Busy, but Joyful Friday

When The Schedule works out just right, it’s possible for me to spend the day with the District Q class and with all three groups from District Y.  And if that happens on a Tuesday, I also see the Gifted Homeschoolers branch of the Latin Family … and when that happens, it can be a tiring, but joyful Tuesday.  Even without the Gifted Homeschoolers, today was a tiring, but busy and joyful Friday.  I could feel the power of Joyful Learning Community as we shared our newly-created familiae Romanae, and I could really feel the power as we moved to virtual breakout rooms and worked on our first-ever interactions involving characters we’d created.

It occurred to me that I ought to make an example of an interaction.  So I did, and here it is, modeled on a number of similar products Latin Family members over the years have made:

We will look at a this sample interaction response for Minor Assessment #1.  Their “existing” character was Valerius and Caelia’s son Lucius.  They describe him this way:

  • 8-year-old boy, turns 9 during stories
  • usually pretty well behaved
  • sometimes fights with his sisters Valeria (older) and Caeliola (younger)
  • seems to get along well with parents
  • best friend Caius, son of Lollius and Maccia, his father’s clients
  • goes to school with Caius, Cnaeus (his cousin), Quintus Flavius (“bad boy”), and other friends.  Fabius (dad’s client) is their teacher

Their “new” character is Tertius Hortensius.  He goes to school with Lucius.  His dad, Titus Hortensius, owns a popina in Herculaneum, and his mom, Livia, works in the family restaurant.  He has a brother, Quartus, and a sister, Hortensia.  They have a dog named Maximus.  The Hortensius family lives in a building that belongs to the Valerius family, who also frequently eat in their restaurant.




Lucius: salve, Tertius!

Tertius: salve, Lucius!

Lucius: quid happened in ludo hodie?  ego was absent because I had to go to the medicus.

Tertius: Lucius, it was a dies optimus.  The ludi magister was attonitus when Quintus Flavius started to exclamat in medio class.  He started to exclamat quoque.  One student got perterritus and currit in via.  He almost got run over by an equus and a raeda.

Lucius: vae! heu!  volo I had been there!

Take a look at the rubric and see if you can figure out what level of Presentational Writing proficiency this person (or group) showed.

Obviously, at this point, these Latin Family members still need to use some English, or a Latin-English mixture.  Obviously their nouns and verbs won’t be completely correctly formed.  That’s why I showed them this example, which everybody agreed was somewhere in the Novice Mid to (possibly) Novice High range.  “They” (my evil twin?) had successfully used familiar Latin words and phrases to communicate some information about the characters, and “they” had almost succeeded in forming a Latin sentence.

“Can we do something like that and have it ready before next time?” I asked everyone except the Latin I class, who had a slightly different task.  Most said yes; a few said maybe; some feared they couldn’t.  But after 25 minutes or so working in pairs or groups to create an interaction among their original characters and at least one prepared character, everybody had made real progress.  And yes, they all could use Latin words and phrases to communicate an idea, and many had even made sentences.

That was exciting, especially when I look back (just two weeks!) and remember the initial fear and uncertainty.  It’s like the excitement a long-gone set of Latin Family members felt, back when Former School was New School for me and for many of them.  “Look what you can do!” I said … but I probably didn’t say it as often as I should have.  I was younger then, too, and I “just knew” that The Textbook would work for them if we just moved fast and kept things rigorous.  And for that group, in those days, that approach worked fairly well … but I wonder what would have happened if we’d embraced building meaningful things together as well as becoming a joyful learning community.

Come to think of it, some of those very Latin Family members helped teach me the power of building things together.  When they were in Latin III, they got fascinated by books and book-making and libraries in the Roman world, a topic we touched on as we were reading some Latin poetry.  “We need to know more!” they said, and they proposed finding out more about those topics and building a physical product.  And they did.

It still occupies a place of honor in the Latin Family Zone at Former School.  It’s a Roman-style bookcase filled with scrolls.  I thought about “bringing it home,” but I realized that it was at home.  In its home.  Where it was always supposed to be.  It was a meaningful thing that a particular joyful learning community had built together, and it wasn’t mine to “take with me.”

What I love about the things we’re building together these days, though, is that they can be everywhere and with all of us because they’re not confined to physical space.  We may well build videos together as past Latin Family branches have done.  We may make “authentic” costumes or puppets, too.  But our products, shared as they are in a virtual space, will be with us when we want them.  There won’t ever be a concern about taking or leaving.

And on this busy, but joyful Friday, that seems particularly important.  Ownership of your products is important for a joyful community, and I’m glad we’ll be able to own things together as we build them together.  I wonder what other insights and discoveries await as this remarkable journey continues!

Published in: on September 19, 2014 at 7:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Managing Ourselves

“Should I turn off chat privileges for That One Class?” I asked myself this morning.  They had been a bit silly and distracted on Wednesday, and if we’d been in the same physical room, with whispering or loud conversations instead of typed chat, I just would have stopped in mid-syllable and waited for them.  And then, when they noticed, I would have reminded them about managing ourselves … about how the Latin Family avoids behaviors that would distract or annoy others, not because Somebody Else makes us, but because we have ownership of our own lives and behaviors.

