Updated: Jan 22, 2019

This year, I was able to attend the Society for Classical Studies Annual Conference in San Diego, California thanks to a generous grant from the Brookline Education Foundation! I was thrilled to participate in a conference that I gained so much from when it was in Boston last year.

Over the past few months, students in my Latin II classes have been providing ideas and feedback for a paper I presented at the conference. This paper, "A Day in the Life of an Active Latin Teacher," was accepted for the panel "What Can 'Active' Latin Accomplish," organized by Ronnie Ancona and facilitated by Justin Slocum Bailey of Indwelling Language. I asked students the questions about our class, and solicited their own reflections on why active (which, for the most part, usually means spoken) Latin instruction works for them. These personal quotes added so much to the paper, and kept always in sight the reasons why I teach using these methods. Yes, I teach actively because the research into Second Language Acquisition comes out strongly in favor of comprehensible input, and there is not one research article or study supporting the traditional grammar-translation method-- but ultimately, I would only do it if it also worked with my students. I loved hearing their own interpretations of learning methods we use in class, and it was special to get feedback on my work the way I give feedback on theirs.

Thursday was a day full of registration, attending the book fair, and running into friends from ancient studies institutes from all over the world! It gave the huge conference a personal connection for me, and I made many new acquaintances as well. At the book fair, I managed to snag the last copy of a book on the empress Sabina (Hadrian's wife), and can't wait to learn more about her.

On Friday I visited myriad lectures, presentations, and workshops. I was especially interested in Alexandria and Britain because of the course content we cover in the Cambridge Latin Series at Brookline High School, and kept my eye out for connections to our curriculum.

Always exciting to be on this side of the table for a panel discussion!

Saturday was the day of our panel. We had a huge group of about 50-60 people, and we all gratefully noted that almost no participants left, while many arrived as time went on. The group was immediately engaged; hands rose up quickly for questions and participants underlined handouts as we presented. I shared slides with pictures from my classroom at Brookline, and showcased examples of student work. Even though I was away from my students, I knew they added so much to the paper and were present in their own way. The panel discussion afterward was short, but still a wonderful chance to discuss issues such as race and gender, and the role of identity in active curricula. The participants were so engaged that although we had to vacate the room for the next event, the discussion continued right outside the room for a full hour after we had been scheduled to end!

The discussion continuing outside the conference room!

I learned so much from the participants about similar programs all over the country, and am delighted to stay in contact with this broad network of Latin teachers.

Saturday night was the event I have been waiting for for years-- a chance to see the classicist Mary Beard (my personal heroine and a featured scholar in the Cambridge documentary clips we show in class) present a keynote address.

Although the Marriott vastly underestimated her fandom--they had to enlarge the room with moving panels because we were crowded in as if for a rock concert-- we classicists know she is the real deal. Her speech garnered a lot of criticism, much of which I haven't delved into yet, but I really appreciated being in attendance for the live address, so that I could discuss it with my fellow attendees afterwards.

By Sunday, it was time to pack up. I was so grateful for the chance to attend this far-away but extremely informative conference, and to leave with new ideas for directions I can take in my curricula. Some resources I found are already integrated into my classes, whereas others I'll work in next year with units already behind us. I'm looking forward to putting this knowledge to use and sharing my experience with other Latin teachers!

Dea est Femina: I got a selfie with my role model!

27 views0 comments
  • Skye Shirley

The weather's getting warmer and students are showing up in t-shirts and sandals. It's approaching that time of year when we turn a corner, and start to make our exits into summer. In the world of teaching, we use the term "exit ticket" to describe the small formative assessments students need to pass in order to leave class. And since this is not only my last blog post, but also my last month of graduate studies at UMass Boston (after 5 and a half years!), I think it's time for me to make and do my own exit ticket.

