Winter Wonderland

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As I write today’s post, I’m looking out at the remains of a huge – and very unusual – snowfall that shut everything down Around These Parts starting on Christmas night. I had an unexpectedly quiet, peaceful day at home yesterday, which I spent watching the snow fall, reading, and occasionally venturing outside with a very surprised and concerned dog. He doesn’t see snow very often, and when he does, he tends to respond in a predictable way: at first, he wants nothing to do with the strange, cold, white stuff that’s covering his favorite territory, but gradually he begins to explore and enjoy … and pretty soon he decides that he likes snow after all.

And so I wonder: Is my dog Jasper a living metaphor for the way that so many learners respond to strange, new things? As I write, he’s asleep on the sofa … and even if he were awake, I don’t suppose I could ask him. But I think of so many students I’ve worked with over the years – and their responses when I ask them to step out of their comfort zones and try something new. Like Jasper, they are usually reluctant at first, though they don’t usually show their reluctance by stepping gingerly, by pulling on a leash, or by looking longingly toward the closed front door of the house. But with time and patience, they start to venture out – though, again, their ventures look a bit different from his hesitant footsteps, questioning over-the-shoulder glances, and tentative sniffs at the strange new stuff covering his familiar surroundings. With even more time and even more patience, they, too, start to run and play and enjoy the strange new world, and eventually they come to find that it’s become a familiar place. Unlike Jasper, though, they do tend to remember the previous strange, new things they’ve encountered – at least, they remember some of them, some of the time! 🙂

Speaking of wonder, I wonder what you’ll think, lectōrēs fidēlissimī, about an amazing talk from the 2010 TED Conference that a friend just told me about. At 17 minutes, it’s a bit longer than the video links I normally share, but I really think it’s worth your time! The model he describes – self-directed small groups of learners, with four or so children sharing a single computer – is very close to the way that I think the Tres Columnae Project ought to be implemented in a school-based setting for best results.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What have you been wondering about as 2010 draws to a close?
  • What new plans and perspectives are you thinking about trying in 2011?
  • When you’re confronted with something new and surprising, how do you typically respond?

Tune in next time, when we’ll continue to explore these issues of wonder and consider see how the Tres Columnae Project and its model of Joyful Learning Communities might be able to contribute to – and help restore – the sense of joy and wonder in our learners. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on December 27, 2010 at 3:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Continuity and Change, V

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs!  If you’ve been following this week’s rather disjointed series of posts, you may have noticed that it’s been a very busy, eventful week in my face-to-face teaching world.  That continued yesterday with a full, busy day at school, and then my daughter (now in eighth grade) wanted me to take her to her first-ever middle-school football game.  She’s on the school track team this year, and she wanted to see some of the other fall sporting events … and to use the free pass she receives as a student-athlete.  So Thursday afternoon was a whirlwind of driving, but it was one of those days that both parent and child will remember happily for years.  I remember a much-younger version of my favorite-and-only daughter … until she was 4, I taught at a large school with a good football team, and we always went to home games on Friday nights.  Back then, she was much more interested in chasing the school mascot up and down the sidelines; now she’s actually interested in the game itself.

Every time I go to a well-coached middle- or high-school sporting event, I’m reminded that a well-run team is a great model for the kind of Joyful Learning Community I try to build with my face-to-face students and with the Tres Columnae Project.  Of course, a team that’s overly obsessed with winning can be a bad thing, and we’re all aware of the downside of an excessive focus on athletics by schools.  But a well-coached team, where the coaches and players have a healthy perspective about winning and playing, is a joy to see … even if it’s not playing very well in the sense of technical perfection.  In the same way, a well-built learning community is a joy to watch – and to participate in – even if it’s struggling with a new, difficult concept.

quid respondētis, amīcī?  What do you think of this comparison?

Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll wrap up this week’s posts and preview some exciting news.  intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 24, 2010 at 10:27 am  Leave a Comment  
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Continuity and Change, IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs!  Today’s post is a bit short for an unusual reason … I spent quite a bit of time yesterday evening and this morning with a common (but unpleasant) household plumbing situation.  As I stood there, plunger in hand, it occurred to me that my common-but-unpleasant experience was also related to our themes of Continuity and Change.  For the past several years, we’ve been blessed with remarkably few household-repair needs, and after a while, one gets used to that condition – so much so that the “unexpected” ones seem like a huge, disruptive Change when they occur.  I put “unexpected” in parentheses because when I stop and think about it, I realize that they really should be expected: plumbing fixtures will occasionally back up, other appliances periodically need service, things sometimes need to be replaced.  And yet, so often, we assume that the current situation (everything functioning smoothly) represents what the future will hold, too.

I suppose that’s a lesson for all of us teachers and learners, too.  Every time we think things are functioning “perfectly” or “smoothly” – and every time we assume this temporary state is, or should be, permanent – we should probably brace ourselves for some unpredictable and unexpected Changes!  Or, if we really want our temporary blissful state to continue, we need to make time and space for some preventive maintenance … both in our homes and in our classrooms and schools!

quid respondētis, amīcī?  What types of “preventive maintenance” do you find you need to do with your classes … and how can the Tres Columnae Project materials help you with these tasks?

grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

Published in: on September 23, 2010 at 10:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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Continuity and Change, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! This is a fairly short post after another long day in my face-to-face teaching world. It wasn’t a terribly unusual day – just long, with a number of interruptions and last-minute crises that kept me at school longer than I’d hoped. I also had an unplanned trip to the local office-supply store this evening for recordable DVD’s, a supply item I thought I had on hand. On the upside, it was a beautiful evening without much traffic, and the drive was a nice way to unwind and reflect after a long, tiring day.

As I drove and reflected Tuesday evening, I realized that our themes of Continuity and Change are always intertwined in my life as a teacher … and in the rest of my life, too. Lots of things stay constant from week to week, month to month, year to year, and even decade to decade – indeed, sometimes old, half-forgotten things return to use.

For example, I’ve found that my current Latin I students love a choral-response vocabulary check activity that I haven’t used in five or ten years – mainly because those previous groups of students hated and resisted it so much. They also love writing answers on the board (it probably helps that it’s a SmartBoard), just as their counterparts 15 years ago loved writing answers on the chalkboard … but none of my classes have shown any interest in that for a decade or more. At the same time, we continue to use some strategies that every class has enjoyed: collaborative acting and illustration presentations based on stories we’ve read, for example, and a game called “Race for the Answer” where small groups compete to find the most details in a story and/or to read the story more quickly than their counterparts.

At the same time, though, Change itself is a constant. I find that my current students like and respond to a slightly more teacher-centered class than their counterparts did five years ago; they’re not as comfortable with a quick transition to small-group work, and they like more whole-group modeling than their counterparts for the past several years. At the same time, they seem to have established much better, more effective group dynamics than their counterparts who wanted more small-group activities – what’s up with that, I wonder? Perhaps it’s just that I’m more able (or more willing) to see what they actually need and to provide it for them; I think I was more rigid about plans and timing for the past few years than I’ve been this fall, and my greater flexibility has probably helped with the dynamics and the classroom environment. Of course my work with the Tres Columnae Project has helped a lot with flexibility in my face-to-face teaching, too – it’s hard to be rigidly committed to the “one right way” in one teaching environment when one is forcefully advocating for flexibility and responsiveness in another!

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Have you noticed anything unusual (or old-but-new, for that matter) in your face-to-face classes this school year?
  • Do you find that you’re more flexible than usual – or less flexible, or about the same?
  • What are some of the factors that might be contributing to any changes you’ve noticed?

Tune in next time, when we’ll continue to explore these themes of Continuity and Change … and before too long (but probably early next week) we’ll finally see that other new Tres Columnae Project story about these themes. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 22, 2010 at 10:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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Continuity and Change, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! During my hectic week, which I think I described pretty well in last week’s posts, and during the weekend, as I attempted to recover from the hectic week, I kept thinking about the interplay between Continuity and Change – not just in our little field of teaching and learning ancient languages, but more broadly in society at large. I started reading an amazing book, The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely, which examines what “everybody” knows (but what turns out not always to be true) about a wide range of supposedly rational human behavior … and attempts to isolate some of the factors other than “pure” rationality that actually motivate our seemingly-irrational behavior. I’ll have more to say about Professor Ariely’s book when I’ve finished it; at the moment, let’s just say that it’s well worth reading, and that even just the first few chapters, on the paradoxical consequences of excessively large incentives, may well make you look at everything from the financial crisis of 2008 to high-stakes testing in a whole new light.

