Exercises for a Story

 salvēte iterum, amīcī et sodālēs! Now that you’ve seen some sample exercises, quizzes, and “lessons” from the Tres Columnae system, I wanted to step back again and look in more detail at the process of designing such lessons and quizzes. We’ll start with another story (that hasn’t yet appeared on the blog) and some reading-comprehension exercises and quizzes designed to accompany it. Then we’ll look at some more “in-process” exercises, and we’ll finish with another full-fledged Moodle “lesson” early next week.

In designing the exercises and quizzes you’ve seen already, I was reminded, once again, that the principles of good teaching remain constant, whether that teaching is happening in an online, self-paced environment like the Tres Columnae system, in a traditional classroom, or in some other venue – especially if you’re building up skills. With a skill, such as the recognition and use of nominative and genitive case forms we explored in yesterday’s post, you need to

  • determine exactly what skills (and subskills) are involved;
  • determine what a proficient performance of the skills would look like;
  • model each step, beginning with the first;
  • give the learner plenty of opportunities to practice (beginning with the first step, then the first and second steps together, and so on);
  • give feedback as quickly as possible (immediately, with a self-paced online exercise like this); and
  • continue, step by step, until the learner can produce a proficient performance.

One concern I have with the “typical” classroom (not just the “typical” Latin classroom, but classes in all sorts of subject areas) is that learners don’t get enough practice or enough feedback. Instead, on their own, they seek “the right answer” and all too often, they find it in a different sort of “online resource” than ours! For example, as I write this, the Latinteach listserv is full of posts about an unauthorized, illegal, but freely downloadable answer key (apparently quite full of errors, too) for a popular textbook!

As you know, Ownership is one of our core values at Tres Columnae, so we are certainly sympathetic to the authors and publishers of the textbook in question. On the other hand, the “proliferation” of “answer keys” suggests to us that there are problems with the system, not just with the individuals who create or download these error-filled “keys.”

One goal of the Tres Columnae project is to render such “keys” obsolete by focusing firmly on the learning process and by having immediate feedback available for every exercise, every time. There’s no incentive for “academic dishonesty” when you’re going to get the answers right anyway! 🙂

A focus on process and feedback also works for knowledge-level tasks,though the process is a bit simpler. If the goal is knowledge (for example, if you’re working on vocabulary), the steps are a bit different:

  • present the new knowledge in a fairly exciting, interactive way;
  • check for understanding and mastery; and
  • move on as quickly as possible.

Interactive online exercises work pretty well for knowledge tasks, too, but knowledge tasks are a very small part of learning … especially of learning a language. If knowledge can be assessed in the context of skills (for example, if you test vocabulary knowledge through reading comprehension), the “academic dishonesty” impulse can be minimized there, too.

As for understanding, the highest level of the Paideia framework, it’s hard to teach because it has to be developed by the learner. Opportunities to create, to analyze, to evaluate, and to interact with other learners are key – but while these are an important aspect of the Tres Columnae system, they’re not the sorts of things that an automated exercise or quiz can provide. It’s like trying to drive a nail with a screwdriver … great tool, wrong job! 🙂 That’s why we have the content-creation and Continuing Virtual Seminar elements of the Tres Columnae system.

Today, though, we’ll focus on practicing, then assessing reading-comprehension skills, using a story that’s never been featured on the blog before. It comes from Lectiō Octāva, the point in the Tres Columnae Metastory where young Lucius, Caius, and Cnaeus have just gone to school for the first time. Meanwhile, back at home, some of the animals are wondering what all the fuss is about. You can see the whole story at http://www.trescolumnae.com/wiki/tiki-index.php?page=Rapidus+et+Rapida+ludum+cupiunt if you’d like.

in domō Valeriī, Rapidus et Rapida mūrēs prope līmen cavī lūdunt. Rapidus est fīlius Rapidī et Impigrae, et Rapida est fīlia Rapidī et Impigrae. Rīdiculus mūs, pater Rapidī et Rapidae, abest, quod cibum quaerit. Rapidus igitur verbum “cavum” audīre nōn potest. Rapidō enim hoc verbum odiō est: Rapidus semper “hoc cēnāculum est, nōn cavus!” clāmāre solet. Rapidus tamen in culīnā panem quaerit et cum Medūsā cane colloquitur.

prope Rapidum et Rapidum est Magnus catus. Magnus est fīlius Ferōcis et Medūsae. Magnus est amīcus Rapidī et Rapidae.

Impigra in cavō cibum parat. Impigra ad līmen prōgreditur et līberōs vocat. “mī Magne,” inquit, “tibi necesse est ad patrem et mātrem ambulāre. ego enim cibum Rapidō et Rapidae iam parō. necesse est Rapidō et Rapidae cēnam ēsse.”

