Another Animal Story, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll take a quick look back at the story of Trux et Lupa, which was featured in yesterday’s post. Part II of the story, Trux pietatem ostendit, can now be found at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha wiki site, and so can a possible Part III called somnium Trucis. Even before you click that link, I want to reassure you that the wolves did not, in fact, intend to eat Trux for dinner, though it might possibly have been Plan B or Plan C. Go ahead and click the link for Part II, if you’d like, to find out what they were planning to do! 🙂 Trux is a Molossian hound, after all; he’d be a pretty formidable foe, not to mention a very large dinner, even for a whole pack of wolves!

Now that you’ve read the story – and perhaps breathed a huge sigh of relief – here are a few comments from readers. Ann M pointed out the three typos, which I’ve corrected. (Sorry about that! Thursday was a long day, and my eyes weren’t very sharp on Friday morning!) She also had a couple of great questions:

My only other questions are on how accurate we’re being to animal behavior (not any TOO accurate, obviously) … e.g. a bull would have many “wives,” I would think, and a wolf would not really eat a dog, would she?

When I summarized the story for my favorite eight-year-old, he immediately suspected that Lupa was planning to eat Trux 🙂 … and he was glad to find out the actual ending of the story! As for the “wives” issue, we’ll develop that in another story; let’s just say that the relationship between Fortunata and Maximus is a bit like that between Jupiter and Juno, in that she’s convinced that he should be monogamous, while he’s convinced that he’s the monarch of all he surveys….

Ann’s question, though, is a great lead into one of the Continuing Virtual Seminar options for this Lectiō, which we’ll be exploring in this post and the one on Monday. As you may recall, if you’re a longtime reader of the blog, the Continuing Virtual Seminar is our attempt to adapt the Paideia Seminar (and its close cousins the Socratic Seminar and the Touchstones Discussion Project) to an asynchronous online environment. Our friends at Paideia define a seminar as a “collaborative intellectual dialogue … about a text,” and that’s what we’re aiming for with the Continuing Virtual Seminar. We’ll consider the questions and structure of a seminar today, and we’ll take a closer look at the logistics (with another visit to our friends Jane and John) on Monday and Tuesday.

In a face-to-face teaching environment, a Paideia-style “seminar cycle” consists of three parts:

  1. the “pre-seminar” activities, which focus learners’ attention on some of the important ideas in the text and on some important skills or process elements;
  2. the seminar itself, in which participants talk about the text, evaluate it, and make connections to their lives; and
  3. the “post-seminar” activities, in which learners reflect on their participation and make further connections to the important ideas in the text.

The seminar itself is further divided into three sections:

  1. the Opening, a big, open-ended question to which all participants normally respond;
  2. the Core, in which participants are guided to explore the important ideas in the text, to respond to each other, to synthesize and compare each other’s ideas, and to evaluate the quality of their own responses; and
  3. the Closure, a big, open-ended question that helps participants tie up their thoughts and make personal connections.

If you really want to know more about the Paideia system, I’d highly recommend their book called Active Thinking Through Dialogue, which you can order directly from them in a not-very-Web-2.0-friendly way.  You can also find a fairly simple summary of the process (apparently an internal document from a middle school that uses seminars regularly) here, a more in-depth summary here, and a real, live seminar on video here.

Anyway, the Continuing Virtual Seminar incorporates most elements of the Paideia format, but we’ve had to make some adaptations, mostly because our participants will be engaging in seminars asynchronously rather than synchronously. We hope to be able to provide Continuing Virtual Seminars to our free subscribers as well as our annual and monthly participants; after all, they won’t exactly require editing, and we think the community will be able to handle any rudeness or unpleasantness for the most part. But we’ll still be monitoring the Virtual Seminars, participating occasionally, and helping to direct the conversation if necessary.

So, imagine that you’ve decided to participate in the Continuing Virtual Seminar that follows the stories of Trux and Lupa. We’ll ask you to review the text, at least by listening to it one more time, and then we’ll provide you with some fables about trickster wolves from Laura G’s amazing collection. Reading those and thinking about common features of the wolves in them is our pre-seminar content activity; setting a personal goal for your participation in the seminar is our pre-seminar process activity. We expect that our participants will record these in their Tres Columnae blogs (we may even have multiple blogs for different purposes for each learner!) before they enter the virtual seminar room.

To enter, a participant must compose and post a response to our Opening question … and each participant does this before she can see anyone else’s responses. The Internet is a big place :-), and (as you probably know, if you’re in the majority of readers of this blog) it’s easy to read without commenting. That’s perfectly OK most of the time (though I must say we’d appreciate it if you do want to comment about anything!), but in our Joyful Learning Community, we really want all voices to feel free to be heard.

Anyway, here’s the Opening question:

As you consider the fables you just explored, what are some ways that Trux and the wolves’ words and behavior are similar to the fable tradition?

Once you answer, you can now see all the responses of everyone who’s ever participated in the seminar … or at least those who haven’t asked to have their responses archived or deleted! You’ll be able to respond to their comments, and you’ll also be able to make your own … or to reply to some “existing” questions that Somebody at Tres Columnae provided for you. More about those questions, and the process of developing them, on Monday!

Anyway, you’ll participate in the seminar for as long as you want … and I mean this both in terms of the individual day on which you first join it and also in terms of the months and years you might choose to spend returning to it. So there’s no requirement to participate in the Closure question … but you’re welcome to do so, more than once if you’d like, each time you’re ready to leave the virtual seminar room. Each time you leave, you’ll have the opportunity to assess your participation (with a short little survey) and to respond privately to a post-seminar reflection prompt, if you want, in your internal Tres Columnae blog.

We envision that the Tres Columnae Virtual Seminar Room is primarily a “place” of written text, but we’ll also welcome audio clips if you prefer to respond that way. We thought briefly about allowing video responses, but decided against it for several reasons:

  1. Bandwidth and hosting costs would probably mean we’d have to limit video responses to paid subscribers, and we really don’t want a two-class distinction in the Virtual Seminar Room;
  2. For participants using older, slower computers (or computers behind a school district’s firewall), text and audio are a lot easier to access than video; and
  3. To protect our subscribers’ privacy, especially those who are young teenagers, we just really don’t want them posting identifiable video of themselves! So we won’t be accepting any types of video where young participants’ faces can be clearly seen. That’s why we’ll be making puppet templates available for those who want to film the stories, and it’s also why we won’t be allowing video posts in the Virtual Seminars.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of the idea of the Continuing Virtual Seminar?
  • What big issues would you want to talk about after reading this sequence of stories?
  • What lessons or connections would you want your students to take away with them?
  • If you’ve ever participated in such a dialogue face to face, how did you feel about the process?
  • If you’ve ever participated in a virtual seminar, especially an asynchronous one like ours, we’d love to know what “back-end” software was used!
  • What possible pitfalls for a Continuing Virtual Seminar can you foresee, and how might we avoid them? For example, we know that some of our participants will be quite young, while others will be more “seasoned,” as a friend of mine likes to say. Should there be separate “virtual seminar rooms” for different age groups?
  • To what extent should “somebody at Tres Columnae” take on an active role as facilitator of the conversation? Or should we wait and see how the conversation develops before we make that decision?

Tune in next time, when we’ll take a closer look at seminar questions and at the logistics of Continuing Virtual Seminars through the eyes of our fictional subscribers John and Jane. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!  I really look forward to your comments and emails, so please keep them coming! 🙂

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