Since my name is Patrick and we just took over the care of my grandsons’ snake and I work in a Catholic school with lots of Irish people and at Mass today the priest talked about St. Patrick and the snakes, I wrote up the following story:
There’s a snake in my house. He lies in an acquarium. Everyday I enter the room and I look at the snake and he looks at me. He’s happy. I’m happy.
But today, the seventeenth of March, when I entered the room, he got scared. I didn’t know why he was scared. Then I realized, today is St. Patricks Day, my name is Patrick, so the snake thinks I’m coming to kill him.
If you know any Latin, you know there’s a lot going on here grammatically, but you can grasp the meaning without the grammatical niceties. So my freshmen got the story when I asked them to translate it. My third and fourth year students saw the grammatical devices (cum clause, purpose clause, etc.). The second year kids learned to focus on the roots for meaning and deal with the endings where they could but not to sweat the rest.
This is tiered teaching: I’m using the same material but at different levels. It was mostly comprehensible input at the i+1 level for even the first year students. Culture was embedded in weaving the idea of a Saint’s Name Day and the role of this particular saint. I get a little credit for meeting catechetical standards, and the students get a sense of accomplishment in reading it.
My major thrust was to introduce the notion of learned helplessness. I gave them plenty of opportunity to ask questions about the text, the story; I even encouraged them to do so. But they didn’t know I was going to ask them to translate it. When I did, suddenly certain ones wanted to know this or that. If it had been covered already, I didn’t answer it for them but they could get help from someone who was paying attention. Interestingly, it was only among the freshmen that a fair number did not home in on the answers I gave to questions. The second and third year students know better and that’s my goal.
I wonder how we can deal with multiple goals like this in multiple layeres, kind of meta-goals.