Teaching Visual Thinking in Latin

Board notes: Latin Related to my last post on two-point perspective… I don’t want to have to constantly teach kids how to make better and better murals for their classes every year.  I want to teach them the skills necessary to draw their own people, and then step back from the job of teaching them to be artists or creatives of various sorts.  I want to support their growth along the visual track, as well as the writing and mathematical tracks that are currently so overemphasized in American schools (I also want to grow the musical and dramatic tracks, but those aren’t “in my wheelhouse” as much as visual thinking is, right now. One war at a time).

So I noticed that my Latin students on Thursday were having a lot of trouble distinguishing between the nominative and the accusative, between the subject endings and the direct object endings.  So I drew up a bunch of people on the board, various characters from Ecce Romani, the traditional Latin text in my school.  Here are the puellae/puellas, the nuntius/nuntium, the girl Cornelia/Corneliam, the pueri/pueros, the Vilicus/vilicum Davus/Davum, and so on.  We went around the room a half-dozen times, making up sentences and distinguishing subjects from direct objects in our sentences, sometimes using the plural subjects and sometimes the singular subjects; sometimes the plural direct objects, and sometimes the singular.  It was a lot of fun, and I think the kids enjoyed it.

But about halfway through, I noticed that many kids were no longer paying attention to the subject/direct object point of the lesson.  They were focused on drawing people the way I draw people. The way I learned to draw people from Mike Rohde, and of course I found Mike through Rachel Smith’s TEDx talk on visual note-taking (I’m reminded of Josephine McCarthy’s recent article about women in magic, and how men have to remember to credit what they learn from women teachers… THANK YOU Rachel).

In a normal Latin class, I’d of course pretend to be mad at everyone, and try to get them back on-task, focused on subjects and direct objects. Board notes: Latin Because that’s what Latin teachers supposedly do, right? Except, I’m finding that I still regard visual thinking as being every-bit-as-important to learning as learning to decline Latin nouns.  So, I wound up giving a little lesson instead on how to build a range of face-types for their more-than-stick-figure constructions, by using an extended Punnett Square to develop a range of options from the broad unibrow, and to the flat brows both uni and broken; to the smiling, neutral, and sad-faces.

I think the kids enjoyed the lesson quite a bit.  More than that, I enjoyed teaching the lesson quite a bit.  The way in which it’s becoming possible to relax into certain kinds of opportunities because I’m open to teaching visual thinking as part of my curriculum — indeed, the ways that I’m making it part of my core teaching methodology — has made me a much more flexible teacher.  And it’s given me a range of options that I hadn’t really believed were possible.

But, it’s taken me … what, six years? seven? to get to the point where I feel that this is one of my competencies — teaching young people to reconnect with their visual literacy skills.  And it’s taken me six years to be willing to set aside the normal conventions of my profession, and accept that “I am Andrew Watt, and I teach drawing skills as part of my normal teaching routine in a core academic class.”

I wonder how long it will be before I get challenged on this again. And I wonder if I will back down, then, or if I will stand up for the importance of the drawing.  I hope that I do the second.  It’s so important to learn this skill.


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