Owning Your Comprehension, Part II

salvēte iterum, amīcī et sodālēs. In this post we’ll look at the specific ways that the Tres Columnae system builds ownership of in-process reading comprehension tasks. First, though, one critical point about ownership and choice.

One thing I think we can do, and must do, for to build ownership of learning is to make sure the learner has lots of choices about how (and when and even whether) to demonstrate learning. For example, when it comes to reading comprehension, the learner will have a choice of question types – for example, questions in English or Latin, or forced-choice or constructed-response answers – and a choice of whether or not even to use the questions.

lectōrēs fidēlissimī, I know that some of you are very opposed, philosophically, to English comprehension questions about a Latin passage, and I do understand your philosophical objections. If learners are still exclusively using English comprehension questions after several years of study, I’d tend to agree with those objections! But for that matter, in a grammar-translation system, if advanced students are still “translating the passage” the way they did in Latin I (writing out a collection of English words even though “you know that don’t make no sense”) or incorrectly parsing grammatical elements, I’d have a similar objection, as I would if their reading comprehension or reading rate were unchanged in a reading-method approach, or if their pronunciation and aural comprehension were poor in a direct-method approac

It seems to me, as you advance in your knowledge, skill, and understanding, the very nature of performance tasks should also advance. But you do have to start at the appropriate level for you, and that might not be the same as someone else’s appropriate level. So, for those who need them, we’ll provide English questions, at least for the early Lectiōnēs; eventually we’ll “fade” the English questions … unless participants say they want or need them for a particular passage.

Regardless of language, though, these questions are self-checking, with immediate feedback for both right and wrong answers. Aren’t computers wonderful?  Just try to write a self-checking worksheet sometime! 🙂

Why self-checking?  Because, if learners are to own their comprehension, they need to know how they’re doing right away. If you go to the doctor for a medical test, you want those results as soon as possible … and if something’s wrong, the doctor wants you to have them as soon as possible! If you take your car in for service or inspection, you also want – and need – those results right away! And when your taxes are prepared, you need to know how much you owe (or how big your refund is) right away! Why should it be any different with your learning?

If you still hate the very idea of English questions, please remember that you don’t have to use them if you don’t want to! 🙂  And please keep in mind that you, the learner, won’t even see these English questions until you’ve seen and heard the Latin text at least 4 times, assuming the passage is at instructional reading level and you didn’t skip any steps.

If you could skip steps, you’re probably at an independent reading level, and Tres Columnae will present you with a little survey like this: “On a scale from 1-5, where 5 is perfectly, how well did you understand the passage?”

  • If you choose  4 or 5, you won’t even see the English questions – or, for that matter, the Latin ones; after all, you don’t need them!
  • If you choose 3 or below, it will suggest that you re-read the passage, following the steps you skipped.  But it won’t make you do so! After all, the learning really does belong to you! Besides, you may have built up a lot of distrust after years of unsuccessful school experiences, and you may need some time – and some “easy” tasks – before your trust is restored. That’s OK; unlike a factory-model school, we have plenty of time. No assembly line here!

Enough about the reasons for a choice of questions!  Here’s how the comprehension-check process will actually work for our most recent sample story.  Again, let’s imagine the picture (little Roman boy in bed, with some servants in the room and his older sisters laughing outside the door) and the audio as we read:

servī cubiculum Cnaeī intrant. “domine, quaesō, surge!” servī exclāmant. “hōra enim prīma est. nōnne hic est tibi prīmus lūdī diēs?”

extrā cubiculum Cnaeī sōrōrēs audiunt et rīdent. “ēheu! quam stultī sunt servī” susurrat Prīma. “num Cnaeus umquam prīmā hōrā ē lectō surgit?” rogat Secunda.

servī iterum exclāmant, “domine, quaesō, surge! cūr in lectō manēs?” Cnaeus autem ignāvus in lectō manet.