It’s easier to talk about managing ourselves than it used to be.  It was hard when I was in a physical environment where (obviously) various Powers That Be were managing everybody.  To be fair, there’s a room monitor there with the Latin Family in both District Q and District Y, but s/he rarely has anything to say.  And of course there are Powers That Be who could be summoned, called, or emailed if needed … but the room monitor would probably handle that.

So, even in an overall structure where somebody is there to manage, the Latin Family at District Q and District Y is uniquely poised to manage ourselves. And this morning, when I woke up with a cough, a scratchy throat, and the other unmistakable signs of late-summer cold, I was glad that I could manage myself, too.  I’d still be meeting with the two Latin Family groups that meet today, but I could take a quick nap if I needed to.  I’d still be talking and guiding them, but I could have hot tea and toast nearby.  I’d still be dressed normally for this new phase (I don’t feel compelled to wear a jacket and tie anymore), but no one would have to see the fuzzy slippers.  And my half-formed plan to get a haircut this afternoon?  That could wait for another day.

It’s exciting to see what happens when the Latin Family takes ownership of managing ourselves.  It was exciting back at Former School, but it’s even more exciting with District Q and District Y.  “We know each other well,” they all told me at the beginning, “so we really can be the Latin Family.” And sure enough, barely two weeks into our shared adventure, that joyful learning community is forming.

The upper-level group moved into breakout rooms today, and they moved themselves into rooms that corresponded with the Tres Columnae Project characters they’ve been focusing on.  They created summaries on the virtual whiteboard, and we moved those summaries out to the “main room” to share with each other.  “I know!” I said, “I’ll save a PDF copy as well as a ‘regular’ whiteboard” … and that was the last thing they heard from me, because a sudden crash ensued.  We were almost done, and I sent them an apologetic email with directions for tomorrow.  We’ll be creating our first-ever interactions tomorrow, bringing our “new” and “existing” characters together.  We may need a bit of time on Monday, especially after the Great Crash.  But I continue to be impressed by the quality of their work … and by the quality of the community we’ve formed together.

And all it took for That One Class was a quiet reminder.  Then we answered Latin questions together, using the first two paragraphs of a new story that may find its way onto the Tres Columnae site fairly soon.  Then we read the rest of the story and created some Latin questions for each other … and we shared the “authentic” families we’ve created for Minor Assessment #1, and we talked about the illustrated family tree or brief Latin description we’ll be making before tomorrow.  And we started talking about our first interaction, which will bring pairs or groups of three together, each one representing a member of the familia they created.

It’s exciting!  And now that the tasks are becoming more comfortable and more clear, we’re managing ourselves well as we rise to the new challenge.  “I’m glad we finally had homework,” somebody said today, “after a week and a half of not having any.”  That surprised me; I never would have heard such a comment at Former School, where Ms. X and Mr. Y’s lengthy, tedious homework assignments had spoiled the notion of practice outside of class for almost everyone.  But the school cultures at District Q and District Y are very different from that … and the demographics are different, of course, and so are the students themselves.  “I need practice,” they’re telling me.  “Will we ever start checking the Make the Noun assignments for accuracy?” K had asked me during the other class … and even though they’re still struggling a bit with the speed and intensity with which I want them to make noun forms, I could tell that was more of a request than a concern.

Managing ourselves … it involves a lot of listening and responding.  “Could we have a vocabulary list for the stories we read independently?”  Yes, of course, and I’ll share the “complete VOCABVLA” link with the relevant groups tomorrow.  “Could we spend more time with small-group discussion of stories?”  Yes, absolutely … and that’s one big reason we used the Breakout Rooms for reading preparation today.  “Could there be a game for vocabulary practice?” Of course … and we’ll be designing one together.

It’s a lot easier and better when we manage ourselves and build it together!

And that’s the thing about a joyful learning community: when the conditions are right, you really can build it together.  Maybe it’s the combination of physical and virtual, maybe it’s the new season of life I seem to be in, or maybe it’s just the much-needed change, but  building it together and managing ourselves seem a lot easier than they did a year ago.  I wonder what the cause is, and I wonder what other effects and insights we’ll notice in the days and weeks to come!

Published in: on September 18, 2014 at 7:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Clearing Things Up

“Was the assignment clear?” I asked each District Q and District Y group at least once this week.  For the Latin Family at Former School, the answer would have been “Of course,” and I probably wouldn’t have asked … because the process and the product of our first Minor Assessment for an upper-level class would have been familiar to almost everyone in Latin II (except those whose beginning Latin experience was at Some Other School) and to everybody in the upper-level classes.  But the idea of creating something based on Latin readings and background research … would that be familiar, at all, to students whose prior Latin experience had been more textbook-based, more passive?

It was relatively clear, but they asked for more structure and more clarity.  Originally, I thought the homework assignments for yesterday and today would have a choice: you could either work on creating your original character for the first Minor Assessment project or do some independent background reading about the existing character you’d chosen.  That was too much choice for them, and I apologize to the District Q family for not figuring it out as quickly as I should.  By the time the District Y groups met, I’d realized we needed to go “in order” … first work on creating our own characters, then see about the background reading.  We’d still have a choice of characters, and the characters would determine which “old” (but new-to-them) Tres Columnae Project stories each person would read … but we needed a step-by-step approach whose choices wouldn’t overwhelm us.

