Putting It All Together

salvēte, sodālēs! Thanks again for reading!  Today we’ll take a closer look at David Perkins’ concept of integrating “batting practice” with the “whole game,” avoiding his twin perils of elementitis and aboutitis. We’ll also look at the flow of a typical Tres Columnae instructional sequence. Tomorrow we’ll start looking at some specific examples.

As you’ll recall, Perkins defines elementitis as an excessive focus on the discrete elements of a subject, without attention to the bigger picture. Aboutitis is only teaching “about” a subject, without ever giving learners the opportunity to use – or even develop – actual skills and dispositions.

As Perkins notes, a certain amount of teaching “about” a subject can be helpful; in language education, for example, it’s the formal, conscious language learning as distinguished from the informal, unconscious language acquisition. And sometimes it’s necessary to focus on elements, too. The –itis, for Perkins, comes when “elements” or “about” become ends instead of means. But how can we keep them in their proper place?

For Perkins, the answer lies in the concept of “batting practice.” Just as baseball players have to work on specific skills in order to play the  “whole game” better, language learners also encounter specific areas of weakness in knowledge or skills. Of course, different learners need to work on different weaknesses, just as each player needs a different mix of activities at practice. “Batting practice” is a long way from the factory model of standardized elements practice (or standardized lectures “about”) for everyone. But I think it’s a great model for Tres Columnae – and I was never a baseball player at all! 🙂 What do you think, dear readers?

In general terms, here’s how “batting practice” works in the “whole game” of Tres Columnae:

Tres Columnae is divided into three or four Cursūs, each of which corresponds, more or less, with the “amount of instruction” in a “typical” high-school course or college semester. Each Cursus, in turn, is divided into about 30 Lectiōnēs. As a subscriber, you’ll log in and proceed to the appropriate Lectiō, which is a miniature, specifically targeted “whole game” in itself.

In each Lectiō you’ll find one or two new “grammar points” (to use traditional terminology for a moment), which might be morphological, syntactic, or pragmatic features of the language, introduced with the inductive-to-deductive method I described in an earlier post (batting practice). The “new things” will appear in some “existing” stories, written by me or (eventually) by previous participants, which will advance the plot and provide some “hooks” to history, mythology, and aspects of daily life (whole game). In reading the stories, you’ll also be introduced to a reasonable amount of new vocabulary, including at least one “untranslatable” term of significance to Roman culture like pietās or dignitās (whole game). There are ways to explore the vocabulary, history, and cultural concepts (batting practice) before you respond to the stories through comments or through the Virtual Seminar (whole game).

So far, so good.  But how will we provide individualized “batting practice” for different learners?

The answer lies in different pathways or itinera through each Lectiō for different types of learners. While “big-picture” learners might choose a pathway that involves reading the stories first, then practicing the “new things,” “small-picture” learners might choose practice first, then reading.

These practice exercise will help participants with such specific skills as

  • choosing the “right thing” in a Latin sentence, with or without an English translation
  • distinguishing the “new thing” in a sentence
  • making examples of the “new thing” from familiar words (for example, if the “new thing” is dative-case nouns, this exercise would involve making the dative forms of some familiar nouns)
  • choosing an appropriate English translation for an example of the “new thing”

These are all self-correcting exercises with immediate feedback for participants. The goal is for them to develop comfort and fluency with the “new thing” – and awareness of their progress. You choose the exercises that you think will help you.  At any point, participants can attempt a self-checking quiz to demonstrate their proficiency with the “new thing.” If they’re successful, there’s no need for further practice; if not, they’ll return to the exercises and, when they’re ready, to another version of the quiz.  The quizzes and exercises aim at what Bloom would call Comprehension or Application, or the higher stages of Knowledge in the Paideia framework, or Grammar on the Trivium.

Once a participant is proficient with the “new thing,” it’s time to use it in the extended natural context of a story – first in a receptive way, through reading and listening, and then through writing and speaking. We  now cross over from Knowledge to Skill inPaideia terms, or from Grammar to Logic on the Trivium. We’ll begin by reading at least one “existing” story – one that’s already part of the Tres Columnae storyline. Each story will ultimately be accompanied by audio, illustrations, and video versions – most created by other participant.