Here are some of the English comprehension questions:

  1. Who is in the bedroom in line 1?
    1. Cnaeus
    2. the servants
    3. Prima and Secunda
    4. Cnaeus and the servants
  2. What did the servants tell Cnaeus, and why?
    1. get up; it’s the first day of school
    2. get up; he’ll get in trouble otherwise
    3. stay in bed; he’s sick and needs to rest
    4. stay in bed; his father, their master, is angry
  3. What is Prima and Secunda’s response?
    1. they are listening and laughing outside the dore
    2. Prima thinks the servants are foolish
    3. Secunda doubts that Cnaeus has ever gotten out of bed on time
    4. All of the above.
  4. What do the servants ask Cnaeus in the end
    1. Who is staying in bed?
    2. Why are you staying in bed?
    3. What bed are you staying in?
    4. How can you stay in bed?
  5. What is Cnaeus’ response at the end
    1. he curses and beats the servants
    2. he goes back to sleep, saying nothing
    3. he stays in bed and is lazy and rude
    4. he ignores their request completely

As a learner, you’ll probably find these quite easy to answer; in fact, over time, you’ll become annoyed by the easiness and seek a greater challenge – especially if no one pushes you to do so!

I continue to provide questions like these to my face-to-face Latin students until they’re at an intermediate level of comprehension; by then, they usually ignore them or tell me the questions are “too easy” or “not interesting.” Then I move them on to higher-level questions or to direct-comprehension tasks or even, sometimes, some “translation” tasks. More about those the next time we see a Cursus Secundus sample story.

For the moment, though, let’s assume that you’re a Tres Columnae participant who finds the English comprehension questions too easy. Your next step might be Latin comprehension questions like these:

  1. quid faciunt servī?
    1. cubiculum intrant
    2. Cnaeum excitant
    3. Cnaeum laudant
    4. audiunt et rīdent
  2. ubi sunt Prīma et Secunda?
    1. in cubiculō
    2. in stabulō
    3. extrā cubiculum
    4. in ātriō

If those are still too easy, you might try constructed- response questions like these:

  1. quī cubiculum intrant?
  2. quis “quam stultī sunt servī” susurrat?
  3. quō modō Cnaeus sē gerit? Cnaeus ______ est. (in this case, there’s a sentence prompt so you, the learner, can answer ignāvus or īnsolēns without having to form an adverb to answer quō modō idiomatically.)

As we’ve noted before, these are self-correcting exercises, which are easy to create with

  • an authoring tool like Hot Potatoes, now freeware
  • a LMS like Moodle
  • a quiz-creating environment like Quia.com, and, of course,
  • many other online tools.

lectōrēs cārissimī, do you have any favorite tools for creating such exercises?  I’m always eager to find new tools and toys! 🙂

In any case, here’s how the process will work:

  • A correct response, chosen or constructed, sends you on to the next question – or you can choose to exit the exercise.
  • An incorrect response returns you to the sentence-and-illustration page, with audio, and then repeats the question (most likely with the forced-choice responses, if any, in a different order than last time.)
  • Another incorrect response brings some pre-written feedback, such as: You seem to be having trouble with this question. Do you think it’s an issue of…
    • vocabulary
    • grammatical forms
    • reading-process difficulty
    • something else
  • Depending on your response to this survey, Tres Columnae will offer you some suggestions (or some different exercises) to practice your area of weakness.  Of course, the choice to use them or not is ultimately up to you!

quid respondētis, amīcī? This workshop or tribal model of assessment is probably very different from what you’re used to. Does it seem practical and possible, or completely crazy? Either way, can you offer any suggestions for ways to improve it? And would you like to see any further examples?

Incidentally, you may remember that I promised you the resolution of the story of Sextus, puer ignāvus et īnsolēns, and Fortunāta, bōs placida. You’ll actually get it – and even help to create it – tomorrow, when we address the issue of summative or post-learning assessments. Tune in then for more!

Published in: on January 16, 2010 at 12:55 am  Comments (10)  

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  1. Hi again, Justin – student CHOICE has become one of my mantras as a teacher and, thank goodness, choice is one of the most logical possibilities in an online world, unlike the so-much-more-rigid classroom environment.

    When I went to do the reading, I think something must have happened with the encoding on the page since the macrons (unnatural little devils, as I have always maintained personally…) all seem to have disappeared – I checked and the encoding showed up as “Unicode” though, so I am not quite sure what is happening. I tried in two different browsers, and no luck. The macronized letters have just disappeared…!

    So, without commenting on the specifics of the reading, I would say that instead of thinking as the English questions as “easy” (compared to harder kinds of questions), I would simply put them into an entirely different category called “reinforcing.” Rather than testing the reader’s knowledge, they are reinforcing the contents of the reading.

    Now, that can be good, but it can also be bad, because it can also subtly REPLACE the contents of the reading (Latin) with new English contents. That’s why I am against this use of English… but for the students who understood the reading in Latin to begin with, the reinforcement function is not a bad one, and can be very reassuring.

