When the Whole World Changed

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today’s post isn’t really part of our continuing series about Change, even though it does address Change to a degree. As you long-time lectōrēs fidēlissimī may know, I live and work in a military community – one that, on this day nine years ago as I write, had one of the largest open U.S. military installations anywhere. Years ago, when we lived to the north and I taught at a school on the south side of town, my quickest and simplest drive to work involved a trip through the post, on streets that are now closed off and guarded. Even as late as ten years ago, the Officers’ Wives’ Club sponsored a Quiz Bowl tournament that my students loved to participate in … and I can remember driving around the post, hopelessly lost, early one Saturday morning, looking for the new venue, with no attention at all from the MP’s even though my car had no security sticker. The world was at peace, at least as far as my neighbors and I were concerned, and we couldn’t imagine that anything could ever change that. Do you remember the “summer of shark attacks” in 2001?

September 11, 2001, was a Wednesday, and it was the day of the scheduled meeting for Quiz Bowl coaches in the area. We had a church function planned that evening, and an old friend from California was planning to fly in for a visit that weekend.

Then, nine years ago today, everything changed in an instant. I had taught a perfectly ordinary Latin I class when my senior homeroom students came in, many of them from a Current Events class that we no longer offer. They begged me to turn on the TV news in the classroom because there had been an accident (as we all thought) in New York and a plane had hit a building. So we watched the first collision … and then my Latin IV class, almost all seniors, saw the second collision live. The rest of the day was a blur of TV news, frantic announcements, and desperate prayers for family and friends in New York and Washington. Obviously there wasn’t much of a Quiz Bowl Coaches’ meeting that afternoon; the scheduled function at church changed its character; and our friend from California had to wait a few weeks to come and visit us. A nation at peace became a nation at war, and over time, sadly, a nation that had received the sympathy of the world came to be seen in a different, less flattering light.

And now, nine years later, everything has changed … and yet some things have barely changed at all. Even in this military community, there are perfectly ordinary events scheduled today: a city-wide celebration with food and games, bunches of sporting events, set-up for a special church program, laundry, and maybe taking a car in for service, just to name a few possibilities in my own life. Is it that we’ve forgotten, that we’ve moved on, or that it’s just not possible to maintain days of remembrance forever? I wonder how my grandparents (who I realize with a shock were younger than I am, as I write this, when their lives changed forever on a December morning in 1941) felt when Pearl Harbor Day became “just another day” rather than a sacred day of solemn, annual remembrance.

If you subscribe to the Latinteach listserv, you may have seen a post that mentioned two essays by Classicists that were written in the aftermath of that day. Here’s one by Dr. Rick LaFleur and here’s one by his colleague, Dr. Nancy Felson (you’ll have to scroll down to p. 6 of an old-format PDF file, but the scrolling is worthwhile). In both cases, I think, they display the kind of “long” historical view – and the kind of long-term hope – that an education steeped in the Classics can provide. I’d love to know what you think, lectōrēs fidēlissimī!

The Tres Columnae Project is designed for my students, who’ve grown up in a world at war and can’t imagine the innocence and naivete of their counterparts ten years ago. It’s dedicated to Steven, my student who lost his life in Iraq, and to scores of other “Latin Family” members and their parents who’ve served and sacrificed there and in Afghanistan. In a world that sometimes seems dark and hopeless, and that often evokes prejudice and fear, I hope our little Joyful Learning Community can provide a measure of hope and comfort. And as we follow our young characters’ journey into adulthood – and see how Roman Imperial expansion played out in Germania and Judea, among other places, in the stories of Cursus Secundus – I hope we’ll be able to learn both from the successes and from the failures of the Romans. I think we all long for a world that’s really at lasting peace – not the seeming peace that was shattered in an instant nine years ago today, but genuine harmony among people and nations.

Tune in on Monday for that story in which a Tres Columnae Project character must confront vast Change, even upheavals, in his (or her) life. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 11, 2010 at 12:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Res Novae, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today’s post is the first in a series about the scary (but necessary) idea of Change … as it applies to the Tres Columnae Project, to teaching and learning more generally, and to the characters we come to know and love as part of the Tres Columnae Metastory. This is an interesting time to be involved with teaching and learning! Just in the past few days, as I worked on drafts of this post, I came across two seemingly random New York Times Online articles about huge (potential) changes in our conceptions of learning … and in our ideas about the structure and functions of schools:

  • This article, after mentioning some research that challenges the ideas of learning styles and teaching styles, has some utterly counter-intuitive suggestions about study techniques that increase retention. I was especially fascinated by the idea of studying the same concept in different physical environments!
  • This one describes the growing numbers of teacher-led schools, which are organized along the lines of a legal or medical practice rather than a hierarchical factory. I’ve done a bit of reading about these in the past, but their numbers are apparently growing … and in some areas where you wouldn’t necessarily expect them. The comments on the article are, if anything, more interesting than the article itself … especially the ones from veteran teachers who are excited and energized by the idea.