With that structure in place, things went beautifully in the District Y classes yesterday.  The Room Monitor, who usually just logs in and starts a webcam service for us, commented several times on “what an excellent class!”  Many of us created whole families, not just individual characters … and while you could certainly see the influence of their Former Textbook in a few of the new families, everybody succeeded in creating something mostly original.  Their responses to the Google Form we used after their independent reading task were generally positive, too; a few wished for help with translation, but most were able to understand familiar words and phrases and even main ideas and details in the linked stories about their characters from Lectiōnēs I – XIV.  Despite our fears, we’re all solidly in the band of proficiency that I’d been hoping for, clustered somewhere between Novice Mid to Intermediate Low … except the beginning group, of course, who are still beginners, as they should be.

And silly, sometimes … as you’d expect when they, too, are clearing things up for themselves.  What are the ground rules, they wonder, for this joyful learning community of ours?  What does it mean to be focused, to stay focused, to bring yourself fully to a learning activity in a virtual environment?  We used “breakout rooms” to make random pairs today and create our first-ever Vocabulary Reflection and Organizer … and that, with the pressure of time and public presentation, went very well.  We did some reading and some question creation, too, using a little story we’d read and answered English questions about on Monday.  We were more tired, though, by then than I’d realized, and there were some technological glitches that made it hard to focus.  So we’ll be talking about those issues the next time we meet, and talking, too, about our shared expectations for the virtual space and the virtual community.

In other words, we’ll be clearing things up about procedural “stuff” as well as learning and assessment-related “stuff.”

Clearing things up is important … and sometimes, when you’re in a very familiar environment, it’s hard to remember to take the time to do it.  “They should know better,” said the Ms. X and Mr. Y inside my head, “because I told them last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, too.”  But of course I didn’t tell them; I told That Year’s Latin Family group.  The beginners are always beginners, and we always need to clear things up for them.  And with a new context and a new environment, clearing things up is important for everybody.

Structure … and clarity.  To have a joyful learning community, to build meaningful things together, to have the kind of freedom that Latin Family members typically gain, structure and clarity are important.  If you abuse a privilege and distract or bother somebody else, you’re interfering with their freedom, and that’s not fair to them.  If you get distracted by somebody, that’s not fair to you … and if the structures and expectations aren’t clear, that’s not fair (on my part) to anybody.  So I’ve been asking for feedback regularly, feedback about procedures and routines as well as comfort with the learning.  And together, these new and expanded joyful learning communities will develop the structures, the clarity, and the procedures and routines we need to sustain our communities and build our meaningful things.

It takes a while, and it isn’t as “easy” as it is for Ms. X and Mr. Y with their predefined procedures.  It was “easier” for me, too, when I thought procedures could be predefined.  But procedures and the communities they support are interdependent; as the community changes, the procedures have to change, too.  “Pick up a copy per pair from the basket” was a great procedure in a face-to-face classroom ten years ago; it wouldn’t work at all in our virtual space today.  “Homework gets stamped with these special codes” … that worked well fifteen years ago, but how would it be possible with virtual homework whose arrival date is logged anyway?

As we continue clearing things up, we’ll build the procedures we need … and I wonder what else we’ll discover on our journey together!



Published in: on September 17, 2014 at 4:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gradually Building Proficiency

“Mr. S,” the intermediate and advanced Latin Family groups at District Y asked me, “can you say an English version of what we read after each paragraph?”  We’ve been working on gradually building proficiency with things other than word-for-word translation: I’ve asked questions in English and questions in Latin, and just the other day we tried listing the ideas and details we understood in a paragraph.  They’ve also been reading the Latin for me, and we’re all impressed with the quality of their Latin pronunciation.  So I was happy to say “yes” … although at one point, not too long ago, I probably would have said “no” if someone at the Former School had asked me.

Context makes a difference, of course.  At Former School, “everybody” knew that the Latin Family aimed to use as much Latin as possible, as much of the time as possible.  If someone had asked for an English translation, I probably would have provided it or asked the Family to do so; in fact, as I think back, we did that with particularly complex or difficult sentences, and the AP groups obviously had to make “literal” translations from time to time.  We’re still building that shared context in District Q and District Y, and we’re also working with an existing context where translation was more frequently a primary check for understanding, and where knowing about Latin and the Romans was sometimes stressed more than using your knowledge.

Of course, it wasn’t that long ago that I “followed the textbook” and measured students’ knowledge about more directly than I do now.  So I know where they’re coming from, and I’m glad to build gradually from there toward a larger, longer-term goal of proficiency.

The beginning group is already on board, of course, since they know no other way.  And the Gifted Homeschoolers are on board, since joyful learning is what they do anyway.  We’ve found a rhythm in those groups, to pick up a theme from yesterday’s blog post, and that rhythm seems to be working well for most of us.  We’ve lost a few members of each group, folks who needed a different rhythm or a different approach … and while I’d love to keep them all, I also know that new rhythms and new approaches aren’t for everybody.

The intermediate and advanced groups used the Complete Noun Forms Consolidation Sheet, an old Latin Family tool, to classify some familiar nouns by declinatio and then to transform them into specified casus and numerus.  We talked briefly about why I tend to use the Latin grammatical terms rather than their English equivalents, and I was glad to see that just about everybody could use the chart successfully to recognize and apply the patterns.  Our next step, of course, will be to use Latin noun forms in context as we create our first Minor Assessment product.  We’ll be creating our own new characters, reading more about an existing character, and creating a short Latin interaction between the new character and the old.   I haven’t assigned homework in a long time at Former School, but the demographics, the expectations, and the rhythm of school life are very different at District Q, where just about everybody has reliable Internet access at home.  So I did ask them to spend about 30 minutes last night working on their new characters, and I’ve already received some emailed responses and some excellent, thoughtful questions about how to handle the task.

