A few years ago, I was given the green light to create a blended, self-paced Latin 1–3 curriculum.
Institutionally, I saw that changing our current Latin curriculum into a blended course would help in two ways — staffing and spacing. As a full-time Latin teacher with four courses on my schedule, I had a total of 15–20 students, whereas one of our English, Math, or Science teachers would have about that many students per class. Combining levels 1–3 of Latin would create a class more in-line with our other teachers’ student load. Furthermore, it would free up two periods that a classroom would otherwise be in use. For our campus, where space is always tight, this too was a boon.
This move also essentially condensed 1 FTE into .5 FTE allowing the school to continue its Latin program, despite significantly lower enrollment rates than French or Spanish, while allowing me to transition into the technology department without creating a teaching gap.
More importantly to me, though, was the flexibility and ownership it imparted upon students coupled with the critical skills that it fostered.
The course has evolved over the years — tweaked to take into consideration my observations as well as data from student surveys.
Structurally, the course is broken down into 21 modules that, in their totality, cover all of the traditional material from my previous Latin 1, Latin 2, and Latin 3 courses — basically, all of the grammar, vocabulary, and skills needed to move into Latin Literature. Each module is broken down into three units that scaffold the skills within, as well as the required tasks.
- Unit 1 introduces vocabulary and a major grammar concept, complete with flipped videos and practice activities.
- Unit 2 continues to enforce the major grammar concept, introduces a minor grammar concept, and includes a translation for students to work through.
- Finally, Unit 3 reinforces all grammar concepts from the chapter and includes a writing prompt.
Along with the instructional material and language practice, I included a unit on culture, history, and mythology per module, as well as a review unit to prep students for their end-of-unit performance review.
Students then work through the modules at their own pace — mostly. I am still bound by the hard stops of the semester system my school utilizes, and thus, these were the only true deadlines that my students received. Otherwise, they chose their own deadlines (with plenty of guidance and a virtual tool) and worked at their own pace.
- First-year students were required to complete a minimum of eight modules (four per semester) and most stuck to this pace.
- Second-year students received more choice in their pacing, as they could opt to follow the regular pace and complete eight modules (one review unit + seven more of new material) or aim for the honors pace and complete the outstanding 13 modules.
- Those who achieved the honors pace went into Latin Literature the next year.
- Those who stuck to the regular pace came back for one more year (and seven more modules) of blended Latin.
- An unintended bonus to this system was that I no longer had to decide who went on to regular vs honors Latin — the students decided for themselves!
As long as students completed the minimum requirements during our hard-coded semester dates, they could continue working through the course. This allowed many of my students to utilize breaks, primarily the summer, to get ahead in Latin and thus advance further than they could have with their constrained schedules. The sustained learning throughout the summer also seemed to help with retention, though I have not gathered data on this facet yet.
So what did my classroom actually look like?
As I mentioned, the course is blended, and so only half of the students would come to class each day. I try to break them up into four equal-ish-sized cohorts. This generally shakes out to one group of first-year students, two groups of second-year students, and one group of third-year students. My schedule provides four meeting times per week and thus, each student would come to class for two days and have two days to do independent work. Of those two days in class, one would be spent doing a cohort-wide activity, such as a guided, practice translation, or work on a grammar concept that was of particular difficulty. The other day would be spent working on their current module, utilizing the cohort to answer any questions that may arise. I always reserved the last 10 minutes of class for performance reviews.
Assignment feedback loop
The other crux of the class was the feedback loop on assignments. Students would work through their current module, receiving feedback and reflecting on the feedback. All of the graded work could be resubmitted for another round of grading/feedback — as many times as a student desired to run through the process without penalties. Each module included a graded translation and a composition prompt. This was wholly opt-in and students could leave the work as is and move on if they were happy with their progress. One thing I added most recently was a reflection — a nod to the adage that the only good feedback is that which the student reads.
Once a student finished a module, they were required to schedule a performance review with me. This was the most transformative part of the class. The performance review was not graded, as all of their graded work was held within the module itself. Instead, it was a chance for the student to display their knowledge of the topics at hand. The concepts and skills they needed to utilize were listed in the module and this was an opportunity for a five-ish minute interview. I would probe the student regarding the grammar concept, ask questions, demand examples, but always let them convey their learning in whatever manner was most comfortable for them. In the end, I would give them a “pass” and allow them to move on to the next unit, or, if their understanding fell short, I would assign them further practice on the concept at hand to work through before attempting the performance review again. I found this to be freeing for both me and the students. I didn’t have to mark any points; I just talked with them to determine their level of understanding. This was totally a judgment call. As for the students, knowing that this was not graded and that they could redo it as often as they needed, took away the stress of a normal assessment.