AcademicsFeb 14, 2020

New Hallmark Latin course meets students where they are

Our new Hallmark Latin course is infused with a spirit of exploration — along with a healthy dose of student choice

Language Department Chair and Latin Teacher Sarah Nix loves to delve into the ancient world. It should come as no surprise then that Hallmark Latin is infused with a spirit of exploration — along with a healthy dose of student choice.

“Hallmark Latin is a class where students are able to focus on their core passions and interests,” explains Dr. Nix. “What we do is really tailored to what they want to learn about. The areas we explore are identified by the students, and we start with the idea of, 'I’ve always wanted to learn more about X.’”

The advanced language course is built around a theme selected by students, with materials curated by Dr. Nix. This past year, for example, students explored the theme of friendship in ancient Rome. One of the more fascinating aspects they explored was the ancient custom of friends being buried together and what their epitaphs — many written before they died — said about their friendship.

“I typically survey the class and develop a list of topics or themes we can pursue,” Dr. Nix explains. “Once we select a theme and essential questions we want to explore, I create a cohesive syllabus that guides our work.” It is a practice that worked well in Dr. Nix’s Latin IV classes.

One year, for example, a number of students in the class were involved in the Theater Ensemble. So, their work included reading scripts from comedies, tragedies, and satire, and studying the ancient stage and dramaturgy. Another year, students particularly interested in science and medicine explored plants and medicine of the ancient world, theories of science and reason, and perspectives of women’s bodies and anatomy.

“I always try to do something different every year,” adds Dr. Nix, and the class incorporates group and independent work, drawing upon a wide variety of primary sources, supplemental literature, and historical accounts, including inscriptions and other archaeological evidence. For the first half of the year, the class explores the themes together. Beginning in early March or so, the students can take different paths. They can work independently, pair up to pursue a project, or continue working as a group. Often, they come up with their own ideas — reading children’s books in Latin, then writing their own books, for example, or analyzing an ancient piece of art and creating a work themselves.

“I love this class, because I get to be involved in and exploring new ideas,” notes Dr. Nix. “I am always passionate about learning more about my field, so it is exciting for me personally as an academic, but it’s also nice for the students, who have worked hard to get to this level of proficiency in a language. It is very motivating for them to hear, ‘What do you want to do?’”