It was interesting to juxtapose Professor Ariely’s book with this set of videos:

The Original “Did You Know” video

“Did You Know” 2.0

“Did You Know” 3.0

the very different “Did You Know” 4.0

I’ve been working with them for a school-wide activity later this week. What evidence of continuity and change – and of the mix between rationality and irrationality – did you see as you looked at them in sequence?

Tune in next time, when we’ll try to apply Professor Ariely’s thoughts and the messages in the video series to teaching and learning in general, and to the Tres Columnae Project in particular. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 20, 2010 at 10:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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Res Novae, V

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As I wrote the first draft of this post early Sunday evening, I stopped to think about a paradox of Change: the bigger the impending Change, the less evidence there often is of it … at least before it happens. I was thinking about the thousands of residents of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae, and Oplontis who assumed that there was “just another earthquake” – or just a few late-summer fires creating all that smoke on the summit of Mount Vesuvius. But this is hurricane season here on the East Coast of the United States, and I was also thinking about storms of the past … the ones that no one remembers, because they did not bring any changes other than a bit of needed rain, and the ones (like Hurricanes Fran and Floyd) that everyone in my part of the world remembers because they brought huge, destructive changes. My little corner of the world avoided most of the flooding and destruction that Hurricane Floyd wrought in other parts of Eastern North Carolina, but I remember the impending arrival of that storm well: schools had closed in anticipation of the storm, and with our small child safely strapped in the back seat of the car, we headed significantly inland “just in case,” much as Valerius and Caelia do in the story I shared in yesterday’s post. A few years earlier, before I had any children, we had a sleepless night (on the floor in the hallway!) as Hurricane Fran pounded over us with 100-mph winds, and we did not want to take any chances “the next time.”

Of course, it’s been over a decade since Floyd, and almost 15 years since Fran, and I’ve grown much more complacent about hrricanes than I was when the memories were fresh. I think that’s a fairly universal tendency, and it doesn’t just apply to natural disasters, either. How many times have we all looked at futurists’ predictions of vast, sweeping changes? And how many times have they actually come true? Especially in the world of schools, where Change comes slowly and the forces of tradition are strong, it’s hard not to be a bit skeptical of claims about sweeping, systemic Change.

And yet, when you take the perspective of decades or centuries rather than months or years, significant Changes have indeed swept through the world of schools. The building that houses my face-to-face classroom was built in the mid-1920’s as a neighborhood school for grades 1 through 11 (North Carolina did not add a twelfth grade until a decade or two later). It served the children of white mill workers who lived within walking distance, and whose parents worked within walking distance. No one would ever have imagined that, less than 80 years later, that building would house children of all races, learning together in general harmony! They certainly wouldn’t have imagined that it would serve children from all over the city … or that the contents of the world’s great libraries could appear projected on a screen … or that future inhabitants of their school building would be in touch with young people on the other side of the world instantaneously and electronically … or that their grandchildren and great-grandchildren would be able to carry thousands of hours of recorded music around in their pockets! And yet, all these changes and more have swept over that old brick building even as we (rightfully) complain about the slow pace of change in American education.

As I think about the Changes that are currently underway in my face-to-face world and in the broader landscape of American education, I wonder if they’re Vesuvius-like changes (or Hurricane Fran- or Floyd-like changes) … or if they’re more like the “threat” of Hurricane Earl in my face-to-face world a couple of weeks ago. Earl did bring a few raindrops our way, and it certainly brought some rain to the Northeastern U.S., but (like many storms) it hardly brought the damage … or Change … that some over-excited forecasters had predicted.