Extension activities often help learners move beyond the text which they have pre-read and experienced through various methods. They can be expansion activities (such as adding adverbs to a text), group reading roles, or countless other approaches. They push readers to question the classic assumption that "I get what's going on, so I'm ready to move forward to another concept or text." What more is there to be understood about a text after basic linguistic comprehension? It's a question we answer frequently in literature classes, but in language classes, teachers (like myself) and learners (also, like myself) fall into an unfortunate habit of acting as if the moment the text is comprehensible, it is comprehended enough.

This week I challenge that assumption. To help myself, I searched pinterest and Google images for extension activities, particularly ones which focused on metacognition and self-evaluation.

One of the first sources I was lucky enough to stumble upon was Senorita Rodriguez' blog "Teaching a World Language." She shares a Powerpoint full of rubrics and worksheets to help learners reflect on their reading strategies and delve deeper into a text. Many of these are much harder for me since this is an independent study, and I don't exactly have classmates to collaborate with; nevertheless, I thought the process of self-evaluation would come in handy as I look back on not just what I learned in Acts V and VII, but how I learned it.

If some of these worksheets seem childish, good. In many ways, learning a new language puts you in a position of a child, and it's only fitting that you would provide yourself with the same scaffolds a first language learner needs. Thankfully, learning a new language after learning how to read and write gives adult language learners extra resources for acquisition. My hope is that by filling out these worksheets, I'll support my learning and share a bit about what it's like to learn a second language with some of the resources I had learning English. For now, it's time to print out these worksheets, scan them, and I'll report back on what I find!

From Srta. Gonzales' Powerpoint:

It's a wonderful way to wrap up reading a text, and reflect on what you take away from it!

A second one she provided was pretty challenging to do as an autodidact, BUT I think for the most part I meet expectations in these categories. I took notes on why I gave myself each rating...

This comprehension rubric was perfect for reflecting on what I actually do while reading. Of course the last two are a bit obvious for anyone who knows me, and perhaps silly beyond an elementary level. But the ones about asking whether I pause or reread were definitely eye-opening.

And there's this cute book-mark "Think Mark" which I decided to do mostly for Acts V and VI but include some about the text as a whole. I think the idea is that you fold it in half and use it to mark your progress in a book, but it works well as an exit ticket too:

The final category was the hardest part of this whole set of exit-tickets. My recommendation of the book? Well, it was worthwhile to read to get a sense of Terence's linguistic style, and definitely thought-provoking in terms of what the Romans found funny. I love reading vulgar Latin, the Latin of conversation, the slang and elisions....

But the rape plot line is pretty un-funny to readers like myself, post #metoo movement and my own personal #metoo experiences. It's helped me to consider that the "laughs" that the Romans had about this play to come from a specific angle: relief. In a pre-paternity test world, I'd expect there was a lot of anxiety about whether or not your wife was actually pregnant with your child. And from a woman's perspective, although rape is not funny, the relief of learning your kid is indeed biologically the child of your husband might let out a relieved laugh (though not if it's the same guy who violently raped you)? I'm grasping at straws here, but what I can say is that this play made me much more curious about familial relationships in Rome, between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, and between father and maybe-not-always-biological child.

One last thing I'll mention. The "happy" ending, in which a voiceless Philumena is already married to her rapist, and the guy Pamphilus gets off mostly scott-free and with his child spared from infanticide, seems like one that perhaps only the ancient Romans would find satisfying... right? Except, apparently not. I've also been reading Walter E. Forehand's book Terence, published in 1985, in which he writes:

"We must avoid the urge to make modern social criticism of The Mother-in-Law." (104)

I think modern social criticism is always an interesting and valuable lens, and that doesn't mean we can't also be aware of our own cultural expectations in the process. And even if you don't make modern social criticism of the play, you could also avoid as a scholar writing so definitively, as Forehand did:

"Pamphilus loves Philumena" (93)

This honestly reminds me of American history textbooks which have been rightfully criticized by writing that owners "cared for and protected [slaves] like members of the family." Or perhaps I shouldn't apply "modern social criticism" to a book written in 1985?

