Hodie in Historia

Have you ever been reminded of something, from a while ago, that at THAT time just passed you by – ZIP, right over your head – but now seems like a miracle… one you wish you’d known about earlier? Or rather, that you’d been in the right place, at the right moment, in the right frame of mind the first time this something had been shared with you so that you could have been implementing it all along? Well, it happened to me.

At our last department head meeting – I am not a department head, but I attend as the Latin language representative – two graphic organizers for our county were shared/reminded to us. The first, I can’t say I’ve found a particular use for and don’t really see the value in. [Cue the opening sentence… maybe I’m just not in the right place to understand its usefulness at this time.]

However, the second graphic organizer is AMAZING! My upper level students are struggling with frustration and learned helplessness. These are students I taught before I started implementing all those wonderful CI strategies, so they are used to and trained on a lot of grammar-translation activities. They respond in one of two ways when confronted with a Latin text: either they know what the words mean or the words are provided nearby and they just begin piecing the words together like a puzzle, or they see a word they don’t know and isn’t readily provided and all of a sudden they don’t know anything and can’t possibly be expected to do anything anymore… LATIN IS TOO HARD!

When they flee into the darkness of helplessness, we lose a whole block’s worth of time as I gallantly try to talk them back into the light, providing little glimpses of Latin that is familiar and comforting. It drains me and frustrates them – why, yes, now I see it; why was I so stupid before; how dumb can I be. No one wins.

Then comes this Comprehension Organizer:


Now, I’m encouraging my students to start each class by learning and practicing how to focus on what they do understand or can make educated guesses at instead of what they don’t know. Before I explain the types of texts I’m using with my upper level students, I want to explain the graphic organizer.

There are 5 rows – since we are on a A/B block rotation schedule, 5 days equals two weeks. The students fill out one row each block.

Date (in Latin): provided in the text, but also reviewed during our daily Calendar Talk

List cognates: I encourage the students to look through the text for words they can make educated guesses at regarding meaning based on closely associated English words; they cannot write down proper names; I find this skill also helps with some of the students making derivative connections

Main idea/What else: students can choose one paragraph to focus on or the whole text; here’s their chance to show me that they can understand at least one thing confidently

Verum/Falsum: I write two sentences, in English, on the board; students make a true/false choice then support their choice with a word, phrase, or sentence from the text; I’m not really looking for accuracy here, but rather if they can pull information out via context clues

Choose and guess meaning: similar to the cognates list, but this time I’m asking students to choose two to five, not obvious cognates, to make educated guesses about the meaning based solely on context; they can choose words, phrases, or whole sentences depending on their own confidence

The note at the bottom is just for the handful of students who complete the sheet in a rush, without really trying, just to get back to their classwork due next block that they didn’t do at home…

As stated above, the whole point of this graphic organizer is for students to begin the process of altering their mindset away from learned helplessness and frustration and towards a more active, problem-solving mindset. I want students to be comfortable with unknowns as well as learning how to work with the known to figure out the unknown, or at least have a general idea about the unknown. Overall, in just the few weeks I’ve implemented this at the beginning of class, the students are a bit more eager to confront the “hard Latin” without the heavy sighs, unneeded trips to the restroom, and heads-down.

As for the texts themselves, I have begun pulling daily highlights from history, re-written in simplified Latin, for the students to work with. I don’t pre-plan/teach certain vocabulary, grammar, or content. I choose interesting tidbits from across the globe and time. I try to make at least one of the events relatively associated with them so they have a fighting chance to understand at least one of the three events I’ve paraphrased. Twice now, the students have surprised me with follow-up discussions about one of the events.

Here’s an example of one of the texts and a link to the on-going list of them:

Hodie [duodecimus dies in mense Novembre] in historia:

In anno 1927, Leon Trotsky ex Factio Communistica Sovieta expellitur quam licet Joseph Stalin legere potestatem totam.

In anno 1933, primus ludus harpasti ludebatur in die solis Philadelphiae, prius inlicitus.

In anno 1934, Charles Manson – vir nefarius et interfector et dux cultualis – in Cincinnati, Ohio natus est. Charles Manson in carcere mortuus est, quoque in mense Novembre sed anno 2017.

For those folks wanting to know what site I use to find these tidbits, here it is: https://www.onthisday.com/

I’d love feedback on how you all have worked through learned helplessness in your students.

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