Friday, April 27, 2012

Standards for the Latin Classroom

What skills should our students of Latin be developing? This has been exposed for me as a weakness this semester in my own classes. As a result my teaching has been scattered and I'm left with an "eh" feeling here at the end of the year. I could say a lot more about this, but I want to keep this post as focused as possible and hopefully get some feedback.

I have divided the skills (or "learning targets") into eight categories (or "standards") based around the CAMWS standards. My eight standards are:

1. Reading Skills
2. Grammar Topics
3. Vocabulary
4. Writing Latin
5. Speaking and Hearing Latin
6. Ancient Culture
7. Tech-savvy
8. Evaluation of Self and Others

The last two are somewhat "fluff" standards, but they are important topics. I like teaching kids actually to USE technology (7) and it seems to me that reflection and evaluation are essential for learning (see Mr. Ludwig). I am concerned mostly with the learning targets that I have drafted to go under the language standards (1-5). I want to make sure I am covering all the bases.

I really want to beg people for comments and feedback. Do you think I am missing skills? Have I over-emphasized some? Take a look (these are for Latin I, Stages 1-9 of Cambridge Latin Course):
1. Reading Skills (these have been heavily influenced by Dr. Hoyos and Mrs. Lindzey)

I can answer questions on any passage from our class reading list.
I can answer questions on unfamiliar Latin passages which are at or below my Latin reading level.
I can reply in Latin to common Latin questions.
I can use line analysis to break down Latin sentences.
I can use strategies of anticipation while reading Latin.
I can recognize the common patterns of Latin sentences.

2. Grammar Topics
I can distinguish between the subject, direct object, and indirect object of a Latin sentence.
I can tell the case, number, and function of Latin nouns.
I can transform nouns of the First, Second, and Third Declensions into different cases and numbers.
I can translate sentences that include the Nominative, Dative, and Accusative cases.
I can supply the correct form of a noun to complete a sentence.
I can pick out the verb of a Latin sentence.
I can tell the tense, person, and number of Latin verbs.
I can transform verbs into different tenses, persons, and numbers.
I can translate sentences with various tenses, persons, and numbers of verbs.
I can supply the correct form a verb to complete a sentence.
I can pick out adjectives and I know the difference between positive and superlative adjectives.
I can distinguish between main clauses and subordinate clauses.

3. Vocabulary

I know the meanings of the words in the “Words and Phrases” checklist for each Stage.

4. Writing Latin

I can write Latin sentences with subjects, verbs, direct objects, and indirect objects and with verbs of various tenses, persons, and numbers. 

5. Speaking and Hearing Latin

I can record Latin dictation.
I can pronounce passages from our class reading list naturally and with appropriate expression.
I can answer questions about passages I hear.
I can engage in simple Latin conversations on topics similar to those contained in the readings on our class reading list.

A lot of these learning targets will be taught early and constantly practiced on more and more complicated sentences. That is someone unique with Latin, I think. You aren't always learning new skills; instead, you practice familiar skills on continuously more difficult stuff. For example, recognizing patterns (1.f) is easy in CLC Stage 3, more difficult by Stage 12, and much more difficult when Cicero comes to town. It is, though, at bottom the same skill.

Anyways, the goal is reading Latin. A focus will therefore be placed on reading skills, vocabulary, and grammar, but I understand the role of writing, speaking, and hearing Latin. Have I worded these learning targets well? Would you add some? Delete some? Edit some?

You can discuss on Google+ or leave a comment below.


  1. James, these look great! They are very similar to the ACTFL standards. I use those for the "big picture", but what you have outlined in more detail (1.a, 1.b, etc) gives you something more specific and concrete to address on a daily basis. This will also give both you and your students a starting place during one-on-one discussions and conferences.

    This may be logical, but I'm curious why you don't have more specific details under #3 and #4. Maybe it's just a formatting issue. What about something more specific for # 6-8, too? I know you mentioned this was "fluff", but it will give students, parents, and yourself something specific to look forward to, and know what is expected from that standard. How do they, and you, know what that learning target is?

    You mentioned that your goal is reading Latin, with focus being placed on reading, vocab, and grammar. Will you be weighting these standards? For example, reading have the most weight, #6-8 having the least? I know some people will have 3 levels of standards that need to be completed, essentially weighting the standards. I wonder what @mctownsley has to say about weighting standards.

