Remarkable Breakthroughs

So … here are the videos we took of two of the embodied role plays from the upper-level class.


It was a deliberately loosely-structured task; I didn’t even tell them how much Latin they “had to” use.  “You can all be facets of your character’s personality, if you’d like, or one of you can be the character and the others can be people associated with him.”  That’s all I said.

And in no more than an hour on Tuesday, plus maybe 20 minutes yesterday, look what happened!

The group with Cnaeus, his father Caelius, and his sisters, wrote a script … and the results were amazing.  The group with Ridiculus, the weasel, and the “wall,” improvised theirs … and the results were amazing, too.  We were a joyful learning community, and we built meaningful things together … and the “third column of the Tres Columnae Project” really is becoming the characters along with reading and writing.

But the embodied role play was only required if you chose Version A, the Collaborative Response, for this first Minor Assessment in Latin III.  And thirteen of us chose Version B, the Individual Response, instead.  I had hoped no one would, hadn’t reminded them that it was an option – but then I looked at sad, confused faces on Tuesday and realized it wouldn’t be fair to deprive them.  Ms. X would be surprised if she knew who the thirteen were!  “Those bad, lazy kids?” she’d ask.  “Usually it’s just the gifted kids who don’t want to do group stuff!”

By “the gifted kids,” Ms. X means those who’ve received the “gifted” label … and Ms. X is pretty sure she knows exactly what that means.  “Good little students” who “do their work,” who get high scores on tests and turn in “perfect” worksheets and notebooks.  Maybe three of the 21 of us could be squeezed into Ms. X’s “gifted” label … but even they aren’t really a good fit.  And none of those three are among the thirteen.

What do they have in common, those thirteen who prefer individual written response tasks for Minor Assessments?  Ms. X would label many of them as “bad and lazy,” of course, but she slings that label around too much for it to be useful.  They mostly aren’t “high achievers;” they don’t set out to do badly in their classes, but they’re content to “slide by” (Ms. X’s term again) with acceptable but not stellar grades.  “I’d really like to have a B,” they’ll say, and they’ll celebrate when one – magically and mysteriously, for all they know – appears on a progress report or report card.  “An A would be great,” they think, but they’re not really sure what to do to make one appear.  School is mainly a social experience for many, but not all of them.  I’d venture to guess that they all tend toward a fixed mindset about learning.  And they’re mostly visual-kinesthetic learners; B, B, and U, for example, are thinking about making a horror-movie version of the Tres Columnae stories about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius when we get there.

Oh … and for a whole constellation of reasons, the thirteen like me personally, and they like their Latin experience enough to come back for more of it.  And that really puzzles me because I didn’t think we’d connected very well last year.  But then, I probably measure connection by different criteria from theirs.  If you’ve always felt completely disconnected, a small connection must feel huge, even terrifying.

Are there students like the thirteen in the Latin I classes, too?  I’m sure there are, but the emotional tone is so different there!  From the very beginning, both the large class and the small one have felt like joyful learning communities, and they’ve been willing, even eager, to build meaningful things together.  Did I make the difference by something I said or did differently, perhaps?  Is it just the new leadership, with a new and healthier focus?  Is it the new classroom, so easy to keep clean and organized?  Is it that nobody starts the day with Young Ms. X, who left when her husband got orders to Somewhere Much Cooler, or That Other Ms. X, who’s staying home with her newborn child this year?

I’m not sure the cause is really important.  What matters is the effect … and for the upper-level group, what matters is the slow, steady progress toward joyful community that we’ve been making together.  Progress toward joyful community, toward building things together.  After she finished her Version B Minor Assessment, E made a simple, but workable Version A one.  T, O, and K, who had made a Version A, weren’t satisfied with what they’d done, so they did Version B as well.  There was one brief extra credit question, which I deflected … but I’ll be glad to record the higher, more representative score.  And that was enough.

Today is School Picture Day, a day of constant announcements and, as far as Ms. X is concerned, constant disruptions of her “perfectly planned” lessons.  The Latin I classes will be working on their Minor Assessments, and we may just take a moment to watch what the upper-level group has done if we need to.  Most of the pictures will be over by the time the upper-level group meets, so we’ll be reading the first few stories in Tres Columnae Lectio XXVIII and doing a bit more work with Latin verbs.  Everyone seemed pleased, even delighted, with how much they remembered about verbs yesterday; we’ll try to make sure that the feeling of joyful celebration continues today.  And if you loved what you saw, I hope you’ll take a look at the SXSW EDU session proposal we made about embodied role play for language learning.  Voting closes on September 6 if you’re interested.

Last year, at this time, I was already thinking that building a joyful learning community would be difficult.  And it is hard work … but it’s a different kind of work from what I was trying to do then.  Last September, I was still trying to build the community for my students; I hadn’t yet fully embraced the power of building with them.  In our excellent but imperfect new physical space, with excellent but imperfect work like what you see in the videos, we’re building with each other, and that’s made all the difference.

I wonder what new remarkable breakthroughs we’ll all make today!

Published in: on September 5, 2013 at 10:26 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] of “the thirteen,” as I called them in yesterday’s post, are seniors, and they seemed unusually distracted, distressed, and anxious.  They hurried through […]

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