So what’s the best way to respond to unpredictable Changes? Or perhaps a better question is, what are some factors that one should consider when evaluating possible responses to unpredictable Change? I have some theories, but I’d love to hear from you lectōrēs fidēlissimī first.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time for your comments … and for my thoughts about responding to unpredictable Change. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 14, 2010 at 9:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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Res Novae, IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today’s post continues our series from last week about Change on many different levels. If you’ve been a lēctor fidēlissimus for a while, you know that Change is a recurrent theme in these posts and in the Tres Columnae Project stories themselves. From time to time, we focus on

  • Changes in the small world of my face-to-face school and classroom;
  • Changes in the larger world of American education, and of teaching and learning in the 21st century more generally;
  • Changes that have taken place, over time, in the ways that Latin (and other subjects) are taught and learned; and, of course,
  • Changes in society, culture, and language over the past few millennia.

One of the great benefits of learning and teaching an ancient language and culture, meā quidem sententiā, is that it compels you to take a longer view. Especially in this time of rapid, systemic Change, it’s easy to get caught up in the Changes (and confusions and concerns) of the moment … and that sometimes makes us believe that current problems or concerns are universal and timeless even when they really aren’t. The perspective of a few centuries or millennia can be very helpful as a counterweight to this common tendency!

I’ve been reading an interesting new book called Waiting for “Superman”: How We Can Save America’s Failing Public Schools. It’s intended as a companion to the documentary film of the same name, which I haven’t seen yet (it’s supposed to open nationwide on September 24, though it’s apparently been shown – and won awards – at several film festivals already). I really hope it makes its way to my face-to-face world quite soon, or else I suppose I’ll have to find the DVD when that becomes available. If you’re not familiar with the film, it sets out to give both a big-picture look at the state of America’s schools and a small-picture, very human perspective through a focus on five families who are trying to get their children enrolled in charter schools or other alternatives to the unsatisfactory schools in their neighborhoods. I obviously can’t review a film I haven’t seen, but I’m really looking forward to this! I have seen the trailer, and it moved me deeply.

Anyway, having read about a third of the book, I came across a wonderful anecdote from a school leader who describes how she turned around a failing school by, among other things, inviting the students and families to suggest improvements that needed to be made. In our terms, she built a Learning Community (and it sounds like it was a pretty Joyful one, too) by offering Ownership to her students and families … and they responded with pleasure and with significantly increased academic achievement. And this was the kind of chronically unsuccessful neighborhood school, in a high-poverty urban school district, that many “enlightened” reformers would write off as “unfixable.” A leader who saw the school as “unfixable” would never have bothered to consult the community or to invite them to take Ownership … and, of course, the school most likely would have remained stuck in low performance and low expectations.

I realized as I was writing that “fixable” and “unfixable” are usually more in the eye of the beholder than they are inherent in an institution or situation. I’m reminded of a house I went to look at a few weeks ago … the one I menioned briefly as “Number 3” in this post last month. When it was previously listed for sale, the description began with the phrase, “Glorious ole lady needs rescue” … but, in fact, “glorious ole lady” needed to be completely gutted and rebuilt from the inside out. For my purposes, “glorious ole lady” was unfixable; that is, even at a bargain-basement price, I’m not willing to devote the time, money, and energy that would be needed for this “rescue.” But this recent New York Times article describes an equally troubled house that was “fixable” – and, in fact, was “rescued” and restored to beauty – by a buyer who did have the time, energy, and resources to devote to the job. Even in the world of physical objects, “fixable” and “unfixable” are mostly a matter of perspective.

There’s a wonderful quote attributed to Henry Ford: “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” Personally, I usually choose to think I can do the thing … or at least possibly can improve a chronically negative situation … and more often than not, I’ve been able to make at least some impact. And, of course, on those occasions when I think I can’t make any meaningful changes, I don’t have the energy or motivation to put forth the effort that would help changes happen. Whether it was crotchety old Mr. Ford or the prolific Anonymous who first uttered this sentiment, it’s helped me greatly as I try to navigate a world of rapid Change … and as I try to decide for myself whether a given Change is worth my attention and energy or not.