We’ll see what the new characters look like today, and then we’ll start reading some of the earlier Tres Columnae Project stories about those characters.  I made them a collection of links, and it leads to a Google Form where they can tell me how much they were able to read in 30 minutes and how well they were able to understand the story.  S, at District Y, has already started that process, and he says he was able to read 3 whole stories about his character with roughly 70% comprehension.

That’s good news because independent reading like that is a new rhythm for the Latin Family.  I quickly learned, as a new teacher, that “read this story in The Textbook” wouldn’t work; I knew, ever since my own days as a Latin student, that “write a translation of this paragraph” was even less effective.  I’m curious to see how reading for meaning with a time limit will help the Latin family gradually build proficiency; it worked well, Back In The Day, as a summer review assignment for intermediate and advanced classes, but I haven’t usually used it during the “regular” school year.

Of course, Back In The Day, the number of available stories was limited.  As the “Tres Columnae Universe” expands, there will be more and more participant-created stories for us to read and share and build upon.  Creating the stories helps us build proficiency, of course, and reading each other’s stories is a great way to build proficiency, too.  And the creation and sharing of the stories will build community as well; that’s a vital purpose I don’t want to overlook.

And sometimes, at Former School, when things got busy and hectic, I think we did forget.  We’d make the stories, but it took time to share them … and sometimes we didn’t because I’d be “thinking about timing” or “concerned about getting behind.”  Without me there to forget and rush, the Latin Family there seems to be doing a great job of sharing stories and building community.

And in the end, who decides about “timing” and “getting behind,” anyway?  If you’re building proficiency rather than factual knowledge, “covering the book” is less important … and there isn’t a book to cover with the Tres Columnae Project anyway.  “I’m so impressed with how well they read!” said Ms. G, who had dropped in  yesterday.  And I realized I was, too; they were exactly at that Novice High point where they ought to be.

I wonder what other discoveries and insights await us all today!


Published in: on September 16, 2014 at 3:59 pm  Comments (2)  

Finding Our Rhythm

After all those years at the Former School, with its daily, 95-minute, semester-long classes, it’s a joy but also a challenge to find a good rhythm with the Latin Family at District Q and District Y.  With shorter classes (60 minutes), a full year, and classes that don’t meet every day, the rhythm has to be different anyway.  Since these new Latin Family members are new to the Tres Columnae Project and, in some cases, new to the idea of Latin as comprehensible language rather than complex code, the same-old-same-old rhythm wouldn’t work even if we did have a similar schedule and pace.  But after our first week and a half together, the new rhythm is starting to establish itself.

It’s a good feeling … good to break from the same-old-same-old, good to learn new names and new personalities.  Good to find a new rhythm when the old one was starting to feel stale.

Ms. N, who’s temporarily in charge of the Latin Family at Former School, asked if I could send her “the” lesson plan for the week ahead … and to my surprise, when I looked at the equivalent week from last year, “the” lesson plan was right there waiting for her.  After so many years there, and after several years of using Tres Columnae with those students, in that place, on that schedule, we had found a rhythm that continues to work even when I’m not there to set the pace.  That’s great for Ms. N, and I’m sure it will help the Next Teacher … but the more I thought about it, and the more I looked at those plans, the more I realized how much I’d needed the change.

If you’re not careful, finding a rhythm can cause you to fall into a rut.  And a rut will quickly diminish the joy and the learning and the community.

A few times last spring, I looked at the Latin Family at Former School and thought to myself, “they don’t really need me.”  They were so proficient with the rhythm we’d found, so expert at reading and understanding Latin together, that I seemed to have very little to do.

In some ways, that was very fulfilling for me as a teacher; my goal has always been to remove myself, gradually but steadily, from the position of mediator between learner and language.  “By the time you leave,” I’ve said for years, “you really shouldn’t need me anymore.”  B the time you become an Intermediate Mid to High interpreter of a language, you can survive and understand and participate without much help, and that’s what I wanted the Latin Family to do … and what they did.

But in other ways, the proficiency with the rhythm had started to bother me.  Were we stretching ourselves, building and sustaining the joyful learning community as we reached ever higher and challenged ourselves?  Or were we stagnant, going through the motions, stuck in a permanent valley … or in what Seth Godin calls a “dip?”  Was it time to quit, or should we keep pushing ahead?  Would things get better, or would they just stay the same?

It turns out that the answer was “yes and no, all and none of the above,” the way it so often is.  For the Latin Family at Former School, the key was to keep pushing ahead together, but to do so without me, relying on the rhythm they’d created and the joyful learning community we’d built together.  For me personally, it was important to keep pushing ahead in a different place, by embracing a new teaching context, helping to build new joyful learning communities … and finding a new rhythm that, in turn, will strengthen and challenge these new, different communities.

