When I was a sophomore in high school my Latin teacher assigned us each some new part of grammar to teach to the class. For most teachers now, this probably seems like a rather simple exercise, but for me then it was the first time I had encountered such an assignment. I got the double dative construction. I have never forgotten it.
Even though I had this important experience, I never really thought about its impact until years later. Like many of us, I started to teach Latin and Greek because I love the literature–this means my whole focus in teaching has been to shove as much grammar and vocabulary into young minds as possible so that they can get to the ‘important’ work as soon as possible.
But as I taught–or more often, failed to teach–Greek over the years and learned more about pedagogy and assessment, I kept returning to that exercise in Latin class. Over the years I have tried to integrate active learning and experiential learning into daily language instruction. I have also moved away from conventional grading–I have long made it a rule that if you mess up all semester but can read Greek to the level needed at the end of the course, whatever percentages are on the syllabus really don’t matter.
(From experience and theory, I don’t think grades do what we want them to do in general. But when it comes to learning something as incredibly complex as a language over multiple semesters, grading the wrong way is a serious impediment to learning.)
Over the years I have tried many alternative types of assessments in lieu of heavily graded exams: I tried self reflection sheets and questions for each chapter; I tried small group work with portfolios and self-assessments. I tried these in concert with regular quizzes (especially on vocabulary and morphology). I’ll basically do anything to get better results in class. But I am really skeptical that my methodological changes make that much difference.
One thing that does seem to help are student projects. I always have these too close to the end of the semester to be truly impactful (ideally they should be spread throughout the semester). I leave things really open: students have to pick something they don’t understand or want to learn about and design some sort of ‘teaching tool’ to help either introduce the topic or practice using the material.
Invariably the students design activities that are more creative and more fun than anything I do in class. Here’s a selection of what some of my students designed this semester
- Principal Part Connect the Dots: One student decided to design a connect-the-dot that required you to know principal parts, Bonus points for Greek-Themed Images.
2. Word Puzzle: Another student took sentences from Plato and broke them up into words. We had to put the sentences back together based on our understanding of Greek Grammar. This and the last would work great in digital form as well
3. Irregular Verb Jeopardy: Like Jeopardy, but with Irregular verbs. This is harder than you think.
4. Imperative Menu and Fortune Cookies: Another student made an elaborate restaurant menu of imperative types and, as part of dessert, made a bunch of Greek fortunes (she even tried to make the cookies for the fortunes–the cookies didn’t happen, but the Greek prose comp did.
5. Lego Participles! Another student submitted a set of Legos modified for the construction of Greek participles. How cool is that?
Other projects: Songs to remember conditionals (with written music); a form of twister adapted to the use and generation of imperatives; and songs/chants to remember prepositions with multiple meanings.