And speaking of Change, I had promised you a Tres Columnae Project story about a character who faces overwhelming Change today … so here we go! As you may recall, the characters we come to know and love in the stories of Cursus Prīmus are all living (though they don’t know it) under the shadow of the impending eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which will destroy-and-preserve Herculaneum along with Pompeii, Stabiae, and Oplontis in late August of 79 CE. I have deliberately avoided sharing most of the eruption stories – in fact, most of them don’t even appear on the Version Alpha Wiki site yet – but we did learn the fate of Flavius Caeso and his (current) mustēla in this post from last March. As we continue to think about Change, though, I’ll share a few selections from that part of Cursus Prīmus, including this bit about the fate of Valerius and Caelia:

hodiē māne Valerius et Caelia ante hōram prīmam surrēxērunt et anxiī inter sē in hortō domūs colloquēbantur. “mī marīte,” inquit Caelia, “quid facere vīs? utrum nōs decet in urbe manēre an Neāpolim iter facere Valeriam nostram vīsitātum?”

Valerius, “Caelia mea,” respondit, “deōs et māiōrēs hoc diū precibus vōtīsque rogō, nūllum tamen responsum datur. incertus igitur sum. quid mihi suādēs, uxor mea?”

Caelia diū tacēbat. montem Vesuvium intentē spectābat, sonitūsque audiēbat, tremōrēsque sentiēbat. tandem, “rem tōtam intellegere haud possum, mī marīte,” respondit. “quid tamen nōbīs accidet, sī Neāpolim iter faciēmus?”

“sine dubiō Valeria et marītus nōs laetissimī accipient,” respondit Valerius. “paucōs diēs cum illīs mōrātī, domum tūtī regredī poterimus, sī nihil malī accidet.”

“et quid nōbīs accidet,” inquit uxor, “sī hīc manēbimus?”

“nihil malī, sī tremōrēs nihil significant. sī autem tremōrēs pestem perniciemque significant …” Valerius tacēbat, quod vox dēficiēbat.

tandem Caelia “mī marīte,” respondit, “nōnne prūdentissimus es?”

et Valerius, “prūdentissimus? prūdēns certē! mihi placet cum tōtā familiā Neāpolim iter facere.”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time for more about Change … and sometime this week, we might just learn the fate of the family of Rīdiculus mūs. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 10:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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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, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! This will be the third in our series of posts about Change as a theme in my face-to-face teaching world, in the preparation of the Tres Columnae Project, and in the Tres Columnae stories themselves. On Wednesday and Thursday, we looked mostly at Change in my face-to-face teaching world, a theme which continues to surprise and delight your formerly-inflexible auctor here. Not only have I become ever more willing to change and adapt long-settled lesson plans and sequences of instructional activities, but I also seem to be increasingly willing to change and adapt lessons themselves when it’s clear my students need something different from what I’d planned. If you looked at my carefully polished, beautifully honed plans for this week :-), you’d see that my Latin III class was scheduled to take their first “real test over new material” today … but I realized they weren’t quite ready for that, so we postponed the test until Friday. For the past several years, I’ve “always” had a small-group review activity at the beginning of a class on test days, then finished the class period with the test itself. But I realized that my III’s needed to end the day today with that small-group review and start the day tomorrow with their test … and I was not only willing, but actually eager to adapt my plans to their needs. I don’t think I was ever as inflexible and unchanging as some stereotypic teachers – the ones who say “But the test is scheduled for today, and you should be ready, so you’ll take it today, ready or not!” But still, it used to be a lot harder for me to let go and give Ownership of the process to my students … and that’s been getting easier and easier for me the more I work on Tres Columnae materials.