    1. I'll definitely add more detail to #3 and #4. Part of the problem with those is that they build so gradually over time. There could be one target under #3 for each Stage, for example; but I need to get more specific than that, you are right. Mentioning derivatives and compounds might be a good start. I didn't include #6-8 in this list because I was concerned mostly about the "language" standards. When I finally get a more finalized draft of all this I'll post a full list.

      I'd be interested in @mctownsley on weighted standards. I tried something like that this past semester in my classes, but was not satisfied. I am thinking what might be best is some kind of conjunctive grading model. I really like what @chrisludwig does. The basics would be something like: A=4 in 2 standards and a 3 in the rest; B=3 in all; C=3 in half and a 2 in the rest; D=no less than a 2 in any standard; F=a 1 or 0 in ANY standard. In my mind a system like this totally takes away any opportunity the students have to "game the system." To get a D in the course, you have to at least get out of the lowest levels of mastery for EVERY standard.

      The bottom line is clear, I think: As language teachers we need to protect our language standards; we can't let a students get a C and move on the next level who doesn't at least know the basics of the previous level's language topics. A conjunctive model I think is the only way to achieve this. If one used weighted standards, it seems one would have to make the "fluff, non-language" standards some absurdly low percentage.

  2. I totally agree with you on this one, but let me propose a scenario: I have all 4s in all the standards necessary, but just can't get the last standards mastered. Am I a failing student? This was one thing that kept me away from this method of determining a grade. I have a hard time justifying that one.

    Your thoughts on the "bottom line" I think are dead on. There is a minimum level of acceptability that is allowed. Anything less than this we direct students to redo, retake, reattempt, re-whatever to meet that minimum expectation. What I am doing this year is making a "3" the minimum level of acceptability, calling it "proficient". Each student must meet the standard at a 3 level or redo, retake, reattempt, etc. In the end, any standard not proficient is reduced one grade letter. For example, there are 5 standards in a given grading period. Four of them are met at a level 3 or 4; one is not. The final grade is a B.

    I also struggled with the mental process standards of listening and reading (input). Yeah I could have them regurgitate something back to me, but I really never know what is going through their head; it was mostly lower-order thinking assessed. The speaking and writing (output), culture, and vocabulary standards I could easily evaluate, but the others are a challenge. The ones who are really engaged with the input standards are typically the ones who succeed in the output standards so that helps. I know Latin is a bit different, but I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    1. With conjunctive grading my cutoff for failing a student would be a 1 or a 0 in any standard. It's not that a student would need to show mastery of every standard, but rather to avoid failing a student must move at least into "developing" (2/4) in every standard.

      Here's the thing: I know that students will be just fine with the non-language standards. I think that students will be in danger of failing (i.e., with a 1 or less in any standard) because of grammar, reading skills, vocabulary, or writing. But if a student is so deficient in one of those areas that they aren't even "developing," should they be pushed along to the next level with a grade higher than an F?

      As a side question: Has your scenario of getting an F with all 4s and one bad rank ever played out? It seems to me that all of the standards and learning targets in a foreign language class are going to be SO connected by nature that if one has absolutely mastered most of them, then the rest should be able to improve to "developing" at least. If a student in my class has rock-solid (4) knowledge of writing and reading skills, then advancing to a 2 in grammar and vocabulary should be possible in his or her sleep! At least this is my initial assumption. Thoughts?

      I see what you mean, though. Getting SBG to fit fairly into an A, B, etc. scale is really difficult. It is SUPER important to have this figured out before the first day of school, though, because all invested parties (parents, student, administration) care a whole lot about that letter.

      With your system, what happens if a student gets a 3 in four standards but an absolutely defiant "I'm not going to take this test because I don't like you" 0 on your MOST IMPORTANT standard? For me, that would probably be grammar or reading skills. I can't let a student go on to Latin II without having shown SOME ability with those "less-pleasant" standards.

