Sunday, July 29, 2007

Teaching oratio obliqua: A to B, X to Y

In the April 1921 edition of B.L. Ullman's 'Hints for Teachers,' once a regular feature of the Classical Journal, I found the following in which we see that a current pedagogical concern (movement and active learning) was current nearly a century ago as well.

Ullman cites the 'difficulty in the understanding of continuous indirect discourse as we find it in Caesar' which is rooted in 'the failure of the students to understand its workings in English.' He recommends trying the suggestion of L.W.P. Lewis in Practical Hints on the Teaching of Latin (Macmillan, 1919):

He says (p. 64): "Begin with those Indirect Statements only which are clearly reported, and start with the English. The work proceeds like this:—Q 'What is an Indirect Statement ?' —A. (to be obtained) 'An Indirect Statement is a statement made by A to B and reported by X to Y.'
The basic procedure is simple: set two groups of students before the class to put the words into action.
Make A say to B 'The weather is fine,' and X report to Y in the form 'A told B that the weather was fine.' (Here we get a bit of the much recommended movement and action even in Latin.)
So far so good. Now Lewis wants to complicate matters:
Then have another set of boys out and let them arrange another example in whispers for themselves. Put a boy A in charge and he will arrange the parts, so to speak. He will explain what he is going to say to B and will instruct X how to report to Y the statement he makes. Then let them go through it for the class. I call it making a charade, and I always know when I am doing well, as if anything goes wrong in an ordinary lesson with a duller boy (the change of pronouns, for instance, is liable to give trouble, and the tense) there is sure to be a hand up at once with 'Please, sir, may I make a charade for him?' Lastly, we make our A, B, X, and Y report in all sorts of ways, so that the various reported statements begin with, 'He told him,' 'He told me,' 'I told him,' 'I told you,' 'You told me,' etc. Let there be plenty of it. The boys like it, and they soon get to grasp the pronoun changes and other points. Finally we give them the reported statement and let them get back to the original words spoken."
Ullman calls Lewis's book 'reactionary,' though useful in parts, and unsuited to American teachers. But activities of this sort, properly adapted, certainly have their use.

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