Quartus infans and Differentiated Instruction, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll continue with some examples of Differentiated Instruction in Latin, with a focus on how the Tres Columnae Project materials can support students and teachers. First, though, I wanted to point out this fascinating article from eSchool News about the Kansas City schools. In a time of budget crisis, they’re moving away from age-graded classrooms to a system that they (quite erroneously, meā quidem sententiā) call “ability grouping.” “Ability grouping,” to me, implies fixed groups that are assigned by some pre-determined cut scores on a standardized test … or, as my more cynical friends would say, by “how rich and white you are.” But the Kansas City model isn’t like that at all. It’s actually a flexible, multi-age system of differentiated instruction! Students are pre-assessed early in the school year, and based on their performance, they’re assigned to a temporary, flexible group where they work on what they need. They then are re-assessed, and the groups are restructured. Apparently students are actually expected – and encouraged – to progress at their own pace! Of course, I have no idea how well this system will actually be implemented, but what a great idea! But check out the quote from the superintendent about the “outdated, industrial, agrarian” model of education that’s based on seat time rather than mastery!

If students don’t move to different physical classrooms this way, is it still possible to provide them with high-quality differentiated instruction? I hope that yesterday’s 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 instruction, and in some cases it may be logistically simpler not to. As Doug Lemov points out in his remarkable book Teach Like a Champion, teachers can construct a differentiated lesson by carefully preparing different levels and types of questions, then directing the questions so that each one is just a bit of a stretch for the student who’s selected to answer it.

If you have a class that doesn’t work well in groups – or if it’s early in the school year and you haven’t yet had a chance to develop and practice procedures for collaborative work – differentiated questioning can be a great solution. And, of course, it’s also possible to develop tasks of different levels of complexity that students complete individually.

If, like our thoughtful friend Magistrastein, you’re feeling overwhelmed at the idea of actually implementing such an approach, the fully-formed Tres Columnae Project materials will help with all four of her major concerns:

(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.

Let’s return to yesterday’s scenario: students are practicing creating sentences with nominatives, accusatives, and verbs, but this time they have access to the Tres Columnae materials and at least one Internet-capable device per working group. (Tres Columnae is designed to run well not just on desktop and laptop computers, but also on tablet devices, the iPod Touch, and even mobile phone browsers.) The pre-assessment would be similar, but instead of the teacher wandering around to monitor, students would get immediate feedback about right and wrong answers from the activity itself (Concern a). After creating 3-4 sentences, they’d be directed to a self-assessment (on a scale from 1-5, how comfortable do you feel with …?) with an opportunity to rate their vocabulary and their comfort with the nominative-accusative distinction. Then they’ll see a page with suggested pathways or ITINERA depending on their ratings in each area (Concern b). As the teacher, you might then ask the learners to find someone else who chose the same ITER, and who would be a comfortable partner to work with (Concern b). The equivalent of “Group Red” from yesterday’s post would collaboratively create a Tres Columnae Project Submission (a story with audio and illustrations). “Group Blue” would first work through an exercise where they made the accusative forms of familiar nouns – but they’d get immediate feedback from the exercise itself. After they made five accusatives correctly in a row, the exercise would automatically “excuse” them to the directions for the Submission that “Group Red” was working on. As for “Group Green,” they’d begin with a vocabulary review, then be “excused” to an exercise like the one “Group Blue” was working on, then be “excused” to the Submission. In all cases, the directions are clear, and there are links to click to review anything that might seem confusing. (Concern c)

Version Beta of the Tres Columnae Project will have a “private staging area” where Submissions like this can be viewed – and improved – by classmates and teachers before they’re Submitted for “official” editing and inclusion in the project. For that matter, we may be able to provide a “private Submission area” where your students’ work could be housed and viewed by you, and by their classmates ,but not made publicly available to everyone … just let us know if you’re interested in that feature! The teacher would, of course, want to evaluate the Submissions and have the learners share them with each other … but sharing could even happen asynchronously. For example, if Group Green needed some extra time, they might finish their stories while Groups Red and Blue were exploring each other’s Submissions and rating them against a rubric. The members of Groups Red and Blue would then be able to read and rate Group Green’s Submissions at home that night, and Group Green members would also be able to read and rate their classmates’ Submissions. (Concern d)

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • One common fear about online curricula, especially when they involve self-correcting assessments, is that they’ll “displace the teacher.” But I hope you can see that both teacher and students still have an active, important role. It’s a different role from the conventional classroom – but we think it’s much more creative, collaborative, and enjoyable.
  • Another common fear is “loss of instructional time” caused by system outages. Of course, Internet sites do go down, and so do schools’ servers and school districts’ networks. It’s always good to have a backup plan! But when things operate as they should, the Tres Columnae Materials should save you a lot of time. Both teacher and student are freed from the drudgery of “checking papers” and “recording grades” and “handing back work” – and that can fill countless hours in a conventional classroom. Why not take advantage of good tools, eliminate that wasted time, and use it for learning?
  • Of course, the biggest concern about an online learning environment is that it’s pre-packaged and static; there’s no room for creativity by the teacher or the students. We hope you know us well enough to know that Tres Columnae is all about creativity! Also, if you as a teacher want to create a unique exercise for your students, we’ll be glad to host it for you … and we’ll even review it for you, like other Submissions, if you’d like. You can keep it private, just for your students, or you can choose to share it with others – and if you do that, you can decide whether you want to give it away or charge others to use it. For that matter, if you’re a teacher – or a learner – and you want to charge for access to one of your Submissions, we should be able to manage that, too.

As you know, Ownership is really important to us. If you want to profit from the work you’ve done, we won’t stand in your way. But we also won’t stop you if you prefer to give things away. After all, our core stories, audio, and illustrations are our gift to the world of Latin learners.

It seems that new things are being born all over the place! I’m glad that our current set of stories is focused on new birth! And speaking of birth, how did you feel about Wednesday’s story, in which not-so-little Quartus finally arrives and is unfavorably compared to Hercules? At Tres Columnae, we always try to “sneak in” some interesting tidbits that you, the learner, can pursue if you’d like … so we wanted to provide an opportunity for our mythology lovers. I once had friends who tried to “sneak in” vegetables for their children by grating them (the vegetables, not the children) and putting them in meatloaf and spaghetti sauce – but I hope our “sneaking in” works better than theirs did! 🙂

Anyway, in tomorrow’s post, we’ll see young Quartus’ lustrātiō and try to wrap up the themes of this somewhat disjointed week. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] 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 seems to be […]

  2. […] 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 approach to […]


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