    Still, just speaking for myself, I really worry about the way that while the English can be helpful and reinforcing, the risk of displacement is very real. So, in using English interrogations like this, we are possibly putting in the students’ hands something that can do actual harm to their acquisition of the Latin. It’s a question of weighing the advantages and disadvantages… for some students, the risk is high and the disadvantage is so great as to outweigh the advantages (not for all students, of course… but for some). So, because of that risk to at least some students, my own preference is to keep the danger at bay and not use the English, relying instead on PICTURES for reinforcement – pictures can provide exactly the same function of reinforcement WITHOUT displacing the Latin with another language. Although finding pictures for more abstract content can be challenging, alas…

  2. Hi. Laura,
    Sorry about the disappearing macrons! I think what happened was this: I had drafted and updated the post, but not published it, before leaving on a trip, then actually published it from the browser on my cell phone. We now know (or can assume) that Blazer v. 4.5 for Palm OS is not macron-friendly. I’ve now restored the vowels with macrons!

    I like the idea of English questions as “reinforcing” rather than “easy” – and you’re right, both about the advantages of them for some learners and about the possibility of displacement. Yes, pictures would be a great alternative, where possible.

    I’m very torn when it comes to the use of English (or other L1) in L2 learning, for exactly the reasons you mentioned. But a completely L2 environment can be very threatening for some learners. cuique suum, as we so often end up saying. But can we hear some other voices and opinions here? cēterī, quid nōbīs suādētis?

  3. Hi Justin, just to clarify – I am not a purist who believes in no English for managing the course – instructions for quizzes, grammar explanations, etc., I have no problem with that. But for assessment, I prefer questions where the content is all in Latin, and the students’ responses are also in Latin (Latin that they read and/or write). I think an all-Latin environment is offputting if it means having to say “web browser” in Latin (to me, that seems silly; others feel differently). I don’t think that all-Latin assessments really are that intimidating, if the instructions are in English. 🙂

    • Hi Laura,
      It sounds like we have a large area of agreement here. Actually, I’m interested in the idea of grammar explanations in Latin, as a supplement or even an alternative to English-language explanations. If not explanations, I’m at least interested in using the Latin terminology – for example, cuius cāsūs est? or cuius modī est?

      As for all-Latin assessments, I agree that they’re the ultimate goal. We’ll see how much – or how little – traffic the English-language questions get over time; if they’re not very popular, that will be a good signal that the community doesn’t want or need any more of them. 🙂

      ut valeas,

      • Hi Justin, I guess I mean something different by terminology. I’m all for question-and-answer in Latin, like “cuius canis est?” – but whether people want to talk about genitivus or genitive doesn’t seem a big deal to me; that’s what I meant by terminology – I know there are some people who are really concerned about grammar terminology (insofar as it is needed…) being done only in Latin, but it seems to me that terminology, not being the object of study per se, is fine in either Latin or English – so much of Latin grammatical terminology is itself a misunderstanding/mistranslation of the Greekto begin with that I’m not much interested in making a cult of the Latin terminology for its own sake. But as for real language use, like “cuius canis est?” “puellae est!” (vel cuiuslibet), it seems to me Latin is defintely the right language to use for comprehension questions. If/when/how to teach grammatical terminology is a separate issue, and personally I’m fine with genitive or genitivus, it really doesn’t seem to matter a lot which way or the other, at least to me. 🙂

      • Hi Laura,
        Yes, I see your point about terminology; it’s not the object of study, so the language is less important. On the other hand, here are my reasons for doing at least some grammar work in in Latin:

        1. In so far as I’m asking you, the learner, a question about a word form, it can be a communicative task. Why not take at least some of these communicative opportunities and use them for L2 communication?
        2. As an overgeneralization, 🙂 a lot of Latin teachers don’t know how the Romans themselves conceptualized their language. We don’t read the ancient grammarians, and we never use the terms the Romans (and their successors in the Latin-using community for 1500 years) used to describe their language. We may not agree with their classifications, but I think we should, at least, know about them.
        3. Just in terms of practicality, a lot of Tres Columnae users are committed to grammatical terminology. Teachers think it’s “the only way to teach a language.” learners expect at least some grammar work in a language class, homeschooling parents “know” that “grammar is important,” and adult learners “know” that they always had grammar work in other language experiences. Also, since some grammatical work is apparently to be incorporated in the new-and-improved Advanced Placement Latin course, any “TC” users who aim for AP (r) will have to do grammatical-analysis work at some point. Why not at least do some communication in the language at the same time?
        4. If we do take the time to understand how the Romans (and their successors) described their own language, and then to compare that understanding with our “more sophisticated” one, that can be a great learning opportunity, both for teachers and for students.

