Exercises for a Story, IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll look at several questions (more than the three I promised in yesterday’s post) about the relatively “new” grammatical elements in this story from the Tres Columnae project. Yesterday we focused on some higher-level reading comprehension tasks. As I mentioned last Friday, the “new” grammatical elements are dative-case nouns and first-person plural verbs, and the “relatively new” items include vocatives, imperatives (not too many in this story), and infinitives. I’ve designed some questions that measure recognition and analysis of these grammatical elements, and others that measure application and synthesis of them.

As usual, the lower-level questions will come first, and we’ll save the higher-level ones for when the learners feel comfortable … which will take different amounts of time for different learners. In a conventional classroom, particularly in a factory-model school, this individual variation can be a real problem; if the process and time are both fixed and invariable, what are we to do with “problematic” students who either need more time (or, worse yet, less time) than we anticipated? But in the Tres Columnae system, with its combination of self-pacing and personal Ownership, there’s no real issue: when the learner has demonstrated mastery of the “new thing” (to her own satisfaction, if she’s an independent learner, or to her teacher’s satisfaction, in a more “conventional” learning environment), she simply moves on to the “next new thing.” It’s OK if she doesn’t answer every question, and it’s OK if she’s working on different questions – or different skills – from the student sitting next to her.

Anyway, as I considered the first few paragraphs of the story, I started out with questions like these:

  1. “mī Magne,” inquit, “tibi necesse est ad patrem et mātrem ambulāre.”  quid est nōmen cāsūs vocātīvī?
    1. Magne
    2. tibi
    3. patrem
    4. mātrem
  2. “ ego enim cibum Rapidō et Rapidae iam parō.” cuius cāsūs sunt Rapidō et Rapidae?
    1. nōminātīvī
    2. genitīvī
    3. datīvī
    4. accūsātīvī

These are obviously testing recognition or comprehension of the new (or newish) forms, in the first case, and the ability to distinguish or analyze the new (or newish) forms, in the second case. You can probably imagine the feedback for incorrect answers; if you can’t, just check out the “Semi-Public Sample” course at www.TresColumnae.com/moodle this weekend, and you’ll be able to see the complete activity, with lots more of each type of question.

Now we move on to slightly higher-level questions. For example, there are application-level questions in which the learner uses oldish and newish grammatical elements to make (or choose) a good paraphrase, like this one:

  1. “necesse est Rapidō et Rapidae cēnam ēsse.” cui periodō eadem significātiō est?
    1. Rapidus et Rapida cēnam cōnsūmunt.
    2. Rapidum et Rapidam cēnam cōnsūmere decet.
    3. Rapide et Rapida, cēnam cōnsūmite.
    4. Rapidō et Rapidae cēna parāta est.

What I love about a question like this is that it really encourages a “focus on form” in the context of communication, rather than on “grammar for grammar’s sake.” So often, when grammar lessons are divorced from communication – that is, when we “do the grammar” for a while, then “do some reading” with the new grammatical elements – students fail to realize that there’s a connection between the two parts of the lesson! (Or maybe it’s just my students who do this! 🙂 Maybe yours always make the connections perfectly!) A question like this brings the “doing grammar” and “doing reading” strands together.

So let’s consider the feedback that might accompany the wrong answers, and let’s see if it, too, can be tantum Latīnē.

  • “Rapidus et Rapida cēnam cōnsūmunt.” – heu! falsum est hoc, quod Rapidus et Rapida cēnam nōn iam cōnsumunt. quid significat necesse?
  • “Rapidum et Rapidam cēnam cōnsūmere decet.” – heu! vērum est hoc. verbum tamen nōn est oportet, sed decet. nōnne decet “decōrum est,” nōn “necesse est” significat?
  • “Rapidō et Rapidae cēna parāta est.” – heu! vērum est hoc, sed quid significat necesse? nōnne Rapidum et Rapidam oportet cēnam ēsse?

Since our learners have worked with decet and oportet for several Lectiōnēs, I think they’ll understand the feedback quite well even though it is in Latin. Of course, there will also be an option for English feedback if you, the learner, need it.

Or, for a slightly simpler example, and one focusing directly on datives, how about this one:

  1. “in cavō Impigra mūribus caseum et panem offert.” quis panem accipit?
    1. Rapidus et Rapida
    2. cavus
    3. Impigra
    4. caseus

To answer this question, the learner must do more than just say “dative nouns are translated as ‘to’ or ‘for’ someone or something” or even “mūribus est nōmen cāsūs datīvī.” Instead, he must think through the relationships involved in the sentence (and in the rest of the story), using the dative and other noun endings as tools rather than as an end in themselves. You can probably imagine the feedback for the incorrect answers, especially caseus! 🙂  If you’ve read the stories from Lectiō Octāva and Lectiō Nōna, you might imagine that even Fabius, the magister novissimus, might say “vapulāre dēbēs!”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Even if you don’t use these tools yourself (and I have to say, I don’t use them as much as I might with my own face-to-face students), can you see how they do, in fact, test both comprehension and grammar?
  • Does it make sense to you to try to do more comprehension and grammar work in Latin rather than in translation?
  • Can you see how someone might argue that Latin-to-Latin work actually is more precise or more directly targeted than translation work, especially for comprehension, application, and analysis-level tasks?

I’ll have more to say about this critical issue of the imprecision of translation in tomorrow’ s post. Again, let me say I don’t have any philosophical objections to translation, and I do use it as a tool with my face-to-face students. But I think most readers of this blog know how translation works, and I also think it’s a tool that can easily be overused … or even used when it’s not the best tool for the job. Not even a Swiss Army knife is the perfect tool for every job; for example, it would be hard to use one to light up a darkened room or to jump-start a car! 🙂

Tune in next time for more … and you can tell me whether the Swiss Army knife analogy is profound or ridiculous! et grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

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