Building Understanding, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we begin a multi-part series about how the Tres Columnae system builds Understanding of important ideas, values, and concepts – not only through “big” activities like the Virtual Seminars but through the stories themselves. If you’re a long-time reader of the blog, you know that Understanding is one of the three “Columns of Instruction” in the Paideia system of teaching, along with Knowledge and Skill. You’ve also explored the connections we’ve made with the three elements of the Trivium, and you may have noticed that, overall, we’ve had a lot more to say about Knowledge and, especially, Skill than we have about Understanding. This series of posts attempts to restore some balance.

Of course, in the Paideia model, it makes sense to emphasize Skill, since an “ideal” Paideia classroom spends something in the neighborhood of 60-70% of instructional time on the development or “coaching” of Intellectual Skill. (In case you’re wondering, Knowledge gets 10-15% of instructional time and Understanding gets the remaining 15-20%.) I haven’t counted to see if approximately 1 post in 5 or 6 has been devoted to Understanding, which would be the proper proportion if I followed the Paideia model in planning blog posts. Most of our posts have certainly been about Skill, and specifically about building the skills of reading, writing, understanding, and interpreting Latin (to paraphrase both my state’s standards document and the National Standards for Classical Language Learning). To a lesser extent, we’ve talked about Knowledge, and about the integration of Knowledge and Skill. To the extent that we talked about Understanding, it was usually in the context of the Continuing Virtual Seminar, in which our subscribers will have abundant opportunities to develop, share, refine, and challenge their own – and others’ – Understanding of important ideas.

But many other aspects of the Tres Columnae system also help our learners develop and refine their Understandings of important ideas and value. Even the stories, which mainly seem to be focused on building Knowledge and Skill, also become a tool for Understanding when they expose our learners to aspects of Roman culture that seem foreign or alien … or, for that matter, to aspects that cause learners to exclaim, in surprise, about how little has changed over the past 2000 years. In both cases, as learners grapple with dramatic differences or similarities between “us” and “them,” their Understandings inevitably grow. Think of the story of the poor unfortunate laundry slave, which we shared in this blog post last week. What are some of the Understandings that a learner might begin to develop from that story? Or, for that matter, what about the series about Caelius and his ancillae? (The link takes you to the first story in the series; you can then follow links on the relevant pages, or you can click here for the second story, here for the third, and here for the fourth if you’d prefer.)  There are all sorts of Understandings – some pleasant, some less so – that might be developed as a learner reflects on those stories.

In this series, we’ll actually look in detail at the Understandings that might be developed during the first two Lectiōnēs of Cursus Prīmus. We’ll take apart the stories themselves, looking for important cultural – and trans-cultural – ideas implicit in them. And then we’ll explore how you, the members of the Tres Columnae family, might create stories or other submissions that encouraged further exploration of important ideas.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Are you curious, or is it so close to the end of the school year that you don’t have any curiosity left? 🙂
  • What sorts of important ideas can you find in the stories in Lectiōnēs I and II … and do you think it’s possible to refer to such deep core values so early in students’ Latin careers?
  • And if we can do it – and if we should do it – how come the traditional textbooks aren’t already doing it?

Tune in next time, when we’ll begin to answer all of these questions. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.


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