draw, and discuss of the scene--a description is included in Miriam's post over reading activities), I am considering setting up jigsaw experts: students in groups work to really know a section of the scene, then are remixed into groups so that each group has experts for every section of the scene. I'll do an updated blog to report how things progress!


  1. This is actually a good problem: you are frontieering into a new territory in the Latin classroom by having students read a novel in the language. Have you read other CI/TPRS blogs which address using novels in the classroom? There have a been a number of presentations at NTPRS on the subject, and from what I have heard (I did not attend these sessions since there aren't any CI/TPRS Latin novels yet), novels (as opposed to a reading) are different in the way teachers implement them, expectations, etc. Keep us updated!

    1. Keith,

      Rachel and I have started working together to brainstorm new ideas. We both browsed the blogs last night for things English teachers have done and I am probably going to look into things ESOL teachers have done for their kids too. I think the play aspect also adds something new and, especially since it's Roman comedy, the students or we have to supply some narration. I think she and I have some new and great ideas to go along with it. At the end of this semester, I'll be doing an original novella with Latin I that Rachel and I wrote. I'll blog some updates on that too so that we have multiple ways of looking at it and experiences.

    2. I definitely dug through the blogs, but unfortunately most of them reference teacher's guides ("Do questions 1-5 of the teacher's guide for chapter 3") and don't have much in the way of what to do when you don't have a teacher's guide. I got desperate enough to do general google searches, but came up empty. I am planning to order a teacher's guide, however, so I can see what the TPRS peeps usually suggest. And I am glad to be having the problem since the previous problem was no material :) I'm sharing my struggles so others can hopefully have an easier time than I have.