        But I do agree that the language of grammatical terminology is less important than an overall focus on the language itself. 🙂

      • Agreed, Justin – I’m just saying that I’m agnostic on the question of whether to use Latin or English gramamtical terminology. The ancient Latin grammar tradition is very poor, and I think it would be a mistake to overglorify it. The ancient Sanskrit linguistic tradition is the only one that still has any real standing in the world of modern linguistics, so I agree with the people who insist on the use of Sanskrit linguistic terminology in the study of Sanskrit (modern linguists still use a number of Sanskrit terms as part of modern linguistic terminology). For Latin and even for Greek the terminology is, by modern standards, so unscientific that it doesn’t hold any essential appeal of its own for linguistics (but rather for intellectual history), and the case for Latin is even worse than for Greek. Just speaking for myself, I would opt for teaching students some real linguistics – but I know that is such a minority viewpoint, it’s probably not even worth discussing. You’ve made some references along the way to Michigan Latin, which (based on my knowledge, admittedly limited) is the only Latin program that has taken linguistic science seriously, and they have – rightly – made verbal “aspect” a core organizing principle of the system, for example… but there is no Latin grammatical term which accurately corresponds to aspect because the Romans and the Greeks too never fully disentangled the elements of tense and aspect in their own verbal system. You put scare quotes around the phrase our “more sophisticated” linguistic science, and I think that is very misleading. There really is no grounds for comparison: Roman grammar is not linguistic, in the scientific sense. It’s not a matter of more sophisticated or less sophisticated: it’s not linguistics. Its appeal is as a kind of window into cultural anthropology (and in that sense, it is very appealing), a glimpse into Roman ways of thinking. Its actual usefulness for linguistics, however, is very limited. Whether linguistics is important to you or not is a separate question, but teaching students Latin grammatical terminology does not constitute a linguistic education. I would say that the Latin language itself is plenty to work on, but perhaps alerting people to the existence of linguistics as a science (and the fact that Roman grammar is not a linguistic science) would be useful just for road mapping the larger learning field.

      • Hi again, Laura,
        I think we’re generally in agreement, but looking at things from a different perspective. You’re absolutely right about the progress of linguistics vs. the Roman understanding (or lack thereof) of their own language. But as a profession (and certainly with the exception of the folks at Michigan), most Classicists – and secondary-school teachers in particular – know very little about linguistics. “More sophisticated” (in quotes) was intended to contrast the tradition of the grammatici with the 19th-century understanding of many Classicists (based on the 19th-century descriptive grammars that many of us still see as the “be all and end all” of Latin grammar) – not with the (genuinely more advanced) 21st-century linguistic understanding. Sorry for any confusion I caused!

        In terms of cultural-historical understanding, then, I think it makes sense to use the Romans’ terminology, at least some of the time. For learners who are interested in linguistics, or who have time to explore linguistic concepts in more detail, it might make sense to point them to some online resources. But I agree, we can’t do everything.

        Thanks again for this great conversation! 🙂

  4. Aha, Justin, that makes perfect sense: I had missed the point of comparison completely… because my own linguistic obsession got in the way (true confession: I LOVE LINGUISTICS). I’ll be glad to try to put together some good reference materials; the linguistics articles at Wikipedia are such a fantastic online resource that it’s easy to organize a kind of basic reading list starting with Wikipedia, for people who are interested in that kind of thing.

    Plus, we have talked about etymology: that is actually a great place to start in understanding the difference between scientific etymology (historical linguistics, etc.) and the “folk etymology” in which the ancients often put a lot of credence. Isidore’s Etymologiae is available online, for example, which could make for a great point of comparison between different understandings of etymology, ancient and modern. 🙂

    • Hi again, Laura,

      Yes, it would be great to have a collection of “linguistics for interested non-linguists” materials. I’ve heard (and noticed, from my own explorations) that Wikipedia’s linguistics articles are quite good and extremely thorough. And I love the idea of contrasting the (extremely funny to us!) Roman folk etymologies with a more sophisticated etymological understanding, too!

      ut valeas! 🙂

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