Katharine Radice introduces a new approach to KS3 Latin teaching
It is no secret that Latin teaching in British schools at KS3 has been dominated for the last forty years by the Cambridge Latin Course. The CLC is an impressive construct: when it was first published it offered a radically new approach to Latin, it saved the subject from its dusty reputation for dry and impenetrable grammar, and its linguistic route-map has been designed to a most impressive degree of detail. It is also no secret, however, that for today’s typical classroom it brings some fairly major disadvantages: it is built on the assumption of a very large number of teaching hours, its vocabulary base is vast and frequently at odds with the OCR GCSE and WJEC vocabulary syllabuses, the grammatical plan side-steps many of the most fundamental principles of Latin grammar (no genders are given for nouns in Book 1, for example, and adjectival agreement is not explained in full until Book 2), and its cultural context is simply in the wrong century. Students of the CLC are introduced to imperial Rome via the backdrop of wealthy domestic family life in the 1st century AD; this does little to prepare them for the war-torn community which gave rise to Rome’s greatest literature, nor does it show why the story of Rome’s rise to power has fascinated the western world for so many centuries.
As a teacher, however, I have been frustrated by one other key aspect of the CLC’s approach. Its method – learning through reading – is based on one core task: continuous translation. For the most able linguists this is an exciting approach, but for students who do not naturally absorb linguistic details and patterns seemingly by osmosis, the approach makes it very difficult indeed for them to build a confident and sure understanding of Latin. The CLC often leaves students grinding to a demoralised halt in the context of very long stories full of words they do not know and a mixed soup of known and unknown grammatical forms. The ablative case, for example, is not formally introduced until Stage 28, but it is included in the reading material from Stage 1: this blend of the known and the unknown means that students are inevitably encouraged to ignore a word’s ending in favour of an intuitive grasp of its sense. For the intuitive linguist this might be fine, but many students are left feeling like they just do not understand how they are supposed to get things right. When it comes to vocabulary, by the end of Book 3 the CLC assumes that its reader will have learned 600 different words from its chapter vocabulary lists. This is 150 more than is expected at GCSE; worse still, only 370 of the words from Books 1-3 are on the GCSE list at all.
In 2018, Angela Cheetham, Sonya Kirk, George Lord and I decided we would work on a new KS3 course. From the outset we had three very clear aims: first, that the course should be just as much an introduction to the cultural history of the Romans as a textbook for the Latin language; second, that reading stories in Latin should be at the heart of the language materials, and third, that the course should allow for a flexible approach to the teaching of Latin so that teachers would be able to pick a route through the course which catered for their varying time constraints and the different needs of their students.
Of these, the first was the most straightforward to plan. We decided that the course would have two volumes and the six chapters within each volume would each focus on a different theme. The chapters in Book 1 (dei et deae) would link together under the canopy of Roman religion. This allowed us to kick-off with the big appeal of stories about the Olympian gods, then a chapter on Roman heroes and then move on to the crowd-pleasing world of the major festivals, gladiatorial shows, prophecies and so forth. Book 2 (homines) would tell the story of individuals who shaped Rome’s history. It would offer a more linear approach to the history of Rome, but each chapter would still have a distinct focus: Oratory and Cicero, for example, Cleopatra and Egypt, Augustus and Image, and so on. We also decided that we wanted the cultural content of each chapter to yield opportunities for analytical work on its own terms, with a view to preparing the ground for GCSEs in Classical Civilisation or Ancient History. To this end, we decided to include in each chapter original source material in translation, questions for students to answer about these sources, and broader questions for discussion, many of which invite comparison between Roman practices and the modern day.
The second aim – to build each chapter around stories told in Latin – was more challenging. To preserve the educational integrity of translation, I was determined to stick to two principles: first, that grammar should be introduced before students had to translate it, and second, that each story should be built as far as possible from known vocabulary. In addition, I wanted to stay as closely as possible to the vocabulary which students would need for GCSE. This led to some fairly intricate planning in the initial stages: I had to choose 360 words, divide them in batches of 30 across each chapter, making sure that each chapter contained a representative sample of each grammatical category so that we could guarantee regular practice of each known ending. Just as importantly, I also had to make sure that the vocabulary for each chapter would yield Latin stories which were relevant to each chapter’s different theme. When writing the stories and sets of practice sentences, I then needed to make sure that we included enough repetition for words to grow reassuringly familiar. I kept a spreadsheet of each word and tracked its use to make sure that each was used sufficiently within each chapter, and that each word from Chapter 1 was also included in Chapter 2, Chapter 3 would also use all the words from Chapters 1 and 2, and so forth.
