Why You Should Bring Your High School Latin Students to Living Latin in NYC

In Medias Res |

An interview with Robert Conn, founder of the Thaden School's Latin program, about his experience with his students at the Paideia Institute's annual spoken Latin and Greek conference.

Thaden School Latin teachers Robert Conn and Noreen Kupernik (right) with their students in front of a column from the Temple of Artemis at Sardis, following YouTube-famous Latinist Luke Ranieri's (center) Latin tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Greek and Roman collection.

In Medias Res: Tell us a little bit about the school where you teach Latin.

Robert Conn: Thaden is an independent school in Bentonville, up in the northwest corner of Arkansas. Our Latin program, like our school, is in its seventh year and we founded it as a spoken Latin program from the beginning.

IMR: How did you find out about the Paideia Institute’s Living Latin in New York City conference, and how would you describe your experience attending LLiNYC for the first time in 2019?

RC: When we began Thaden’s Latin program in 2017, I started looking around for other programs out there that had resources for spoken Latin, and the Paideia Institute was one of the ones I found. When I attended the Living Latin in New York City conference in 2019, I would say my greatest and most fun takeaway was being able to read and look intensively at Latin outside of the Classical era. Most of my training had been in texts ranging from 200 BC to 400 AD, with very little outside of that, so some of the highlights from that conference for me were the Archipoeta, Johannes Kepler's Somnium, and Spinoza’s Ethica. I really enjoyed working through these texts, and had lots of fun singing the Archipoeta’s poems with the group that was there!

IMR: What about your experience at LLiNYC inspired you to organize a student trip to the conference last year?

RC: Our students really enjoy any opportunity to speak Latin. During our fourth year I was able to organize a Latin pen pal program with another institution in California, and the ability to communicate, even in written letters, generated so much excitement amongst the students. It’s very exciting for them to see people beyond our little community at Thaden communicating in the language, so, I thought, how can I bring them in closer contact with the world of spoken Latin?

At LLiNYC they can navigate the language in real-time by listening and speaking, which is arguably one of the best metrics by which you can measure yourself and your own growth. So that’s what planted the seed: I wanted to make it possible for our students to experience that exchange with other Latin speakers and learn from people besides myself and my colleagues.

IMR: How did attending LLiNYC enrich your students’ studies of Latin, both at the conference and back home afterwards?

RC: They talked about the experience so positively. One of the things our students asked to do once we knew we were going to attend was start prep work. So we began reading from the 2019 LLiNYC text packet that I had, and then as soon as the 2023 edition came out, we started working through the texts that they would encounter in their sessions at the conference. This definitely helped them feel more confident and get the most out of the experience, and taking a break from our regular coursework for a few weeks to dive into new texts let them reflect on what kinds of Latin they’re excited to explore more of.

Last year’s Latin V students, based on their experience at LLiNYC, just wanted to read poetry! We read a lot of Martial and Juvenal. I was not expecting that, and I don’t think they could have made that choice had they not been exposed to so much poetry at the conference. So I think it broadened their horizons in terms of what types of Latin texts really interest them.


IMR: What level of preparation in Latin would you recommend students reach before attending LLiNYC?

RC: That's a great question. We use Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata as our course text, so I’d say that we've only brought students to LLiNYC who have encountered at least through chapter 28 or 29 and have a working knowledge of the subjunctive. I think the conference is appropriate for students who feel comfortable with at least a passive recognition of the subjunctive forms and are just willing to try communicating in Latin, even if they know that their endings will be incorrect, because everyone is there to help them out. Those would just be some of the benchmarks, or roughly two years of Latin at the least, so they don’t feel lost.

IMR: Did attending a Latin conference contribute to your students’ sense of community in the field of Classics?

RC: Oh, absolutely. And I think one of the most horizon-broadening aspects of LLiNYC was that our students got to meet so many different types of individuals there, many whose professional lives have really nothing to do with Latin–maybe they studied the language many years ago, and wanted to keep up with it as a hobby. Our students found that really interesting because most of them don't necessarily have Classics in mind as a major as they plan for college, they've just taken Latin here at Thaden because they've liked it.

Now they can say, I can continue to do this outside of school, there are resources available and places I can go to still participate in something like this. I think that it was really eye-opening for them to realize that Classics doesn’t have to be your whole career to attend a conference like this, you can simply be a lover of the language and participate at whatever level you're capable.

IMR: As a professional development opportunity for Latin teachers, does the pedagogical programming at LLiNYC inform your teaching?

RC: Yes, absolutely. The teaching style in the sessions that my colleague and I have participated in at LLiNYC is very reminiscent of a Harkness Table discussion, where we all take turns reading or reciting an excerpt and then go through and talk about it together in Latin. When my students reach Latin IV and V, I bring aspects of that into our classroom. Especially when we were reading from past LLiNYC text packets, I would preface the lesson by saying, “we’re going to do this the way you would experience it at the Paideia Institute conference.” And they really enjoyed this approach. It’s not always possible to do this every class period, but it’s great when we can make time once or twice a week to read a text together and discuss it in this way.

I really enjoy teaching tantum Latine, so receiving positive feedback from my students about this approach motivates me to keep learning from other educators who teach Latin this way at LLiNYC. I think this has really helped me improve how I lead our Harkness Latin discussions. The conference has also inspired me to introduce my students to reciting texts in meter, or if we’re reading a song I’ll pull something up on YouTube and we’ll try to sing it. These are opportunities to try something more joyful in our classroom and get everyone moving, while still staying on target with the curriculum.

IMR: In a few words, why should high school Latin teachers and their students attend Living Latin in New York City?

RC: There's just so much to do at the conference and around the conference, and New York is just a great Latin city! If your group is able to arrive on the Friday before (the conference takes place on Saturday and Sunday), I would recommend spending some time visiting places like the New York Academy of Medicine, which has a phenomenal Latin manuscript collection. Our students were blown away by the documents that they were able to see.

You should come to Living Latin in New York City because you can see Latin in so many different contexts, which you probably don’t have the opportunity to see at home (at least, we don’t in Arkansas). So come not just for LLiNYC, but for all of the ancillary benefits that the conference has to offer!


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In Medias Res

In Medias Res is the online magazine for lovers of Latin and Greek, published by the Paideia Institute.


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