Clearing Things Up

“Was the assignment clear?” I asked each District Q and District Y group at least once this week.  For the Latin Family at Former School, the answer would have been “Of course,” and I probably wouldn’t have asked … because the process and the product of our first Minor Assessment for an upper-level class would have been familiar to almost everyone in Latin II (except those whose beginning Latin experience was at Some Other School) and to everybody in the upper-level classes.  But the idea of creating something based on Latin readings and background research … would that be familiar, at all, to students whose prior Latin experience had been more textbook-based, more passive?

It was relatively clear, but they asked for more structure and more clarity.  Originally, I thought the homework assignments for yesterday and today would have a choice: you could either work on creating your original character for the first Minor Assessment project or do some independent background reading about the existing character you’d chosen.  That was too much choice for them, and I apologize to the District Q family for not figuring it out as quickly as I should.  By the time the District Y groups met, I’d realized we needed to go “in order” … first work on creating our own characters, then see about the background reading.  We’d still have a choice of characters, and the characters would determine which “old” (but new-to-them) Tres Columnae Project stories each person would read … but we needed a step-by-step approach whose choices wouldn’t overwhelm us.

With that structure in place, things went beautifully in the District Y classes yesterday.  The Room Monitor, who usually just logs in and starts a webcam service for us, commented several times on “what an excellent class!”  Many of us created whole families, not just individual characters … and while you could certainly see the influence of their Former Textbook in a few of the new families, everybody succeeded in creating something mostly original.  Their responses to the Google Form we used after their independent reading task were generally positive, too; a few wished for help with translation, but most were able to understand familiar words and phrases and even main ideas and details in the linked stories about their characters from Lectiōnēs I – XIV.  Despite our fears, we’re all solidly in the band of proficiency that I’d been hoping for, clustered somewhere between Novice Mid to Intermediate Low … except the beginning group, of course, who are still beginners, as they should be.

And silly, sometimes … as you’d expect when they, too, are clearing things up for themselves.  What are the ground rules, they wonder, for this joyful learning community of ours?  What does it mean to be focused, to stay focused, to bring yourself fully to a learning activity in a virtual environment?  We used “breakout rooms” to make random pairs today and create our first-ever Vocabulary Reflection and Organizer … and that, with the pressure of time and public presentation, went very well.  We did some reading and some question creation, too, using a little story we’d read and answered English questions about on Monday.  We were more tired, though, by then than I’d realized, and there were some technological glitches that made it hard to focus.  So we’ll be talking about those issues the next time we meet, and talking, too, about our shared expectations for the virtual space and the virtual community.

In other words, we’ll be clearing things up about procedural “stuff” as well as learning and assessment-related “stuff.”

Clearing things up is important … and sometimes, when you’re in a very familiar environment, it’s hard to remember to take the time to do it.  “They should know better,” said the Ms. X and Mr. Y inside my head, “because I told them last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, too.”  But of course I didn’t tell them; I told That Year’s Latin Family group.  The beginners are always beginners, and we always need to clear things up for them.  And with a new context and a new environment, clearing things up is important for everybody.

Structure … and clarity.  To have a joyful learning community, to build meaningful things together, to have the kind of freedom that Latin Family members typically gain, structure and clarity are important.  If you abuse a privilege and distract or bother somebody else, you’re interfering with their freedom, and that’s not fair to them.  If you get distracted by somebody, that’s not fair to you … and if the structures and expectations aren’t clear, that’s not fair (on my part) to anybody.  So I’ve been asking for feedback regularly, feedback about procedures and routines as well as comfort with the learning.  And together, these new and expanded joyful learning communities will develop the structures, the clarity, and the procedures and routines we need to sustain our communities and build our meaningful things.

It takes a while, and it isn’t as “easy” as it is for Ms. X and Mr. Y with their predefined procedures.  It was “easier” for me, too, when I thought procedures could be predefined.  But procedures and the communities they support are interdependent; as the community changes, the procedures have to change, too.  “Pick up a copy per pair from the basket” was a great procedure in a face-to-face classroom ten years ago; it wouldn’t work at all in our virtual space today.  “Homework gets stamped with these special codes” … that worked well fifteen years ago, but how would it be possible with virtual homework whose arrival date is logged anyway?

As we continue clearing things up, we’ll build the procedures we need … and I wonder what else we’ll discover on our journey together!



Published in: on September 17, 2014 at 4:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

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