Why Tres? Why Columnae?

Gratias maximas to my returning readers, and to all who have commented here and on the various Latin related lists.  You may be wondering about our working title of “Tres Columnae” and how it relates to the project.  That will be the focus of this post.  Later this week I’ll talk more about the actual “meat” of the project, and I’ll be asking for your help in making it as useful as possible for you and (if you’re a teacher) for your students.

Even if you are not currently a Latin scholar, you can probably guess that “Tres Columnae” means “Three Columns.”  But what is the significance of those three columns?  There are actually several reasons I chose this as a working title:

  • Part of our story takes place in the Roman city of Herculaneum, and there is a lovely picture of three surviving columns from one of the public buildings in Herculaneum that inspired me.
  • In Greco-Roman architecture, there are the three orders of actual columns: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.
  • Metaphorically, those three columns suggest the three different types of learning that I hope will take place – Knowledge, Skill, and Understanding.
  • The idea of three columns – and three types of learning – is a tribute to Mortimer Adler and his companions at the National Paideia Center who have been  a huge influence on my thinking about teaching and learning.  In fact, when I started work on this project in earnest, my first email was to Dr. Terry Roberts, director of the National Paideia Center.  I wanted to make sure they had no objection to the name.  If you’re not familiar with the Three Columns of Instruction in the Paideia model, please check them out here for a much more eloquent description than I could ever give.
  • The idea of three columns or three types of learning is also a tribute to the medieval Trivium of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.  But – inspired by a discussion of the Trivium on the Latinteach and Latin-BestPractices listservs in the summer of 2009, especially by Karen Zeller’s comments in that regard –  I think that a lot of people have misunderstood what “grammar” means as the foundation of the Trivium.  More about that in another post!

So, what do I mean by Knowledge, Skill, and Understanding?  The terms are Adler’s, from The Paideia Principles, which I would highly recommend to you if you’re not familiar with the book.  To make a long and fascinating story brutally short,

  • Knowledge, or Didactic Instruction, refers to “the facts” – in our case, the meanings of words, the details of Roman culture and history, particular points of morphology and syntax, specific examples of cultural influence from the Romans to “us.”  In the Paideia model, it should take about 15% of instructional time at most, it should be engaging and highly interactive, and it may be obtained through deductive or inductive means, or through a combination of means. Knowledge, in the Paideia model, corresponds roughly with what Benjamin Bloom would call Knowledge (and possibly Comprehension) and what Robert Marzano, in the full version of his model, calls Knowledge Retrieval here.  In the Trivium, it corresponds with Grammar, if we understand Grammar to be what Karen Zeller calls “the bones” of a subject.  (A lot of Trivium users define Grammar as “rote learning of morphological endings without context, to be applied later,” but I like Karen’s view better.  I also think her definition of Grammar helps us see how the Trivium fits with these other models of learning.)
  • Skill, or Intellectual Coaching, refers to students’ ability to use their Knowledge actively and constructively as they analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and create new things with facts and concepts they’ve acquired through didactic instruction.  It’s the heart of the Paideia model, requiring something like 70% of instructional time.  (Yes, I deliberately used “acquired” here as opposed to “learned” – if you’re familiar with language acquisition theory, you’ll know why!  If not, you probably won’t care!  If you’re curious, please ask and I’ll attempt to explain the distinction in another post.)  Skill corresponds roughly with Bloom’s concepts of Application, Analysis, and Synthesis, or with Marzano’s concepts of Comprehension, Analysis, and Knowledge Utilization.   On the Trivium, it obviously corresponds with Logic.
  • Understanding, or Socratic Dialogue, or “Maieutic Teaching” for Adler, involves connecting your Knowledge and Skill to deep, fundamental ideas and values.  In the Paideia model, it takes about 15-20% of instructional time.  For Adler, these are best expressed in classic works of art and literature – Adler was deeply involved with the Great Books project at the University of Chicago for a long time – and for classicists, such connections are usually an obvious and essential part of what we want our students to take away from our courses anyway!  It corresponds with Bloom’s Synthesis and Evaluation and with the higher levels of Marzano’s Knowledge Utilization.  On the Trivium, it clearly connects with Rhetoric.

So, with our working title of “Tres Columnae,”  I’m making a rather sweeping programmatic statement about our approach to teaching and learning.  I’m claiming that

  • the Paideia model actually integrates well with the two major models of teaching and learning in use today, and with the Trivium;
  • put together, these approaches are a good way to design an online Latin learning program;
  • put together, these approaches will create a Joyful Learning Community, as described in my last post;
  • higher-order thinking is more important than memorization;
  • opportunities to be creative, to make and revise new things, are essential to the learning process;
  • opportunities to think together about big, important ideas are essential to the learning process; and
  • this can all be done in a collaborative online environment.

So, dear readers, what do you think?  And do you want to know more about how this can all be done?

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Published in: on December 13, 2009 at 10:59 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. This sounds very good to me, Justin! Over the past ten years, my thoughts about teaching have boiled down to one word: creativity. So I am very glad to see that here. The courses I teach at my university are English composition courses (where the focus is storytelling and creative writing)… and I would be glad to help share ideas for creative use of Latin here through your project if that would fit in. One of the things I like best about proverbs and fables (the Latin areas I focus on) is that they are inherently creative: one proverb gives birth to all kinds of variants and there is no single version of any fable, but instead lots of different versions, based on the creative energy of all the storytellers over the years. Even people with just a tiny bit of Latin can write their own proverbs and tell their own fables. I worry sometimes that Latin is presented in a form that is fossilized or frozen, where the goal is somehow just to preserve the ancient texts, translating them, commenting on them, etc. – but it seems to me a great joy comes from creative engagement with those texts, using them not just as an object of study, but as models to inspire our own creative innovations. 🙂

  2. […] this post, I explained some reasons for choosing the name, including the relationship between Tres Columnae […]


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