After each paragraph, you can check your comprehension with either Latin or English questions, which are also self-correcting. We’ll aim for at least 95% “familiar” or “obvious” words in each paragraph in order to avoid frustration for participants. (What do you think, dear readers? Should there be a way – perhaps through an external source like nodictionaries.com – to look up words with a click?)

Depending on participants’ interests and needs, they’ll now be able to select from different activities to consolidate their understanding of “the new thing” and put it into a larger context:

  • self-checking vocabulary practice through matching / synonyms / antonyms / derivatives
  • background links with self-checking comprehension questions
  • self-checking analytical exercises in which participants can distinguish examples of “the new thing” in the story
  • higher-level, but still self-checking analytical exercises in which participants can actually classify words from the story

Again, the purpose of these self-correcting exercises is to help participants assess their own comfort and proficiency with the “new thing” at the Skill level.

Once participants are thoroughly comfortable with “the new thing” – and its relationships with “the old things” – we’ll begin to cross the bridge from Skill to Understanding (Paideia), from Logic to Rhetoric (Trivium), from Application and Analysis to Evaluation, Synthesis, and Creation (Bloom and Marzano). Depending on their interests, participants will be able to choose from tasks like

  • proposing edits for a “draft” story in which some “things,” new and old, are used incorrectly
  • creating their own “sub-stories” – perhaps starting from “story stems” that we provide
  • commenting on existing stories in a discussion forum – either in English or in Latin
  • creating images, audio, or video to accompany an existing story
  • Responding to Continuing Virtual Seminar prompts

Unlike the others, these tasks require human feedback, either from a fellow participant or from an expert.  But even at this level, the goal is to help participants grow in their Understanding,with rubrics and narrative assessment, not to assign a summative “number.”

In a “typical” classroom setting, even if the teacher wants to incorporate such Understanding-level tasks, there isn’t much time – after all, someone has to do the classroom management, “check the work,” and  make sure that the class is “moving at the right pace.”  “Somone” is probably the teacher!  But when the teacher’s time is consumed with these management functions, there’s little time or energy available for leadership like helping learners create content for each other. (Stephen Covey and Seth Godin, among others, have informed my view of leadership and management.)

By using self-checking, self-paced activities for Knowledge and Skill-level work, Tres Columnae frees up time for the high-level, “whole game” work that learners – and teachers – need and crave, but often don’t receive in factory-model schools where elementitis and aboutitis reign supreme. Each learner is free to do as much – or as little – Knowledge and Skill work as needed to grasp the “new thing.”  Then, when you’ve finished with the “batting practice” that you need, you’re welcome to join the “whole game” by revising, commenting, and creating. So Tres Columnae can “work” for teachers and students in a relatively conventional classroom as well as for homeschoolers and adult learners.

A few questions for you, dear readers, as we close.

  • First, how can we “keep the lights on” and produce sufficient revenue to keep Tres Columnae going? Should there be a subscription cost? If so, what would be reasonable?
  • Next, how might we address issues of privacy, security, and copyright? What concerns might we need to consider?
  • Finally, how can we make it all happen?  And when?

Tune in tomorrow for more about logistical issues – and a sample Tres Columnae story from Cursus Prīmus.

Published in: on December 29, 2009 at 8:54 pm  Comments (4)  

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  1. Hi, Justin!!!! Some random thoughts here about various items:

    1) Glossing and vocabulary. One thing that people could do together, if you are willing to put your faith in group editing (and with a wiki, you can always “roll things back” with things that go wrong) is that people can do the glossing and vocabulary themselves, taking that burden off the teacher and having the students do it. For example, I’m in a Bible reading group that has an online existence now that its members are spread around and no longer in the same place physically (we met together every week for seven years before I moved away) – I create the wiki pages with the Greek text; the other members of the group (with far less Greek than me) then read it and write in at the bottom of the page the vocabulary they have to look up, and then I read through it and add additional comments, answer the grammar questions they have left me on the page, etc. – it works great! We’ve been doing it online at the wiki for over two years now. Just now, I prepared some Dialogi Sacri (LINK to one of the dialogues I prepped), and I glossed some works by linking to the Glossa website (AWESOME for linking, very clean, very simple) – I only linked the words that I thought were possibly hard, but other readers could link to other words, if it were a group wiki (this is not a group wiki, though; just a holding place for the scripts we are reading at Evan’s Schola Locutorium). So, the students could learn how to use dictionaries better by making their own efforts to gloss the text, and the results of their efforts could help other students in the future, too, and provide a platform for teacher-student interaction. (Our Greek Bible wiki is private, but I’d be glad to send you an invite if you want to see how we are doing that.)

