From Primer to Primary Latin Project

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From Primer to Primary Latin Project

1. During the course of the introductions it emerged that many group members were considering teaching Minimus, some were currently doing so. A substantial schools proportion of the group were teaching in prep schools or in junior schools attached to senior schools committed to Latin teaching. The former group had eventually to direct their schemes of work towards Common Entrance in Year 8. A further group was wishing to introduce the teaching of Latin into the junior age range and was therefore exploring available options.

2. Why was the Primary Latin Project necessary? Children have been learning Latin from age 8 for years. What is different now?

a.. We are not and should not be talking about an elite, who are privileged to receive a traditional prep. school and then public school education, although the methods of the project are as valid here as anywhere else.

· When asked why she wrote Minimus, Barbara Bell said she was concerned that we expect secondary age children to learn modern languages when they do not know how to handle English grammar. Minimus is a book teaching English grammar and building vocabulary derivatives by means of simple Latin.

· There are ties with English and history at Key Stage 2 and the cross curricular element is important in the childrens' educational development. Furthermore Minimus provides a useful basis for Latin and other languages later in such a way that it does not seem repetitive or in any way produce obstacles for the secondary teacher. It sorts out English grammar and gives language awareness. It is accessible to a wide range of abilities indeed on the York Training day in October it emerged that the course was being used as a stimulus for highly gifted children, it had also produced remarkable results with dyslexic pupils.

a.. Demonstration of course materials: the Minimus pupils' book, extracts from the audio tape, the newsletter, the pupil's magazine "Mousetrap", the back up sheets available from Primary Latin Project and selected pages from the excellent website . I was also able to bring samples of pupils' work and activities using the Minimus Teachers' photocopiable resource book. Sheets were handed out giving details of how to begin teaching Minimus and how to obtain grants. One group member was able to describe her personal experience in obtaining a generous grant surprisingly soon after her application.

b.. How should one teach Minimus? There is no fixed timescale for teaching Minimus. The suggestion is that there should be a pupils' book for each child and a wallet for keeping loose leaf sheets together. Barbara Bell herself gives each child a Latin name and makes the lesson a very oral experience - very much in the traditions of ARLT. Worksheets are available and homework would depend on the individual classroom or club situation. It is important not to rush, but to draw out from the children what they know (about the Romans or word derivations etc) and what they can work out for themselves or guess from pictures.

c.. Grammatical content: sheets were handed out giving the chapter scheme for the first Minimus book and also a draft scheme for Minimus two, which the Primary Latin Project very kindly made available to me. In the current book we looked at page 16 introducing some person ending and then page 20 which has the full conjugation of the present of laborare. We also mentioned the idea of working in partners (page 20). Other points noted were the gradually increasing use of adjectives and the idea of agreement and the very clear grammar summary on page 36. I would particularly like to commend the way in which subjects and objects are treated. I think as far as pupils' are concerned this has proved to be the best and most enduring explanation I have encountered.

d.. Results: The children I have taught love the family and desperately want to visit Vindolanda ( I have now booked a visit for the summer term!), even though we have a York postcode and Eboracum is so much nearer. In a video on Hadrian's Wall they were most excited at being able to identify the artefacts on which Helen Forte's wonderful illustrations are based. They want to read aloud and are much less inhibited than older children taught by more traditional methods, although the Leeds University Council Chamber which was the setting for this year's schools' Latin Reading Competition was quite a daunting prospect! The level of dialogue in the text helps here. They have a very good grasp of the underlying grammatical concepts and this has enabled my year 6 class who had reached Chapter 9 in September, to make a very smooth transition to Cambridge Latin Course New Edition Book 1.

e.. What next?

· In the short term I have found that the Cambridge Latin Course also has a real family in a real Roman location and that the pupils respond well to this. The grammatical content seems to reinforce Minimus. I have to admit that my early doubts about primary Latin have proved totally unfounded in the case of this course. There are always dangers in introducing languages at this stage; there may be a long gap before they can pick up the language again; there is a danger of boredom if they seem to repeat work already covered. The nature of Minimus completely overcomes this problem by turning it into a language experience. The Cambridge Course is the richer for the deeper insight into language the pupils have already gained.

· Minimus 2 is under preparation and due to be published next year. It is set in Eboracum where the original family have moved, so there is continuity of both family and format and of course mythological content. There is an ambitious scheme of grammar too. I look forward to it keenly - maybe Minimus 3 to follow? ?
a.. In conclusion we discussed and also had the chance to look at other courses for the age range: So You Really Want to Learn Latin was highly thought of and used by a few teachers (including myself for Year 8 CE preparation). Others thought Disce Latinum sound, although a little dry. Ecce Romani was thought to improve as it progressed to the later books and although teachers spoke highly of the Oxford Latin Course it was felt to be less suitable for younger pupils or for mixed ability. At least one teacher was interested in reverting to Paterson and McNaughton's "Approach to Latin".

I would like to end with an enormous thankyou to Barbara Bell, to Professor Brian Sparkes of the Primary Latin Project and to Mrs Joan Gibson a "Granny Latin" teacher and enthusiast and highly respected Dyslexia expert. They have all contributed to making the working group possible.

Gillian Heyes, Cundall Manor School, York.

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