A career-capping interview

Yesterday two boys came to see me. What class they were supposed to be in, I didn’t ask. Both had continued on into third year Latin with the new teacher after having taken two years with me. Both are capable and reflective. When they had mentioned in passing on campus that they found the teaching method they were under to be less than satisfactory, I was interested to see if it corresponded to the incessant harping on winning prizes and getting high test scores; this teacher is very competitive and is switching textbooks b/c the other one is correlated with higher test scores on the NLE. That is not how we are supposed to design our curriculum. She emphasizes grammar and pays little attention to what we call input, i.e. reading. And she never speaks the language. One day I said something simple to her: I found a scorpion in my house last night and she struggled with it.
So what I’m saying is that she is a very traditional, grammar/translation Latin teacher. Under Comprehension in her syllabus she has “Translate….” I sometimes wonder if these folks think the Romans talked in code (Latin) but were really thinking in English.
Anyway, the boys’ testimony could have been written out by a strong CI proponent. They described how upset she got that my Latin IIs equaled hers in scores on the NLE. They said their work, lots of it, consists of picking out endings what we call parsing and translating…. on the computer. One boy said he had lost his ability to sight read, i.e. to read Latin and comprehend it directly, something he had been able to do when he was in my class.
They also talked more bitterly about the number of students she has flunked out. They doubt she can keep the program up. She is a good teacher and kids enjoy the competitive activities she involves them in, the field trips, and the trips abroad. The school loves high test scores and AP and she is very good at that. If she succeeds, and I hope she does, she will produce those Latin students who swear Latin was never meant to be spoken.
This is a perfect example of the sort of experiences we have but are not admissible as evidence. There’s no way to set up anything like this as an experiment; not even surveys could cover this. Yet from these experiences, we know that teaching a language by teaching its structural rules is ineffective in producing proficient users who can function to some degree in the language. And we know that lots of interesting comprehensible input allows the student to acquire the language without conscious knowledge of the process.

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