I am extremely lazy when it comes to reading long blog posts, and so it's ironic that I'm about to spew one forth, but I am just too fired up to hold back...hopefully someone will care to read my ramblings, because I just can't say enough about how happy I am that I went to the Rusticatio Californiana this summer...I never expected that it would turn out to be so significant in my development as a Latin teacher!
The Rusticatio completely changed my perspective on teaching and learning Latin, and I'm already experiencing the benefits of that week spent in the woods of Ben Lomond. I had previously been reluctant to launch into the whole oral Latin thing in class because it was something I hadn't really tried before and I wasn't sure how it was going to work out. I didn't really want to take the leap and try it out in front of 23 seventh graders who all expected me to know what the heck I was doing. What if it all went horribly wrong? The Rusticatio gave me practical experience in a "safe space" (love those middle school buzz words), and it got me fired up about using Latin as a means of practical communication.
The Rusticatio also helped me develop an instinct for speaking in Latin. Last year, there were a few instructions that I routinely gave in Latin (write down your homework in your planner, be quiet, open your book to page 10), but it pretty much stopped there. When I reflected on any given class period, I was aware that there were other things I could have said in Latin, but it just hadn't occurred to me to do so. I usually didn't even say "hello" to students in Latin...how pathetic is that? After the Rusticatio, however, I look forward to the opportunity to speak Latin in class, and it occurs to me to say all sorts of things. It just feels more natural now.
I don't stress out over whether every single word I use is the best one I could have picked. The Rusticatio forces you to just deal with the fact that if you're going to speak Latin, you have to make split second decisions and you can't run to the OLD for guidance every time you open your mouth. You have to just get your point across. So if I use "cupio" when I should have used "volo," oh well. The more I speak, the better I'll get at making the right split second decisions, and in the meantime, my little mistakes really aren't hurting anyone. I believe that pretty firmly. I am not saying that we should be careless about using incorrect grammar and vocabulary...I'm just saying that we're not perfect and that that's ok. No student's Latin career is going to be ruined if the occasional nominative comes out when we meant to use an accusative or if we slip up and use the perfect tense once in a while when the imperfect would have been better.
My students' response to our increased use of conversational Latin is overwhelmingly positive. I teach 6th - 8th grade students, and they are energetic and interactive people who want to *experience* what they are learning. Often class starts with me speaking briefly in Latin about something I did the day before or over the weekend. This past Tuesday we talked about my seeing "The Bourne Ultimatum," going rock climbing, and going to a ribs cookoff over Labor Day weekend. There was lots of acting out and pointing. They were engaged, attentive, and motivated because they wanted to understand me. After I finished talking about my weekend, I asked students to give me some idea of what they did over the weekend, even if all they could manage was a single word. Many said "aqua" or "navigo" (Lake Tahoe is 30 miles away) and the class chuckled when a few kids said "dormio." It was all pretty simple, and that's fine. The more they do it, the more comfortable they'll get, and then, I suspect, they'll move beyond single words and tap into their knowledge of grammar.
Almost every 6th grade class starts off with me asking everyone to say a sentence in Latin. We are on Ch. 2 of Minimus, and there are a few boys who really love saying "porcus sordidus sum." Every student in the class can manage to come up with a sentence, and they don't even think it's hard because we do a lot of "repeat after me" so that certain sentences just get branded into their brains. It's been neat to see them build on those sentences and make little modifications. We must have said "Lepidina est mater" fifty times over the last two weeks, and last week one girl said "Lepidina est bona mater."
I think I should bring this to a close, even though I have a
lot more to say. I was an oral Latin skeptic, but now I see that it really fits me. There are so many teaching strategies out there...we pick the ones that fit who we are...that's how it works. There is no teaching style that works universally for every single teacher, and I used to think that conversational Latin just wasn't for me. I really don't want to give the impression that I think conversational Latin is the be all and end all of Latin pedagogy and that anyone who doesn't use it is missing something. I don't think that at all. If we teach and students learn, then we're doing our jobs, however it is that we make it happen. I just want to say that using conversational Latin has made my job more fun and stimulating for me and for my students.
Nancy Llewellyn is an amazing resource, as is Andrew Gollan, and I'm really grateful to both of them for the work they do at the