New Beginnings, IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I’m not sure how many of you are aware of the daily online newsletter called Accomplished Teacher by SmartBrief. It’s a free subscription, and almost every day there’s something interesting, amazing, inspiring, or terrifying … well worth the price! For example, check out this amazing blog post at Edutopia by a Latin and history teacher who’s eliminated textbooks completely in all of his classes – on the grounds that textbooks “serve the teacher quite well” but don’t meet students’ needs at all. Shelly’s own blog is even more interesting; I was especially fascinated by the comments on this short post from July. There’s also a great interview with him here; I had to chuckle ruefully at his comment about the correlation between the length of a test and its quality! 🙂

Apparently a lot of teachers around the world – and their students – have been having the same sorts of responses to textbooks that I’ve noticed recently. That’s exciting and invigorating for me as a new school year is rapidly approaching! In a time of severe budget shortfalls for so many schools and districts, I really don’t see how the “traditional” 5-to-7-year textbook adoption cycle can be sustainable anyway … and I’m starting to worry about the “traditional” guarantee of pensions for public employees, too, a concern that only grew after I read this New York Times article!

I’m not ready to abandon textbooks completely for my Latin I and II students, but depending on my students’ preferences this fall, we may be using them as supplementary readers rather than as a primary tool – and that will be a big incentive for me to go ahead and finish those remaining fābulae, fabellae, and exercises for Cursus Prīmus in the next few weeks, won’t it? 🙂 As for the III’s and IV’s, we’ve moved more and more toward using texts that are freely available online anyway; the AP’s do have a book, but they mainly use sites like the Perseus Project and for their reading outside of class.

So … how many of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī are considering eliminating textbooks? And what are you planning to replace them with? If you do, especially for your beginning students, I hope you’ll consider the Tres Columnae Project materials as at least one piece of your instructional puzzle. You can’t beat the price for the free materials, and we think the subscription-based resources will give you good value for your money and save you a lot of time and effort, both in correcting student work and in planning your classes. We’ll let you know as soon as those are finished and available.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that we’d think about these important questions:

  • Do you see other ways to automate the collection and tabulation of “routine” but helpful data?
  • What other types of data might you want to collect to help you meet your students’ learning needs?
  • Do you have any concerns about data security that you’d want to address?
  • And what about actual face-to-face instruction once you have the data you want? How might the Tres Columnae Project materials help you there?

I also said that we would

look at a possible sequence of Tres Columnae Project materials in a one-computer Latin classroom.

In essence, we’ll be looking at several ways to answer this critical question:

How might a teacher use the Tres Columnae Project materials for pre-assessment as well as for instruction? In other words, how might a teacher use our “stuff” to assess Latin I students’ learning profiles, to devise compatible learning groups, and to provide for a high-quality learning environment for diverse learners?

When I talk to teachers, and especially when I first meet new teachers in the online staff-development course about Differentiated Instruction that I teach for my school district, they’re often overwhelmed by “all the work” that seems to be necessary to reach different types of learners. (Most of the course actually involves helping them learn ways to reach more learners, more effectively, which actually saves time and effort in the long run.) So one big goal for the Tres Columnae Project is to provide tools that teachers can use without “recreating the wheel” or making everything from scratch. Of course there are lots of other tools out there; I’d highly recommend Evan Milner’s new audio-visual course, which you can find here. His work is not only an inspiration, but a very practical form of assistance for Latin teachers who want to incorporate oral work in their classes but don’t know where to start. It’s also a return to the real, living tradition of language instruction that stretches back to the Romans themselves, continued unabated through the Renaissance into the nineteenth century, but has been almost completely forgotten by Latinists (and language educators in general) since the historically recent rise of grammar-translation methodology. I find it highly ironic, in a profession that claims a legacy of millennia, to hear and read grammar-translation teachers describe themselves as “traditional” Latin teachers! 🙂 For certain types of learners and for certain purposes, a grammar-translation approach can certainly be effective, but let’s not pretend that Caesar, Cicero, Vergil, or their teachers learned or taught Latin that way.

Anyway, let’s suppose that you’ve decided (as I have) to use the Tres Columnae Project materials at least some of the time in your classroom instruction. As it happens, I have a multiple-computer classroom – there are 5 rather elderly desktop computers for student use, plus a teacher workstation with an interactive whiteboard, a document camera, and an LCD projector – a nice end-of-school-year present from the school district, which had some funds that needed to be spent. Though the whiteboard and document camera are new, I’ve had access to an LCD projector and to three wireless slates for a few years; if you haven’t used one, the slates really allow you, the teacher or learner, to do everything that the big board does, and they have the extra advantage that they can be used simultaneously by small groups. I’m not quite ready to go completely paperless like Shelly, but I am ready to cut back significantly on my paper use; it seems like good environmental and budgetary stewardship as well as a good way to increase students’ engagement with what they’re learning. So, what will the first few days of my revised class look like?

I actually described what I’ve typically done here, in response to that “placement test” post I mentioned yesterday. In the interests of avoiding chaos – and because most of our students haven’t yet returned their Acceptable Internet Use Policy forms on the first day of school – we’ll still begin with the paper-and-pencil information cards and surveys, and we’ll probably work with classroom vocabulary and pronunciation in much the same way as we did in the past. On Day 2, though, when I’d normally distribute textbooks, I’ll be planning to begin with Fabella Prīma of Lectiō Prīma instead. We’ll do a whole-class, choral response lesson with Fabella Prima and Fabella Secunda, and then we’ll probably have volunteers read Fabella Tertia and possibly Fabella Quarta. We’ll pause for a vocabulary check, possibly using one of the exercises I’ve written for the Instructure Demo Course, then have pairs read an equivalent section in the no-longer-primary textbooks. Depending on how many students have reliable Internet access at home, we may move to a completely online homework assignment system, or I may provide printed versions for the students who need them. Since my students and their families are already paying for my editing-and-approval services with their property taxes, they won’t have to pay for Submissions, but I’ll make sure that any Submissions they create are of the highest possible quality. I expect that the opportunity to share their work – and to have it be a model for other subscribers – will give them plenty of Ownership even though they won’t be paying directly.

Obviously the grammatical sequence of Tres Columnae Project materials is very different from that of most conventional textbooks. But our focus is always on reading for comprehension rather than puzzling over grammatical issues. So I expect that my students will be able to read and enjoy textbook stories at roughly the same pace they’ve always done even though their main focus will be on the Tres Columnae storyline. After all, we’ll save the roughly 15 minutes a day that it takes to do a good, thorough job of correcting homework: turning it in, recording credit, return it, going over answers, and reteaching problematic grammatical concepts. You can do a lot of meaningful reading and writing in those 15 minutes a day … or a lot of contextual vocabulary practice or high-level discussion of Big Ideas and essential Understandings, for that matter. By January, when our first semester ends and my Latin I students are ready for Latin II, I expect they will have completed Lectiōnēs I-XXX of the Tres Columnae project and read the relevant stories in the “official” textbook. I’ll keep you posted, of course! The transition to Latin II will be interesting, as most of the students will be coming directly from Latin I but a significant minority will have “just” used the textbook in their Latin I classes last year. But then, the transition from Latin I to II is always an interesting adventure!

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in on Monday for more preliminary thoughts about using Tres Columnae materials with a “real” class. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 7, 2010 at 12:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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