Navigating the 5 Cs, Intro

Title page for the 5Cs presentation

Melanie and I presented the session “Navigating the 5 Cs in the Classical Languages” at the 2012 ACTFL Annual Convention in Philadelphia. “The 5 Cs” refers to the National Standards for Foreign Language Education.

Here is the abstract from the program:

In the teaching of Latin or ancient Greek, culture is presented, often literally, as a sidebar and discussed almost entirely in English, which creates an artificial and unwelcome division between culture and language. This session will demonstrate multimedia activities that illuminate classical civilization while maintaining engagement with the target language.

Here are the introductory remarks more or less verbatim as delivered.

As may be appropriate for Classicists, I’ll put this presentation in some historical context. This is our first ACTFL presentation. I attended only once before at the suggestion of a colleague who teaches modern Greek. This is Melanie Stowell’s first time attending, but she has been teaching in Virginia public schools for several years. I have been responsible for administering the first- and second-year Latin and Ancient Greek courses at Harvard, when they are taught by graduate students, for about 8 years.

Since we were finishing up our PHDs around 1996, our experiences as language learners, and our preparation as language teachers, were both uninformed by current standards for foreign language teaching, i.e., the 5 Cs. And despite the fact that one of my colleagues, Richard Thomas, was involved in the adapting of the standards to the teaching of Latin, those standards were not discussed very much among teachers of the classical languages at Harvard until quite recently. As I began to hear about secondary school teaching in the US from Melanie (and about the Standards from my colleague in Modern Greek), things that I had noticed about some students coming to Harvard with Latin began to make sense.

Now, you might be expecting that, as people of a certain age who learned Latin and Greek in what we might call “traditional” ways, we are going to complain about how all this attention to Culture, Comparisons, and Connections is taking away from the study of the languages themselves. And to some extent, you’d be right. But before you start chucking things at us, let me stress that what prompted us to submit this proposal was not disapproval at the inclusion of Culture (which we will tend to use as a shorthand for the non-communication Cs), but at what seemed to be the increasing exclusion of Latin itself from the Latin classroom.

A quick digression about why we feel justified in lumping Culture, Comparisons, Connections, Communities together in contrast to Communication.

In Gruber-Miller 2006, Barbara Hill (“Latin for Students with Severe Foreign Language Learning Difficulties”) wrote that high risk students tend to have problems with only the first C, Communication: “Infrequently do their learning difficulties preclude them from benefitting from activities and assignments designed to advance the goals of Culture …, Connections …, Comparisons …, and Communities” (56).

One reason for this seems clear: Culture, Comparisons, and Connections tend not to require as significant engagement with the language itself, but are discussed almost entirely in English. So even though there are 5 Cs, in reality we often end up with a two-way dichotomy: work with the language vs. (fun with) everything else.

The Standards for Teachers says that teachers should know “how to integrate Roman culture with language instruction.” And it’s this concept of integration that we want to focus on.

Gruber-Miller 2006:14 (When Dead Tongues Speak) – “Recent research on teaching culture confirms the notion that culture is often treated as separate from the rest of what we do in the language classroom. Recent studies on culture show that students (and teachers) tend to compartmentalize language study as distinct from the study of culture.”

It is this compartmentalization, or failure to integrate, that is our main cause for concern, because when things are not in fact integrated, then you have to make decisions about proportion: how much time are you going to spend on language (or grammar) and how much time on culture (and comparisons and connections). In mild terms, you create a tension; in harsher terms, you begin a war.

Some of you may know a book by David Mulroy, a Classicist, called The War Against Grammar, which criticized the professional body of English teachers for deliberately killing the study of formal grammar. Whatever you may think of Mulroy’s ideas, it is hard to read the book without feeling some of the frustration behind the writing.

Grammar is part of Roman culture. The Romans talked about their own language, not just in it.

What we hope to show you are some examples of activities deliberately designed to impart some knowledge of the culture while practicing some aspects of grammar that tend to be difficult for some students. We are not going to be able to go through every step of every activity, but let’s begin with something that you can do even on day 1 of Latin 1.

Proceed to Part 1

Posted in ACTFL 2012, Blog Tagged with: