I am very pleased to have the opportunity to share with you some thoughts on the present state of language teaching in schools, just as I am always pleased to learn more of the issues which currently affect University teachers of Classics; our mutual interdependence for the survival of our subject needs no further comment.
I am extremely fortunate to be teaching at Bristol Grammar School, where I have a large amount of Greek teaching, where I am in a department of 6 and where the Headmaster is a great supporter of Classics and of the Classics Department. By contrast, many JACT members who I meet around the country are struggling to keep a little Latin on the timetable, or are even giving up lunch-hours for forming after-school clubs (without pay), in order that Latin will not die in their schools. Yet whatever the status of the Classical subjects in our schools, we all face the same three major problems, to a greater or lesser degree.
For a third of my timetable I also teach English and of course some of one's English colleagues do teach grammar, but my experience of it is that is it is patchy. If and when the exam boards decide to test grammar, we will find it becoming more important. The fact that GCSE exams in all subjects have a few marks allocated to the use of English (including spelling and punctuation) is, I believe, an important step in the right direction.
From my teaching of English I have also learnt that many of our pupils have no notion of what constitutes a sentence; they do not understand the boundary-job of the full-stop. This explains something that I have found baffling for years - namely why do pupils take words from one Latin sentence and join them to words in the previous sentence? It's because it might as well be written as one!
Classical teachers will therefore be busily engaged throughout the school year in maintaining a high profile for their subject - display areas are very important here, as are reading competitions, Classical play competitions, Roman Days, Classical lectures, outings to Classical plays (grateful thanks to the London Festival of Greek Drama, Bradfield and the Oxford and Cambridge Greek plays) and of course site visits, both in this country and abroad.
In summa, for a pupil to be studying a Classical language in the Sixth-form, he or she will have chosen a difficult subject, which will stretch him more than anything on the GCSE timetable; in many cases he will have had to make some hard choices in order to pursue Classics and he will have had to formulate careful arguments (or develop a thick skin) to combat the ignorance and pressure against the subject from his peers who are opting for the trendy Business Studies, Media Studies, Environmental Studies etc (a misnomen if ever there was one - I can't see a lot of studying being done).
So much for the problems - how are the languages taught? It would be impossible to present an accurate National picture, since there will be so many variants within individual schools. What I have chosen to do therefore is to describe what happens in 3 schools. I have taken for my case studies 3 rather different types of schools, in the hope that they represent the National spread. The first 2 schools wish to remain anonymous ; for the third , I am writing about my own school, since I obviously have a better idea of what is taught at Bristol Grammar School than anywhere else.
|Year 7||1st year (age 11-12)|
|Year 8||2nd Year (age 12-13)|
|Year 9||3rd Year (age 13-14)|
|Year 10||4th Year (age 14-15)|
|Year 11||5th Year (age 15-16)|
|Year 12||Lower Sixth (age 16-17)|
|Year 13||Upper Sixth (age 17-18).|
|ppw||periods per week|
|ppf||periods per fortnight|
|NC||the National Curriculum|
|MEG||Midlands Examination Group|
|NEAB||Northern Examination and Assessment Board|
|CLC||the Cambridge Latin Course|
Their teacher says:
|"There is no time for any English into Latin at GCSE".|
(Please note, all the teachers' quotes will be boxed in bold.)
The girls' results are good - they have very few failures BUT (and it is a big but) it is perfectly possible to achieve an A grade at GCSE without having much idea of how Latin really works.
Summer Holidays Those who have chosen Latin A Level will be set sentences from English into Latin from "The Latin Language" (produced by the Scottish Classics Group; published by Oliver & Boyd in 1989, ISBN 0 05 004287 4). This attractively produced, clear language book is becoming very popular in sixth form teaching.
A Level Course: 6 ppw of 40 minutes.
DIVISION OF TIME
2 ppw Verse Set Text
1 ppw Course on Roman History, with essays (1 term only).
|"Pupils who have followed the CLC may well be knowledgeable about the Empire, but may well not realise that Rome had a Republic."|
1 ppw Read some unfamiliar type prose - Caesar/Cicero.
2 ppw A double language lesson, using The Latin Language. They work through the book, which is supplemented by Kennedy. 12 principal parts are learnt and tested every week. All irregular verbs and nouns will need thorough revision. They also continue with the English - Latin sentences begun in the Summer Holidays, supplemented by Brevitas. Also a weekly unseen - Scenes from Roman History". After approximately 1.5 terms they will move onto other unseen material.
Summer Term: Possibly some proses if they can cope, as a reinforcement activity only.
|"There is a very big need for a good prose reader."|
|3 ppw||Prose set text and 1 Verse unseen per week|
|2 ppw||The verse topic for paper 4. (This imaginative paper, an alternative to prose composition, involves wide reading on a theme, both in English and Latin.)|
|1 ppw||An unseen and a comprehension per week. Go through these.|
|"We teach a little in depth. They will not read much beyond the set texts."|
Pre-sixth Form: Pupils begin Latin as an option in year 9. They have 3 years to GCSE, with 1/2 ppf (1-hour periods, on a fortnightly timetable.) In the GCSE year, 4 ppf. They used Ecce Romani then moved to the CLC (unit 3a) and finally the MEG exam.
|"Of these 7 pupils, 4 chose to do A level (the first time for 8 years). Their predicted grades this Summer are A B C & C. They had to fight to have A Level Latin on the timetable; the pupils went to see the Head themselves. This is very pleasing."|
|"In the Sixth form it's the grammar that must be squeezed."|
Lower Sixth: 5 ppf (5 x 1hr).