      About input vs. output. I think foreign language is a little unique in that a lot of what we want students to do happens in their heads. They can't really "show their work" on an exam. If you ask a question in the target language and want a response in the target language (a base-line procedure in foreign language classes) you are actually testing a huge number of things at once. Can they distinguish the sounds of the letters of the words in the question? Can they comprehend the question? Can they think the answer to the question? Can they grasp how to say the answer in the target language? Can they form the sounds of the words to say the answer in the target language? Your point, if I am following you, is excellent: How do we assess each of these processes using SBG? They can't all be learning targets, because how would you assess them? In math and physics you can grade the work they show to at least get some kind of picture of their thoughts; this does not seem as easy in foreign language to me.

      To at least get closer to the input "reading" standard, I tried to make different reading strategies we will learn the learning targets. So, I can assess a "line analysis" or correctly using "anticipation" while reading Latin. Not 100% getting at their comprehension, but at least it's something.

  3. Hi James,

    I stumbled upon your blog via #sbar. I'm a Latin teacher just getting my feet wet with SBG. I'd like to join the conversation and have lots of questions for those of you who have already implemented SBG in your classrooms. I'm also leading my cluster (hopefully) to SBG and am looking for real classroom examples of it to show to my colleagues. Thanks for sharing your standards and putting your thoughts out there! I'd appreciate any advice and tips I can get.

    Andrea MacIsaac

    1. Andrea, thanks for visiting! I am always somewhat new to SBG; it is an exciting time when one is learning so much.

      As far as resources and inspiration, I tried to collect all of my early SBG influences in this post: Bit By the SBG Bug. There are links to other blogs and some YouTube videos that might be helpful when talking with other teachers in your cluster.

      The greatest resource, though, and I am sure you have found this out, is #sbar on Twitter. I have found so many great blogs to follow there. I do not know anyone else who does SBG with Latin, but I have been able to learn a lot from the numerous physics, math, and language arts teachers who us SBG; some Spanish teachers use SBG, too, and their subject is a little closer to ours, at least. So, yeah, follow #sbar on Twitter.

      By the way, what is your Twitter handle? Mine is @tantaemolis

      I have gotten some feedback on this post from several people. When I compile it all I'll post a more detailed explanation of my standards and my plan for grading.

      Oh, and I've got a favorite source for practical SBG stuff that isn't on the post I linked to above. Check out Mr. Ludwig's resources for parents. He does physics, but his documents for explaining SBG to parents and students are excellent. See especially his 2011 Assessment Philosophy. His stuff might also be helpful when brainstorming with fellow teachers.

      What are some of the resources you have found and enjoyed so far?

    2. Hi James,
      Thanks for the response! My twitter handle (though I honestly don't use it all that much is @andreamacisaac.

      I will check out the links. Especially since I'm leading a PD this week on mastery learning. I'm including SBG as a pathway to mastery.

      I really like how SBG makes it so clear what the student's strengths and weaknesses are. So far I'm still attaching percentages. I didn't want to make too many changes to the grading policy as the year wore on. I'm hoping to start in September with a new policy. I'd link it here if I could or share it with you on google docs.

      Earlier this year I went to a conference by Rick Wormeli on Differentiation and Motivation and he makes a great case for SBG. He has great clips on youtube, too.

      What level(s) Latin do you teach? This year (and next) I'm teaching Latin 3, prose and poetry (Cicero, Ovid, & Pliny)

    3. You're right on in my book about the main benefit of SBG. It is so cool that as a teacher you can target a student exactly where he/she is at. I really like the idea of everyone not doing everything; if they don't need to OR if they aren't ready for something yet, what's the point? SBG gives data to make this kind of dynamic possible in a classroom: Who should be doing what today? This is all right in line with differentiated instruction... in a way, it seems to me now that true differentiation is impossible without SBG. How else could one decide what to differentiate and for whom on anything more than a hunch?

      Anyway... I would LOVE to get a look at your grading policy. You can e-mail me at tantaemolis at gmail dot com.

      Or you can send me a message via Twitter. Something that really helps me get the most out of Twitter, by the way, is a program called TweetDeck ( Check it out. It can run on a desktop or mobile device (I think). Basically, it makes Twitter a breeze and actually sort of fun. Twitter is, of course, the best PD available.

      I teach all levels of Latin (I-IV) in high school. The fact that you teach upper levels really interests me. I am currently trying to wrap my mind around SBG in Latin IV especially. I want to see your grading policy even more now! :-)