Latin department adjusts its focus


Kimaya Mundhe

Students in Laura Brogden’s 8th bell, AP IV Latin practice translations on the board. This year her Latin 3 classes are reading the Hercules stories. She plans on incorporating stories about people in the ancient world that aren’t typically found in textbooks.

For many years, Latin has been known as a notoriously challenging subject at WHHS. A minimum of three years of Latin is required for incoming 7th and 8th-grade students and is described as a “rigorous classical program” on the schools’ website. 

In the last few years, teachers have been experimenting with new styles of Latin curriculum. Some changes being piloted this year include experimenting with new textbooks, as well as some teachers continuing to give smaller, more frequent quizzes rather than a few heavily weighted tests. 

“This year our focus has shifted towards what a student can do instead of let’s list all the things they can’t,” Latin 1 and AP Latin teacher Michelle Martinez said. “The way that I’m teaching personally is to emphasize context and then show you the [grammer] behind it.”

Previously, Martinez believes the focus had been more on the grammar and technical aspects of the language rather than having a comprehensive understanding of a story. 

“For me, it’s all about critical thinking and learning to… [use] deductive reasoning,” Latin 1 and Latin 3 teacher Jennifer Schmitz said. “You’re using those reasoning skills to draw conclusions, and we just happen to be doing that through Latin. [These skills] can help you be a better overall learner. Latin challenges you to think.”

Schmitz finds that the curriculum is moving towards teaching Latin like a modern world language. Transitioning from verbatim, word by word translation to a conversational model where students will be able to grasp key ideas from texts. 

No one in my class is allowed to say ‘I’m bad at Latin.’ No one is allowed to say ‘I hate Latin.’ You can be frustrated with Latin, but that means you seek help.”

— Jennifer Schmitz

These new adjustments to the thought process behind how students are learning the language will help them become better Latin readers and speakers. In the past students have been able to memorize endings but weren’t able to put the words together, they weren’t truly learning. 

“The interesting thing about our brains is that in order to read well, you have to also be able to listen and speak and write so we tap into all of the things that help the brain really learn a new language,” Laura Brogden said. Brogden teaches Latin 3, Latin 4 AA Poetry and Latin 4 Poetry.

Recently several teachers have shown their support in phasing out the use of “Jenney’s First Year Latin” textbook. Students who’ve taken Latin at WHHS in the past may be familiar with this book from Latin 1 and 2.

“Sometimes I felt the stories were convoluted, I felt like they made them more complicated than they needed to. I also didn’t like how almost always the new grammar you learned in that chapter was not in the story [corresponding to that lesson],” Schmitz said. 

Brogden agreed, “If we take the Jenney Teachers edition, and the English translations that are supposed to come from that textbook, the Lexile level comes out at a postgraduate level English text… so we’re trying to get away from Jenney.” 

There are teachers piloting new Latin 1, 2 and 3 textbooks this year with the idea that the department will choose a new book to move forward with by the end of the school year. Schmitz believes that they will not continue with the Jenney book however these decisions are not final yet. 

“A textbook is a resource, it’s not a whole curriculum, it’s just a resource you can use, in order to teach reading,” Brogden said. 

Despite the efforts of adapting Latin classes at WHHS, many students still find themselves overwhelmed and intimidated by the language. 

“A little tiny bit of studying every day equals a whole lot more in the end than trying to cram so even if all you do is review 10 vocabulary words,” Brogden said. “The better you know the vocabulary, the better it’s going to be for you.”

Martinez highlighted the importance of reaching out to a teacher. She thinks attending help nights is one of the best ways to do this and receive one-on-one or small group help. 

No one in my class is allowed to say ‘I’m bad at Latin.’ No one is allowed to say ‘I hate Latin.’ You can be frustrated with Latin, but that means you seek help”

— Jennifer Schmitz

“I feel like some people get really nervous, and then they don’t want to admit that they’re struggling or they have a question. So I think the number one thing would be to talk to us,” Martinez said.

The programing is changing, Schmitz stressed the importance of having an open mind. Get rid of any negative preconceived notions about Latin and try to make this year one where you learn skills to take with you to other classes down the road. 

“No one in my class is allowed to say “I’m bad at Latin.” No one is allowed to say “I hate Latin.” You can be frustrated with Latin, but that means you seek help.” Schmitz said. 

Looking forward, the Latin department hopes to see more students excited about the language and willing to take a fourth-year Latin class or AP Latin. They hope students will exit the program feeling accomplished.