Furthermore, the commitment to interesting story material meant that the grammar syllabus had to work around this: three declensions of nouns would be needed from Chapter 1 if we were to include the Latin names of gods in our stories; we would not be able to restrict ourselves to verbs from one conjugation only; adjectives would be essential to give the stories a bit of descriptive punch, the ablative case would need to be introduced early in order to allow for prepositions and so on. Pulling against this were concerns about overloading students with too much grammar at the outset. The solution was to cut the grammatical cloth in a way which would explain things clearly, but in steady increments. Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, for example, only use the perfect tense; this meant that I could use verbs from different conjugations, but they would all have the same endings. The concept of conjugation could then be introduced gradually across Chapters 3-6: first the infinitive, then the imperfect, then the present, then the future. Three declensions of nouns are introduced in Chapter 1, but only in the nominative and accusative case. Adjective agreement is also introduced in Chapter 1, but in its simplest form because all the nouns in Chapter 1 have an obvious masculine or feminine gender (deus, for example, or mater). The aim throughout has been to divide grammar up into bite size chunks so that at no point are students suddenly overloaded with one big dollop of material.
The third aim, however, was perhaps the most important: for Classics to survive it has to be feasible in a wide range of environments. Any course which suggests that students must do each exercise in turn brings an obvious inflexibility in terms of timing. We decided that instead we needed a concertina structure within each chapter. The new grammar and vocabulary would be introduced within the ‘Core Language’ section, but we decided to write an ‘Additional Language’ section for each chapter too. Within the Additional Language section would be exercises which ranged in difficulty from basic vocabulary building tasks, to practice of individual details, to sets of English into Latin sentences which would test even the most able linguist. Teachers under time pressure could take a streamlined approach and work mainly from the Core Language materials; those with more time could add in suitable exercises from Additional Language, or spend longer on the culture and context materials. This structure would also mean that there would be plenty of extension work available to cater for students who work at a very fast pace, and all students could benefit from the interest of a variety of different types of exercise. A whole raft of additional materials (such as worksheets, comprehension questions, quizzes and tests) would also be available online in the course’s companion website
Nearly two years later – and after a rigorous process of trial, review and improvement – the books are ready. We hope we’ve created something which teachers can easily shape to suit their needs, but first and foremost, we hope the content will be interesting for the students. The course’s title – de Romanis – goes right to heart of our aims: a Latin course which delivers much more than just the Latin language and which hopes to ignite students with interest in a world so influential upon us and yet so different from our own. Throughout the course we have tried to offer a view of the ancient world that is not simplified, sentimental or blinkered by our own cultural expectations. In de Romanis, students will meet gods who are savage, rulers who are cruel, and women who are brave and outspoken. They will learn to think about the Romans as speakers and writers as well as fighters, and to consider the Roman empire from the perspective of the conquered provincials as well as that of the triumphant generals. They will need to think about the impact of inequalities within society, such as slavery, wealth or access to education, and they will be encouraged to consider the blend of persuasion, wealth and brute force which tends to sit behind raw power.
We hope that students will enjoy the Latin stories and the chance to think about Greece, Egypt, Roman Gaul and Roman Britain alongside their exposure to the language, people, temples, statues, and coins within Rome itself. We also hope that, whatever their ability, they will find it easier to engage with Latin as a language which they can get right because they understand better how it works and because they have met the words often enough to have a solid knowledge of vocabulary. As to whether or not we have managed this, it is those who use the course who will be the best judges.
Katharine Radice teaches Classics at the Stephen Perse Foundation in Cambridge.
Inspection copies of De Romanis are available from Bloomsbury Academic’s website; the course will be published for general release from mid April 2020. Further information is available at https://www.bloomsbury.com/cw/de-romanis/