Among several goals for this year, my major goal is to find find a more effective way to teach 7th graders Latin in a respectful environment. Since I have moved from a college teaching environment, the biggest adjustment has been to teach this youngest grade. While my sister’s children helped prepare me for the energy of younger children and the joy of interacting with them, the seventh grade energy level, shorter attention spans, and desire for play have challenged many of my common teaching practices. Therefore, I consulted with a colleague, who moved previously taught elementary school, in order to get some ideas about how to improve my seventh grade classes. Here are some of the ideas that she suggested and that I’ve come up with on my own:
- Frequent reminders to be more respectful. I am focusing much more on reminding students not to interrupt, to raise their hands, and treat each other with kindness. I am trying to always frame this in terms of respect since one of our school’s primary values is to each students how to respect the dignity of every human being.
- Get to know each other better. I think it has certainly helped that a classroom culture has been developing, students are more comfortable with me and their peers, and they are growing more comfortable with Latin.
- 3-minutes breaks. Each day, I now try to give us a 3-minute break to get water, move around the room, relax their brains, chat, go to the bathroom, or walk around the building. I received reports that some students were bullying each other, so I explained to students that we will now only allow 2 students of each sex to go to the bathroom at a time. They responded remarkably well to this new rule. Generally, these breaks have made them more able to focus later in the 60 minute class period. These times have been great for me: helping me get to know the students better, set up the next activity, reset my own patience, or provide some differentiation by answering students’ questions or helping clarify something. Sometimes, I’ve even given students multiple breaks during class in order to allow us all to reset again.
- Teach through videos. While I have always loved grammar videos from LatinTutorial, myself, and others as a way to help review concepts, I have avoided teaching students with them. However, this year, introducing concepts in class was difficult. Not only were behavioral issues delaying instruction, but there seemed to be so many different trains of thought in the room that I couldn’t effectively teach and answer all the questions once I figured out how their mind was approaching the topic. Therefore, I took part of the problem out of the equation. I am creating new instructional videos that walk students through new ideas, step-by-step, with instructions asking them to write down material and with pauses for practicing declining or conjugating or parsing. Each video ends with a few questions to check for their understanding. Students are responding very well to these. They are taking notes, pausing, rewinding, and asking questions when they need to ask questions. I’m enjoying this more because, practically, it taxes my patience less and it gives me material to reuse in future years. It also helps me guide each student more effectively while they watch the video and I can answer one student’s questions without losing other students’ attention (which is still usually fixed on the video) or confusing the others. I just need to be more effective at providing enough time for students to watch the video after the 3-minute break.
- Make frequent use of the wolf. The seventh graders enjoy throwing it, playing catch with it, and making it dance. It also helps teach them to be inclusive, and I have noticed that they are the most likely age range to consider who hasn’t had the wolf yet. As something akin to a talking stick, it also encourages respectful classroom interactions.
- Have them go to the board. For review problems, I give each student a notecard with a word from their vocabulary list and have them decline or conjugate the word on the board. Not only does this activity get everyone actively practicing their morphology, it also helps them release energy by getting up and moving. At the board, they are often more collaborative than when they practice in their seats. It also makes it easier for me to check their work than if they practiced in their notebook.
- Combining the grammar and learning methods. Seventh grade brains are not as capable of handling abstraction as older students’ brains, and they’re often better at understanding other languages intuitively through reading. Therefore, I’m trying to supplement the grammar approach in Wheelock’s Latin with more passages from reading method textbooks, like Hans Ørberg’s Lingua Latina per se illustrata and Ecce Romani, as long as the grammar sequences cooperate or they aren’t too difficult to adapt. I also think the middle schoolers will be happier to latch onto the stories of fictional characters than the high schoolers would be.
- Chant noun and verb charts. I’m starting to get into this practice a little more often. When I tried it this week, many students got really into it: shouting, using silly voices, and some even got up and danced around as they chanted. While I did encourage them to repeat forms at a lower volume to avoid disturbing other classes and to make their words comprehensible, it does give them a nice outlet for their energy and creativity.
- Allow myself to have fun in class. Whenever I take personality tests, I get results indicating that I’m very analytical, logical, or intellectual. True to my personality, as I’ve been trying to reshape the seventh grade class, I’ve approached it very analytically and intellectually. However, as I’ve had more success, greater comfort, and less stress with some of the changes, I’ve started to include a few more jokes or silly voices or actions in class. These just let out a more playful side of me that the students respond to better–and that I also enjoy. Hopefully, this trend will continue so that both the students and I find more joy and benefits from these changes to my instructional methods.
Please let me know if you have more ideas. I’d love to hear them and try them out!