Of course there are all kinds of other new things afoot, too.

Tres Columnae Version Beta will be here soon, and it represents a significant improvement over the Version Alpha Wiki. It also required me to Let Go of some of the control I’d maintained over the site; I’m no longer the Primary Person for technical matters, which is a welcome development but also, of course, a bit scary.

In my face-to-face teaching world, I’m experimenting with a number of New Things besides, of course, Tres Columnae materials themselves. I’ve (gasp!) slightly reorganized the classroom – a bit step for a strongly kinesthetic learner like myself. I’ve (louder gasp!) re-thought when my students should be introduced to certain concepts – a big change for the former Mr. Predictable, who used to gaze with utter satisfaction at his beautifully organized file cabinet. And I’ve completely rethought – and significantly improved – lesson closure, especially in my Latin I classes. It’s a simple little system: near the beginning of the class, we look at the specific learning goals for the lesson, which I’ve taken to phrasing as questions in the form of “Can I … ?” So, at the end of class, I now ask, “Can we, in fact, … ?”

Scores on the first Latin I test are usually pretty good, but they were dramatically better than usual this time – and even my one completely-lost student seems to have found herself, or at least found her way closer to the path. (Plus, there’s only one completely lost Latin I student out of 62, and in a “typical” year there would probably be two or even three in each class at this point.) Change can be very, very good, but it’s still hard, even in a culture that claims, as most 21st-century Western cultures do, to embrace change as a good – or at least a necessary – thing.

Just imagine how scary the thought of change must have been for Romans, for whom (as I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post) the very term rēs novae implied a violent political or military upheaval. And yet, of course, Romans did sometimes try new things; in many ways Roman culture was very progressive and open to change, especially when you compare it with some of its violently xenophobic neighbors. The Roman attitude toward change and newness obviously wasn’t monolithic, any more than the “21st-century Western culture” attitude toward change or even my own attitude toward change … or toward anything else, for that matter.

One important goal for the Tres Columnae Project will be to help our learners (and teachers) deal with the complexity of Roman attitudes and perspectives – to undermine the kind of stereotypic thinking that, all too often, we language teachers unwittingly encourage in our beginning students when talk about “the Romans” or “the Roman attitude” or “Roman” whatever, as if “Romans” were a monolithic group with a single attitude. If you’ve looked at the Framework for 21st-century Learning, you probably noticed that the idea of handling complexity appears over and over again, in strand after strand. So I hope the Tres Columnae materials will help our 21st-century learners come to terms with their own complex world as well as with the complex Roman world they’ll be studying with us.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • How do you feel about Change … or should I say, about different Changes that are happening in your face-to-face world?
  • What evidence of the changes in teaching and learning I’ve mentioned here have you seen? How are those affecting you – and how do you feel about the effects?
  • How do you feel about the changing learners (and teachers!) you’ve encountered recently?
  • What role for the Tres Columnae Project materials do you see in a complex, changing world?

Tune in next time, when (if all goes well) we’ll finally see that long-promised story in which several of our characters have to confront an uncomfortable change. I hope that “next time” will be tomorrow, but Wednesdays are often crazy days in my world, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to get the post completely drafted. We’ll have to go with the flow … and the complexity and the change!

intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus. Thanks again for sticking with us through all the complexity, change, and uncertainty of the past few weeks!

Published in: on September 8, 2010 at 10:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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Best-Laid Plans, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Life seems to have intervened yet again! I do apologize for the lengthy delay since our last post on September 2. It was a busy and hot week, as I mentioned in that post, and Friday was, if possible, even busier. I had hopes for a post on Saturday morning, but then life intervened yet again … this time in the form of a series of cluster headaches. I usually have one or two of those a year, but apparently the combination of extreme heat, opening-of-school stress, and then the sudden arrival of cooler, drier air in my face-to-face world led to 5 or 6 of them over about a 36-hour period. The whole family was sick with something-or-other on Sunday, and only on Monday evening, as our holiday weekend drew close to its end, did we all start to feel better. As I wrote the draft of this post early Monday evening, the headaches were mostly gone, but my energy level was quite low. If all goes well, though, we’ll be on a more normal posting schedule in the days and weeks to come.

As I left school on Friday, I was very pleased with the progress my Latin I and III students have made in their first few days of school. As I mentioned before, the Latin I classes are “large for us” (31 each, which I realize is a tiny number to some of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī and an impossibly large one to others), and there are 19 Latin III students. The I’s haven’t had much opportunity to use Tres Columnae materials yet, but we’ll be doing more with Lectiōnēs I and II, in particular, this week. The III’s, by contrast, did a lot of reading of “TC” stories over the summer and are eager to learn more about their new favorite characters … particularly Rīdiculus mūs and his familia, of course!