2 ppw on Tacitus (Annals xv)
2 ppw revision of language. Basic revision is essential.
1 ppw practice Unseen (prose & verse alternating.)
Upper Sixth: 8 ppf (8 x 1 hr.)
Lower and Upper Sixth have to be taught their Tacitus together; this is tough for the Lower Sixth, who are much less confident.
|"You can't make any links with French these days. I am pleased that a bit more English grammar is being taught. They have to bring vocab books to every lesson. We build up vocab on a thematic basis."|
|"Yes - the interruptions! 2 weeks are lost for mocks. The school has 5 INSET days for teachers, which are all on Mondays or Fridays. Last year all the A Level Latin classes were on Mondays and Fridays ! Then there are Open Days and University interviews; of course both are vital, but it is difficult to get the whole class together at any one time. Then there are Careers conventions and PSE lessons.|
Last year's GCSE group had to have 2 long lunch-hour lessons of 1.5 hours each. This is not an ideal way to learn a language. The group coped, though - and they also had a parent aged 40 who got an A!"
The head of department retires this summer . She is hopeful that Latin will continue, thanks to the support of the Head.
In 1990, a painful curriculum review led to Greek being squeezed in Year 9, from 9ppw for Latin and Greek (4+5) to 4ppw for both. A new course was thought necessary; we were certainly ready to scrap Wilding!
I was asked to devise a combined Latin and Greek course. I decided it should be called "Classics" since both languages were to be equally important. It was also essential, in a rushed course, for all the lessons to be taught by the same member of staff. This would allow flexibility and from time to time we could concentrate on one language if there was a crisis of morale.
In addition to the 4 language lessons, the Headmaster agreed that we could use 2 periods of activities time which the whole school does on a Thursday afternoon. So if pupil opt for my course, they must follow the Classical activities programme.
I sell the course as "An Integrated Study of the Ancient World" - its language, literature and civilisation. All 3 elements are crucial if the course is to succeed.
It is in Activities time that we mainly explore the civilisation side: what we do is not a lesson but complements the work in the language lessons. This year we have visited Bath, Caerleon & Cirencester (all pleasingly accessible from Bristol); we have worked on inscriptions in the City Museum Roman Gallery (and our work was featured in an English Heritage article); we examined the making and shapes of Greek pots, also at the City Museum; we tried to recognise a collection of Roman artefacts; we walked around Bristol' identifying neo-Classical architecture; in groups we researched Greek myths and presented them in different forms (drama, poetry, pop songs) to the rest of the group. We were visited by the Ermine St. Guard and made our own models of Roman soldiers; we saw Frogs in Cardiff, Hecuba and Thesmo in Oxford, and used slides , videos and Classical Board Games. We walked on Hadrian's Wall in the snow in February and hopefully will be basking in the sunshine in Crete in October.
Planning the activities programme was obviously a lot of work, but it is on these Thursdays that the group learns to mix and get on with each other. We have no syllabus and can pursue whatever interests us.
To save time, in Greek lessons I constantly refer to Latin and vice versa. E.g. if pollavki" is forgotten, I do not prompt them with "often" but "saepe". If they say "oh, that's `always'", I say "No, the word for `always' is semper and in Greek ajeiv," etc.
We use Athenaze and the CLC. I think Athenaze is the best course available for young beginners, but it does have its problems, not least the American case order. The revised edition has put things in correct British order - but we can't afford the new edition!
On the plus side, I very much like the way that it arranges all vocabulary in each chapter according to parts of speech, and introduction of a past tense is delayed considerably. This means that pupils come to terms with present tenses (active and middle, including contracted verbs) present infinitives, imperatives and participles. Within 3 months of starting Greek they can identify participles, whereas it took them 2 years in Latin.
When they first met tiv", one of the brightest girls said, "But that must be an indirect question; why isn't there a subjunctive like in Latin ?" Constructional and etymological leaps across the languages have always been a feature of the Classical languages, but I am pleased at how often they occur in this course.
In years 10 and 11 the course splits into two "proper" subjects with two separate teachers. Inevitably, my colleagues have to sort out a lot of linguistic muddles when they inherit my Classicists, and they have to fit in the GCSE texts and unseens and comprehensions too. Nevertheless the very pleasing results show that it can be done. Our first group are now at university, including Oxford and Cambridge.
Regular learning and testing of paradigms and principal parts is best done in a crash language course at the beginning of the Lower Sixth, in my view.
Grammar that has been learnt in a hurry will always be shaky. The main stumbling blocks will be -mi verbs; contracted verbs; irregular principal parts in Greek and Latin; the optative; participles; conditionals; gerunds and gerundives.