Finding Our Pace, I

By the end of class on Thursday – much to our surprise – many groups in my Latin II classes were finished, or almost finished, with their first  “Minor Assessment” project of the new course.  And by the end of our (ice-storm-threat-shortened) day on Friday, even more of us had finished.  I say “to our surprise” because the preparation phases of such projects routinely took a day or two longer than I’d expected when the same students were in Latin I … a long weekend ago.  Sometimes there would be confusion about the task, or absences, or technology glitches; sometimes things just took longer than I’d anticipated.  Same students, differently arranged; same time of year, new semester; and suddenly we seem to have found our pace together.  That happened with my Latin IV and AP group, too, as we’re right on the ambitious pace I’d predicted for our first unit.

We’re also feeling a lot more llke a joyful community – or set of communities – than we had been in December and early January.  I’m glad, but also a bit puzzled.

Ms. X and Mr. Y would credit – or blame – the “honeymoon period” at the beginning of a new semester.  “Just wait,” they say to themselves (and anyone else who will listen), “before too long the bad, lazy ones will start showing their…” true colors, only that’s not quite what Ms. X and Mr. Y usually say in this context.  Oddly, one Ms. X, who has severe allergies to a lot of things used in scented products, was still feeling joyful community, or something like it, on Friday.  She’d forgotten to tell one of her classes about the issue; someone had used some lotion or something; she’d started sneezing; they’d all been concerned; and instead of yelling and labeling about it, she was sincerely grateful that they’d understood, that they’d promised to try to remember.

But another Ms. X was already fretting about how she “needed to” call a few parents over the weekend. Another spent Friday killing as many trees as possible for “important” coloring worksheets for her students “to do” in the upcoming week.  Yet another was complaining because her students had found an ambiguity on her coloring worksheet.  So we’ll see what the new week brings.

Unlike sometimes, when the “threat” of wintry weather turns into a few raindrops or nothing at all, Friday’s ice storm was the real thing.  Not much fell right around me, but within a couple of miles bridges and roadways were closed, and dozens of car accidents were reported.  No doubt Ms. X, like a teacher-friend of mine this morning, will be bitterly complaining because some nearby school districts “got to” have a two-hour delayed start because of continued icy conditions … while her counterparts there are whining about how “those administrators” should know there’s “not enough time” for “such nonsense.”

For all our obsession with time on task, we good little workers in factory-model schools are curiously ambivalent about time.

For me, Friday and Saturday were good days filled with time to spend at home, making and eating a spicy, tomato-y, noodle-y, vegetable-y chicken soup, continuing to recover from the cold that had plagued me for the past few weeks.  There was time to participate in this remarkable Google+ thread about comments and responses to blog posts.  There was time to watch Charles Leadbeater’s TED talk about “Education Innovation in the Slums” and to discuss it on this thread.  There was time for a few much-needed naps, some quiet offline reading, a long lunch with friends on Sunday.

I even had time Saturday afternoon to complete a new (!) improved (!!) set of training modules about the importance of formative assessment … and I was surprised, even delighted, to find that the “Formative Assessment Plan” task woven into the training was quite helpful.  The planning document (which I’ll be using for tasks and goals my students find difficult) asks teachers to break down a large objective into Learning Targets (sub-tasks expressed as “I can …” statements) and Criteria for Success (specific activities expressed as “I will …” statements).  Then, for each set of Targets and Criteria, you think about the kinds of evidence you’d need to know that students had met the target and how you might collect it – and share it with the learners while they’re working and learning.  There’s even a space to reflect on possible obstacles and misconceptions students might bring and what you’d need to do to help them overcome the obstacles.

Truly, astonishingly helpful!  Like many things, when you approach them with a spirit of humility and openness, expecting (or hoping) that you’ll learn something new.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m not a big fan of “literal” translation as an instructional tool or an assessment tool – but you may also know that “literal” translation is a big part of what students are asked to do on the AP® Latin Exam.  The new Course Description has helpfully distinguished literal translation from reading for meaning and has broken down – in ways the old syllabus implied, but never really stated – what students at various levels of translation proficiency ought to be able to do.  So I decided to write a “Formative Assessment Plan” around “literal” translation – and by the time I was done, I felt a lot better about helping students become more successful “literal” translators … and about helping them see why organizations like the College Board – and professors in so many Classics programs around the world – cling to “literal” translation as a measure of language proficiency.  And I felt better about taking the time to do that in a course  with so many other competing priorities.

In factory-model mindsets, time is a paradox – there’s never enough except when there’s too much.  In community, time is precious, but curiously abundant when shared.  How can we – how will we – embrace that paradox today?

Published in: on January 28, 2013 at 11:05 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] the thoughtful G+ comment thread that developed around yesterday’s post.  As I read it in scattered moments, I was pleased, but not surprised, by the amazingly […]

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