Tuesday, February 16, 2016

My takeaways from LLiNYC 2016 (tl;dr: it's good to spend time being a student)

This past weekend I attended The Paideia Institute's Living Latin in New York City conference. Driving 4+ hours each way was a pain in the bottom, but it was totally worth it. I met new friends, reconnected with old ones, and met several people face to face that I only ever knew online before. If you can't commit to a full week or more in the summer of spoken Latin, and you're interested in real ways to use it in the classroom, LLiNYC is a good choice. Since I am the only Latin teacher and the only CI/TPRS teacher in my district, for me it also served as a mid-year PD and enthusiasm recharge.

This was only my second Living Latin event, and it was quite different from the Conventiculum Bostoniense. The latter is a true immersion experience for 8 days, whereas LLiNYC is more mixed. CB-- at least for beginners-- is about practicing spoken Latin and learning how to use it in the real world and with reference to teaching. LLiNYC had a mixture of things: spoken Latin just for fun, spoken Latin literature-reading sessions, academic & pedagogical lectures in Latin, and also some sessions in English or mixed Latin and English.

The most affective (and I do mean 'affective' not 'effective' I promise) session I attended was none of the above. It was a session in spoken Greek. On the registration they asked us to put our experience with Greek and Spoken Latin. Since the former wasn't expressly called "Spoken" I thought it was safe to say "Intermediate." When I found out I was signed up for a spoken Greek session where we'd actually read and discuss poetry, however, I figuratively threw up in my mouth a little. I was not the only one who entered a room on the ninth floor with the greatest trepidation. The people running the session greeted me and my friend and asked where we came from... in Greek. We stared at them until they stopped, and sat down. Soon we received a vocab sheet and a blank piece of paper. I clung to the vocab sheet like a plank in the icy waters surrounding the Titanic. Shortly thereafter, our teacher (Alex Petkas) began to speak. It developed, with the help of the vocab sheet, that today he was a boat-builder and we would learn how to build boats out of our paper. He led us through a complicated progression of folds and unfolds and opens and closes that eventually led to little origami boats.

Somewhere along the way I remembered how to say "yes" and "no" and found I recognized most of the words he was using (minus the boat and origami specific ones from the vocab sheet), and even knew what maybe two thirds of them meant. We moved on to looking at some poems in Greek and Latin and I managed to answer a non-yes/no question (although my answer began "ouk hellenike" and he said Latin was okay. WHEW.). By the end, I felt a lot better about myself because it turns out that, after six years of sweet sweet Greek avoidance, I still remembered a bunch.

Why am I telling you about this? To remind you of the experience of being a student. The fear and frightful stupidity that I felt throughout most of the session, the complete inability to answer questions in the TL, the incredible frustration of a talks-a-lot-person who can't express herself... My students were close to my mind. Next week I will be using more spoken Latin in my own classes, and now I feel like I will be more sympathetic toward my students' feelings as we do so. Up until now, they have been able to ask & answer oral questions in English. From now on, the expectation is that they will TRY to use Latin, and if they can't, they will use signals, or failing that, they will use their phrase sheets to ask me -- in Latin-- to speak English. So my takeaways from LLiNYC and specifically from my Greek session are particularly relevant to me at this time:

  1. Being a student in a foreign language sucks, even if you understand most of the words, because you can't express yourself how you want to, or as often.
  2. It is SCARY to be a student in a foreign language, even if you understand most of the words, because you feel out of control and like you may lose the thread at any moment.
  3. Because of those, it feels AWESOME when you get something right in the TL, whether by speaking or just by understanding.
  4. Doing something physical and obvious like showing us how to fold a paper boat while describing the process in the TL is a tremendously effective safety net to reduce the above fears & anxieties. (i.e., CI is great- "I may not know what that word he keeps saying means, but I'm damn sure it's something to do with folding.")
  5. ... and finally, using a foreign language is exhausting, even if you're nominally an expert in the language.

I hope that wall of text was somewhat interesting. If you've made it this far, I recommend you keep an eye out on the Paideia Institute's website for videos of a lot of the talks, both in English and Latin (and a few in Greek). There will be really good stuff there, including demos of CI from Bob Patrick & Keith Toda, and some excellent stuff on extensive reading by Justin S. Bailey.

1 comment:

  1. All the more reason why it is SO necessary to establish meaning in L1 & to deliver understandable messages in L2.