Organizing the Abyss: The Grammar Portfolio in Latin II

Ellen D. Sassenberg

Mayo High School

In many respects, the most challenging year of a foreign language sequence is the second one.  At this point, the motivation levels of the students is typically quite mixed.  Some are committed to completing at least two years of language study for a high school requirement or college admission, while others are gung-ho for all four years.   The first year class was a blast and highly entertaining, but the real work begins in year two.  The students will now meet grammar, and a good deal of it.  How can all of this extremely necessary information be delivered in a way that will not overwhelm or discourage these students from future years of study and still prepare them to succeed when they begin to meet the Classical authors in year three and beyond?

Organization of class notes and other reference materials is an extremely important factor for keeping students' heads above water.  For most young people between the ages of 14 and 16, organization isn't one of their strongest traits.  To help my Latin II students meet and overcome this challenge, I require them to maintain a structured portfolio of all of their class materials. 

One of the chief advantages of maintaining a portfolio is that it places the responsibility and accountability of the material directly on the student.  The learning becomes active when they must physically write out charts, vocabulary lists, and other class notes as opposed to simply opening the textbook to the back index pages and staring blankly at the contents of those pages.  The students must obtain and divide a three ring binder into 6 specific sections.  The most important of these sections is the one reserved for the Reference Charts, which are pages of blank tables organized by part of speech and then by declension or voice and tense.   As students fill in blank noun charts or verb charts in this packet, they are generating their own checklist of information for which they are responsible for learning.  Before the portfolios are turned in for evaluation at the end of each marking period, the students are required to compose a one page essay, referred to as a "Reflection" essay, on the work done for that particular marking period.  They are given three specific topic sentence prompts that guide the composition of the essay and also require the student to look over their accumulated materials.

The overall goals of this portfolio project are twofold: first, the students are writing down all the necessary grammar that they will need for future success in the language.  Second, they are required to experiment with a concrete method of organization.  Whenever the portfolios come in for a marking period, without fail, well over half of the students say in their own words that keeping this portfolio has saved them throughout the semester because everything they need to study or do their homework is in one convenient place.  Having used this project for six years, I am more and more convinced that it is just as important for these young scholars to learn how to study as is to study, and it is just as important a part of our jobs to teach them both sets of skills.


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