I “always” stood at the physical classroom door, saying salvē or salvēte as individuals or groups entered.  Now I greet each Latin Family member as he or she enters our virtual space, saying the greetings out loud and sending them through our virtual classroom’s chat feature.  There “always” was a posted agenda, but now it appears on a virtual whiteboard.  We “always” did something interactive at the beginning of class, either to pre-assess for an upcoming activity or to consolidate what we’d been learning about … and we still do, but now that something is usually a Google Form, and I can see the results in real time.  We “always” did some reading together … and we still do, but now there’s a choice of responding to questions by microphone or by text chat.  We “always” looked at a projected copy of the text together … and after a few days of experimenting with students’ clicking on links for themselves, I rediscovered the power of that shared text with the District Q group today.  I “always” asked for comfort levels on a scale from 1-5, but now everyone can respond privately, instead of with a show of fingers.  And there are cultural products, practices, and perspectives that we “always” talked about … and we’ve been talking about them in similar ways.

Some aspects of the rhythm haven’t changed that much.  But others have changed a lot.

We “always” moved to small-group reading when we were ready, and we’ll be ready soon.  But I don’t feel pushed to start that before we’re ready … to go ahead and do Paired Reading because it’s in “the” lesson plan.  And when I ask for feedback and reflection, I have time and space to absorb the responses, to alter the flow and the rhythm to meet the needs of these Latin Family members, in these places, at this time, without the pull of the same-old-same-old.

And that’s why finding a new rhythm has been a joy and a challenge. I wonder what other joyful challenges and opportunities await us all today!

Published in: on September 15, 2014 at 2:00 pm  Comments (1)  

Building It Together

“We’re fairly sure,” the folks at District Q said, “that we won’t have access to a microphone for the parents on Back to School Night.” But when the time came Thursday evening, there was a microphone, and I could hear the excitement as the parents began to arrive and as the room facilitator helped them sign in and get ready.  She was excited, too.  We’ve emailed a few times, but it wasn’t until last night that I found out how much she’s enjoying her time with the District Q Latin Family.  “They are so self-directed!” she said, both to the parents and to me.  They come in, log on, and start working on things … just like that.

I can feel the self-direction, too, and the quiet sense of ownership that pervades both the District Q group and the upper-level groups at District Y.  Many of them (and many of their families) were probably involved in the effort to keep Latin going at their schools when the Former Teachers left.  It’s their program, and it’s our program, and we’re building it together.

I’d almost forgotten what that feels like.

Thirteen years ago, it was the students at Former School who persuaded me to leave the Previous School to come there.  “We need you,” they said through a mutual friend, “because we need to have a world-class Latin program.”  I was flattered, but also humbled … and we started building things together even as the world we’d “always” known was falling apart in the aftermath of 9/11.

Building it together is important when you want it (whatever it is) to last.  One person’s vision and personality can create something impressive, but will that something impressive survive when that person dies, retires, or moves on?  Only if there’s been a transition from me to us, from founder’s gut feeling to understanding the deep why, as Simon Sinek reminds us.  You have to start with me or us few, of course, but as you grow, the community or organization has to be involved in building it together.

We can all think of examples of “great” organizations that fell apart, disastrously, because they didn’t build it together.  Previous School, the one I left thirteen years ago, approached greatness, perhaps a bit reluctantly, under a great and truly admirable principal … but it was his vision, not our vision, and when he left for greater things, it didn’t take long for the vision to fade.

I’m still in touch, from time to time, with the students and the temporary teacher at Former School during their transition … and what strikes me is that, somehow or other, we really did build a joyful learning community with a greater vision that belonged to us, not just me.  “We’re doing really well,” said Ms. N the other day in an email with a few procedural questions.  She’s especially impressed with the upper-level classes, who have just kept going and helped each other and, though she didn’t use the phrase, built things together as they wait for their New Teacher to arrive.

Somehow or other, the Latin Family there built a vision and some goals together, and it wasn’t just a case of me.  I’m proud of them, and I’m proud of what they, too, are building together … and I have a feeling that what they’ll build together in the future will be amazing, too.

I’d hoped to attend the visitation for my old friend Ms. E yesterday afternoon, but when the time came, I was too tired for the 45-minute drive, the long line on a hot afternoon, and the condolences to family members that I’ve never met.  What was different, I wondered, with my old friend B, whom I hadn’t really seen in years?  Ms. E and I were colleagues and close acquaintances, and so were B and I; if anything, Ms. E and I probably spent more time together over the years than B and I did.  But B, Mrs. D, M, T, and the rest of us formed a community; Ms. E, the others, and I worked together in an organization.

Building it together made a difference … a bigger difference than I realized until I sat down to write this morning.  Building it together is why B’s coworkers became her friends, why they rallied around her when her husband died, why they drove her to doctors’ appointments and brought her lunch and made her favorite peanut-butter sandwiches as her health declined in the past few months.  Building it together is why those early Latin Family members at Former School told me I “had to” come and teach them … and it’s why the larger Latin Family, and the Tres Columnae Project family, will keep going even when it’s hard.

Building it together means that you also build a community … or if there’s already a community, as there often is, it means that you strengthen and sustain that community.  “We’re close to each other,” several Latin Family members said at both District Q and District Y on the “virtual information card” Google Form we filled out early in the year.  “We have a strong sense of community,” they said.  “We work together, and we help each other.  Can we have more time to talk about the stories together?”

And as I read those responses a few days ago, I was reminded that the change I’m involved in, though hard, is deeply right.  These joyful learning communities are important to me even though we haven’t yet met face-to-face, and even though (in some cases) I haven’t even seen their faces.  But the voices, the typed responses, and the personalities are very real to me, and so is the sense of building meaningful things together.

