Quartus infans and Differentiated Instruction

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Just as little Quārtus īnfāns is “on the way” in the Tres Columnae Project stories we’ve featured this week, it feels like a lot of other things are “on the way,” too – things are building, growing, and developing at exactly the right pace. That’s exciting, but also a bit frustrating if you want those things to hurry up and get here already! 🙂

First, I must mention this amazing video interview with Alan November, which happened to appear in my in-box as I was working on a draft of this post. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much insight and wisdom in less than eleven minutes! Plus, it’s nice to know that folks outside the Tres Columnae Project and the National Paideia Center talk about Knowledge, Skills, and Understanding as distinct aspects of learning.

It’s also really heartening to see how many Latin teachers are moving away from a lockstep “delivery” of a unitary curriculum. I loved this comment on yesterday’s blog post from a young teacher, who writes

I have been following the debate on Best Practices as well, and I do like your mission statement. My problem with differentiated instruction is simply implementation. I’m a beginning teacher still figuring things out, and the idea of (a) determining the current level of each student, (b) creating/finding materials targeted at that level, (c) using those materials in such a way so that everyone knows what they’re doing and is comfortable with it, and (d) bringing everyone back together seems so overwhelming. I think I just need some concrete examples, which I hope to obtain from the list as well as you.

Yes, Magistrastein, there will be some specific examples in today’s post. In fact, there will be an example of how to do differentiated instruction with a traditional textbook-based class. And Magistrastein, you are absolutely right about the complexity of the four steps you mention! On the other hand, walking is also an incredibly complex process for a beginning walker … and driving a car is even more complex! Yet, out of the lectōrēs fidēlissimī reading this post, I assume that well over 90% of you walk without conscious thought, and many can probably drive without constant attention to your hands and feet. Practice is the key to this automaticity – deliberate practice, with reflection. And it’s perfectly OK to experiment, make mistakes, learn from them, and try again in the classroom, just as it was when you were learning to walk.

There was a wonderful post on the Cambridge Latin listserv yesterday that addresses step (a) on Magistrastein’s list. Fran notes that, as teachers, we often “don’t know what our students don’t know” until we give a formal assessment like a test or a quiz … but that’s awfully late in the learning process! There are lots of ways to assess learners informally, and to encourage them to assess their own levels of understanding. We’ll look at some of them later this week.

Today, though, I want to look at a complete lesson I’ve used with my own face-to-face students; then, tomorrow, we’ll look at how Tres Columnae Project materials can make the process a lot easier. We’ll also get back to the stories of Quartus’ birth tomorrow.

Very early in Latin I, my face-to-face students discover the distinctions between nominative and accusative case nouns. (We actually introduce the genitive before the accusative in the Tres Columnae system, partly because English possessives, like Latin genitives, have a distinct ending, and partly because genitives empower our learners to use a standard Latin-English dictionary.) Before this lesson, my students have heard, read, repeated, and understood a lot of sentences and stories with nominative-accusative-verb sentences. They’ve also noticed and practiced the patterns of forming accusatives. Today’s goal is to apply and create: they will work together to construct a story that uses nominative-accusative-verb sentences, assess their own stories, and share them with each other.

We’ll begin the lesson with an informal pre-assessment. I put a simple English sentence on the board and ask groups or pairs to restate it (notice that I don’t say “translate”) Latīnē on mini-whiteboards. I could also use a picture rather than an English sentence as the prompt, of course. I’ll have three or four of these sentences prepared; students take turns as the Writer and the Checker, and after they’ve worked for two minutes or so, we all reveal our answers by holding up the boards. During the work time, I walk around and listen to each group’s conversations; I also see their end products. I now have a good, informal sense of how each student is doing with the nominative-accusative distinction and with vocabulary.

Having taught this lesson many times, I know there will probably be three levels of performance:

  • those who can make the sentences well (who have both vocabulary and forms under control);
  • those who know vocabulary pretty well, but have trouble with accusatives; and
  • those who have trouble with both vocabulary and forming accusatives.

