Exercises and Quizzes, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! For those of our readers who celebrate Easter or Passover, I hope this season has been deeply meaningful and renewing to you, as it has to me. For others, I hope the spring weather (if it’s spring where you are) has refreshed and renewed you as well. Many of our readers are returning from Spring Break this week, while others (including me) are now on it. In either case, I hope you’re also rested and refreshed by that!

Today we begin a series of posts about Exercises and Quizzes in the Tres Columnae system. We’ll begin with some philosophical questions … including the definitions of these learning activities, the differences between them, and the purposes of them. Then we’ll look at some samples, including ones that we’ve previewed in prior posts … but with a difference! This time, instead of reading a description, you’ll actually be able to experience the exercise or quiz. I’ve created a demonstration “course” (URL coming tomorrow) that is open to the public, and some additional exercises that are only available to Free Trial subscribers at the moment. So you’ll be able to see what these aspects of the project look and feel like.

First, though, we need to deal with two big, but often overlooked questions. First, what’s the difference between an exercise and a quiz? Typically, in a factory-model school, exercises are “practice activities” and quizzes or tests are “assessments” – that is, an exercise would probably not be “graded for accuracy” (though it might be), while a quiz or test definitely would be “graded for accuracy.” But in the Tres Columnae system, every interactive exercise (or quiz, or whatever you want to call it) gives the learner immediate feedback about the accuracy of his or her responses, and it also suggests a pathway for review (or for extension and further application) depending on the learner’s apparent mastery.

If you’re using the TC system in a venue where “grades are given” (whether that’s a traditional school or a homeschool), you can decide, as the teacher, how to convert the assessment information into a “grade” – our purpose is to provide you with the tools and the information, not to mandate how you convert the information into a number! Of course, if you don’t have any idea how to start making this conversion, we’ll be glad to offer some suggestions. 🙂 But you can feel free to modify them or discard them completely if you’d like.

To make our participants’ lives a bit easier, we will make some distinctions between exercises and quizzes in the mature version of Tres Columnae. We’ll define an exercise as a learning activity whose primary purpose is to develop proficiency with a particular skill, and a quiz as an activity whose primary purpose is to measure your proficiency. For example, consider a typical sequence of activities:

  1. You read, see, and hear a story that introduces a new grammatical concept.
  2. You read a quid novī explanation.
  3. You complete a self-assessment of your comfort level (a preliminary and formative quiz).
  4. You decide whether you need more practice with the new concept. (a self-assessment quiz)
  5. If you do, you practice in various ways (exercises) and then assess your comfort level again (quiz).
  6. If not, you have an opportunity to prove (to yourself and, if you have one, to your teacher) that you do, in fact, understand the new concept (quiz).

Either way, once you’ve mastered the new concept, you move on to the “next thing” – reading a story, creating a story, responding to a Continuing Virtual Seminar prompt.  You’re not stuck in lockstep with “the rest of the class,” who might need more (or less) time with the concept than you do.

Even with this distinction, a lot of the learning activities in the Tres Columnae system can be used as either exercises or quizzes, depending on the needs of the learners and teachers who are using them.  And that raises the next question:

What’s the purpose of an exercise or quiz anyway?

This may seem like a ridiculously obvious question, or a deeply subversive one … but I think it’s one we need to address. Over the years, I’ve heard various explanations for the assignments that my colleagues and I give to students:

  • It’s the next thing in the book. You have to do Section 8.2 before you can do Section 8.3.
  • I have a headache and need something for them to do to keep them busy.
  • I lecture on Tuesdays, and we do activities on Wednesdays. I need a good activity for them to do.
  • Progress Reports (or report cards) are coming up. I only have one quiz and one test so far. I need two more quizzes and another test.
  • I’ve been teaching (fill in the subject) for 25 years, and I’ve always used these lesson plans. That’s why the quiz is on Thursday.
  • The students need to practice this concept, so I found (or created) this activity for them.

I’m sure I have used most of these explanations, too. But I recognize that (except, possibly, for the last one) they’re all factory-model approaches in which the individual students are somehow less important than … something else, whether that be the teacher’s comfort, an administrative mandate, a number on a report, or the hassle of rewriting a plan.

In my face-to-face teaching life, I’m not one of those teachers who “never does the same thing twice” – largely because, if an activity or other assignment has been successful, it seems foolish to reinvent the wheel every day. But I certainly don’t “always use” a particular plan. I do refine lesson plans from year to year (I work in a school where weekly plans are submitted), but things inevitably change because the students themselves are different. And even if the plans were identical, the execution of the plan would change: this group would need more or less time, or more or less explanation, than their counterparts last year, last semester, or earlier in the day.

Anyway, in the Tres Columnae system, a lot of these explanations (or excuses) simply don’t apply.

  • The “TC” instructional sequence is flexible, depending on the needs of the learners and teachers who are using it. But within that flexibility, there’s a predictable order along which learners can advance at their own pace. No need to approach everything in lockstep!
  • If “TC” is being used in a school-based setting, all the exercises, quizzes, and stories are always available … even if the teacher is sick or tired, or even if there’s a substitute, for that matter. All you need is an Internet connection.
  • Since there’s a built-in assessment for each “new thing” – as well as constant opportunities for self-assessment – subscribers (and their teachers) can see a constantly-updated record of their progress at any time. No need to rush to include another quiz or test!
  • Since contributors will constantly be adding new stories, images, audio, and video, “TC” need not be the same twice. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. That way, it remains fresh for teachers even after several years of use. Just try that with a traditional textbook!
  • As they can with other forms of content, subscribers will be able to create their own exercises – and whole new types of exercises, if they’d like – and submit them for inclusion in the project. So, if you see a need, tell us about it and send us a sample. We think we’ll be able to treat exercises like other forms of content from an Ownership perspective: that is, you’ll grant us rights to use your exercise as part of the project, but you’ll retain other rights to it. People will be able to create derivative works from your exercises, as they can from other content you create, but they’ll pay you a small royalty. So your exercises just might help you become famous … and they might actually pay you back over time! 🙂

Given this philosophical and logistical framework, what types of exercises will be featured in the Tres Columnae system? We’ve already seen a few examples, which we’ll return to in future posts this week, and we’ll look at even more. What will be different this time, though, is that you’ll have a link to a “live” version, so you can see what they’ll really look and feel like in the completed project.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of our distinction between exercises and quizzes?
  • What do you think of our musings about purpose?
  • Do you have any specific suggestions for types of exercises – or quizzes – that we should include?

Tune in next time, when the specific examples begin.  grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

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