Developing Vocabulary, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodāl ēs! Welcome to the second in a series of posts about the ways that the Tres Columnae system will help our participants develop a solid, flexible vocabulary. Our faithful reader and contributor Randy F recently pointed out this link to an article by Professor Robert Cape of Austin College (TX) about the development of Latin vocabulary. Professor Cape, in turn, refers to a book by John Read called Assessing Vocabulary (Cambridge University Press, 2000), in which the author refers to three “dimensions of vocabulary assessment”:

Discrete – Embedded

Selective – Comprehensive

Context-Independent – Context-Dependent

To summarize Professor Cape’s summary, a discrete assessment would measure the learner’s comprehension of individual words, while an embedded assessment would consider how the words related to (and contributed to) the overall meaning of the text in which they occurred. A selective assessment looks at a particular list of words, while a comprehensive assessment considers the whole range of vocabulary a student has developed. A context-independent assessment considers all the possible meanings of a word (all the dictionary definitions, for example, or all the meanings on “the list”), while a context-dependent assessment considers the meaning – or meanings – that would be most appropriate in the actual context. As Professor Cape notes, most assessments of Latin vocabulary, even for advanced students, are on the discrete and selective side of the scale; he suggests several ways to move towards a more embedded, comprehensive, and context-dependent assessment of vocabulary. Given his audience, it’s natural that he emphasizes translation as a primary goal (and the main tool for assessment), but it would be quite easy to adapt this framework to a system, like Tres Columnae, which uses other measures as well. I am truly indebted to Randy for sending this resource my way, and I’m delighted to be able to share it with you! It has significantly changed this post and the ones that follow in this series.

In yesterday’s post, I pointed out ways that the Tres Columnae project meets several of our core beliefs and assumptions about vocabulary. And then I closed with this:

But what about the other promises we made? Specifically, what about

  • finding out whether the learner knows the word;
  • actual “presentation” of words that need to be presented
  • opposites and synonyms;
  • homophones and near-homophones;
  • prefixes, suffixes, and such; and
  • connections to English and other languages?

And are there elements of vocabulary learning that we’ve neglected?

I closed with a promise to begin with the first three elements today, taking up the others on Friday and sharing a story (or two) after that. So here we go:

1. Diagnosis – how do you know if a word needs to be presented?

This is a huge question in a Factory-model learning environment, where one naturally assumes that all learners (raw material) start at the same point and require exactly the same “processing” or “production” in order to become “finished products.” In such an environment, the tendency is always to “teach to the middle” – to find the words that most students don’t yet know and, somehow, present or deliver those, even if some students already know them and others aren’t ready to learn them yet. Many of us experienced that school, and some of us still teach in it! But just because it’s common, that doesn’t make it best or right.

In a Workshop-model learning environment, or in a Retail Store model, the assumption is that each learner is different … and that’s OK. Whereas the Factory is busy standardizing its production methods, these other approaches are more concerned with helping the individual apprentices or customers. As you know, Tres Columnae is firmly committed to the Workshop model, but we recognize and value the Retail Store model too. In both systems, the learner develops Ownership of his or her learning, and in both cases, the essential approach to diagnosing vocabulary needs is quite similar … and quite simple. You Ask!

In other words, in the Tres Columnae system, we’ll provide lots of ways for learners to determine their own vocabulary needs, and lots of ways to help them strengthen their vocabulary over time. You’ve seen some of these if you’ve visited the website:

  • the illustrations for every small fabella and longer fabula;
  • the audio versions of every fabella and fabula; and
  • the quid novī explanations, which sometimes deal with vocabulary as well as grammar.

Given our focus on Ownership, we’ll provide lots of possible presentations, and learners will pick the ones they need … certainly with our guidance, if they request it, or with the guidance of their teachers if they’re using Tres Columnae in a school environment. We want to send the message that it’s OK not to do everything, but how do we send that message to perfection-obsessed learners? I struggle with this question all the time, remembering a former student who burst into tears when she received a test on which she’d scored 108%! Were they tears of joy, you ask? Sadly, no; they were tears of grief and disappointment because she’d missed two questions and could have had a 110%. As our friend Cnaeus would say, “vae! heu!”

