A Latin immersion experience where Latin teachers communicate with one another entirely in Latin, all day, every day
In August, High School Latin teacher Fran Spaltro spent a week at Conventiculum Bostoniense (Latin for: assembly in Boston), a Latin immersion experience, where Latin teachers communicate with one another entirely in Latin and became familiar with active methods for teaching and learning Latin in the language itself.
Supported in part by donations to Lab's annual fund, virtually every Lab teacher will participate in some type of professional development activity each year. While those experiences may not be as unusual as Ms. Spaltro's, the programs ensure teachers stay at the top of the game, are inspired with new ideas, and use those ideas to benefit their students and colleagues.
Before heading to Boston, Ms. Spaltro had to complete a three-week, online graduate level course, "Active Learning Methodologies for Teachers of Latin." The course focused on the most current research in second language acquisition, with special focus on how each of the language skills—reading, writing, speaking, hearing—helps to develop the others in second language learners, and what this means for Latin instruction, when reading (not speaking) is the primary goal.
Ms. Spaltro described the pedagogy and her experience:
"What we call traditional Latin instruction has focused on the rules of grammar and lists of vocabulary. But a compelling body of research on second language acquisition shows that just as reading and writing the target language aid in the development of comprehension and speaking skills, so do speaking and hearing the language help students to develop more rapidly as fluent readers. My immersion experience proved the research true.
"The immersion program was, like the online course, highly structured. Daily Latin readings were thematically arranged and we prepared each night in small groups (speaking Latin only) for the next day's reading. Every morning we had two classes focused on the assigned theme (family, leisure, cooking, geography, or comedy). The texts ranged in provenance from ancient Rome to 14th century Mexico, and the international faculty modeled for us how to teach a Latin text entirely in Latin, using comprehensible input. We students ranged in age, experience, and country of origin, but we had one language common to us all.
"Even outside the classroom, we communicated solely in Latin, whether over meals, on walks, in passing, and during all activities. We had an hour of each day set aside to write in Latin, and at the very end of the week, we each designed and taught a Latin lesson in Latin, observed by our peers and evaluated by the faculty. My own lesson was on teaching numbers to first year Latin students.
"The experience was an enormous challenge for me, as a visual learner, but it was the most important thing I've done in a long time. I grew as a Latinist and as a teacher. As a Latinist, within just two days of communicating solely in Latin, I was a better, more confident and fluid reader of Latin than I've ever been in my 35+ years of reading the language. So, it is true: hearing and speaking and writing in Latin makes one a better reader of Latin. And I have never been more excited at the prospect of sharing this with my colleagues and with my students. I have introduced Mensa Latina (Latin Table) for students to learn to converse in Latin, and we began meeting the third week of school during lunchtime on Wednesdays. My colleague Daniel Ristin has already expressed desire to attend Conventiculum next summer, and I will certainly be going back. Our Latin program can only become richer for this."