It was a long, rainy day … productive, insight-filled, but still long. When I got home Thursday evening, I wasn’t sure if I’d participate in #langchat on Twitter or not. And when I saw that the topic was “flipping the classroom?” Let’s just say I wasn’t entirely eagern. But something drew me in, and in the end I was glad I’d stayed. It was fairly easy to write drafts the two new Tres Columnae Project Fabellae (this one for the beginning group, and one I’m not ready to reveal publicly just yet for the intermediate group) … probably easier than it would have been if I hadn’t had the conversation.
What is it about “flipping the classroom” that doesn’t appeal to me? I think this Tweet sums it up:
It was a small part of a really excellent conversation with @axamcarnes, who’s clearly a thoughtful teacher doing excellent work with students. But there’s something about encroaching on other people’s time with required, same-for-all work that bothers me, whether that work is Ms. X’s worksheet packets, Mr. Y’s textbook-glossary definitions to copy, or a video of me (or somebody else) explaining some fine point of grammar, history, or culture. And whenever the conversation turns to flipping, somebody always seems to ask about Those Kids who don’t Do It. What to do with them? How to punish them? How to make them do “what they’re supposed to do?”
Isn’t that the same discussion about homework that goes on endlessly whenever Ms. X and Mr. Y check worksheet packets and endless definitions? It’s not a discussion I want to have … but it’s a discussion One Ms. X might just start today. She was sick yesterday, and I watched her class for a bit as they worked on answering the questions in the textbook and translating the passage and copying the vocabulary (“spelling and translation are important,” the directions said) for their vocabulary quiz today. Ms. X doesn’t flip the classroom, of course, but like many teachers, when she’s not around she has her students do “homework-like” assignments to “keep them busy” … and maybe even “keep them learning.” Busy hands, many teachers believe, stay out of trouble. Busy means diligent, and diligent is always good … right?
But I’m deeply suspicious of busy as a goal. Keeping them busy at home, when you don’t have any idea what home is like (or whether there even is a home) seems presumptuous, especially if you’re not thoughtful and productive with face-to-face time.
But if “flipping the classroom” means “learning by doing and asking questions,” as Wikipedia suggests, then the Latin Family is both flipped and blended. And since several #langchat friends asked, here’s a quick overview of the past few days.
The beginning branch of the Latin Family has reached Tres Columnae Lectiō XIV, where the grammatical focus is on wishes and polite requests (what the Romans called verba modī optātīvī) and the cultural focus is on Roman practices and perspectives about arranged marriage. We began our work, as we often do, with a “Match the Sentence” assignment on Tuesday. Students worked in pairs, sharing a copy of the handout, to match the L2 sentences in Column A with their L1 equivalents in Column B and circle the Latin verbs. After about five minutes, we came together, agreed on our answers, and noticed that the sentences all started with the word utinam … and that the verbs themselves were slightly different from the “normal” present-tense verbs we’ve come to know and love. We learned the Analytic Hand Signal for utinam (hands clasped over the heart, as if desperately wishing for something) and the one for the optātīvus (arms forming V-for-verb, but pointing slightly forward, because the thing you wish for hasn’t happened yet, and fingers wiggling because you might not get what you wish for) and practiced together, using the “Match the Sentence” sentences. We did a whole-group reading of the first Fabella, with our standard choral meaning check, choral vocabulary check, some oral Quaestiōnēs et Responsa, and the Analytic Hand Signals. Then came small-group reading (with physical copies of the stories for those who prefer that, or the online version for those who like reading from screens) of the Fabulae Longae; then came some Rapid Choral Reading of parts that had been difficult for the pairs and small groups; then came some time for the pairs to do some self-directed online research about Roman marriage practices and related cultural issues; then came brief reports from them. We followed a similar structure over the next few days, using some additional Fabellae that haven’t been published on the Tres Columnae site just yet and adding in a “Make the Optativus” session, where we used a projected chart to transform various familiar verbs into their optātīvus forms. Today we’ll be making some more optātīvī, reading one last Fabella together, and starting to make our last Minor Assessment product of the year, a story in which Valeria and Vipsanius exchange letters and agree on a particular authentic poem they’ll recite “apart but together” every day at a particular time until they see each other again.
If you’re familiar with flipping and blending, you can see how our work is influenced by those structures, but I hope you can also feel the importance of voice and choice, which are so often absent from teacher-driven forms of learning, whether “conventional” or “blended.”
In a school where Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y is still firmly committed to the “conventional,” and where Many A Student faces challenges at home, at work, and in the community that Ms. X and Mr. Y simply can’t imagine, the shared work of our joyful learning community won’t ever be “perfect.” But we can aspire to excellence, and on our best days we get pretty close. And on this rainy, windy Friday, with the last few weeks of school quickly approaching, excellence sounds … excellent! I wonder what new insights and discoveries await us all in the days to come!