Meanwhile, I had a very positive report from one of our lectōrēs fidēlissimī who’s just finished using Lectiō I as a supplemental text with some of her middle-school students. Not only did they enjoy the text, but they had some great suggestions for improvement – including a “real” introduction to each of the three familiae. I’ve suggested that they might want to construct those “real” introductions for themselves; we’ll see how they (and their teacher) feel about that.

Behind the scenes, we’ve also made some significant progress on Version Beta of the site, which will use different “back-end” software and have a much-improved look and feel. If all goes well, we’ll be able to make an official announcement about that before too much longer. I truly appreciate your patience with the delays in Version Beta; it’s been a long road, and the hot weather here – especially when combined with my headache ordeal this weekend – hasn’t exactly helped.

I realize that the Tuesday after Labor Day is the First Day of School for many, many teachers and students – of course, in my face-to-face teaching world, we’ve been back for a week and a half, and many others have finished a month or more of school already. But for those who are beginning another year today, I wish you optimam fortūnam … and I hope you and your students will find time to explore and enjoy the Tres Columnae Project materials. I also hope you’ll be able to build a Joyful Learning Community together … and I truly hope that everyone will have a significant feeling of Ownership in their teaching and learning this year.

Tune in next time, when we’ll finally get to that long-promised new story about transitions and trying new things – a prospect that, I suppose, was even more scary to the Romans than it is to us. After all, when rēs novae means a violent political upheaval, and when you assume that the world started off Golden and ended up far less than Golden, it’s hard to see change as a positive thing, isn’t it? 🙂 intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 7, 2010 at 9:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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Best-Laid Plans, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs!  I do apologize again that there wasn’t a post yesterday … as I mentioned on Tuesday, that was a truly hectic day, and I seem to be recovering from a minor case of Something That’s Going Around.  No serious symptoms; I’ve just been tired and a bit under the weather, and our continuing extreme heat here in my face-to-face teaching world hasn’t helped.  The school is an old building, built long before the days of air conditioning, so it’s designed to stay as cool as possible in hot weather.  Still, when it’s over 95 degrees every day (and usually well over 95), those window-unit air conditioners can only do so much.  Our students have been tired and frustrated from the heat, too, and that’s probably helped to drain my energy.

My Latin I students just took their first “real” test yesterday; I’ve glanced at them, but need to make detailed marks this morning.  We’ve not made much use of the Tres Columnae Project materials yet, but I expect to be assigning particular stories and exercises as “homework options” for those who need extra practice with particular pieces of Knowledge or Skill.  We’ll also be using the materials more in class over the next few days, and I’ll give you a full report about that.  Even as the creator of these materials, I sometimes find it hard to step out of my comfort zone of “The Textbook” and the well-polished procedures and approaches I’ve used for so many years.  So I can certainly understand if any of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī are feeling hesitant, too.  When we roll out Version Beta, I’m hoping that the new look and feel – and the additional features – will help to overcome not only your hesitations, but also mine.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Do you find it hard to stray from “what I’ve always done” or “what I usually do” even when you know or believe it’s the right time to do that?
  • What strategies have you employed to make these transitions easier?

Tune in next time, when we may just see a Tres Columnae Project story about this very issue.  For those American readers who will be starting school next week, I wish you a safe and happy holiday weekend as you enjoy your “last few days of freedom,” and for those who (like me) have been “back in harness” for a while, I also wish you a relaxing, happy, and much-needed break this weekend.  intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 2, 2010 at 10:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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Best-Laid Plans, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs!  If you’re reading this post “live,” it’s the last day of August … one day before we had hoped to have Version Beta of the Tres Columnae Project ready for public consumption.  I’m afraid we were a bit ambitious with that date!  We’ve made great progress with Beta, and it should be ready quite soon … but not tomorrow!  For that, you may feel free to blame

  • me, for my over-ambitious scheduling plans;
  • my favorite computer, for its unplanned trip to the nearest Apple Service Center;
  • the weather in my face-to-face teaching world, for being so hot and miserable for the past several weeks; or
  • any combination of the above.

I’m happy to take full blame, or credit as the case may be.  On the other hand, with the Version Alpha Wiki site, you do already have a good sense of the Tres Columnae stories for the first twenty or so Lectiōnēs, and with the Instructure Demo Site, you have a good idea of what the exercises and quizzes will look like.  While the look and feel of Version Beta will be significantly improved, the content won’t change very much … except that there will be a much easier pathway from one story or activity to the next.

It’s almost inevitable that plans change, but the process of planning is incredibly useful.  I thought about that again today in my face-to-face teaching world.  We had a class assembly that took all tenth-graders out of my morning Latin I class for about a third of the period, while the afternoon class was undisturbed.  I knew about the assembly and had planned for it, but the timing was slightly different from what I’d hoped … and so I had to change a number of specific things about the plan.  And yet, if I hadn’t gone through the process of planning (including planning how to deal with the different available amounts of time in the two classes), what would have happened?  Fear and panic, perhaps?  Anger?  Despair?  I hope not :-), but I don’t really want to find out.  After almost two decades as a teacher, I’ve found that (at least for me) planning avoids many crises and emergencies, even if the plans themselves have to be adjusted to meet the real needs and circumstances of the actual rather than ideal students in my classes.

