Making Contributions, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! If you’re reading today’s post “live,” it’s the second day of school in my face-to-face teaching world. We’ve survived the excitement and jitters of the first day, including a first-day celebration that’s become a cherished tradition over the past few years. It was a particularly nice first day of school, too. For some reason, I always expect fog in the morning on that first day; I remember many first days of school with fog in my childhood, and I can’t remember the last time we did not have fog here on The Day. Today, though, there were a few morning showers and some clouds … but no fog! By the end of the day, it was a beautiful, sunny day, but not at all as hot as it’s been for the past few weeks. Even the weather cooperated to make an especially nice day.

Today, other than a briefly extended homeroom period (to collect all those required forms and go over a few procedural things), we’ll be on an almost-regular schedule. My Latin III students will be following a not-so-cherished tradition known as the “Cumulative Vocabulary Review Thing” – it’s a pre-assessment of vocabulary in isolation, followed by a Socratic Seminar about the idea of Knowing Vocabulary. We’ll consider such issues as

  • what knowing means, and how it’s connected with Skill and Understanding;
  • what vocabulary means, and whether the “Review Thing” really measures it or not;
  • what strategies have worked well for us as we attempt to Know Vocabulary in various disciplines, not just Latin; and
  • why one would even bother Knowing Vocabulary in an always-on world where a Latin dictionary is only a few keystrokes away … and where the Lewis & Short is an almost-free download for your iPhone or iPod Touch.

We may look at some early Tres Columnae Project stories after that, or we may save them for a day next week when we’ll review verbs. I think it might be fun for my students to transform a short Tres Columnae fābula from a historical present to a “typical” narrative with imperfect, perfect, and maybe even some pluperfect tense verbs. They can work together to decide which tense seems best for each verb in the story, and we can talk about the process and about the different choices that each group makes, especially with imperfects and perfects. There are twenty Latin III students and five student-use computers in the classroom, so we might rotate among different stations for this review process. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were a one-to-one computer school … or if students could use the technology they bring with them to school each day? Recently I was reminded once again that my (not very new) cell phone is much more powerful than the mainframe computer my mother programmed for years in the 1980’s and 1990’s. That filled a room, but the phone doesn’t even fill my whole pocket!

Of course, in my face-to-face teaching world, students aren’t allowed to use cell phones or other electronic devices that the school doesn’t provide – and I do understand the reasoning behind that policy, since I’ve dealt with my share of surreptitious (and not-so-surreptitious) texters and emailers over the years. For many teachers, especially new ones, tired ones, and impatient ones, making sure that technological tools are actually used for instructional purposes would be quite overwhelming! I’ve been all of those teachers myself, sometimes at the same time, so I have a lot of sympathy for them. Still, I remember the battles about calculators in math class 25 years ago, which have pretty much been settled; I don’t know very many math teachers who refuse to let their students use calculators these days! I also wonder (and this may be a bit cynical on my part) how long it will take cash-strapped school districts around the country to offload their technology budgets by embracing tools that students already have. In a world where some schools are asking students to bring toilet paper, it’s easy to imagine asking them to bring phones and computers before too long.

Meanwhile, if all goes as planned, my Latin I students will be reading and hearing some Tres Columnae Project stories from Lectiō Prīma in addition to the stories in their textbook that we’d usually read today. I think we’ll see and hear the first several fabellae, and we might even get to Prīma Fabella Longa if all goes well. If not today, then possibly tomorrow … though much of tomorrow will be devoted to a Connection and Comparison activity called vīlla Rōmāna et vīlla mea in which students create a floor plan of their “dream home” and try to label as many rooms as possible with “their Latin names.” Of course, we quickly discover that a lot of rooms – and their functions – don’t translate very well, and that leads to a seminar (or something like one; this is, after all, very early in the year for the “real thing”) about the idea of housing and homes, and about the difficulties involved in translation between different languages and cultures. As you know, Understandings are really important to me, and I want my students to grapple with important ideas like this from the beginning of their time with me. I also want to know how much work on seminar process we’ll need to do, and the best way to find out is by attempting a seminar and seeing what happens! I will, of course, make sure that my students know it’s OK not to be proficient the first time … that’s an important life lesson that schools often don’t have the time or resources to teach.

As I continue to work on Tres Columnae Project materials – and on the logistics for the project – I’m reminded again and again that it’s not only OK, but quite expectable, for versions Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and even Epsilon of anything to have some flaws. The great thing about the Tres Columnae Project, of course, is that the flaws are easy to fix … and the changes happen instantaneously! By contrast, there always seem to be a few typographical errors in even the best-proofread textbook, but just imagine the cost and difficulty of preparing corrections! Even if you send out a sheet of errata and corrigenda, as most publishers do, you can’t know for sure that every potential user will receive it … or that the corrections will be made. If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you know that’s one of the main reasons I embarked on the journey toward the Tres Columnae Project to begin with.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time, when we’ll continue to explore the theme of new beginnings, ways of knowing, and making contributions. It’s possible that there may not be a post tomorrow; my afternoon and evening are unexpectedly full today, so I may not have my normal writing time. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

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