a few thoughts and responses to an article by Susan Gross—originally posted to Latin-Best Practices
by John Piazza
I have really gained some clarity on the issue of reading comprehension by looking into what modern language teachers are doing. A particularly helpful article is called "Reading is Essential in Second Language Classes" by Susan Gross, who is a veteran teacher and who now trains teachers. The article is a free download from this page:
I will list a few take-aways that I got from it, and you can decide whether the article will interest you
1. The title: Latin teachers already know that reading is essential. Susan Gross is describing a curriculum that is 50% speaking and 50% reading, and the two reinforce each other. On this model, students are reading mini novels in their first year, in addition to stories from a textbook and/or stories they have created.
2. looking at a text and pronouncing the words is not reading, it is an exercise in pronunciation, and teachers should not mistake this for reading acquisition. Gross defines reading as "Students see a movie in their heads while looking at dark squiggles on paper."
3. the goal of teaching reading is: "develop students who read fluently (silently) for pleasure or to gain knowledge."
4. reading produces more gains in vocab, grammar, spelling, than from direct instruction of those areas/skills.
5. Process of reading a text with students: first everyone translates into English to ensure total comprehension (i.e. establish meaning). This can be done as a group, chorally, shout-out, etc., so as not to put students on the spot. A lot of Latin teachers may be surprised to learn that translation into English is a big part of TPRS, it forms the foundation of the work that happens IN the language later, which is where the acquisition take place. Gross's justification for translating speaks to some of the difficulties expressed on this list with Latin comprehension questions: "One reason for translation is to assure perfect comprehension. I have witnessed many language classes where students were able to answer Spanish questions about a Spanish reading, yet they did not exactly understand the reading! Since language is acquired only when the input is comprehensible, we are not promoting acquisition by simply asking questions in Spanish."
6. Once the meaning has been established, then the class will discuss the reading in L2. Gross offers a a few strategies for doing this, noting: " it would be wise to avoid the tedious re-hashing of details that so commonly dominates classroom reading discussions." which can be taken care of by giving and then reviewing a simple t/f quiz in L2 after the translation but before discussion.
7. Another goal is to get students reading for the content, so that the "movie" gets playing in their head, and they forget that they're reading in another language. Lack of appropriate resources, especially for years 1 and 2 makes this difficult for us Latin teachers, but resources like Tarheel reader etc. are making more texts available that students will find comprehensible and engaging. I hope we on this list can collaborate and continue to create and/or bring to each others' attention resources that beginning students can make use of.
8. The strategies mentioned in this article (including visualization) work especially well for students with learning difficulties. When I implemented these kinds of strategies even minimally last year, I noticed that my challenged students get it, without my boring the quick learners. No modifications are necessary, because the differentation is built in.
9 Strategy of reading a year-1 novel all the way through in e.g. 10 class days straight. Class will translate together out loud (but no reciting of original text), teacher supplies meaning for any word that they stumble on. Discussion in L2 will focus on the plot, thrill of reading, action, etc. The idea is to keep the flow of the story going. This develops reading speed and fluency, as long as the text is not too far above their level. I am thinking this is a good way to get through some longer chapter readings with class, to get the quantity of reading that is necessary, but which I would never have the class time to "cover" in a traditional fine tooth comb setting.
Many mod. language strategies, though they make use of spoken language, actually have reading proficiency as a major or even primary goal. Translation is not a hinderance to, but really supports true immersion (which must be comprehensible in order not to become submersion), and the language teacher should not feel under pressure to use the target language to establish meaning. This takes the pressure off both the teacher and students right from the beginning, rather than starting off early with a "no english" policy that will only intimidate if students do not have the tools to function in such an environment. Adopting/adapting such strategies for the Latin classroom is not as big of a leap as teachers may think--the rigor is there, it is just the focus that is shifted: rather than making students work hard to establish meaning for themselves (memorization and translation exercises) we can simply give them the meaning, which then become the tools for students to work with the language, which is where they process it into their long term memory, and won't entirely forget it after a week, or after a summer.
I hope my reflections are of help to you as you plan your school year. Best of luck on final preparations and/or first days.