At The Latin Programme we make Latin come alive. Using interactive and kinaesthetic teaching methods we include rap, games and storytelling in our lessons so that children often don’t even realise they are learning. In fact, “fun” is the word most often used to describe our classes in student feedback.
However, teaching this ‘dead’ language in an innovative and engaging manner is not easy. As Zanna Wing-Davey, the Executive Director of The Latin Programme explains, “We struggle to find appropriate teachers. Whilst there are a number of Classics graduates interested in teaching, few have any experience in the classroom and even fewer have the skills needed to engage, excite and hold the attention of young children, manage a classroom and respond to the needs of mixed ability classes.”
In an effort to address the scarcity of classroom-ready Latin teachers we have designed the Teacher Training Project. Supported by Classics for All, this training scheme, like our Latin classes is bespoke and personalised. Combining small seminar groups with hands-on classroom experience, trainees from all walks of life will learn how to engage with the challenges of the inner-city classroom. Topics covered will include addressing the literacy challenge, how to ensure the participation of students with special educational needs, engaging students with English as an additional language and cultural diversity in the classroom. We believe that having fun is fundamental to learning, whether in a primary school classroom or teacher training seminar, so fun will be an essential element of this training as well. There is certain to be quite a bit of laughter when our trainees attempt to rap for the first time!
Enthusiasm for the Teacher Training Project is coming in from all corners. Academic, author and television historian Professor Michael Scott says, “It's fabulous to see Classics for All and The Latin Programme work together on this new project to enable teachers to open up the wonderful world of Latin for their students. The Latin Programme team are fun, dedicated and brilliant at what they do. Anyone working with them is guaranteed to never regret it."
The Latin Programme works in inner-city London state schools to improve children’s literacy through the study of Latin. Based as we are in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities our students come from across the globe; last year 71% of the children participating in The Latin Programme were from minority ethnic backgrounds and 57% did not speak English as their mother tongue (this differs significantly from the national average, where 25% of pupils are form a minority ethnic background and 16% do not have English as their first language).
We find Latin plays a surprising and unique role in these diverse classrooms. It is a unifying subject and acts as a ‘tabula rasa’ (‘blank slate’) for all students – as no one speaks Latin at home… except the Pope!
Latin Programme teachers make sure to include non-English speakers in all activities, inviting them to bring words from their home languages into the classroom to compare meanings, spellings and sounds. For example, while the word for queen in Latin is ‘regina’, children might learn that in Polish it’s ‘królowa’ and in Turkish it’s ‘kraliçe’. This cross-cultural sharing encourages children who might otherwise remain on the sidelines to participate in classroom activities, which in turn increases their confidence and gives native speakers a chance to learn new vocabulary. Children who have spoken English for all their lives find that Latin (as the base of over 60% English words and 90% of those with more than 2 syllables) provides them with a magical key to unlock the meanings of ‘difficult’ words, like regal or superiority or aquarium or portable etc. (from the Latin ‘et cetera’ meaning ‘and the rest’).
The Latin Programme works to foster a classroom environment where sharing and discovery are central, generating enthusiasm and excitement about learning that spreads across to other subjects too. One of our parents recently wrote to us:
“I can say without a doubt that Aran has found this class to be one of the most enjoyable classes taught at the school. He has told me that everyone in the class is engaged irrespective of their abilities which shows what an excellent teacher can be like and do; an excellent addition to the curriculum which has helped enormously with Aran’s grammar and understanding of language.”
At The Latin Programme we are always looking for innovative and interesting ways to help as many children as possible, especially those who are living in poverty, struggling with Special Education Needs and/or are new to English, to solidify and increase their literacy skills. As a charity operating on a shoestring, we are blessed with a dedicated team of volunteers from all walks of life who help us reach the children most in need.
Ben is one of these. As a Volunteer Teaching Assistant he works directly with children in the classroom, often giving one to one support to those who are struggling and need just a little extra help. Below he explains why he decided to volunteer with The Latin Programme and what his experience has been like.
Why I Volunteer with the Latin Programme...
I volunteer with The Latin Programme as a Teaching Assistant at a primary school in South London. I have been interested in teaching for some time, especially after having taught Latin to secondary school students when I was in Sixth form and really enjoying it. So, when I came to study at university in London I decided I would try my hand at teaching to see if it was a possible career path for me. I thought volunteering with The Latin Programme would be an ideal way to combine my love of the Classical world with my desire to experience teaching in London. My educational background is in Archaeology, so I hoped I could bring my knowledge of the material culture of the Roman world into the classroom to add an extra level to the pupils’ learning experience.
The school in which I volunteer has a high number of students with multiple barriers including poverty, learning difficulties and English as a second, or even third, language. While I have found teaching in this school challenging, I have enjoyed every minute of it and I have been able to bring my enthusiasm for the Classical world to the classroom. In one lesson I had the students look at four different types of Classical art (sculpture, mosaic, painting and frieze) and then identify the object/animal/person depicted using Latin.
My work with the Latin Programme has increased my desire to work in education. I love using my knowledge of archaeology to encourage children to learn through objects as well as texts and to highlight the importance of the past in our everyday lives. I am glad to be part of a programme that helps children, like my pupils in South London, increase their literacy in such a unique and engaging way.
While school is over for the year and summer has begun, The Latin Programme is abuzz with activity. As you know, we teach in quite an unusual manner using storytelling, drama, raps, songs and games to increase children’s literacy levels. We are interested in the effectiveness of this approach and are always looking for ways to improve and hone the programme. As such, at the end of every year we ask for feedback from all our students, parents and classroom teachers.
We believe that in using our innovative and kinaesthetic methods we are able to infuse the learning of Latin and English grammar with freshness. In fact, we have found that the most consistent word used by students to describe our classes last year was, “fun”.
We taught almost 1000 inner-city London children last year, a milestone we could never have attained without your help. Thank you.
Here’s a sample of what our students are saying about the programme, we hope it makes you smile as much as it did us.
Do you look forward to your Latin lessons? Why or why not?
It’s fun to learn other languages. Lessons have lots to do. It’s exciting to learn more about English and French through Latin. Latin challenges me, which is great.
I like the clues in the language and how happy and proud I feel at the end, like you've just solved a cryptic enigma.
I find it interesting to see the links between Latin and other languages and also challenging, it is quite interesting finding the differences and similarities. Differences especially has been fun, like word order of cases.
Because the games and songs that we do are fun and I enjoy relating Latin words to English ones.
When we are stuck on something we use the songs and games to help us.
What would you tell a friend of yours who doesn't have Latin at their school about your classes?
That it is not as boring as people think it is and that when you understand it it’s really fun.
They should learn Latin because you get a wide range of learning from it: Roman history, English, other languages, etc. It is also great fun.
That you should learn Latin because it is the most amazingest language ever.
At The Latin Programme we are deeply committed to working with disadvantaged schools and at-risk pupils.
There is evidence that Latin works particularly well in such environments as studies in the inner-city areas of New York, Los Angles, Washington and Philadelphia have:
"dramatically demonstrated how Latin can help underprivileged inner-city children achieve great improvement in English communication skills" (Sussman, 1978, p. 351).
As their communication skills improve we have witnessed a marked increase in childrens’ self-confidence, participation at school and their sense of belonging.
Here is Jonathan, one of our teachers, talking about the impact The Latin Programme has had one of his students and another, including David, reading a letter written to the London Mayor in Latin!
Aren't our students wonderful? Just try not to smile while you watch.
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