Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How do you make kids care?

Admittedly it wasn't an inspired decision, but the other day I started off some of my classes with a piece from Nuntii Latini on the reelection of Pervez Musharraf. I thought that having them work through a current event in Latin would arouse some interest, and expected at least some of the students to recognize Musharraf. Not a single student did, and they found the whole thing incomprehensible without careful guidance and a modern history lesson. One student even asked what 'Pakistaniae' meant, after he failed to find it in his Latin glossary.

So that was a failure.

Today I was reminded just a bit of some of the silly things kids like to hear about when we came across fenestra, and I taught them defenestration. There was so much joy and laughter upon learning a word that means 'to throw someone out of a window', and to be honest I was surprised no one knew the word already. I think maybe I expect too much from them and have missed out on teaching opportunities because of it.

I'd like to hear from anyone who has thoughts on things that capture the interest and enthusiasm of students, however small. Please feel free to comment here.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dennis -

This is Eliese... I'm now teaching all the 7th and 8th grade Latin classes, as well as the Latin 2 class for the high school girls (2 seniors, 1 junior, 3 sophomores), at a private Catholic school in north Jersey. I think that sometimes I expect too much of them too, perhaps only because I naively assume they know things - English vocabulary, Roman history and culture, whatever - which apparently most modern 12/13 year olds have not yet encountered.

My 7th graders love making connections between Latin and English/Spanish/French words. The majority of them also take French and it makes things much easier for me to try to explain what I mean by verb conjugation when they've already seen it in a modern language. I also have several native Spanish speakers who get excited when they see connections (ex. "cena"). I began the year by teaching them what we mean by a romance language, how Latin got into those parts of Europe, and how Latin is part of our language. What they really want to know is how the Romans could understand their own spoken language (because the structures are at present to their minds "too complicated" for oral application). Unfortunately I've also been asked if the Italians still speak Latin and if they wear togas, and if those who live in Rome are called Romanians.

Since we use Ecce Romani (ugh), I made a powerpoint about Roman roads and transportation for the 8th graders to ease them back into the book after the summer. I think this was the biggest hit of the semester thus far - perhaps it was just the visual that was "cool." Strangely enough though, even my weaker 8th grade sections get more excited about the grammar when they themselves can write it on the board.

My Latin 2 class wants to talk about food. I made them write their own dialogue (between a coquus and a hospes in an inn), and I had them read an adapted version of the Curse of Atreus, which was a hit if only for the gross factor. These two activities were not necessarily connected but I think the Atreus story may have influenced one of the group's dialogues a bit... I've also done some Catullus with them (although it's a bit beyond their skill level at this point). I also had a couple powerpoints about Roman epitaphs and tombs, Roman inns, and Pompeian graffiti. Again, I think the visual reinforcement of the Romans as real people (!) was interesting for them.

Sorry this is so long - but that's my experience so far. Although I sometimes find myself thinking "do they understand what I'm saying" or "am I boring them," I find especially with my 8th graders that they enjoy the challenge of being given real grammar (which they did not get last year, especially because of the stupid text).


Mike Salter said...

Hi Dennis,

I teach Latin in Sydney, Australia, and I've always found that derivations are unbeatable when it comes to raising the interest level. Best of all is when they connect a (Latin) word they already know with an English word that looks fairly dissimilar at first glance.

I sometimes put together worksheets of dummy English passages full of derivations "on a theme", for them to pick out the derivs and explain the connection in meaning to the Latin word. Here's my little effort for "*specio" and its compounds, for instance:

From the passage below, find ten words derived from specio or its many compounds (given on page 73). Then choose five of them, and explain the connection in meaning between the Latin word and the derivation.

The chief police inspector, Mr. Needa Klugh, raised the prospect of special forces being used to combat the drug gangs so conspicuous in the inner cities at the moment. He condemned the violent aspects of their operations. "These people have no respect for the public. They despise them, in fact," he said. He was circumspect about the police's chances of putting the ringleaders in prison, however. "We have to put this into perspective," he said. "We have to be respectful of these people's right to pay kickbacks...sorry, their right to a fair trial. Can you edit that last bit please?"


BillBlogX said...

Great question; I am teaching 7th and 8th grade Latin elective, which is pass/fail, so the great motivator, a grade is missing. It doesn't help that my classroom is about 115 degrees when the sun is shining.

I am using Lingua Latina, which the kids generlly like. The upside of Lingua Latina is that it is very basic and scaffolds beautifully. The downside is that much of the grammar is imbedded and it assumes (wrongly) that students know grammar in their native language.

I have a self-selecting bunch of kids, meaning they all asked to be there. I do find though, that they like to work on culture projects. I have done web quests in the past which were popular. This year I am doing a poetry project, which I think will be fun (but then I am a well-known geek).

My best advise is mix things up a bit and show a your passion for the language. Kids sense that and can also be a big motivator.