By John Hill, Media Relations Director, College of the Holy Cross
Students taking Latin 101 at the College of the Holy Cross usually spend long hours studying complex grammatical concepts and memorizing verb conjugations to ready themselves to read Roman literary masterworks. As a result, there’s not too much of a focus on words or phrases that might show up in an introductory course of a modern language — they don’t describe the objects they find in their rooms or recount their daily routines in detail, for example. But when a group of fourth graders wants to talk about their favorite Thanksgiving foods with you in Latin, you figure out a way to do just that.
As a way of integrating Community-Based Learning (CBL) into his Latin 101 course, Dominic Machado, assistant professor of classics at Holy Cross, has been traveling with small groups of students to Worcester, MA elementary schools four times a week to teach introductory Latin to fourth and sixth grade students.
“The young students wanted to know about ancient science, so my students learned about Pompeii and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius,” Machado says. “Not only is the student-teaching reinforcing what we cover in class, but it’s pushing Holy Cross students to stretch the boundaries of what they know and don’t know.”
Machado isn’t surprised that his students have embraced the teaching aspect of his class. “We’ve seen research that active learning and community-based learning are big drivers of student achievement. CBL supplements exactly what students are learning and helps them to make it real. We always hear [that] teaching is the best way to learn. The students are so used to receiving knowledge and memorizing it. Now they have to produce it.”
The education goes both ways.
“Going into the classrooms has helped me to expand my own Latin vocabulary and embrace ancient Roman culture,” says Peter Blunt ’21, an accounting major with a minor in peace and conflict studies.
Planning Latin lessons for grade schoolers also helps Holy Cross students consider a bigger question: Who gets to study the classics?
“Classics are primarily taught in universities. You think of a classics professor wearing tweed, right?” Machado jokes. “But by interacting with a population that’s exactly not that, and seeing how they respond to Latin, the students consider how we think about language and culture and whether that [approach] makes sense.”
The class’ on-campus format is mostly on par with other sections of Latin 101; students meet three times a week to learn the basics of the language. Three times during the semester, however, a representative from the Holy Cross CBL office takes over the class for a week, to introduce CBL-related concepts such as toxic charity or interacting with students from different backgrounds. Students also spend class time coming up with lesson plans for the elementary school students.
Chris Shakespeare ’20, a chemistry major with a minor in religious studies, is a fan — of both the language and the teaching.
“I have come to realize that I learn best when I can contextualize the material that we cover in class. CBL gives me the opportunity to investigate different facets of the Roman culture so that I am prepared to answer any questions our students may ask.”
For Peter Blunt, the most surprising thing to see is how quickly the young students catch on. “[This experience] showed me that when we have engaging lessons with interesting vocabulary words, they connect with the material.”
A lesson in education that applies to any language and any age.