One goal for the Tres Columnae Project, of course, is to make that planning easier for new teachers.  I think of a young colleague who emailed me today and talked with me over the weekend: she’s struggling, as I think all teachers do, with that move from teaching about Latin or teaching pieces of Latin to letting her students use the language.  It’s so hard to make that move … rewarding, of course, and vital, meā quidem sententiā, but still hard!  It’s my hope that Tres Columnae can make that process easier for all teachers, but especially for new, overwhelmed ones.  I’ll never forget that awful first-year-teacher feeling, and I’d love to make it so that no one ever has to feel that way, ever again!

In this week’s posts, if all goes well, we’ll be focusing on plans and planning as they relate to the Tres Columnae Project and to teaching Latin more generally.  At least, that’s my plan!  But that plan may be disrupted by several factors:

  • I have an appointment this afternoon that may prevent me from writing a post for Wednesday … but it may not.
  • As I write, Hurricane Earl may or may not interfere with my face-to-face world.
  • Of course, my favorite computer is still being repaired … and who knows exactly when it will return?
  • Wednesday and Thursday afternoons include meetings (of unpredictable length) about a student and about the school-wide seminar program I coordinate.
  • Who knows what special plans my favorite children have developed for the Labor Day holiday weekend?

And so, just as my plans for my classes may not “survive contact with the students” as someone wise once said, my plans for this week’s posts may not survive contact with the realities of the week.  But by planning, we should be able to minimize the disruptions.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time (and I sincerely plan for that to be tomorrow!) when we’ll consider plans and planning in more depth.  intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Life Intervenes Again

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs!  I apologize that there wasn’t a post on Saturday.  I had hoped to wrap up the themes of last week’s posts that day and to preview some exciting changes, but circumstances intervened again.  I was more tired than I’d expected to be after my first week of school (really just three days), and then it was time for yet another trip to the Apple Store.  The continuing saga of my daughter’s iPod has now finally reached its conclusion: the new one arrived, the old one was surrendered, and she’s enjoying her (backed-up and restored) music collection once again.  I also took my favorite computer, our one and only Apple product, in for service: it had started having an odd issue with the screen backlight, which turned out to require some service.  So I’ve been making do with a different machine for the past day or so … I don’t want to speak ill of it, especially since I’m writing this post on it, but it’s Not The Same.  Everyone will be happy when the little Macbook returns safely! 🙂

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ideas of Joy, Learning, Community, and Ownership this weekend, and not just about how they apply to the Tres Columnae Project.  I spent part of the day Saturday providing some long-distance mentoring to a young colleague, a brand-new Latin teacher at a brand-new school.  Like many of us, she’s been struggling with making the connection with her students so that they can all be successful.  I was especially impressed by her self-awareness … the Ownership she has of her own life, if you will.  She could see that a lot of the issues she was having stemmed from a difference in learning and teaching styles between her and her students: they’re mostly visual-kinesthetic learners, and she’s mainly an auditory learner and teacher.  Good thing we talked on the phone!  Anyway, the good news is that she developed some great ideas to work with her students’ learning preferences, and I look forward to hearing the next update.  I also found that it was a joyful thing for me to be able to help her (and for her to receive the help she needed); that we both learned a lot in our conversation; and that we formed a community of support for each other.  I had some other experiences of joy, learning, and community this weekend, too … but I’ll save those for another post.

Thinking about Ownership, though, I realize that no one actually owns anything permanently … in a hundred years, or certainly in a thousand, the things I “own” (if they even still exist) will belong to someone else.  Of course we do own things for a time … but even when we own them, it’s really more like holding them in trust, or in stewardship, or something like that, isn’t it?   Our participants will own the stories they create for the Tres Columnae Project, but if all goes well, those stories will take on a life of their own … and they’ll still be around, to be cherished and enjoyed by countless new learners and teachers, long after their owners have moved on to other things.  That makes me happy, but it also makes me feel pretty small and insignificant in some ways … and yet, at the same time, it underscores the importance of what we’re doing here.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of this idea of Ownership as Trust or Stewardship?
  • What do you think of the idea of Tres Columnae Project stories as a continuing legacy?
  • What great examples of joy, learning, or community have you experienced in the past few weeks?

