Res Novae, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, our current series will focus on various kinds of Change, both in my face-to-face teaching world and in the stories of the Tres Columnae Project. We’ll get to the Tres Columnae Project stories about Change on Friday or Saturday, but today I want to focus on Change in my face-to-face teaching world.

The biggest Change there, of course, is that the design of the Tres Columnae Project has led me to rethink (and sometimes adapt or even abandon) strategies I’d used for years with my classes. In particular, I’ve become increasingly aware of how much students need to see connections between the activities we do in class and the learning goals of the lesson. I’ve always been a planner, a goal-oriented person, and a designer of activities that meet the goals I set for myself and my students, but I realized this summer that I haven’t always made the connections between the goals and the activities clear enough for my students. Just a few words can make a big difference: “Remember, the purpose of this activity is …” or “So we need to focus on ….”

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, revisiting those learning goals – and flat-out asking students if they feel we’ve met them – has been amazingly helpful for me as well as for my students. Apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks – perhaps even a dog as old and set in his ways as our friends Trux, Ferox, and Medusa in the Tres Columnae stories! (I’m not sure, though, whether it would ever be possible to persuade Rīdiculus mūs that he lives in cavō, nōn cēnāculō!)

Another exciting change has come in the response of my Latin III students to the “Big Three” reading-method textbook that’s still our primary learning resource. This is the textbook that they all (or almost all) loved as Latin I and II students … and they still like it, but they’ve begun to make comments to me about some of its shortcomings, and the comments sound oddly like my own feelings about the book. Of course, they all did experience at least the early Lectiōnēs of the Tres Columnae Project as part of their optional-but-encouraged summer review – but it’s amazing to hear some of the things they’ve said this week. Yesterday, for example, we officially learned about the supine, and today we did a brief review of deponent verbs. I had briefly mentioned (and a number of them remembered) that we introduce the supine much earlier in the Tres Columnae sequence, mainly because it’s so useful as a way to express purpose without “complicated” constructions like subjunctive clauses or gerundive phrases.

That class happens to be with me for an hour before lunch, break for lunch, and return for another half hour. As we were leaving for lunch, one of my extremely bright students mentioned that she really thought it would make more sense to learn the supine much earlier, and that Latin I would have been a good time to do it. I just smiled … and was glad to see that my students are approaching their learning materials in a more critical, thoughtful way. That’s a big, but very positive Change for them.

We didn’t directly address the introduction of deponent verbs in class today, but you long-time lectōrēs fidēlissimī probably recall my opinions from previous posts: in essence, I think we confuse students needlessly by introducing deponents after rather than before passives. In fact, the more I think about “hard” grammatical concepts, the more I question whether they’re actually “hard” at all. Sometimes the difficulty comes from our “traditional” approach to introducing the concept; sometimes the difficulty arises from our grammar-translation insistence on relating everything to “our” native language; and sometimes the difficulty stems from introducing the concept too soon … or too late, or in an order that’s “logical” (because it goes “down the chart” in a formal grammar book) but not natural or sensible (given the order in which linguistic features seem to have developed, or the order they’re best acquired by a language learner).

Of course, any alteration in the “traditional” or “expected” order is a Change, too, and Change, as we’ve noticed, can be scary.  It’s even scary for the agents who make change happen!  I’m not sure what’s most frightening, though: the Change itself, or the fear that no one else will Change with you.

That may be why I’ve been reading a lot about Change and Leadership in the last few months.  If you’re interested in some excellent current research about Change, I’d highly recommend a book by Chip and Dan Heath called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. I’ve also mentioned the Heath brothers’ book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die on several occasions. Both books are amazingly helpful – and well-written, and memorable too. But don’t take my word for it, and don’t depend on my poor summary; buy them! And read them! And see what you think!

I’m especially curious to know what you think of the Heaths’ metaphors of the Elephant and the Rider in Switch. It changed my views (or helped to solidify my new views) about a whole lot of things, including classroom management and student motivation. Another huge influence, of course, has been Ross Greene’s remarkable book Lost at School – I’d love to know what you think of his idea that chronic behavior problems, like chronic academic problems, are usually caused by skill deficits rather than “attitude problems” or “not knowing better.” (In terms that we often use to describe the Tres Columnae Project, Dr. Greene’s point is that it’s not a knowledge problem or an understanding problem when students repeatedly misbehave in a particular setting; it’s a skill problem. Skills can be taught, of course, but they’re not taught very well by punishments or negative reinforcements … and yet those are the very techniques that teachers and schools often resort to when faced with chronic misbehavior.)

Dr. Greene and the Heaths have led me to some significant Changes in the ways I approach “problem” behaviors with my students this year, and I’ve already started to see amazingly positive results. More on those, too, as our series about Change continues.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time, when we’ll look at some more Changes … probably including a Tres Columnae Project story in which at least one character must deal with a significant Change in his or her life. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 9, 2010 at 10:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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