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Apologies for no teaching ideas discussion last week: I was unwell. It is half term at the moment, but I am preparing for my lessons next week and following, and in this way I have found inspiration for this week’s item. This is more of a rambling and less of a concrete idea, so any thoughts please comment below the post.

The 5th book of the Cambridge Latin Course is reached near the end of the GCSE Latin course. If you are unfamiliar with the CLC, it is a Latin course used in most British schools, due to reasons such as its continuous storyline and it’s focus on getting as many people to read Latin as possible.

As some of you may already know, I am in my second post as a Classics teacher since qualifying about 5 years ago. Both schools I have worked in seem to have the same policy towards the teaching of Latin through the Cambridge Latin Course at GCSE: the phrase ‘dip in and out’ applies to both.

I am at the point with my Year 10 Latin set (the year before they take the GCSE) where we shall be moving on to CLC book 5 after half term. As I have begun planning the lessons involving this book, it is clear from the start that the grammar requirements go beyond the GCSE specifications. The second stage in book 5 introduces the present subjunctive for example, and this can have an effect on subsequent stories in other stages. The question is, do we teach this to our pupils, or skip over it and hope they don’t notice? I am sure that I’m not the only one who uses the CLC ‘about the language’ pages simply for the practice examples and not for the underwhelming explanation of the point in question. So any exploration of grammar superfluous to the course could be done simply via these pages as the in depth explanation is not required. However bearing in mind my own class, they do get a bit frustrated when grammar points they don’t need for GCSE (why did they take gerundives of obligation out?!) crop up in CLC stories. The argument I give them is that when we study for the literature side of the qualification, there will be plenty of grammar and syntax that they don’t need for the language papers but will have to understand in order to unlock the set text, so the more they see new and different things in Latin passages then the more comfortable they will feel with the literature we read.

The other grammatical issue I find slightly annoying in book 5 is the ‘softly softly’ approach to indirect statements. Pupils I have taught in the past have had difficulties, particularly because they like to have all their grammar notes together and if the different types of indirect statement are dotted about their books it makes it difficult to see the pattern in the grammar point as a whole. Of course I would go through it all as a whole once we’ve met all the little bits, but to me it just seems illogical to start off without a sense of cohesion. It is reminiscent of just introducing ‘bat/bant’ and ‘it/erunt’ in CLC book 1: to me it just does not seem logical to discuss part and not the whole. Please, if you disagree, I would love to have my mind changed -comment below!

One of the other problems that one can have with CLC book 5 is keeping up with the storyline. I feel that I am amongst the minority when I say that I have really grown to love and enjoy the storyline throughout the course, right from the beginning. Many others decided that book 1 holds such fond memories that the story-lines in the other books just do not compare. Comedy (Modestus is one of my favourite characters) tragedy, gang culture, murder plots, falsifying wills, adultery, exiling the emperor’s wife…there is a lot of juicy stuff there! The problem then with dipping in and out of the course is that you can easily lose the story.

I think this is where it depends on your class – I have had classes before that have enjoyed following the plot, perhaps further driven by my personal enthusiasm for the storyline. After all you-know-who has done (yes I feel Salvius has earned Voldemort’s moniker) the pupils deserve to know if he gets his comeuppance…and although I find it rather anticlimactic, the superb storyline of the preceding 4 course-books has earned the right to be brought to a conclusion.

ooh Salvius, what a fib! Boo! Hiss!

I know there are stories irrelevant to this plot, and a selection of these I shall be missing out – the Martial included in the second stage might better be replaced with some practice GCSE papers, for example. Yes I know what you’re thinking, that’s just teaching to the exam, but it’s just such a heavy course that if there is time to do things like that well then great, but I’d rather get through the essentials first. There are a few stories I tend to miss out throughout the course as a whole (Metella et Melissa anyone? Stage 7 is one of my favourites, but this story just seems stuck in there for no clear reason) so perhaps there is nothing wrong with missing out some of the Martial in this course. They’ve got enough verse to translate for the literature! One must of course remember the aims of the Cambridge Latin Course: not strictly speaking to get to GCSE, but to enable pupils’ access to ‘real’ Latin…

Whilst looking at my plans for the rest of this academic year, I know that I will be ‘dipping in and out’ in order to get through the course that the pupils need. It is sad, in a way, that stories and grammar topics which academics have had to ponder over how best to introduce, are being neglected in so many schools. However, with the high demands of the GCSE course it seems to be the only way.

Of course it does depend on the school: if the pupils have been studying Latin for longer they may be able to get through the whole course and then some. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who switches to John Taylor’s ‘Essential GCSE Latin’ and their reasoning for doing so. I think I will find it useful for exam practice and great things such as his list of ‘easily confused words’ but I feel the language he uses can be slightly inaccessible. I say ‘can be’ – I sometimes prefer it to the more waffly ‘in this stage you have seen sentences like this…’ approach in the CLC. Is there a middle ground somewhere?

Let me know your thoughts by adding your comments below.

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