Tune in next time, when we should be able to start a new series of posts about plans for Version Beta of the project.  intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 30, 2010 at 8:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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Making Contributions, IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As the first week of school in my face-to-face teaching world comes to a close, I’ve been realizing once again how valuable the Tres Columnae Project materials will be for so many teachers and learners. Unfortunately life has intervened a bit in our timeline for migrating to Version Beta, but that should still happen before too long. When it does, I hope the improved look and feel of the site, the ease of registration, the enhanced security functions, and the other new features will be worth the wait – not just for me, but for all of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī. Without you, and without your comments and encouragement, there would be no Tres Columnae Project. (I suppose I might have written a few stories to share with my students, but I probably would not have taken all the time and effort to develop the Metastory, the Continuing Virtual Seminar idea, and the ever-evolving system of users’ contributions “just” for myself and a few hundred learners. Anyway, please know that I really appreciate you!

I’ve had interesting conversations with my face-to-face colleagues this week: it seems that we’re all stepping out of our comfort zones and trying new things. For some, it’s new technology; for others, new teaching techniques; for still others, new ways of engaging and relating to students and their families. I guess the Tres Columnae Project involves all of these areas, but the most important one for me is the issue of student engagement. Even in these first few days, I’ve seen that some of my new Latin I students (especially those who are new to the school) are wary. They’d like to believe in the idea of a Joyful Learning Community – and my face-to-face school really does try to be one – but they’ve never really experienced that before, and they’re not sure whether to trust us or not. And trust, of course, is the foundation on which a Joyful Learning Community has to be built.

Those first few days of school can certainly help to build trust, but they can also make trust-building difficult. Sometimes schedule adjustments have to be made; sometimes classes have to be extended or shortened for logistical reasons; and sometimes busy teachers and administrators forget to keep our students “in the loop” about what’s happening. Even when we tell them what’s happening, we sometimes forget to explain why it happens … and that can take a toll on a fragile sense of trust. I realized yesterday that I needed to be absolutely, utterly clear about transitions between small-group and large-group activities – apparently some of my newer students, and even some of my “veterans” in Latin III, were having trouble with a signal that used to work beautifully. So we adapted … and adopted a much clearer signal, which seems to be working well. We also took the time to talk about why … and I think that contributed to one of the best seminars about “Knowing Vocabulary” that I’ve ever had with a Latin III class.

If you recall, I talked briefly about the plan for that in yesterday’s post, but I was a bit apprehensive: some of these students really struggled with the seminar process when they were in Latin I and II. In the end, though, I was delighted because most of the critical issues came up in students’ conversations – I didn’t have to ask questions about them. My III’s have really taken Ownership of their learning, and I’m eager to see how that new-found sense of Ownership will play out as we continue through the semester.

But why did I begin this post with a claim that the Tres Columnae Project materials will be so useful and valuable?

  • Partly because I’ve seen, once again, how much my students need learning materials other than traditional textbooks.
  • Partly because the budgetary realities of schools in the current economic conditions have left me with significantly larger classes (a good thing!) and insufficient numbers of textbooks … and we’re a well-run school district that so far has avoided severe budgetary issues.
  • Partly because I can see how much better it is for students to have individually responsive learning materials … and things that offer them immediate feedback when they’re struggling.
  • Partly because I can imagine how hard all this would be for a new teacher, when it continues to tax my imagination and energy even after almost two decades in the classroom.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time, when we’ll wrap up the themes of this week’s posts and have a short preview of what’s coming next. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 27, 2010 at 10:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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Making Contributions, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! If you’re reading today’s post “live,” it’s the second day of school in my face-to-face teaching world. We’ve survived the excitement and jitters of the first day, including a first-day celebration that’s become a cherished tradition over the past few years. It was a particularly nice first day of school, too. For some reason, I always expect fog in the morning on that first day; I remember many first days of school with fog in my childhood, and I can’t remember the last time we did not have fog here on The Day. Today, though, there were a few morning showers and some clouds … but no fog! By the end of the day, it was a beautiful, sunny day, but not at all as hot as it’s been for the past few weeks. Even the weather cooperated to make an especially nice day.

Today, other than a briefly extended homeroom period (to collect all those required forms and go over a few procedural things), we’ll be on an almost-regular schedule. My Latin III students will be following a not-so-cherished tradition known as the “Cumulative Vocabulary Review Thing” – it’s a pre-assessment of vocabulary in isolation, followed by a Socratic Seminar about the idea of Knowing Vocabulary. We’ll consider such issues as

  • what knowing means, and how it’s connected with Skill and Understanding;
  • what vocabulary means, and whether the “Review Thing” really measures it or not;
  • what strategies have worked well for us as we attempt to Know Vocabulary in various disciplines, not just Latin; and
  • why one would even bother Knowing Vocabulary in an always-on world where a Latin dictionary is only a few keystrokes away … and where the Lewis & Short is an almost-free download for your iPhone or iPod Touch.

