The Compelling "Why?" Continued

Posted on: Tue, 01/14/2020 - 16:00

I shared an example of how I responded to students who asked me, "Why do I have to learn this?"  And now, teachers from a variety of schools who teach many different content areas have shared their own examples with me!  In the coming months, "Off the Cuff" will feature the work of these outstanding guest bloggers and teachers.

This week, Ms. Stacey Bentley from Brunswick HS and Ms. Becky DeLameter from Frederick HS share their insights.

Guest Blogger Stacey Bentley, Latin teacher at Brunswick High School

"WHY" Latin?

photo of children in Latin classIf I had a dollar for every time someone (students, parents, fellow educators, members of the community etc.) asked me, "Why Latin?", I could take all my students to Rome! However, I think it is a very fair question. After all, why are we learning a language that is not spoken anymore? Why are we learning about cultures that existed thousands of years ago? What does this have to do with 21st century learning? The answer is simple...everything! I believe that before students can learn in any classroom, they must know the value of what they are learning. They must understand how it connects to their life and how it will benefit them. The "WHY" matters.

Latin is the study of language. Through the study of Latin, we better understand our own language, English, which is a hybrid of 2 languages - English and Latin. This explains why half of all English words were derived from Latin. A former BHS teacher, Mr. Eiler, said within the first few weeks of school each year he was able to tell which of his AP Language students had taken Latin. Latin trains the mind, teaching logic, order, structure and discipline, not to mention patience and attention to detail. Latin really is a work out for the brain! 

Latin is also said to be the language of law, theory, science, medicine, government and logic. I always ask my students to raise their hands if they are thinking of going into a career in one of these areas...the sea of hands in the air helps them to understand the real-world application and value the "WHY". 

By studying Latin one can more easily learn any Romance language (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese etc.) as they were all derived from Latin. By learning Latin first, students fully understand the structure of language, cutting the work of learning another foreign language in half!  Why stop at learning just one language?

Latin is not only the study of language, it is also the study of the rich history of those who spoke Latin. In Latin class students have many "aha" moments as we read mythological stories describing why we have seasons, from where we get the word volcano and why mulberries are red. They make connections to our modern government as we learn about the creation of the Roman Senate, a branch of government created to balance the power of the monarch. Students are quick to point out vocabulary terms they are able to understand in Science classes, such as nomenclature, aquaculture or terrestrial, due to their Latin roots. Students quickly learn that Latin is really alive all around us, in our architecture, government, language and even art. 

Most people are not aware that Latin is taught anymore, much less flourishing at many FCPS high schools. I often ask my students, "Is Latin dead?" to which they love to respond, "No, Mrs. Bentley, it's just ROMAN around!".


photo of children in Latin class photo of children in Latin class


Guest Blogger Rebecca DeLameter, American Sign Language teacher at Frederick High School


photo of children practicing sign languageWHY? It’s the age-old question for which 4-year-olds are famous, but is one we continue to ask throughout our lives. When students ask, it’s a great opportunity to connect what they are learning with real life experience. As I considered answering this question, I asked my high school students who are learning American Sign Language (ASL) what they thought. They answered this question better than I could!


First, they said “to be able to communicate with people that are different.” I know that is a significant topic to our students, especially here at FHS, where we have a wealth of diversity. With all the different languages spoken here, ASL is just “one more way to be different.” 


The second reason my students gave was “to learn more about cultural things.” Our students really want to know each other and to be able to learn about each other’s culture. They are also very cognizant of happenings in the world and want to be a part of making a better future for themselves, their families and friends. As we learn about Deaf culture, we have engaged in many discussions about the similarities and differences between Deaf and hearing, and other cultures. It’s often hard to steer them back to the nuts and bolts after some of these discussions!


The next reason they gave was “We live in Frederick.” Frederick’s high Deaf population gives them the opportunity to use their new language skills to interact with friends, neighbors, teammates and, sometimes, family members. Many of my students have gotten hired for part-time jobs because they knew ASL, since many businesses in the area have Deaf clients on a regular basis. Deaf clients appreciate not having to go through an interpreter to handle their daily activities. After these experiences, some of the students become interested in careers as interpreters, teachers or other professions where being able to sign to their clients is a big advantage for them.


photo of children practicing sign languageFinally, my students said, “It’s a good challenge to learn something completely different from any other language. It makes us unique.” As our students begin to find their niche and look to make their mark on the world, having a unique skill sets them apart and gives them pride in themselves. As they learn to make the hand shapes, facial expressions, and start to present their work to others in sign, they begin to overcome their insecurities about things like speaking in public, talking to new people and trying something new. Starting at about the same point initially, the classes often bond and become very supportive of each other. Students have come back after starting college to say, “thanks for encouraging me to do (this or that), I never would have tried it otherwise.” 

Being able to link what they are doing in class and their life outside of school helps the students to be motivated to learn the material but, more importantly, I think asking WHY opens the door to opportunities which may never have been considered. It’s a great question!