Near the end of the pre-assessment, I might ask students to decide for themselves which group is right for them, or (since this is early in the school year) I might assign the groups by giving each person a colored index card. I’ll then direct the groups to report to different parts of the classroom for the next activity.

Once they arrive in their assigned areas, each group will discover a colored folder (matching the color of their card) with copies of the assignment – and its rubric – for each pair. I might assign the pairs, or I might allow students to choose their own partners, depending on the personality of the class. All three groups will be producing a similar product, but their learning materials and process are different.

Group Red, the strongest group, divides into pairs to create a Latin story (5 or more sentences) using the nom / acc / verb pattern. They have some possible scenarios (building on stories they’ve read in their textbook) but no specific suggestions for vocabulary. They may take a while to decide on the scenario and the vocabulary.

Group Blue, the middle group, receives a chart with a large number of familiar nouns, listed as they would be in the textbook. They are to make the accusative singular form of each noun, taking turns as the Writer and the Checker. When each pair finishes, it compares answers with another pair. Then the partners work together to create a Latin story (5 or more sentences) using the nom / acc / verb pattern, including five of the accusatives they made.

Group Green, the weakest group, also forms pairs. But each pair receives a word bank. Some nouns are provided in both nominative and accusative forms; others have the nominative missing; still others are missing the accusative. The partners work together to supply the missing forms, and I check their answers as they work. When they finish, they use the word bank to create a Latin story (4 or more sentences) using the nominatives, accusatives, and verbs in the word bank.

I monitor the groups as they work and help with any problems.

When they finish, the pairs use a rubric (included on the assignment sheet) to assess their stories. If they have extra time, they can also exchange stories within their group and rate each other’s stories. I also make preliminary notes about ratings at this point if I have time.

Once everyone is finished, each pair presents its story orally to the class, and everyone else proposes a rating with the rubric. If there is any disagreement, we discuss the story and attempt to reach a consensus.

The next day, there will be a quiz where students choose the correct (nominative or accusative) form to complete sentences in a story. Everybody takes the same quiz.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • You probably noticed that this lesson involves a good deal of advance planning and preparation, but it doesn’t produce a whole lot of “grading” in the traditional sense. Since the products, the students’ stories, are presented to the class, I can have “the grade” instantaneously.
  • Do you think students would tend to be more successful – and more on-task – with a lesson like this, where the tasks are much more closely aligned with their current level of proficiency?
  • What are the alternatives to a differentiated lesson like this? I can think of two common ones called “teach to the top” and “teach to the middle,” and one called “teach to the bottom” that I don’t think is very common. What usually happens when you choose one of these?
  • How might something like Tres Columnae make the planning and preparation easier?

Tune in next time, when we’ll look at how Tres Columnae Project materials can support differentiated instruction,. We’ll get back to Quartus īnfāns on Saturday. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

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Published in: on July 22, 2010 at 10:31 am  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Gratias! This is just the sort of thing that I was looking for… I hear people talk so often about differentiated instruction, yet I rarely see actual plans that I can base my own lessons off of. This will be very helpful!

    • I’m so glad it’s helpful! Today’s post will show how the Tres Columnae Project materials can support differentiation. I hope you enjoy that, too.

      Differentiation often involves flexible grouping like this, but it’s also possible to do a whole-group lesson with differentiated questioning. The secret there is to prepare questions in advance and to target each question so that it’s just slightly above the comfort level of the student who receives it. Tough to do, but possible … and very exciting if you get to see it in action.

  2. […] post has answered that question for you; it helped our friend Magistrastein, as she says in this comment. It’s actually not even necessary to move students into different groups to differentiate […]

  3. […] practice in the story of Paulla the obstētrīx, in our discussion of differentiation, and of course in the ways that the Tres Columnae Project differs from a more-conventional Latin […]

  4. […] you think back to last week’s posts, especially this one and this one about Differentiated Instruction, you probably realize what I think is missing. There […]

  5. […] a big part of the differentiated instruction approach I’ve tried to describe in posts like this one and this one. For example, if you have a group of strong first-language readers in a class, your […]


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