We may look at some early Tres Columnae Project stories after that, or we may save them for a day next week when we’ll review verbs. I think it might be fun for my students to transform a short Tres Columnae fābula from a historical present to a “typical” narrative with imperfect, perfect, and maybe even some pluperfect tense verbs. They can work together to decide which tense seems best for each verb in the story, and we can talk about the process and about the different choices that each group makes, especially with imperfects and perfects. There are twenty Latin III students and five student-use computers in the classroom, so we might rotate among different stations for this review process. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were a one-to-one computer school … or if students could use the technology they bring with them to school each day? Recently I was reminded once again that my (not very new) cell phone is much more powerful than the mainframe computer my mother programmed for years in the 1980’s and 1990’s. That filled a room, but the phone doesn’t even fill my whole pocket!

Of course, in my face-to-face teaching world, students aren’t allowed to use cell phones or other electronic devices that the school doesn’t provide – and I do understand the reasoning behind that policy, since I’ve dealt with my share of surreptitious (and not-so-surreptitious) texters and emailers over the years. For many teachers, especially new ones, tired ones, and impatient ones, making sure that technological tools are actually used for instructional purposes would be quite overwhelming! I’ve been all of those teachers myself, sometimes at the same time, so I have a lot of sympathy for them. Still, I remember the battles about calculators in math class 25 years ago, which have pretty much been settled; I don’t know very many math teachers who refuse to let their students use calculators these days! I also wonder (and this may be a bit cynical on my part) how long it will take cash-strapped school districts around the country to offload their technology budgets by embracing tools that students already have. In a world where some schools are asking students to bring toilet paper, it’s easy to imagine asking them to bring phones and computers before too long.

Meanwhile, if all goes as planned, my Latin I students will be reading and hearing some Tres Columnae Project stories from Lectiō Prīma in addition to the stories in their textbook that we’d usually read today. I think we’ll see and hear the first several fabellae, and we might even get to Prīma Fabella Longa if all goes well. If not today, then possibly tomorrow … though much of tomorrow will be devoted to a Connection and Comparison activity called vīlla Rōmāna et vīlla mea in which students create a floor plan of their “dream home” and try to label as many rooms as possible with “their Latin names.” Of course, we quickly discover that a lot of rooms – and their functions – don’t translate very well, and that leads to a seminar (or something like one; this is, after all, very early in the year for the “real thing”) about the idea of housing and homes, and about the difficulties involved in translation between different languages and cultures. As you know, Understandings are really important to me, and I want my students to grapple with important ideas like this from the beginning of their time with me. I also want to know how much work on seminar process we’ll need to do, and the best way to find out is by attempting a seminar and seeing what happens! I will, of course, make sure that my students know it’s OK not to be proficient the first time … that’s an important life lesson that schools often don’t have the time or resources to teach.

As I continue to work on Tres Columnae Project materials – and on the logistics for the project – I’m reminded again and again that it’s not only OK, but quite expectable, for versions Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and even Epsilon of anything to have some flaws. The great thing about the Tres Columnae Project, of course, is that the flaws are easy to fix … and the changes happen instantaneously! By contrast, there always seem to be a few typographical errors in even the best-proofread textbook, but just imagine the cost and difficulty of preparing corrections! Even if you send out a sheet of errata and corrigenda, as most publishers do, you can’t know for sure that every potential user will receive it … or that the corrections will be made. If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you know that’s one of the main reasons I embarked on the journey toward the Tres Columnae Project to begin with.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time, when we’ll continue to explore the theme of new beginnings, ways of knowing, and making contributions. It’s possible that there may not be a post tomorrow; my afternoon and evening are unexpectedly full today, so I may not have my normal writing time. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Making Contributions, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! If you’re reading this post “live,” today is the first “real” day of school in my face-to-face teaching world … our first day with students. Even though it’s the nineteenth “first real day” for me as a teacher, it feels like a new beginning. I suppose there are several reasons for this:

Of course, I always feel as though the first day of school is a new beginning! If I ever stop feeling that way, I’ll know it’s time for me to go and do something else. After all, it’s the first day of Latin for my Latin I students, and the first day of their new level of Latin for my returning students … and it’s the first day of their current grade for everybody. If I lose touch with that excitement (and the apprehension that often accompanies it), I won’t be giving my students what they need and deserve from me.

This first day is the first one on which my Latin I students will (most likely) be using Tres Columnae Project materials as well as a conventional textbook. That’s obviously exciting for me! I keep hearing from lectōrēs fidēlissimī who are planning to use the project materials in different ways with their classes this year, and that’s very exciting. I also keep hearing from folks who would like to use the material (for example, Elizabeth, who commented on yesterday’s post) but don’t think their schools are quite ready. Of course, you could always ask … or I suppose you could “ask forgiveness later” if that’s your personality type. But perhaps you want to offer the TC materials to your students as an option for outside work – it’s unlikely that anyone would object to an option, after all, and once your students and their families get a feel for the materials, they might have more influence on your “unready” schools than you ever could. Of course that’s completely up to you; after all, you know your situation, your school, and your community much better than an outsider like me!