Magnus trīstis amīcīs vale dīcit et ad peristȳlium regreditur. Rapidus et Rapida quoque Magnō vale dīcunt et cavum ingrediuntur. in cavō Impigra mūribus caseum et panem offert. mūrēs mātrī grātiās agunt et celeriter cibum cōnsūmunt.

tum Rapidus, “cūr, mea māter,” rogat, “omnēs hominēs tam mātūrē ē vīllā exīre parant? cūr ille Lūcius nōn in peristyliō hodiē lūdit?” et Impigra, “ō, mī fīlī,” Rapidō respondet, “nōnne ille puer octō annōs nātus est? necesse est puerīs hūmānīs ad lūdī magistrum ambulāre.”

et Rapidus, “quid illud est, māter mea?” avidus rogat.
tum Impigra, “rem tōtam intellegere haud possum,” respondet, “quod mūs, nōn homō sum. haec tamen pauca tibi et sorōrī explicāre possum. hominēs ad lūdum ambulant, quod legere et scrībere et numerāre volunt. magistrī hās artēs puerōs docent. mātrēs tamen hās artēs puellās docent. utrum vōs rem intellegitis annōn?”

“fortasse, māter mea,” respondet Rapida, “sed cūr? et quid est scrībere? et quid est legere? numerāre iam sciō, quod omnēs mūrēs numerāre possunt.”

Impigra sēcum rīdet et librum Rapidae mōnstrat. “illud quid est?” rogat. “nōnne cibus pessimus?” Rapida mātrī respondet. “ita vērō,” inquit Impigra rīdēns, “librī haudquāquam mūribus placent. mūrēs nōn decet librōs ēsse, sed aliquandō, sī nihil cibī invenīre potest, nōs oportet. hominēs tamen librōs legunt, nōn cōnsūmunt. litterae enim in librīs sunt, et verba, et fābulae.”

Rapidus attonitus et avidus, “nōnne mūrēs quoque legere et scrībere discunt, māter mea?” māter tamen, “ō Rapide, Rapide! fortasse possumus, sed nōn dēbēmus. haud enim decet lectōrēs librōs cōnsūmere! nōnne melius est ignōrāre quam inediā perīre?”

In designing questions for this story, I wanted to focus on the skills of reading comprehension and of grammatical analysis. Since they’re very different skills, I wanted each one to have its own separate measure. Over the years, I’ve become increasingly skeptical of the “number” generated by a comprehensive “test” that aims to measure multiple objectives, though I still do give such tests to my face-to-face students. Here’s my concern: Student A and Student B both “got an 80” on the test, which had the following sections:

  1. True-false statements about Roman culture (10 points)
    1. Student A, 10/10
    2. Student B, 5/10
  2. Complete the sentence with the correct Latin word, focusing on recently-learned grammar (20 points)
    1. Student A, 15/20
    2. Student B, 10/20
  3. Reading comprehension questions about a sight passage (40 points)
    1. Student A, 25/40
    2. Student B, 40/40
  4. Grammatical analysis of words in the passage (20 points)
    1. Student A, 10/20
    2. Student B, 15/20
  5. English derivatives
    1. Students A and B, 10/10

Those two 80’s represent two very different levels of skill and two very different learning profiles! Obviously, Student A needs to work on reading comprehension and grammatical analysis, while Student B needs to work on Roman culture and application of new grammar. But if all I do is “record the 80,” how will I possibly know what the two need to work on?

So, in the context of Tres Columnae, I want to keep the measurements as clean and simple as possible. That’s why you’ll find two separate activiites for this story when you visit the Moodle site tomorrow.

Today, though, I’d like to issue you a challenge. Keeping in mind that the Moodle system excells at both multiple-choice and short-answer questions, see if you can design 10 or more “great” comprehension questions for this story … and 5 or more analytical ones that focus on the recently-learned grammatical elements like

  • dative nouns;
  • first-person plural verbs;
  • verba dēponentia; and
  • plural nouns, especially the nominatives and accusatives.

If you’d be willing to share your questions in a Comment here, that would be a huge help, too. We’ll look at some of my questions in tomorrow’s post. (If you’re not reading this post “live” in April 2010, please feel free to try writing your own questions, too.)

Tune in tomorrow for your questions … and mine. et grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As I sat to write questions, I realized the potential answers directly impact what the question tests. For example, if I ask the question “cui verbum “cavum” odio est?”, short-answer would be the most demanding answer type, as the student would have to type “Rapido” exactly right in order for the computer to recognize it as correct. If it were multiple choice, the ‘wrong’ answers would control whether the question tested case or character. While “Rapido” would still be the right answer, the other choices being Impigrae, Rapidae, and Magno would test whether they recalled the story, while if the other choices were Rapidus, Rapidi, and Rapidum, it would test understanding of grammar.

    I think that’s more rambling than I intended it to be — my brain is not at its best on Friday afternoons!

  2. Elizabeth,
    That’s so true … and yet, as teachers, we seldom think about it! Both the question format (MC, short answer, matching, etc.) and the available answers (for MC, matching, etc.) do definitely control what the question is asking and even what type of question it becomes. But we all know so many teachers who “give the book tests,” never even thinking about whether the “book tests” are measuring what they want to measure … or even what they’ve actually taught! I think of a colleague who would scan over the publisher’s tests – in the copy room, while copying them for her students the next day – to make sure she didn’t need to “cover something” before giving the tests. As our friend Cnaeus would say, vae! heu! 🙂

    I’m glad this process has been helpful for you, but I hope it doesn’t feel too much like I’ve given you homework on a Friday! 🙂 I’ll look forward to seeing your questions.


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