Another big Change in my face-to-face teaching world has been a return to lessons that focus in detail on vocabulary work. Now, to be fair, I have always stressed the importance of vocabulary work, and I’ve always included specific work on vocabulary in the early lessons of my Latin I classes. But for several years, I had moved away from vocabulary work in the latter parts of Latin I and in my upper-level classes, moved by the belief (true enough, but incomplete) that vocabulary is best learned in context rather than in isolation. That’s true enough for certain types of learners, and it’s probably even more true for adult, self-motivated learners … but I work with high-school students, and many of my students are part-to-whole learners who really need to focus on specific words at some point. As I was designing the vocabulary exercises you’ve seen in the Instructure Demo Course, I realized that my face-to-face students needed similar types of reinforcement … so I’ve returned to a favorite old vocabulary-flashcard game and a choral-response formative assessment. My Latin III’s were delighted – especially those who had Latin I in middle school and had never experienced the glory (such as it is) of “Chartula! Chartula!” If you’re interested, here are the utterly simple rules:

  1. Everyone makes flashcards or a word list for an established list of words. (If you have a textbook, these would obviously be the words at the end of the chapter by default, but you could certainly add or subtract as needed. My Latin IV students, who don’t have a textbook with word lists, choose their own lists of “problem” words, so everyone’s cards or lists are slightly different – even more fun, since you might be asking your partner about words that you know fairly well.)
  2. At the start of the game, you exchange your cards or list with a partner.
  3. During the game, you try to win the words back, one at a time. (At the beginning, we use English equivalents on one side of the card, and the Latin words on the other. Later on, you can move to pictures, symbols, or Latin definitions if you prefer.)
  4. In Round I of a beginning game, your partner shows (or says) a Latin word and you give its meaning. If you’re right, you get the card back – or your partner checks the word off on your list. If you’re not right, you don’t get the card or the check. Now you select one of your partner’s words and give it to him/her Latīnē. Continue to alternate until you’ve won all of your words back, thus finishing Round I.
  5. For Round II, you exchange cards or lists again. This time, your partner shows (or says) the L1 word and you provide the Latin to win it back.
  6. Round III is like Round I, but faster.
  7. Round IV is like Round II, but faster.

I adapted the game from a wonderful strategy by Spencer Kagan and his associates called “The Flashcard Game.” It’s obviously not a high-level activity, since it’s clearly focused on Knowledge rather than Skill or Understanding. But Knowledge is important, too! And “Chartula! Chartula!” works very well if your goal is automaticity or over-mastery … not always an appropriate goal, but often helpful for “basic” vocabulary. My III’s have added a wonderful variation in which they come up with their own creative, original mnemonic devices for problem words and share the best of these with each other at the end of the game – in short, they’ve added an element of Skill and Understanding to a Knowledge-level task. Best of all, they did it all by themselves … and I was proud indeed!

As I work on the Tres Columnae materials in preparation for the launch of Version Beta, I find that I’m ever more willing to be flexible in the types of exercises and quizzes we include there, too. I also find that I’m really going to need the help of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī in designing and creating such exercises. Exercises and quizzes have always been one of the options for Submissions, and I really want to encourage you – and your students, too – to think hard about the types of exercises and other practice activities you’d like to see as part of the Tres Columnae Project. If you want something, please design it … and if you design it, please submit it! Do you think we should have a lower editing fee for exercise-type Submissions, which would presumably require less editing on our part? Or should every Submission be a Submission, priced the same?

quid mihi suādētis? et quid respondētis?

On Monday, we’ll finally see that long-promised new story about a favorite Tres Columnae character who has to confront significant Changes in his – or her – life. (There will be a post on Saturday, but it’s primarily in honor of that day and the Changes it brought to our nation and our world.)  intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 10:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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Res Novae, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, our current series will focus on various kinds of Change, both in my face-to-face teaching world and in the stories of the Tres Columnae Project. We’ll get to the Tres Columnae Project stories about Change on Friday or Saturday, but today I want to focus on Change in my face-to-face teaching world.

The biggest Change there, of course, is that the design of the Tres Columnae Project has led me to rethink (and sometimes adapt or even abandon) strategies I’d used for years with my classes. In particular, I’ve become increasingly aware of how much students need to see connections between the activities we do in class and the learning goals of the lesson. I’ve always been a planner, a goal-oriented person, and a designer of activities that meet the goals I set for myself and my students, but I realized this summer that I haven’t always made the connections between the goals and the activities clear enough for my students. Just a few words can make a big difference: “Remember, the purpose of this activity is …” or “So we need to focus on ….”

