Once everyone in the mid-morning class was “back with us,” part of the community again, on Friday, I told them we’d take some time Monday to make sure everyone was feeling good about the first task of the day, the one that got put on hold by the Traditional Latin Class. That was (supposed to be) a simple review of the three tempora of verbs we’ve discovered so far – the verba temporis praesentis, praeteriti inperfecti, and praeteriti perfecti – with two steps: (1) Using our newest Verb Forms Consolidation Sheet, make one imperfect-tense form of each of 5 verbs, and (2) after we’d checked that, and felt good about making imperfects, to make all three tempora of other selected verbs, keeping the same persona and numerus.
Other than the use of the Latin grammatical terms, a Traditional Latin Teacher would have recognized – and applauded – the use of a verb synopsis as a class starter. But for the mid-morning class Friday, it was like asking them to fly to the moon by flapping non-existent wings. It shouldn’t have been – they’ve had the same access to the tools as the early-morning group, and on paper they’re more academically able and high-achieving. But it was, for a simple reason: they’d refused to engage with the material, to keep the Forms Consolidation Sheets, to do earlier practice activities, to read the stories that would develop their intuitive sense of what looks and sounds right. By contrast, O, in the early-morning group, had clearly begun to develop that sense. When we went over the answers together, and he looked at what he’d written, he said, “Oh! I knew that didn’t look right! I knew there needed to be an x!”
O was right … and less than two hours later, I was right about the need for the Traditional Latin Class with his counterparts. For the past several years, as my students have spent more and more of their school time cramming for standardized tests rather than learning the skills tests theoretically measure, my beginning students have had more and more trouble with the analytical side of learning a language. They’re still good at understanding a passage, and if I gave them a Traditional Vocabulary Quiz the scores would be excellent. For that matter, if I told them to memorize and reproduce a chart of endings, they would; that’s something they do constantly. But to have a chart, use the chart, learn the endings deeply by repeated use? That’s strange and foreign to them.
In many classes these days, Ms. X shows you how to do things the Chapter 6 way in Chapter 6, and that’s what you do … until Chapter 7, when the Chapter 6 way is no longer appropriate. So it’s utterly confusing when you get to Chapter 9 and can use any method from Chapters 6, 7, or 8 –but that’s when Ms. X starts yelling and labeling about “bad and lazy” and “not listening” and “no questions today from those who didn’t do the homework.”
So the idea of long-term retention, rather than short-term memorizing, isn’t scary to my students; it’s just completely foreign, as if someone had asked them to use a dial telephone, a card catalogue, a TV with a channel dial, or some other obsolete form of technology. They could – and it might be fun once they got used to it (my own children, 15 and 11, were champions at finding the right track on an LP by the time they were 7 or 8) – but it feels odd and unnatural at first. And, like anything odd and unnatural, it’s hard to embrace … especially if you haven’t learned how to manage yourself, focus your attention, restrain your impulse to start talking to J, turn away from the constant stream of entertainment on your Internet Capable Device. It’s even harder if you see yourself as an isolated individual, if you’ve never been part of a community, joyful or otherwise.
So on Monday, with the mid-morning group, we went back … way back, with a very structured “Make the Verb” activity. It was similar, in some ways, to the one we’d attempted on Friday – they rolled a die to determine persona and numerus, then made all three familiar tempora of that verb. But for the first few verbs, everything is specified: look on this Consolidation Sheet, at this chart, take off this ending and put on that one. Then, ever so gradually, the help fades … and by the end of the activity, we’re making the verbs without all the explanation and support. And, of course, as soon as we don’t need the support anymore, we can ignore it and just make the verbs – it’s a self-differentiating and self-correcting assignment if both partners do their alternating jobs of writer and checker. It’s a variation, too, on something I’ve used for years – something that veteran members of the “Latin Family” would recognize, but find surprising for a Latin II class. It worked beautifully in both classes, though the mid-morning group made a feeble attempt at resistance and asked for a “Traditional Latin Class” for about 10 minutes. C, who’d been absent Friday, was appalled at them; I reassured him it was much better. If my intuition is right, it will be about five minutes today, at most, and then we might be done.
Once we feel good about making the verbs – and once we’d made the connection between making verbs right and making a story others can understand – we kept working on our Minor Assessment #2 stories. For the groups that needed a bit of spoon-feeding – and for U, M, and B, who told me they really like checklists – there was a set of possible scenarios and a checklist to guide them. Nobody in the early-morning group needed that; everybody in the mid-morning group wanted it. And for those who didn’t attempt a story – who got distracted by each other and technology – there’s an individual-response, technology-free alternative today … not a punishment, though they might want to label it so, but a Law of the Farm result.
As Debbie noted yesterday,
“if you do this then this will happen”
The trck with this is making the result skill -building, internal awareness of joyful community and personal needs. We turn to Plan B not as a punishment but because your action indicate that that is what you need at the moment. The goal is to help them understand their moods, their learning styles, their needs of the moment, how to be most productive in the moment, how to prioritize the stuff in their lives and how to be an effective member of the community.
It’s so simple, so straightforward, so utterly foreign in a factory-world where, as Mark put it,
The factory system processes kids as though they were crops planted in April and harvested in July or August.
Mark’s comment is so profound that it deserves a fuller response; go read it now and expect that response tomorrow if all goes well!
How do you plant a farm in the midst of a factory? And how do you reclaim the farmer’s mindset in a factory-world? And how do you reclaim the small-town feeling – even the mill-village feeling – in a factory-fragmented world? Is it hard, easy, or both at once?