Help Your Students Build Their Own SLN (Social Learning Networks!)
While the Latin Program was technically part of the Language Department, and I had a wonderful division head who supported my and the Latin program, I was the only Latin Teacher and only teacher in a position to advocate for the program itself. At times it felt isolating, not having anyone with whom I could bounce around ideas, share the advocacy responsibilities, or help create a classics community for my students.
And the students felt that isolation. At the time that I was hired, the Latin program was the smallest program in the school. Only four students having enrolled in the Latin program the year before I was hired, and there was pressure to improve enrollment. I knew that I needed to create a community for our students that brought the classics to life, virtually transporting students across four continents and two millenia. Essentially, I needed to take my PLN (Professional Learning Network) and help students build their own SLN (Social Learning Network!)
It wasn’t long before I was using social media to grow my teaching skills and curriculum, but also to bring my students into the global classics community. Here are some of the resources I found to be most successful in these goals:
- The first place I turned to was the American Classical League (I found the job via their job board!) and the National Junior Classical League. I established a NJCL chapter for our school, formalizing our own small classics community, and very quickly began reaching out the the broader classics communities beyond our school’s walls.
- When I first joined the Latin Teacher Idea Exchange Facebook group, it has a few hundred members, but in only 5 years has grown to 2,240 members. The group has teachers and professionals from around the world, representing all levels of study and education. Topics range from theoretical discussions about TPRS/CI vs. Traditional/Grammar approaches, to quick reference checks about modern day vocabulary. Middle school students have a way of asking questions I never considered, so often I’ll pause mid-class, jump on the Facebook group to ask a question, and we’ll have a response from a knowledgeable resource before the end of the class.
- In recent years, a number of teachers have created related groups on Facebook to discuss certain topics in more depth. The Teaching Latin for Acquisition group focuses on different methods and approaches to teaching Latin. And the Ancient Greek – Comprehensible Input group looks at similar approaches to teaching Ancient Greek.
- Twitter has provided a wonderful resource for our students and classroom. You can read about how our students used Twitter both for class projects, and for building a network at Twitter in the Elementary Classroom.
I love the Empowered Learner standard in ISTE’s Standard for Students: “Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.” One of the indicators includes students who “build networks and customize their learning environments in ways that support the learning process.” Modeling for students the skill of building and maintaining a PLN, especially on social media platforms, is an invaluable lesson that helps students feel connected to a responsible and helpful online community.
In addition to modeling great digital literacy and citizenship skills, social media provided an incredible (and free!) avenue for students not only to connect with other Latin classrooms, but also to build a learning network of professionals in classics fields. My students loved sending out questions to the other Latin teachers (how to do you say iPad lightning cable in Latin?). Being a small, isolated program, it was so important for me and my students to feel connected to a community. Finding that online community to be large, far-reaching, and vibrant built an enthusiasm for the hard work we dug into each day in our classroom.
After only four years, our enrollment had quadrupled, over-enrolling a full section! I am so grateful to my PLN on these platforms for helping me and my students to build a successful and strong middle school Latin program in only four years.
Comment below: How can you bring your students into your PLN and help them build their own learning networks?
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