I have gone back and forth for quite a few years on this–and from conversations I’ve had with fellow Latin teachers, I know I’m not alone. But this year, something clicked, and I feel like I am beginning to find a way to make the NLE part of my program culture, but not in a way that necessarily favors “those” kids, which is what all competitive academic tests do. I’ll boil it down to a few governing principles:
Not Mandatory, but HIGHLY encouraged.
In addition to all the reasons teachers give their students for taking the NLE, I also offer 50 points for taking the test (which is a lot, considering students need to gather 100 per quarter for their “independent points” grade), regardless of score. I also tell students that “NLE” looks good on a college resume regardless of their score. This way, there is no downside to signing up.
Over near the Latin books, I keep a collection of folders containing previous NLE’s and answer keys (separated by level). As the year progresses, I point those out, and show the class how the test is formatted. Then, we go through a few questions together on a regular basis, either as a warm-up, or as a break from whatever we are doing. I try to make connections with our curriculum, and use the questions to introduce new ideas. I tell them that they will naturally do well on side 2 (reading comprehension), but if they want to go for a high score, especially for the questions at the beginning of side 1, they will have to practice on their own and/or attend one of our sessions.
Encourage and reward preparation, regardless of whether they are taking the test.
That’s right, even if they do not sign up for the test, students can earn an additional 50 points per quarter for completing and correcting three practice NLE tests. This encourages ALL students to pick it up especially during those weeks before the test, when I am giving students time in class to work on NLE. I emphasize that everyone can learn something from going over an NLE. During free reading time, I allow students to take a practice test, and read over the story on side 2, or to use the collection of readings “Discitur legendo.” When they explore the tests on their own, most students can find things that they know, in addition to new questions and challenges. If I keep the pressure low, then students can interact with the test without anxiety.
In addition, when Latin club hosts a cram session on an afternoon before the test day, where we provide pizza and soda, all students can join in, those who are going for a high score, and those who want to add some points to their grade by completing a few practice tests, or just hang out with their classmates in a safe place. It is during these sessions that students start asking about endings, about nouns and verbs, and all the details that are so tedious or anxiety-provoking when you are trying to teach them in a regular class.
For individual work, in addition to the folders of previous exams and keys, I have created a web page, where students can find links to all kinds of helpful information that I have come across. HERE is the link
My goal is to cultivate an inclusive and welcoming culture, in which all students can enter and make progress, and have that progress celebrated and honored. In the past, the NLE has not fit into this. Now, however, I see the beginnings of a way. This year I had 68 students sign up for the NLE, that’s roughly half of all Latin students. And, it’s not just the academic high-performers. And with each year, word of mouth travels, not only about the test, but about the experience of participating in the review sessions. It will be a while before I get back the scores, and I’m not really concerned with who got what score or prize. Every year, we earn a lot of certificates, and even some medals. We will have an award ceremony and EVERYONE is invited. At that event, we will reflect on how much we learned from this process, and what we can do to prepare for next year.