Friday, December 3, 2010

Making Connections, Creating Opportunities

When AJ isn’t worried about being persecuted for doing extra homework, I think he really enjoys Latin. He seems particularly interested in the ways in which Latin intersect with real life. I’ve been going out of my way to point out Latin roots, not just in our Latin lessons but also when we’re reading out loud or even watching TV. AJ was reading one of his 90 gazillion books about space the other night and he got a look on his face that suggested a bulb had just burned on over his head. “Mom, does ‘astronaut’ mean ‘sailor to the stars’? Because it sounds like astra and nauta.” Exactly right, AJ. Suddenly language is seeming more meaningful to him, imbued with history and poetry.

At our parent-teacher conference last week, I mentioned to his teacher that I’m teaching him Latin at home and this week his spelling list was drawn from words related by common Latin and Greek roots. Coincidence? Maybe. AJ’s not the only kid that gets the challenge words. But they weren’t the words on the regular challenge list. I think she made the list because she knew we’d been working on it. Big points for the teacher in my book.

Yesterday, when we sat down to do Latin, I could tell AJ was tired and not so into it. I turned to the next story and he groaned. It was long. We started to translate, but he was getting frustrated with all the new vocabulary and with the fact that he kept forgetting some of the little words that come up all the time. I slammed the book shut. “Let’s try something different.”

We’ve been flying through the textbook and are nearly done with it already. He picks things up so fast that it’s easy to do, but with language, you need processing time. I think it’s time to slow down and try some new things.

I sat down at the kitchen counter and wrote out the words to the first verse of “Adeste Fidelis.”

“Do you recognize this, AJ?”

“Hmm. I think it looks kind of familiar.”

“I’ll sing it for you. Maybe it will sound familiar.”

So I sang the verse. He recognized it, but didn’t remember the words in English or in Latin. I turned him loose to translate it. He’d had almost all the vocabulary. I just had to coach him through the imperative verb forms. He wrote his translation out. Then I wrote out how we sing the carol in English and we talked about some of the things you need to do when translating poetry or song lyrics that are different than just a straight translation. He was fascinated.

And then we sang it together, first in English, then in Latin.

“Are we done?” he asked when we finished.


“That was more fun than regular Latin. Can we do it again?”

Lucky for me there are plenty of Latin carols to draw on this month. And as soon as we dig out the Christmas decorations, we’ll work on my Latin copy of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. That’s going to blow his mind.

* * * * *

Yesterday’s study session was at an interesting intersection between a couple of different trains of thought I’ve been pursuing this week. One is an email exchange I had with our school district’s curriculum director. I’d sent her a link to a project of the Society for American Music that seeks to help teachers to use music in teaching American History. They are running a training institute this summer and have already got a website up with helpful links and suggestions for specific ways to incorporate specific pieces into history curricula. The site will eventually have lesson plans as well. I’m really excited about this project, as was the curriculum director. At a juncture where many schools are axing their music programs, this kind of approach seems very promising. If I can teach music in Latin, surely we can teach it in History. How else can we blend the arts into the mainstream public school curriculum?

It also came up in my meeting this morning with the director of the gifted ed program at the local community college. We were sitting down to brainstorm ideas for bringing extra-curricular classes into our public school district and were considering waysto construct classes that would a) appeal to a lot of kids, b) be rigorous enough that parents would pay for it but would also c) be fun enough that the kids would be enthusiastic to functionally extending their school day. So we were thinking: what makes classes fun? Mixing the arts into other subjects is one of the things we came up with.

I’m not sure I really have a point here. If I do, it’s maybe that it’s easy for us musicians (and educators too) to think of the arts as an end in itself, but it they are also valuable as a methodology. AJ got both language and music yesterday. And history too, because I took the opportunity to talk about classical Latin vs. church Latin when he asked why there were so many Christmas carols in Latin.

However, I’m not sure how I’m going to explain Quomodo Invidiosulus Nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit.


kb said...

AJ might also be interested in Winnie Ille Pu. I found the full text here:

Harriet said...

Fantastic, KB. Thanks! I've been thinking of looking for that -- my mom has a copy. But it didn't even occur to me that it might be online.

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Stephanie M said...

As a Latin teacher, I'm thrilled to see how quickly AJ makes the connection between Latin and everyday life. My students get time every week to share how Latin and the Romans intersect with their lives. The older students can talk for half the period about their "Latin Moments". Latin is amazing!

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