I wonder what else we’ll build, and what else we’ll discover together, in the days and weeks to come!

Published in: on September 12, 2014 at 2:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Joyful Community on a Hard Day

Has it really been thirteen years since That Day?  Intellectually, of course, I know it has been; I can count the years, see the faces of generations of students at the Former School, know how old the Latin Family alumni of that era are now.  In the military town where I live, 9/11 has a special significance; it has a different significance, of course, for the young people in District Q and District Y, many of whose parents work in The City.

So it’s understandable if today was a hard day … and to a degree it was, especially this morning when the bizarre tech issue almost prevented me from meeting with the District Q students.  No Internet access?  Really?  Endless disconnections and timeouts from servers?  I picked up the phone, called the school, and within a few minutes I was giving directions “the old-fashioned way” with the help of the room-monitor teacher and several of the District Q students.  “I’ll join you,” I said, “as soon as I can, but in the meantime, please keep reading from where we stopped.”  And they did.

And then, just when I least expected it, the Internet issue solved itself.  And within a few minutes, everything was “normal,” and we were reading Tres Columnae Project stories and talking about them the way we “always” do.  Of course, as I look back, I realize that even a few months ago, this normal would have seemed completely strange.  Could it really happen?  Evidently it could.

Joyful community comes through, even on a hard day.  The morning was hard because of the connectivity; the beginning group at District Y was a bit hard because they’re so intelligent, so capable, and so quick to pick things up.  That’s a good kind of hard, but it’s still an adjustment as we figure out how many questions to ask, how quickly to go, how much to review or not review.  At their request, we started the day with a vocabulary review activity, a Google Forms equivalent of the “vocabulary self-check” my face-to-face students knew for the past few years.  Instead of writing your “comfort level on a scale from 1-5″ as in the Old Days, we were able to choose our comfort levels and see answers in real time.  I can focus on the lower numbers and on students who felt less comfortable over all … and together, as a community, we can help K, who’s brilliant but occasionally distracting.

Joyful community on a hard day.

Later this afternoon, the intermediate District Y group will start out with a Google Forms version of “Choose the Word,” an old Latin Family favorite diagnostic activity about noun forms.  “We did a lot of grammar,” they’ve told me, but I don’t know exactly what that looked like.  Did they name constructions or write declensions and conjugations?  Did they analyze sentences?  Did they “compose” by translating English painstakingly into Latin?  Probably some of each … and “Choose the Word” will help me know if they can apply their grammatical knowledge and build a Latin sentence.  And then we’ll read some more of the Tres Columnae stories, and we’ll celebrate all that we know and are able to do.  And then, after that, there’s the visitation for Ms. E, and then my normal Thursday evening church commitment.  And then, in the evening, I’ll be “virtually present” for the District Q Back to School Night.

Joyful community, again, on a hard day.

That’s a very full agenda, isn’t it?  I hadn’t realized quite how full until I sat down to write this post.  I saw the events on my calendar, of course, but the spaces between events are so much bigger than they used to be.  There’s time and space to breathe and think; even on the busiest days, when all three District Y classes meet back-to-back as they did on Tuesday, there’s still a pause before that and a pause after.  The sense of joyful community is strong, and I find the time and space so much more helpful, even vital, than I’d realized.

On a hard day, that time and space will help a lot.

And even the hard days are differently hard, maybe even less hard, than the face-to-face days at Former School.  It was easy to feel rushed and frantic there, easy to get caught up in the moment, in Ms. X or Mr. Y’s complaints, in the sense of urgency that comes from That Directive from Those Powers That Be.  On hard days and on easy ones, the power of joyful learning community sustains and strengthens us, and so do the meaningful things we build together.

“Never forget,” we say on this day, though so many Latin Family members don’t have first-hand memories these days.  “Don’t forget Ms. E,” say her friends and former students, but already at least a quarter of the students at That School have no memories of her to draw on.  But communities sustain themselves even when the memories fade, and it’s in communities that we find courage, strength, and insight even on the hardest days.

I wonder what other new insights we’ll all find today!


Published in: on September 11, 2014 at 5:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Change Can Be Hard

I had a message from O, a new Latin Family member at the Former School.  O is a senior, and I’m sure she decided to take Latin, in part, because Good Old Mr. S had “always” been there and would “always” be there.  She’s sad, and she wants me to come back, because change can be hard.

My friend who taught in District Q for many years had “always” been there, too, and so had the prior Latin teacher in District Y.  Change can be hard, especially when you’re a teenager … or the parent of a teenager.  It can be really hard, of course, when it’s not just the teacher who changed, but the whole format of the class: when what was “always” face-to-face, with one teacher and a few dozen students in a room together, suddenly moves online.  Of course I’m still face-to-face in important ways with the District Q and District Y Latin Family, but I’m not physically there in the space with them.

Change can be hard … but they’re adapting well.  Change can be hard … but Mrs. N tells me that, for the most part, the Latin Family at Former School is adapting well.

Change can be hard … but I seem to be adapting well, too.

Of course there are anxious moments for everyone, especially when the path is new and unfamiliar.  “How will assignments work?” asked an anxious parent by email, “and how will students be able to get extra help if they need it?”  Students had similar questions, and I’m sure there are questions I’ll have, too, along the way.  Some are easy to answer; some require asking a Greater Expert than I; for some, we’ll have to figure out the answers together.

