What about Vocabulary? V

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Yesterday I mentioned this story from central California, about a very well-meaning retired teacher who hopes to help motivate some low-performing local students by paying them – out of his own pocket – for straight-A report cards. I really don’t want to discount what Mr. Warren, the teacher, is doing here! He sees a problem (and it’s a big one), and he’s taking specific, concrete steps to try to make it better. Unfortunately, all the research about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation “proves,” as much as research can prove anything, that his efforts probably won’t be successful and might, in fact, lead to a decrease in the students’ intrinsic motivation over time. But at least he’s doing something about a terrible problem! And in some ways, it’s not that different from what we propose to do with the Ownership aspects of the Tres Columnae system.

In other ways, though, what we’re doing is very different, and I think and hope it avoids the pitfalls of “typical” systems of rewards and incentives in schools. Of course, I could be entirely wrong … and if I am, please tell me. Here’s what I see as the basis of “typical” reward systems, including variations like what Mr. Warren is doing:

  1. An outside authority figure is “in charge.”
  2. Payment (or other reward) is “automatically” associated with certain things (in this case, $100 for every straight-A report card).
  3. Payment comes quickly – as soon as you get the report card, you’ll probably be on your way to see Mr. Warren … just in case he happens to run out of money!
  4. Payment is designed to cause students to do things they normally wouldn’t do (do well academically across the board, in a very low-performing and disadvantaged school).
  5. Payment, in the end, seems to cause students to lose interest in the rewarded behavior, at least according to a lot of research. Researchers think this is because you, the learner, focus so much on the reward (which is quite desirable) that the intervening behavior comes to seem tedious and unpleasant.

But here’s how the Tres Columnae system works.

  1. The community is in charge. If someone decides to use your material, you (eventually) will get a small royalty; if not, you won’t.
  2. Payment is based on the judgment of the community, not of an external authority.
  3. Payment, if any, is significantly delayed. You get to experience the intrinsic reward (of creating something worthwhile and of having it accepted as part of the TC materials) long before anyone thinks about receiving royalties.
  4. The Tres Columnae system encourages you, the subscriber, to focus on the quality of the work itself, and on the depth of learning. If, in quest for royalties, you submit 10 or 15 poor-quality exercises or stories, you’ve just spent a lot of money on editing fees (I hope you chose the Unlimited subscription!) and created a lot of extra work for yourself. If your attention is on quality and learning, where we believe it should be, some monetary rewards down the line (which will probably be in the form of credit toward your next subscription or towards a T-shirt, button, or other product we might be able to offer some day) will seem much more like a lagniappe than a goal!
  5. We think our system is a lot more like the way commercial transactions really work. I wrote the first draft of this post on a weekend evening at a local Starbuck’s, where I obviously was involved in a commercial transaction. They had a product I wanted (a White Chocolate Mocha – I was a naughty boy indeed! :-), so I paid them for it. The barista happened to be a former student of mine (fellow magistrī magistraeque, have you noticed how you can’t go anywhere without running into former students?), and so are several other employees … but I don’t get a discount “for being a wonderful teacher,” and before they graduated, they didn’t get extra credit “for working at Starbuck’s.” Instead, they got my money because they offered a product I wanted to buy. In so far as we’ll facilitate such payments down the road, that’s the approach we want to take.

Or at least that’s what we think. quid respondētis, amīcī?

As I promised, our next post will take things in a different direction, as we return to very early Lectiōnēs in the Tres Columnae system and begin to consider how the stories and other materials will help our participants understand some of the critical, core Roman values like pietās and dignitās. In the introduction to Lectiō Prīma, I boldly claim that we’re going to begin to understand the concept of pietās in Lectiō Prīma … but how? And why? And why, and how, is our approach different from what a “typical” Latin textbook does?

Tune in next time for more … and for some more stories. I think next time will be tomorrow (Friday the 21st), but life in the form of an 18-hour day may possibly intervene. If so, we’ll pick up this topic on Saturday and return to it on Monday. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!