This first day also feels like a watershed for me. When I started teaching, I spent nine years at one school before making the move to my current school in the fall of 2001 – I wasn’t sure whether the timing was auspicious or not in mid-September of that year! So last school year was my ninth at the current school, and I’ve now spent more of my teaching career there than anywhere else. I’m very fond of the school and the community, and I treasure the opportunities I’ve had to work with siblings, family friends, cousins, and all the other connections that happen when you spend a long time in a place. It’s a bit disturbing, though, to realize that my (senior) homeroom students were second-graders when I started teaching at the current school! At least I’ve moved from one classroom to another a few times!

Anyway, in the spirit of new beginnings and watersheds, I want to return to the idea of Contributing Editors that I mentioned in yesterday’s post, and I also want to revisit the idea of Ownership as it applies to the Tres Columnae Project. One of our lectōrēs fidēlissimī recently sent me some great suggestions for simple supplementary stories to accompany the first few Lectiōnēs – for example, one would introduce the idea of adjectives with sentences that described the various characters: Caelius obēsus est, Vipsānia pulchra est, etc. When I suggested the Contributing Editor idea to her, she was interested but felt she didn’t have time to do that properly; in fact, she said she’d be glad to create the stories and give them to the project without retaining any Ownership of them.

And that made me realize that my commitment to Ownership isn’t as universal as I’d thought. It’s funny, because over the course of those 19 years, I’ve given away a whole lot of materials: supplemental worksheets, project ideas, “extra” stories, tests and quizzes – all the things that desperate young teachers request on the Latinteach, Latin-BestPractices, and other listservs that many of you read regularly. And yet, despite all this giving, I had the idea that folks would be more willing to share their materials if they did retain some Ownership of their creations … even though I freely share things myself and don’t have any concerns about Ownership issues.

So I suppose I should ask you all this: How important is Ownership to you? To be more specific, imagine a system in which you, the Tres Columnae participant, had a choice when creating stories and other Submissions for the site. You could pay an editing fee and retain Ownership of the content, or you could submit for free, but grant “TC” Ownership (i.e., the intellectual property rights) to the content you created. And you could make that decision on a submission-by-submission basis. Would that appeal to you?

And, perhaps more important, would it appeal to your students? I know the iGeneration pretty well – after all, my favorite-and-only daughter is a member of it – but I don’t think I’ve ever really asked them how they feel about intellectual property issues. I’ll do that with my face-to-face students this week or next, but I’d love to know what your students think – or what you yourself think if you’re a member of that exciting and innovative generation.

Tune in next time, when we’ll explore more implications of these ideas and consider some places where supplemental stories might be a good fit with the existing project. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 25, 2010 at 8:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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Renovation and Communication, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! If you’re reading this post “live,” summer has officially ended in my face-to-face world, and I’ve returned to the first of six teacher workdays, as they’re called in my face-to-face teaching world, before students return next Wednesday. Most of today will be devoted to meetings, and tomorrow is that day-long professional development session I mentioned in last week’s posts; three of those eight hours are “mine” to introduce my face-to-face colleagues to the Tres Columnae Project.

Yesterday’s house-hunting trip, which I mentioned at the start of yesterday’s post, was a great way to celebrate the end of summer. Of the three houses we looked at, two were very interesting – in very different ways. (Number 3 was fascinating, but not exactly what I’d hoped it would be.)  They’re both beautiful old houses; both have been in the same family “forever” (70 years in one case, over 100 in the other); and both had a lot – but not all – of the features I’d been hoping for. There’s no hurry, which is the great thing about this process, and no pressure to move at all. I also haven’t entirely ruled out the house I mentioned in this post earlier this month, either … and of course we might decide not to move at all. Lots to think about at a time of the year that many people associate with endings, but which I’ve always associated with new beginnings.

I have always enjoyed the agricultural rhythm of the “typical” American school year – the sense of a definite beginning and a definite ending, seed-time and harvest … even though the seasons are obviously reversed from the natural ones. I hope that all of our lectōrēs fidēlissimī who are on such a calendar will truly enjoy the upcoming year, and that your students will have a very happy, successful, enjoyable time with you.

One of the primary purposes for meetings like these is, of course, to make sure that “everyone is on the same page” – that the whole faculty of a school agree at least about the meanings of basic terminology and, let’s hope, about their overall mission and vision for the institution. It’s critically important to make sure that we agree (or at least agree to disagree) about meanings of words. So often, when there are disputes and disagreements, they turn out to involve semantic differences. For example, when I first read this recent post on the CambridgeLatin listserv, I was taken aback by what turned out to be a perfectly reasonable, simple request for a list of topics covered in each textbook in that series. Why? Because “curriculum map,” in my teaching world, refers to the lengthy, seven-step process described in this Education World article, not to the simple document my colleague needed to turn in. Fortunately, I realized this in time … and I also realized I had a hard copy of the document my colleague was looking for, in case it couldn’t be found online. Good thing I consulted with some colleagues and got a good night’s sleep before I tried to respond!

