Can Living Latin Pedagogy Survive the AP Exam?
Using Dolphin Editions, Katie Schuhl Aims to Bring Active Latin to AP Latin.
In the twenty-five years or so that I’ve been teaching, “living Latin“ has become a focal point of pedagogy and also a sort of litmus test for the type of Latin teacher you are. Even defining what it means isn’t necessarily easy. My attitude years ago was that speaking Latin or using it for any purpose other than reading an original text was useless and, in fact, anti-intellectual. Why would anyone want to learn the word for “tennis“ or “superconductor“ in Latin? Why speak it? It only distracted students from the business of reading serious works with real Latin words in them, and my job was to create as many Classics majors as possible — isn’t that why they were there?
Thankfully, as I paid more attention to the students in front of me and less to my own preconceptions, I came to believe that if I wanted Latin, and ancient culture in general, to flourish as a discipline, my students would have to have a lot of different ways to enter the discipline. They needed to be able to see themselves in the language and to express their priorities, not mine. Oral Latin, neo-Latin, medieval Latin, comprehensible-input Latin, grammar-focused Latin, whatever worked. Thus began a slow, still-evolving attempt to create a more holistic Latin education for my students. I’m trying now to help them analyze where they are and where they want to go rather than to decide who is “in“ and who is “out“ of excellence in a rather narrow set of skills.
After taking a course in spoken Latin about fifteen years ago, I began compiling personal recordings and activities based on my textbook and assigning them on a catch-as-catch-can basis. It was really difficult to integrate spoken Latin into a curriculum originally based on grammar and translation because their reading skills were so much more advanced than their listening ones.
With trial and error, I gradually built a somewhat Frankenstein’s-monster-like set of activities and assessments that focused more substantially on spoken Latin and Latin-Latin pedagogy. I now have a list of spoken Latin phrases we use daily. The students watch short, level-appropriate videos in Latin on cultural topics. They identify grammatical concepts using Latin terminology. Quiz and test questions are in Latin. Comprehension has become more useful than translation. My students’ NLE scores on the reading section rose dramatically. In the past ten years, I have also seen amazing materials come out to help students learn Latin more organically at the lower levels, and my colleague and I have been integrating them into our program with substantial success.
Overall, I was pretty happy with the progress we had made through level IV. The AP, however, was a real sticking point. The emphasis on literal translation, the number of lines, the fact that the test’s directions and questions are in English, all of that made me feel we were actually heading backward. The work my students and I had put in to the lower levels and the excitement we had developed over their increasing fluency seemed wasted, and the students commented on it. They loved the material, but the pedagogy disconnect became so marked it was hard to justify. I went looking for materials, but none seemed to really work. The Latin-Latin texts by Ørberg, for example, were dense, and the lines didn’t match the AP syllabus.
Many schools are grappling with their relationship to AP courses, and ours is no different. I have often wondered in the last few years, “Should our school just exit the AP program?” I did not want to. The AP syllabus provides outside accountability, which is crucial for students to know they are learning a curriculum, not a teacher’s pet theories or hobby horses. But if we stayed, how to fill the gap?
When I learned this spring that the Paideia Institute was developing Latin-Latin texts specifically for the AP syllabus — the Dolphin editions of Vergil and Caesar — I jumped at the chance to try them. I bought sample copies and looked through them. The organization of the pages, with the original Latin on top, a simplified Latin version underneath, and notes at the bottom is very clear. The editors left plenty of space in the pages. (One of my criticisms of other Latin-Latin editions, like Ørbergs’s, is how cramped they are. Too much information in too small a space is overwhelming for students who are still processing the language at a slower rate than experts.) The simplified Latin, especially in cases where long passages are in indirect statement, seems helpful. Synonyms and illustrations give the students more opportunities to understand without translation.
This fall will be my first opportunity to use the texts in the classroom, and I’m looking forward to seeing if I can better align the AP syllabus with the pedagogy of the rest of our curriculum. As the year progresses, I’ll have a better idea of whether these lessons work in the context of the AP Syllabus. Stay tuned — I’ll be writing again with an update!
Below I’ve given a sample lesson I plan to use that combines the Dolphin Edition with my own materials and practice from albert.io, online software that provides practice for the AP exam. I will also be using AP Classroom to check their comprehension and skills, but I have not supplied pictures because College Board explicitly asks teachers not to share its resources publicly.
Students and teacher read and discuss Caesar I.1 and I.2 together in class, in Latin as much as possible, and answer the questions in Latin or English as given (see below).
Caesar Comp. questions I.1–7
1. Qui sunt tres populi qui in Gallia habitant?
2. Da duos modos cur Belgae sint fortissimus populus in Galliā.
3. Cur Helvetii sunt meliores Gallis?
4. Fill in the map with the names below. Fill in according to what Caesar describes, not necessarily what’s on another map (as we discussed in class). Also, make a compass with the names Latine of north, east, and west.
1. Quis est Orgetorix?
2. Quas duas res Orgetorix fecit?
3. Quid cogitat Orgetorix esse perfacile?
4. Quomodo Helvetii continentur?
5. Cur erant Helvetii tristes?
6. How big was Helvetian territory?
Homework: students answer questions in albert.io or AP Classroom to practice AP skills. I can monitor their progress on the sites and review questions they have difficulty with in the next class.
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