Building Mental Highways with Latin

by Alex Terwelp

When I was 18 years old, my mother fell on the ice and developed a brain hemorrhage. As a result, she lost her speech and had to start over again; luckily, it was much quicker to learn the second time around. The doctors described it as the signals from the brain, which usually take the highways to get to their destination, now needed to take the back roads and figure it all out. This analogy helped me understand the situation I found myself in five years later when I became a Latin teacher.

When children are born, they develop roughly 80% of their brain capacity by age two. Adolescents’ brains grow to fill out the remaining 20%. After teaching for a few years, I began to realize that my 7th graders did not have the highways built yet, and the construction would continue into their early twenties. I recognized it was my job to be the brain foreman for as much time as I had them in class. After this epiphany, I stuck my foot in the door of my school’s student support office because I knew my role as a Latin teacher was more than teaching Latin. However, I soon realized that Latin did me the favor of supporting my students in the development of executive functioning skills – Latin is the vehicle that brings these skills to my students.

Below I have selected a few executive functioning skills that I believe Latin can help build:

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Transitioning to Proficiency Part II: Baby Steps to Comprehensive Input

by Alex Terwelp

I have a two-year-old son, and watching him grow, I have discovered there is nothing more fundamental than the process of a child learning to walk. I see four stages to this process, namely supported standing, cruising, staggering, and finally, walking. We can apply the metaphor of learning to walk to a journey toward Comprehensible Input (CI). I am taking that journey in my Latin Classroom, one step, and one stage, at a time.

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Io Saturnalia!

By Alex Terwelp

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and what better way to express your joy than a sacrifice to the god Saturn? The Romans had some odd festivals and traditions, and Saturnalia was one of them. It was a special event that provided liberation to slaves, gambling across the city, and crowned the “King of Saturnalia.” The celebration began on December 17th and eventually was extended to incorporate days up to the 23rd. Beginning with a sacrifice to Saturn, everyone would partake in a public feast.  Back at home, masters would serve their slaves food, and the guests would elect a “King of Saturnalia” to provide direction for the night. Groups would also exchange small and typically gag gifts, “White Elephant” style. As Catullus so accurately stated, it was “the best of days.”

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The Imagination Within Latin

by Alex Terwelp

When I was little, imagination drove my sand empire and my castle in the woods. It brought me playmates made of dancing leaves and shadows in the sunlight. As I grew older, it sparked my curiosity about adulthood, and it led me to a career that fuels others’ imaginations. 

Some believe imagination wanes as we mature, but it only takes looking at ancient Roman culture to know it exists in people of all ages. It led to the naming of the constellations, the building of arches and roadways, and the creation of the Julian calendar. Indeed, imagination drove the Roman Empire. 

Students benefit immensely from using their imagination to make connections with abstractions. You will not find a student in your career who has met an ancient Roman or has visited ancient Rome. Because they cannot immerse themselves in the culture, students must imagine everything. 

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