2. Presentation – how do  you actually present the word?

Speaking of presentation, you’ll find that we have several methods of actually presenting new vocabulary. We’re a bit cautious about presenting it in advance, especially given the study we referred to yesterday! Most vocabulary presentation in the Tres Columnae system happens in context, in the short, illustrated fabellae that introduce the longer fabulae. For example, in Lectio Prima, we learn the words for family members and the main forms of housing (domus, īnsula, vīlla) through pictures. If a word isn’t introduced that way, and if its meaning isn’t obvious in context, we’re likely to feature a hypertext gloss – perhaps to an external source like Glossa or the Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary at Perseus, or perhaps to an internal page of our own.

3. Synonyms and Antonyms – a specific technique

We often introduce new words through synonyms and antonyms. For example, in Lectio V, when we first meet deponent verbs, we see them with some near synonyms in this fabella:

  • Valerius cum Lolliō colloquium habet. Valerius cum Lolliō colloquitur.
  • Casina “vae! heu!” clāmat et vītam plōrat. Casina vītam queritur.
  • Milphiō ē tablīnō exit. Milphiō ē tablīnō ēgreditur.

Sometimes we’ll make specific points about the differences as well as the similarities between synonyms, as with this quid novī explanation:

quid novī?

You may have noticed that Cnaeus frequently (!) says “vae! heu!” When you look them up in a Latin dictionary, or in an online resource like Glossa, you’ll find that they both mean “alas!” So what’s the difference?

  • vae can be used by itself, but it’s frequently used with a nōmen cāsūs datīvī (or occasionally with a nōmen cāsūs accūsātīvī) in the way that English speakers once said “woe to …” or “alas for …”
  • heu is normally used by itself, or occasionally with a nōmen cāsūs accūsātīvī, and expresses a wider “range of grief or pain” according to its Glossa entry.
  • heu has a cousin, ēheu, which normally introduces a whole clause starting with quam. It’s something like an archaic English “alas, how …” expression.

We’ll handle other near-synonyms like et, -que, and atque – and, on a grimmer note, necāre, interficere, caedere, and occīdere – in a similar fashion, as you can probably imagine.

You may have noticed just a bit of semantic feature analysis in that last quid novī, though we didn’t use a formal SFA grid. And if you’re familiar with Robert Marzano’s academic notebook, you may be able to imagine how that inspired us to create an online portfolio in which our participants collect and reflect on their favorite words … and even adopt a word, or word family, and create a special page about it. Many thanks to our collaborator and friend Laura G for the idea of adopting a word! And if you haven’t seen her amazing Latin animal proverb zoo, you’ve missed a treat. Go ahead, click on the link now … we’ll wait for you! 🙂

(You did click the link, didn’t you?)

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of our application of the idea of Ownership to the learning of vocabulary?
  • What do you think of the Read (and Cape) model for vocabulary assessment?
  • What do you think of our system of offering vocabulary support without demanding its use?
  • And, finally, what do you think of our specific examples of vocabulary explanations?

Tune in next time, when we’ll address

  • homophones and near-homophones;
  • prefixes, suffixes, and such; and
  • connections to English and other languages

as well as your comments, of course. We’ll see a vocabulary-building story (set, ironically, in a school) on Saturday … or possibly on Monday if life intervenes. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus! Please keep those comments and emails coming, and remember that there’s still time to sign up for a Trial Subscription!

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I look forward to these discussions! I myself wish I knew where to find a nuanced explanation of the distinction between the different verbs for “kill”. Another, similar, discussion in my mind is the varied shades of meaning between debeo, necesse est mihi, me decet, me oportet, and a passive periphrastic. I so enjoy reading these thought-provoking posts!

    • Elizabeth,
      Thanks for giving me a really good idea for Monday’s (and possibly Tuesday’s) post! 🙂 You may have noticed that we use dēbeō, necesse est, decet, and oportet a lot in the Tres Columnae stories that are already available. I’ll chase down some references and write the relevant quid novī? explanations … and some sample exercises … over the weekend. The “killing” verbs are fascinating, too, and I’ll try to say something about them as well. Valerius and Caelius will take their families to a gladiator fight at one point, and I need to write that story pretty soon. When I do, I’ll also write the quid novī? about the various “killing” verbs.

      It’s always good to hear from you; I really appreciate your thoughtful comments!

  2. […] maximas to our faithful reader Elizabeth, who asked about this first point in a recent comment!  And yes, we’ll also talk about the sibling rivalry … and whether or […]


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