Change can be hard … but sometimes change is important, even vital.  Even after just a few days of this Big Change, I’m so much happier, more free, than I’ve been in a very long time.  Change can be hard … but in this case, I think the change was essential.  I can’t imagine spending my days in That Classroom, in That Building, with the Same Old Same Old and all the other things I blogged about year after year.  And the promised changes there, and the threatened changes from Great Powers Indeed, wouldn’t have been enough of a change for me.

I find I love sitting on that comfortable sofa when I teach, headphones on, laptop in lap, The Dog asleep nearby.  I love the immediate, real-time feedback I can get from every student in our virtual space … the way that they don’t hide behind silence or compliant-looking smiles, which happens so easily in a physical classroom.

I’m grateful for the change even when the change is hard.

The District Y Latin Family will be answering some Latin questions about the story we’ve been reading these past few days, and then we’ll do some more reading and introduce them to their first-ever Minor Assessment project, the one where they create an original and “authentic” Roman persona or familia and, eventually, an interaction between that new character and an existing Tres Columnae Project character or characters.  Change is hard, and I’m sure that a few of us will be longing for the security of the Old Regime, with its pen-and-paper tests and other “traditional” trappings.  But even when change is hard, change is important, and I’m excited as I think about the great work they’ll be doing (and sharing) over the next few days.

Change is sometimes hard, and I’m more tired than I’d expected to be as I get into the new rhythm of my new adventure.  But with the power of a joyful learning community and the opportunity to build meaningful things together, we’ll make it through the hard changes and establish a joyful new rhythm.  I wonder what other insights and discoveries (and changes of different kinds) await in the days and weeks to come!

Published in: on September 10, 2014 at 4:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lots of Transitions

“Are the rumors true?” a friend asked me at church on Sunday.  I started to say, “Yes, they’re true” … but then it occurred to me that I ought to ask which rumors she was talking about.  It turned out that some were true (yes, I have left the Former Job at Former School), and some aren’t true yet (someone had decided I was definitely moving out of town quite soon).

“Why did you have to leave?” asked B and F and N, who all attend Former School … but only N is a Latin Family member.  We talked about opportunities and about knowing when the time is right, and that all made sense to them.  “Be kind and supportive to the Latin Family there,” I asked them, during the time of transitions.  Lots of transitions.  And they all said they would.

“I completely understand,” wrote my old friend F, whose older son just finished his time in the Latin Family and whose younger son is still there.  I’d been worried about B; he’s a quiet, quiet person, and when he’s under stress and sadness, he gets even quieter.  But I’m sure Ms. N is working to support him, and so are his classmates, and so is the rest of the family.

Lots of transitions.  Lots and lots.

After my quiet, peaceful Monday morning, we continued to have a joyful time with the District Y Latin Family.  The beginners reviewed and consolidated the “Prima Verba Latina” we’d learned on Friday, and then we read the first Fabella in Tres Columnae Lectiō Prīma and the first few pages of the second one.  The advanced group, who didn’t meet on Friday, made their Cumulative Vocabulary Review Task document together, and then we read the first few pages of the “bridge story” that introduces us to the primary Tres Columnae Project characters as we know them at the end of Lectiō XIV.  The Dog, delighted by his new daily schedule, slept contentedly at my feet or by my side as I worked with the Latin Family from afar … and then, a few hours later, it was time for the first Book Group meeting of the year.

We decided on this book, which seems deeply appropriate right now.  When you’re in the midst of lots of transitionslistening is more important than ever.

This morning the District Q branch of the Latin Family made an Enormous Timeline of Roman history together, using a Google Drive document instead of the physical paper that previous Latin Family members might remember.  Everyone chose a “virtual page,” which represented a particular Emperor or time period, and they used a collection of links I’d made as well as other historical information they knew.  And then, with the broader context of Roman history in mind, we, too, finished our time together with some reading of that “bridge” story.

Even through the microphone and speakers, you could feel community re-forming and anxiety decreasing.  If all goes as planned, the Enormous Timeline and some reading will happen with the intermediate District Y group this afternoon, and the beginners will consolidate the vocabulary they’ve learned, notice officially that Latin words have different forms and endings sometimes, and continue our reading of the Lectiō Prīma stories.

In the next day or so, we should be ready to start thinking about creating our own characters (for the intermediate and advanced groups) and Roman families (for the beginners).  And we’ll take time to reassure everybody about “how tests and quizzes will work,” which is an understandable concern for many of us.  And the Gifted Homeschoolers group?  We’ll be finishing the Lectiō Prīma stories today, and we’ll probably begin designing our own Roman families, too, aiming to present those to each other next Tuesday.

A busy, but joyful day … and a day with lots of transitions.

But it was also a day with some sad news.  Latin Family alumni shared news of the death of a former colleague, and then I got an email confirming it.  Ms. E had “retired” quite a few years ago, but she continued to teach part-time until quite recently.  Her health had been fairly good, but then, in full retirement, it started to decline.  No one was expecting her to die so suddenly, but she did.  And now hearts are heavy at the Former School, and Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y is doubtless wrestling with personal grief and students’ reactions and covering the curriculum and keeping things normal and all the other factors that teachers wrestle with at times like that.

