This page is primarily for Latin teachers, but draws on modern foreign language acquisition work. We don’t ask our students to read nearly enough QUANTITY which is necessary to support their acquisition and fluency at higher levels, especially in year 3 when a) students have arrived at a level of proficiency where they can do it, and b) now that there exist enough resources that students at this level can read without having to look up every other word.
Let me show you a page in Blaine Ray and Contee Seely’s book “Fluency thru TPR Storytelling” known as the “Green Bible” and now in its 7th edition. This image is from an earlier edition, so the page numbers may not line up, but it is taken from Chapter 7 which deals with reading.
Notice that, for third and 4th years, students are expected to read 8 250-word pages twice a week in class, and another 8 twice a week on their own, for a total of THIRTY TWO PAGES PER WEEK. We can’t get to fluency without large quantities of comprehensible input. For many teachers (and for most Latin teachers) this seems like an impossible goal, and I am not even halfway toward this goal yet. But I think it is a worthwhile goal to strive for, as long as we clear up a few potential misunderstandings and obstacles first of all.
Obstacle #1: I want my students to read third year texts, which means unadapted Classical Latin authors. I have to get them ready for (insert test name, or higher level class name, here).
By starting the year (first quarter or more) having students read a large quantity of simpler Latin, you are simultaneously giving them review in vocab and grammar, building their vocabulary, helping their classical content knowledge, and giving them confidence with the language. By choosing readings that focus on classical vocabulary and related content, you can still keep them on a Classical Text trajectory without sacrificing momentum. By transitioning mid-year from easy novels and readings from year 1-2 textbooks, to adapted versions of your classical readings, you are easing the transition without having them miss out on the content you want them to read.
Obstacle #2: I can’t get them through all those pages and do the activities, quizzes, etc. that I need to do with students to ensure that they actually understand the readings.
If you make sure to select readings that students can truly understand (90+% known vocabulary), you won’t have to do all the activities that you are accustomed to doing with them during years 1-2. You still need to check comprehension, and you may need to front-load vocab especially during the first chapters of a novel. But all the activities that our colleagues in Latin have developed are mainly there because the readings we assign contain too many new words.
Obstacle #3: what exactly do you mean by “reading” here?
I am talking about having students translate from Latin into English aloud as they read. Students will work in small groups with students who are more or less at their level. You can also have the class translate chorally with you or a student leading with a laser pointer. As long as a reading is comprehensible to students, it does not become deciphering, which is what most Latin teachers grew up doing.
Obstacle #4: Students read at different paces, and some are less motivated than others. How do I make sure everyone is reading? What about those who fall far behind?
If the goal is quantity, you can have a baseline of required reading, once which all students and groups can meet. Then the faster groups can simply continue while others work toward the first goal, with a teacher’s guidance if necessary. One way to do this is to assign certain required chapters (not all) in a novel. Slower groups will skip, and faster groups will be instructed to read through the entire book. If you are using a simplified version of a reading, you can have a more difficult version handy for a faster group to work on. Assessment can be flexible as well, especially during the early review stage, where quantity is the goal. You can print out quizlet quizzes corresponding to specific sections, and students choose which of those to take as they reach goals. Your test can focus on the assigned chapters, even though other students have read more. If you do a drawing and language activity (smash doodle, draw 123, storyboard, etc.), you can give students choices, e.g. “choose three chapters from our book to describe with words and pictures.”
Obstacle #5: But I thought a CI classroom was about me being at the front of the class, delivering input, and getting students to respond and show comprehension. This looks like small groups reading on their own. Is this still CI?
Yes. Remember, that students receive input by listening and by reading. If our goal is reading proficiency, then we should be helping students transition from listening to reading. If you have put in 1-2 years of delivering spoken messages in the target language, and building up the reading bit by bit, your and their reward is to have this kind of class, where students are working more independently, and where you don’t have to be the only provider of input in their language experience.
You can and should still have conversations with your class, about the readings or about other topics. In this context, I could see talking to my students a few times per week about the following:
*what did you do last weekend? What are you planning to do this weekend?
*respond to questions about the chapter reading. (You may want to read over a passage with the class before asking, and/or provide comprehension questions for them to work with before your conversation to provide some structure.)
*compare the events of a reading with a modern situation or an experience they have had.
*what is your favorite part of the reading and why?
*weekly mini presentations on parts of the readings, in Latin. Students take notes in Latin/English and turn those in.
Obstacle #6: I still have a hard time visualizing this happening in my classroom. Are other teachers actually doing this?
Yes, we are. I have started this with my third year classes, and I can say that it is working very well, especially if I am careful to nudge specific students and groups as needed. Modern language teachers have been doing this for some time, and some have written about this at some length. Check out Carrie Toth’s blog, especially the posts in which she discusses “reading club” where she experimented with having students read different novels. It was by reading Toth’s blog that I got a real sense of how this works, possible obstacles, and how to overcome those obstacles.