"One of the most satisfying outcomes of the play is that Pamphilus and Philumena overcome their difficulties." (104)

I leave this play unsatisfied, and I wonder how many Romans felt the same way, and whether it was for the same reasons. But I am still very glad I read it, to get a fuller sense of Roman comedy and think more deeply about exactly the ideas Terence and Forehand bring up. This is my last post here on Roman Comedy, and I hope the exit ticket strategies are ones you might use either on yourself as learners or in your classrooms as teachers. Curate ut valeatis!

27 views0 comments
  • Skye Shirley

Updated: May 12, 2018

This week's act was full of interesting snip-its of dialogue that including heavy amount of questions, as characters tried to untangle a confusing sequence of events which led to the birth of Philumena's child. I'd say "trigger warning" except to be honest, a lot of writing about classics is jolting enough to deserve that label. What's more interesting to me is how we respond to this complicated inheritance, and what we bring to it rather than what it brings to us.

Before the play begins, there's been a crime committed. A young woman named Philumena was raped one night in the dark, and her rapist stole a ring from her. After her engagement to a man named Pamphilus, she discovered she was pregnant from the rape and tried to hide this fact from Pamphilus and his parents. In Act 4, the mystery comes to a resolution as, hinging on this ring as evidence, Pamphilus' identity as her rapist is revealed. The fact that this plot is considered comedic, with the anticipated "happy ending" resolution of Philumena being married to her rapist, is deeeeeeeply problematic. But since I'd imagine most of my readers can get to that conclusion on their own, I'd rather draw attention to the things a 21st-century female spoken Latin reader and teacher (that is, I) might notice while encountering this.

What stands out more than anything in this act is Philumena's absence. She doesn't say a single line, but her husband/rapist, parents-in-law, parents, and, heck, even the slaves, ALL weigh in on the rape, or at least her unusual behavior because of hiding the rape. Philumena doesn't even get to decide the future of her newborn child. It reminds me of an incredible Amy Schumer clip about how the famous comedian needs to go around asking neighbors, priests, and even boy scouts about whether she should be on the birth control pill. Makes you wonder how much times have changed after all.

There were a few little nuggets of discourse that either propelled the plot forward, revealed a character more deeply, or shed light on Roman culture. These are the lines that popped out to me and which I listed in order to attempt to paraphrase them. Paraphrasing allows us to linger over word choice, chew on challenging issues, and dust off those concepts learned in Latin prose composition class. I did all of those this week, and although I found the subjunctives a bit trickier than I remember, there was something exciting about making this language my own. It may be that Philumena had no lines, but I was able to take the words of everyone else and embody them, putting them in my own perspective.

This assignment of writing indirect statement was already hard enough. I'm sure there are some errors which I have decided to embrace, but would also like to know so that I can revise them properly and learn from them. On top of that, there's the actual complications of a plot whose humor relies on confusion of people and roles. Some pronouns like "sibi" or "ea" required a bit of finagling, since I kept having to remind myself that I'm rewording from my perspective, not from the character's.

All along, I was using old language to make something new. It reminded me of a poem I read in college ("The Burning of Paper Instead of Children") by Adrienne Rich, an American poet and essayist, which includes the lines:

this is the oppressor's language

yet I need it to talk to you.

Patriarchal language, like the Latin word vagina (meaning “sheath” of a sword) or the English term hysteria, isn’t something to avoid, but rather to understand, to discuss, and to someday perhaps use to construct a world which remembers the past and does not doom itself to repeat it. I doubt the words of Phidippus “amarae mulieres sunt” (“women are bitter”) will do much more than stay in a few blogs or dusty old articles, but that’s okay.

The point is that somewhere, someone is sitting in a cafe trying to find her way deeper into this world. Because it does impact the present, as it has given the present its roots. And perhaps by going far enough into the past, we can find a home in this increasingly modernized world.

15 views0 comments

© 2015 by Skye Shirley. Proudly created with