It’s hard and painful … and if it had happened a year ago, I’d be so caught up in the factors and the wrestling that I’m not sure how I’d respond.  As it is, I gave The Dog some extra attention, said an extra prayer or two for everyone, and remembered the great conversations Ms. E and I had over the years.  “She was tough,” Many A Student told me, “but you could tell that she really cared.”  Others had trouble seeing the care through the toughness, of course.

“Are the rumors true?” I wondered when I saw the first Facebook mention of Ms. E’s death.  “And how did K, away at college, find out before I did?”  But networks are powerful, and so are communities … and K and her friends had built an especially powerful community and network.  Ms. E, for all her appearance of toughness, valued networks and communities and family tremendously, and I’m glad that the network and community of her former students and colleagues rallied around each other to spread the word, to support each other, and to share their smiles and tears.  On this busy Tuesday, with lots of transitions for everyone, I wonder what other examples of the power of networks and communities we’ll all encounter!

Published in: on September 9, 2014 at 2:48 pm  Comments (1)  

Joy on a Rainy Monday

It’s been raining a lot in These Parts recently, and you can tell that Fall will be here soon.  And it “just happens” that, depending on the week, I have two or three free mornings before the first District Y class.

I can’t remember the last time I didn’t set the alarm clock on a September Monday.  I was awake at my normal, long-programmed time, of course … but then I was able to go back to sleep for a bit.  The Dog and I took a rainy stroll at a time when his equanimity wouldn’t be shattered by an approaching school bus, and then we had a leisurely morning of thinking and writing and planning for me, eating and sleeping and looking at stuff for him.

And listening.  The Dog loves to listen to things going on in the world outside of “his” house and “his” yard and “his” neighborhood and universe.

I wasn’t sure what joy on a rainy Monday would feel like … but now I know.

To be fair, I’ve felt joy on other rainy Mondays over the years.  I love rainy days, especially the ones when summer is turning to fall.  I love working with learners of Latin, and I’m looking forward to the groups I’ll virtually see today.  The upper-level group, who didn’t meet on Friday, will do their “virtual information card” and their Cumulative Vocabulary Review Task as their counterparts did on Friday; the beginners, after a brief review of the words (and Restored Classical Latin pronunciation system) we began to work with on Friday, will dive into the first few Tres Columnae Project stories, aiming to read (and answer questions about, and understand, and begin to be excited about) the first two Fabellae in Lectio I.  Both groups meet again tomorrow, joined by the intermediate group at District Y, the upper-level group from District Q, and the Gifted Homeschoolers … and yet, even as I think about that busy day, it seems so much less busy, less stressful, less difficult than a “perfectly ordinary” day at Former School did.

It seems that joy on a rainy Monday, at least on this rainy Monday, is closely linked with the sense of freedom.  It’s not the kind of freedom where you can do whatever you want, whenever you want; I obviously still have obligations, and I don’t think I’d want it to be otherwise.  But for the first time in a very long time, I’ve agreed to all the obligations; nothing got added at the last minute, or changed after the fact, or imposed “because They said so” by some distant set of Powers That Be.  Instead, there’s a web of agreements that binds us together … and there’s a distinct absence of coercion, at least on my end.

It’s hard to have joy in the absence of freedom.  Hard, but not impossible; joy can show up in the most adverse circumstances, and it certainly has for me as I reflect on the hardest times in my own life.  For some people, I suppose, a rainy Monday at home, with the prospect of two hours of teaching by remote video conference, might seem an adverse circumstance for joy.  Some might feel more terror than joy at the prospect of making a living (and a life) outside of all the comfortable, familiar structures of large, hierarchical organizations.  Joy and freedom come from different sources for different people.  What causes them for me might very well prevent them for somebody else, especially somebody like Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y who has “always” gained comfort from Schools As They Are … or schools as they “should” be in Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y’s golden memories.

A quick look at the weather for Those Parts where District Q and District Y are found reveals that it’s a sunny Monday there.  No rain, lovely Fall weather, and a forecast for more of the same all week.  I’m hoping that we’ll all find joyful learning community as we read today, and as we begin to create our own original Roman families (for the beginners) and characters (for others) … and as those families and characters begin to take on life and depth, to interact with the existing Tres Columnae Project characters, and to become important parts of the “expanded universe” of the Tres Columnae Project.

One of the joyful things about this new adventure for me is that, in contrast with my days in a physical, face-to-face classroom, there’s so much that I can’t even pretend to control.  Looking back, I can see how my attempts to hold on to a false sense of control would sometimes distort and hinder the formation of joyful community in the Latin Family.  “I’ve always done things this way,” I’d think, “so I should probably keep doing that.”  Or, at other times, “So I should probably change that even though it seems to be working just fine.”  Notice the pronoun in both cases!  For all my sincere intentions to create a sense of us in that space, it was deceptively easy to fall back on me … because, after all, that’s what hierarchical individual school structures encourage.  “My classroom,” I’d think, or “my activity” or “my plans.”

But with the students in District Y and District Q, it’s not my classroom at all.  I’ve never even seen the physical space, and even when we do two-way video, I won’t see the entire physical environment.  It’s much more theirs than mine … and the shared space we create together online is necessarily ours, too.  That’s a joyful realization on this Monday, no matter what the weather.

I wonder what other realizations and discoveries await us all in the days and weeks to come!

Published in: on September 8, 2014 at 2:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 40 other followers