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, revisiting those learning goals – and flat-out asking students if they feel we’ve met them – has been amazingly helpful for me as well as for my students. Apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks – perhaps even a dog as old and set in his ways as our friends Trux, Ferox, and Medusa in the Tres Columnae stories! (I’m not sure, though, whether it would ever be possible to persuade Rīdiculus mūs that he lives in cavō, nōn cēnāculō!)

Another exciting change has come in the response of my Latin III students to the “Big Three” reading-method textbook that’s still our primary learning resource. This is the textbook that they all (or almost all) loved as Latin I and II students … and they still like it, but they’ve begun to make comments to me about some of its shortcomings, and the comments sound oddly like my own feelings about the book. Of course, they all did experience at least the early Lectiōnēs of the Tres Columnae Project as part of their optional-but-encouraged summer review – but it’s amazing to hear some of the things they’ve said this week. Yesterday, for example, we officially learned about the supine, and today we did a brief review of deponent verbs. I had briefly mentioned (and a number of them remembered) that we introduce the supine much earlier in the Tres Columnae sequence, mainly because it’s so useful as a way to express purpose without “complicated” constructions like subjunctive clauses or gerundive phrases.

That class happens to be with me for an hour before lunch, break for lunch, and return for another half hour. As we were leaving for lunch, one of my extremely bright students mentioned that she really thought it would make more sense to learn the supine much earlier, and that Latin I would have been a good time to do it. I just smiled … and was glad to see that my students are approaching their learning materials in a more critical, thoughtful way. That’s a big, but very positive Change for them.

We didn’t directly address the introduction of deponent verbs in class today, but you long-time lectōrēs fidēlissimī probably recall my opinions from previous posts: in essence, I think we confuse students needlessly by introducing deponents after rather than before passives. In fact, the more I think about “hard” grammatical concepts, the more I question whether they’re actually “hard” at all. Sometimes the difficulty comes from our “traditional” approach to introducing the concept; sometimes the difficulty arises from our grammar-translation insistence on relating everything to “our” native language; and sometimes the difficulty stems from introducing the concept too soon … or too late, or in an order that’s “logical” (because it goes “down the chart” in a formal grammar book) but not natural or sensible (given the order in which linguistic features seem to have developed, or the order they’re best acquired by a language learner).

Of course, any alteration in the “traditional” or “expected” order is a Change, too, and Change, as we’ve noticed, can be scary.  It’s even scary for the agents who make change happen!  I’m not sure what’s most frightening, though: the Change itself, or the fear that no one else will Change with you.

That may be why I’ve been reading a lot about Change and Leadership in the last few months.  If you’re interested in some excellent current research about Change, I’d highly recommend a book by Chip and Dan Heath called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. I’ve also mentioned the Heath brothers’ book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die on several occasions. Both books are amazingly helpful – and well-written, and memorable too. But don’t take my word for it, and don’t depend on my poor summary; buy them! And read them! And see what you think!

I’m especially curious to know what you think of the Heaths’ metaphors of the Elephant and the Rider in Switch. It changed my views (or helped to solidify my new views) about a whole lot of things, including classroom management and student motivation. Another huge influence, of course, has been Ross Greene’s remarkable book Lost at School – I’d love to know what you think of his idea that chronic behavior problems, like chronic academic problems, are usually caused by skill deficits rather than “attitude problems” or “not knowing better.” (In terms that we often use to describe the Tres Columnae Project, Dr. Greene’s point is that it’s not a knowledge problem or an understanding problem when students repeatedly misbehave in a particular setting; it’s a skill problem. Skills can be taught, of course, but they’re not taught very well by punishments or negative reinforcements … and yet those are the very techniques that teachers and schools often resort to when faced with chronic misbehavior.)

Dr. Greene and the Heaths have led me to some significant Changes in the ways I approach “problem” behaviors with my students this year, and I’ve already started to see amazingly positive results. More on those, too, as our series about Change continues.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time, when we’ll look at some more Changes … probably including a Tres Columnae Project story in which at least one character must deal with a significant Change in his or her life. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 9, 2010 at 10:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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