So often, of course, we don’t have – or don’t take – time to reflect before we respond, and the results can be tragic. I’m afraid that a lot of fights and disputes in our profession – and probably a good many in other parts of our lives – happen when we assume the other person defines a key term the same way that we do. We then react to what we thought the other person meant, rather than to what they actually meant … and they, in turn, react to our anger, or our apparent attack, or to what they thought we meant, and on and on! How many times have we teachers asked students to “start working” or “get busy” or “stay on task,” only to meet the response that “I am working!” Of course, sometimes that response is pure self-justification (we can see the personal note the child has been “working” on instead of the assignment!), but sometimes there’s a real difference in how we’ve defined the task. For example, in my own face-to-face teaching world, I sometimes have small-group activities where one person is assigned to be the Writer for a particular item while the other person is the Checker. I have to remember to show the Checker the appropriate behaviors involved in Checking and explain why this is important to the activity; otherwise, it’s perfectly reasonable for students to assume that “Checker” might mean “person who sits and does other stuff for a while.”

Well, maybe not reasonable, but probably understandable, especially if the student comes from a school background where a lot of time is typically wasted. I was appalled to see a statistic, in a book that I browsed through last Saturday, that something like 60% of instructional time is often wasted on non-instructional tasks in poorly run schools! And if you look at the comments on this randomly-chosen news story, you’ll see some disturbing real-life examples. I gasped with amazement as I read the first comment: 5 minutes to “get settled” at the start of every class? And 5 minutes for “packing up”? That’s almost an hour a week lost unnecessarily … a whole class period per week on many schools’ schedules! Of course, there’s such a thing as an obsessive focus on time, or on procedures for their own sake. But it sounds like the commenter’s school and classroom could probably benefit from some well-designed procedures for the start and end of each class, doesn’t it?

Miscommunication and a lack of procedures will also play important roles in today’s featured Tres Columnae Project story, as Q. Iulius Fronto the architectus and his brother Marcus the redēmptor have a rather uneasy conversation about possibly collaborating on the renovation of Caelius’ vīlla. As you may remember from yesterday’s featured story, it seems that Marcus is not exactly on the best of terms with his brother anyway, and things don’t seem to be improving. You can also find the story here on the Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like:

Mārcus Iūlius Frontō redēmptor per officīnam suam īrātus contendit. frātrem suum, Quīntum Iūlium Frontōnem architectum, in sellā suā sedentem cōnspicātur. redēmptor “heus! mī frāter!” exclāmat, “cūr ades? quid vīs? num plūs dēnāriōrum meōrum?”

architectus “heu!” frātrī suō respondet, “cūr mē tam contemptam habēs? nōnne plūrimōs amīcōs habeō, quī mihi libenter dēnāriōs commodāvērunt? adsum autem, quod ille Cāius Caelius, vir maximae pecūniae, nūper mē ad vīllam suam arcessīvit. architectum redēmptōremque quaerit ille, quod vīllam suam renovāre vult.”

et redēmptor, “num ille Cāius Caelius, quī fundum maximum in monte Vesuviō tenet? tibi haud crēdō!”

tum architectus, “mī frāter, fortasse mihi nōn crēdis, sed tē oportet Caeliō ipsī crēdere. ille enim nōs crās māne in vīllā exspectat. vīllam quam celerrimē renovāre vult, quod et Caelium et uxōrem taedet vīllae. ‘vīlla,’ inquit ille, ‘vīlis et parva est, pauca cubicula, antīquae turpēsque pictūrae.’ nōnne dea Fortūna nōbīs favet?”

redēmptor tamen cautus, “nōnne tamen,” respondet, “ille Caelius multōs annōs avārissimum sē praestitit? cūr vīllam renovāre vult?”

architectus tamen, “heus!” exclāmat, “nōnne ancilla Caeliī mihi rem tōtam nārrāvit? anxius est Caelius, quod uxor vīllam contemptam habet. nōnne frāter Vipsāniae Caeliī est senātor? nōnne illī est manus?”

frātrēs ambō rīsibus et cachinnīs sē trādunt. per tōtam officīnam diū cachinnātur et rīdētur. tandem Marcus Iūlius sē colligit et, “ō mī frāter,” inquit, “diū tē culpābam, diū plōrābam, nunc iam valdē laudō. sine dubiō dea Fortūna nōbīs dīvitiās opēsque praebet! nōs oportet tōtam vīllam Caeliī renovāre; nē tēgula quidem manēre dēbet!”

Quīntus Iūlius frātrem suum amplectitur. tum ex officīnā ad domum suam festīnat. “mē oportet,” inquit, “cōnsilium splendidissimum et pretiōsissimum parāre.”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

In the interests of time, I’ll save my questions … and your comments … for tomorrow, when we’ll also find out how Caelius reacts to the cōnsilium that his architectus plans to parāre. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.