Many years ago, when Powers That Be decided that Former School would move from a “traditional” schedule (with seven 45-minute class periods each day) to a semester block with four 95-minute class periods, Ms. X and Mr. Y were incensed. They would lose time, they insisted, and they did the math to prove it: 150 “clock hours” were allocated to each subject under the Old Schedule, and there were only 135 “clock hours” per subject for the New One. “Our test scores will go down because we have less time with Those Kids!” One Ms. X loudly insisted.
In the end, Those Test Scores didn’t change very much. I could have predicted that … and if memory serves, I think I did. Ms. X and Mr. Y got used to going faster in some ways while going slower in others. They moved copying the definitions and outlining the chapter and making Those Flashcards to be homework assignments. They “used technology” from time to time, and Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y added filling in the blanks on the printed copy of the PowerPoint as an activity in class. Nothing much changed … and if memory serves, I think I half-expected that, too.
If you did the math, you’d see that both District Q and District Y have fewer “clock hours” than Former School did … and yet the beginning group at District Y is slightly “ahead” of where a comparable group at Former School would have been, and everybody else is either on track with where I’d expected them to be or slightly ahead as well. We’re going faster in some ways, slower in others … and finding a good pace and rhythm has been an unexpectedly joyful part of my journey with them this fall.
It hasn’t always been easy, of course. The intermediate and advanced groups at District Y are eager and diligent, but the vocabulary they learned as beginners doesn’t always neatly overlap with the vocabulary from the early Tres Columnae Project Lectiones. We’ve been doing most of our reading together, as a “large” group, and I’ve learned to ask “Are there words we need to check?” They tell me, and I send definitions, and we figure things out together. But when I look at what they can do with the vocabulary they have, they’re right where they “should” be in terms of proficiency. And when I ask them to rate their comfort level with reading, or with finding particular verb forms, or (one current focus) with finding evidence of a particular cultural product or practice in a text, I can see steady growth … and so can they.
That’s worth celebrating … and it’s happening both fast and slow the way it “always” does.
We even have time for a new thing: a “Mid-Quarter Proficiency Check” that’s a smaller version of the Major Assessment Individual Response they’ll be doing at the end of each marking period. On Tuesday, when every class at both schools meets, we’ll be working on a somewhat independent task, and I’ll visit each small group and ask each person to read (a different paragraph) aloud, to tell me what they understood in the paragraph they read, and to find some noun and verb forms in their paragraph. I “always” wanted to do a mid-quarter proficiency check at Former School, but there usually “wasn’t enough time” for anything but a quick self-assessment or, at best, a written response that I collected, scanned quickly, and “filed for later.” But with our very different combination of fast and slow, there is time, and I’m looking forward to celebrating the progress we’ve made since September.
And the Latin Family is probably glad there’s not a Great Big Test they have to take. It’s that time of year when Great Big Tests tend to appear.
For my own children, the marking period ends soon, and this is a week of Great Big Tests. The Boy and I were talking about Great Big Tests yesterday afternoon. His point: so much time is spent on taking them and preparing for them that there’s not much time for the actual learning they’re supposed to measure. I agree with him, of course … and I was surprised, but yet not surprised, that he’d noticed the connection. He feels a lot of sympathy for students in the less advanced classes, who spend even more time on test prep and even less time on learning.
Nobody at District Q or District Y has said a word to me about Test Scores … and in some ways that’s not surprising because there isn’t a Great Big State Test for world languages in That Particular State. But District Q and District Y don’t seem to be as terrified of Those Test Scores as folks at Former School and Former District were. Some of that lack of fear is demographic, I’m sure, but a lot of it seems to be cultural in ways that I can’t yet express. There’s an undercurrent of Fear of Them at Former School and Former District, where They are a nameless, faceless set of authority figures. That doesn’t seem to be the case at District Q or District Y; They may be out there, but They have names and titles.
Is that why it’s faster and slower, but also more comfortable and more relaxed, for the Latin Family (and, by extension, for the other students and their teachers and administrators) at District Q and District Y? Is it because there’s less fear? And is that because They have names? I don’t know, but as we move forward fast and slow, I’ll be curious to see how our joyful learning community grows differently in this very different environment. And I wonder what other insights and discoveries await in the days and weeks to come!