A study in the use of embedded readings to improve the accessibility and understanding of Latin literature at A Level
The Journal of Classics Teaching
Part way through the second school placement of my PGCE teacher training course I began to teach Latin unseen translation, where students are given an unfamiliar passage to translate, to a Year 13 cohort of just two students. The translation element of the course was proving challenging for both students – they struggled with language comprehension, and the A Level language course seems not very accessible to students with low prior attainment. Furthermore, my second placement school is an
... t school is an Upper School, so students start Latin from scratch in Year 9. Because of the time constraint those who choose take GCSE do the Eduqas Latin exam, which requires that slightly less grammar and syntax needs to be covered than the OCR syllabus (for example, the ablative absolute construction is absent from the Eduqas examination, but present in the OCR). For the small number carrying on in the 6th form, this results in a linguistic shortfall which has to be made up before beginning the OCR A Level specification. This seems to be a challenge even for very able Latinists, and more so for my two students, Alice and Michael (not their real names), and had presented an added barrier to their facility in grasping and translating complex language structures, both in unseen translations and the demanding set texts. Simply 'practising' by going through texts together was not proving helpful, as once my oral prompts during this process were removed and they were left on their own they reverted to guesswork instead of applying their knowledge and logic to the text. Similarly poor results in translation were evident from practice literature papers which they had taken before February half term, even though these were prepared texts – while the language paper asks students to tackle short unseen translations, the literature component calls for the extensive preparation of a much longer text, from which students must translate and analyse selected passages in the examination, as well as answering a broad essay question. However, despite the fact that Alice and Michael had been through their set text in detail with their teacher and made their own translations, it appeared that, when presented with a passage from the set text in exam conditions, the language looked just as intimidating to them as if they had not seen it before, and they were equally unable to produce a sensible attempt at translation. I therefore became interested in finding ways for them to approach texts which would minimise the 'fear factor' and allow them to access meaning without being put off by complex syntax.