    2. Instant feedback on a page. I’ve used javascripts to good effect for “instant feedback” on a page, as in these grammar pages for my students where a random question pops up on the topic of the page and they can test themselves. A new question loads each time you refresh the page. LINK: the idea is that people ask themselves as many questions as they need to feel confident and move on (I use the same questions at the “official” quiz in Desire2Learn as I do here at the self-help wiki.) I tried out many different javascript approaches, and this seemed to work best – plus it works GREAT on the iPodTouch/iPhone, since the alert box feature is very big and visible on the Touch/iPhone.

    3. Dicussion v. blogs. For a sense of ownership, blogging I’ve found to work much better than discussion boards. No one really “owns” a discussion (except the teacher perhaps, by default) – but when students keep a blog, and then blog their reflections and assignments all semester long, they end up with something like a journal, which is great. You can then have students comment on each other’s blogs to create the effect of a discussion. It’s easy to make the commenting assignment something “random” – I don’t waste any of my time as teacher assigning people to comment on each other; I just let the power of random do that for me. (LINK: here’s a sample of how a randomizing script works – a random storybook shows up each time the page loads, which you can use as the basis for an assignment; in this case, there is a link to a student project and a link to a comment wall in our Ning where one student leaves comments for another). This fits in with freeing up the teacher from tedious management tasks in order to participate in a deep way with students, giving feedback, rather than just doing administrivia. I use RotateContent.com for all the scripts, and in administering my class I rely on it HEAVILY (my student built this tool, by the way: the best $800 I have ever spent in my life – it has been my lifesaver for the past six years! – it’s also how I build all my widgets).

    4. Cost. I think I’ve commented about this before – it is definitely something for you to figure out. It seems important for you to figure out what you are willing to contribute purely for free, and what you would like other people to contribute for free, and make sure that the base level is stable – between everybody’s free contributions, Tres Columnae need to be standing straight, if not so tall as they might be if you were being monetarily compensated! That way, if the free level is stable, you can then figure out where to go from there. If you build a model that will topple in the absence of paying customers, you won’t be able to maintain a web presence long enough to build up your audience. So figuring out what that stable level will be is very important. Plus, I would guess that if you evolve a publishing model here that could be income-generating for you and for other participants. So, keeping track of the “primary” authors of the stories would be important, so that if you publish an anthology later on, you can compensate the individuals whose stories appear in the book. I’m guessing that if you want to aim for homeschoolers, people will want printed materials for offline use. Since making the printed materials is extra work, I don’t feel bad myself charging for books, even when I gladly give away stuff online for free (at Lulu, I make about $4 from each book that I sell… not that I sell very many books, though, since mine are not textbooks geared for classroom adoption).

    Well, those were kind of random thoughts, but I hope they are helpful. I am so excited about what you are coming up with here; it’s really a first-of-its-kind in the world of Latin which will be a big part of its success I think: at least at first, it’s going to be – literally – unrivaled!

    • Laura,
      Thanks again for all your helpful comments!

      1) In keeping with the theme of ownership, I think it’s a great idea for participants to be in charge of the glossing.

      2) I love the idea of javascripts for instant feedback.

      3) I also love the idea of blogging vs. discussion boards. I think there needs to be a way to comment on each story in any case. So perhaps it makes sense to publish all the finalized stories on a blog platform anyway, with links to something where the questions and exercises are hosted.

      4) Yes, cost is the big question. I’m hoping to hear from more people once they see an example of a TC learning sequence, which I’ll be posting here later today.

      I continue to be surprised that no one has done anything like this before – now that I’m working on it, it seems so obvious! Thanks again!

  2. […] Another is the very different “look and feel” that goes along with a constantly evolving web-based learning system. We looked at some implications, and some logistical issues, in this post , this one and this one. […]

  3. […] an inductive-to-deductive approach to grammatical elements as I’ve described in posts like this one. I don’t think culture and history can be separated from the language, so I prefer to have my […]


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