Floors and Ceilings, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I’d like to share a couple of interesting, possibly disconnected things before we get to today’s main topic. First, thanks to our friends at Accomplished Teacher by SmartBrief, I ran into this article in the Harvard Education Letter about the use of cell phones as learning tools. It’s obvious that one could use smartphones for all kinds of purposes in a class setting; after all, they’re rather more powerful computers than the one that sat on my desk 10-15 years ago. But I really hadn’t thought of using plain-old cell phones as a tool for formative assessment! The article describes a simple, free way to do that – and it also describes ways that teachers have managed the potential for distraction and disengagement. In a time of budget crisis, it certainly makes sense to use technology that students already own rather than running out and spending money on other tools … especially when, as the article points out, students are actually asking for this tool rather than another. Of course, there’s a lot of understandable fear that needs to be overcome, and a lot of schools’ and districts’ technology-use policies would have to be revised. But isn’t it great when a “tool for evil” (as so many teachers see students’ cell phones) can be reconfigured into a “tool for good”?

Second, there’s been an interesting thread on the Latinteach listserv about the use of rewards and incentives, especially for whole groups of students. Depending on your philosophy of teaching, that might get you really excited, or it might repel you completely. But, just as a student’s cell phone doesn’t have to be a “tool for evil” all the time, extrinsic motivators are neither the ultimate solution to every classroom problem nor the single factor that destroys teaching and learning. In his recent book Drive, Daniel Pink talks about the complicated interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. He points out the depressing research about how extrinsic rewards can actually lead to a decrease in intrinsic motivation for a task – research that every teacher and curriculum designer ought to take to heart! But he also notes that unexpected rewards don’t seem to have this effect, and that the effect doesn’t apply to tasks that aren’t intrinsically rewarding. Lots of food for thought! I’m still grappling with the implications after reading the book twice this summer.

Unexpected technology use and possibly harmful rewards: is there a common thread? And how do these topics relate to our main topic of the day? According to yesterday’s post,

we’ll look at some specific examples of Tres Columnae Project materials that support big-picture goals.

I think the common thread is that idea of goals vs. by-products that I’ve mentioned several times in this week’s posts. A cell phone, a computer, a potential reward for students – all of them are tools or instruments that one might use, or not use, to reach a particular goal. But many organizations (not just in education, but across the spectrum of human organizations) tend to confuse the goals with the tools. For example, schools often install interactive whiteboards or other forms of technology “to increase student achievement,” but they don’t train their teachers in ways to use the new tools constructively. (An example of this just reached my email in-box as I was writing this post: a colleague and Free Trial subscriber says her school has purchased several interactive whiteboards but “we are supposed to figure them out on our own.”) Churches and other religious organizations sometimes build new buildings “to attract members,” and businesses reorganizes themselves or pursue new initiatives seemingly for their own sake. There’s nothing wrong with the tools per se. But you have to know how, when, and why to use a particular tool effectively; otherwise, you may make the situation worse. I think of a slightly dripping faucet in my own house – it might be tempting to use a hammer on it, but that wouldn’t fix the leak, would it? 🙂

In the same way, the individual tools (stories, exercises, quizzes, etc.) in the Tres Columnae Project are designed and deployed to help learners achieve particular goals. If you’re not interested in a given goal, or if you’ve already achieved it, that’s fine – but then you probably don’t need or want to use the tools that are designed around that goal. Consider, for a moment, the goals for Lectiō Tertia, which haven’t appeared on the Version Alpha wiki site until now:

  1. Distinguish nominative, genitive, and ablative noun forms
  2. Distinguish and classify nouns by declension pattern
  3. Continue to build Latin vocabulary and make connections with words in other languages
  4. Understand and create Latin stories that use nominative, genitive, and ablative case nouns
  5. Continue to explore the concept of pietās
  6. Understand Roman views of family relationships (especially patruus, amita, avunculus, matertera)
  7. Compare and contrast Roman family relationships with those in participants’ own culture(s)

If you’re starting from scratch with all of these goals, you’d probably want to try all the available activities in Lectiō Tertia. But if you’re already good at #1 and #2, you could easily skip over things like

  • the first quid novī? explanation, which points out the “new” ablative case forms;
  • the exercise called cuius cāsūs est nōmen? (available for subscribers only) which asks learners to distinguish nominative, genitive, and ablative forms of familiar nouns from Lectiōnēs Prīma and Secunda;
  • the second quid novī? explanation, which introduces the idea of declension patterns; and
  • the exercise called cuius cāsūs? cuius dēclinātiōnis? which allows subscribers to classify nouns by case and declension pattern.

If you absolutely know that you’ve mastered goals 1 and 2, you could skip these items completely. If you’re pretty sure, you might try the diagnostic assignment called quid est nōmen rēctum? which asks subscribers to choose the right noun form to complete a sentences and to classify some nouns by case and declension. In the same way, if you think you’ve already mastered the important new words in Lectiō Tertia, we’ll have a diagnostic exercise you can use. I’ve listed the goals such that the latter ones require mastery of the former ones. As an independent learner, you can, of course, choose the goal that’s most significant to you; as a teacher, you can choose for your students, but I hope you’ll choose #6 or #7. That way, even if your students fall a bit short of the insights you’d hoped for, they’ll still leave Lectiō Tertia with

  • knowledge of nominative, genitive, and ablative singular case endings;
  • knowledge of more Latin vocabulary;
  • skill at reading and comprehending connected stories featuring these three cases;
  • skill at connecting Latin words to words in other languages;
  • skill at using details from a story to develop understandings;
  • deeper understanding of how the Latin case system works; and even some
  • deeper understanding of Roman family structure

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Can you see how the “lower” goals are subsumed in the “higher” ones?
  • Does it make sense that if you aim high, but fall a bit short, you can still reach most of the “lower” goals?
  • Are there some even “higher” goals we should be striving to reach at this early point in the Tres Columnae Project?

Tune in next time for more on this theme, including some stories and other Tres Columnae Project tasks that haven’t been publicly revealed until now. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

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Published in: on August 11, 2010 at 11:38 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Nice post, i really enjoyed reading this, keep up the good work

    • Glad you enjoyed it!


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