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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Renovation and Communication, VI

salvēte, amīcī et sodalēs!  As I mentioned in our last post, yesterday was “Open House” day at school in my face-to-face teaching world.  For those lectōrēs fidēlissimī who aren’t familiar with that tradition, or whose “Open House” tradition might be a bit different from ours, this means in my world that

  • I had a very long day, since we’re “open” in the early evening (from 6:00 to 7:30-ish this year).
  • Teachers are absolutely convinced that they need to have a perfectly-decorated classroom (I try to resist, knowing that nothing will ever be “perfect,” but I still find myself obsessing over the perfect placement of a poster or bulletin board items from time to time).
  • It was a very hot day, since we began in our not-quite-air-conditioned gymnasium.
  • I saw large numbers of students and parents, since we usually have well over 50% participation.
  • Our students and parents theoretically “follow the schedule,” visiting each class for approximately 10 minutes.
  • All my incoming Latin I students – and their parents – who attended have now had a preview of the Tres Columnae Project and received the URL to the Version Alpha Wiki site.

We had some very positive preliminary responses, too!  In my brief presentation to the Latin I students and parents, I stressed the “21st century learner” ideas that I’ve mentioned several times in this space – the idea that our multimedia-loving, multitasking young people aren’t well served by static, linear textbooks, and that they learn best when they have opportunities to create and share.  I also mentioned that it’s a big step out of the comfort zone for me; I’ve spent years polishing and refining the “perfect” learning system (or at least I wanted it to be perfect – sort of like that “perfect” classroom that my colleagues were pursuing!) and now am letting go of that and stepping out in faith that my students and I – along with the rest of the Tres Columnae community – can build something even better together.  It was a great evening, and I’m looking forward to the start of the school year now.

It was also a very LONG evening, since I had another meeting right after the Open House.  So today’s post will be a bit short, and we’ll save the next Tres Columnae story for tomorrow’s post.  As I thought about the title of this week’s series of posts, though, I realize that the Open House was closely connected with it:

  • I’m obviously doing some major renovations to my “typical” teaching approach.
  • My students, in turn, will be making some renovations to their expectations about Latin class.
  • Communication is fundamental to the Tres Columnae model.
  • Communication – not just with you lectōrēs fidēlissimī, but among parents, students, other Tres Columnae participants, and me – will be critically important, even more so than usual, as we embark on this adventure … and it may take different forms from the linear “parent communications” I’ve grown used to.

quid respondētis, amīcī?  For those whose school year is beginning, or has recently begun, what changes or renovations have you been making?  And what changes would you like to see in the Tres Columnae Project materials?

Tune in next time, when (if all goes well) we’ll finally find out why Caelius and Vipsania reacted as they did to the Fronto brothers’ proposals for renovating their vīlla.  There was obviously some kind of issue with the Renovations, the Communications, or possibly both!  intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 20, 2010 at 9:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Renovation and Communication, IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I’m writing the draft of this post as beautiful early-evening thunderstorm is getting started – and I’m very thankful for laptops and their batteries! My own children, who’ve grown up in a wireless world, find it funny that I spent years not answering “the phone” in the house during storms because of the threat of electrocution if lightning happened to hit “the wires.” Now, safely unplugged, their only complaint is that they don’t have wireless Internet access if the power goes out. How things can change in a few short years! (I recently discovered that my alma mater has stopped installing telephones in dorm rooms because all their students have cell phones … but I remember how excited I was as a student, less than 25 years ago, when those phones were installed, replacing the one or two “hall phones” on each dormitory floor. Why did that make me feel old and young all at once?)

Anyway, Wednesday was the day I officially introduced my school-district colleagues to the Tres Columnae Project. There are four Latin teachers in the district – one at a middle school, and three of us at high schools. We’re a congenial group, but we’ve sometimes disagreed about textbooks and methodology, so I was a bit unsure about how they’d respond. And then I discovered that my most “traditionalist” colleague had decided that textbooks were useless and counterproductive for her students, so she’s been working on a story-based curriculum with an innovative order of grammatical presentation! As you might imagine, it was a wonderful day … they’re all excited and are quite eager for their students to start reading the Tres Columnae stories. I think we’ve all decided to use our existing textbook (which, despite my occasional rants, I’m still pretty fond of) as a supplementary reader and for some small-group and individual work. But there are now at least 5 schools in the world that will be using Tres Columnae Project materials regularly … and I’m sure there are more out there that I don’t know about, too!

Of course, if you just want to have your students read the stories and use the other free material, I guess I don’t exactly need to know … but it would still be nice! So please send us an email or leave a comment here or on the Version Alpha Wiki site if you’re planning to use Tres Columnae with your classes this year. I’d also love to know how you’re planning to use the project materials and whether you’d be interested in any of the paid subscription models.

If all goes well, those will be available by early September at the latest. Our biggest remaining hurdle was embedded audio, and our technological advisor has finally found a good solution for that. So Version Beta of the Tres Columnae Project should be available soon. All the stories and other content from the Version Alpha Wiki will still be there, of course (and we’ll maintain the Version Alpha Wiki “as is” after the move, too, for those who are fond of it). But, in addition to embedded audio, we should also be able to offer you

  • a much-improved interface for comments on stories;
  • a straightforward way to subscribe – and purchase paid subscriptions – online;
  • a very simple process for uploading and editing content (Free Trial subscribers who attempted to submit stories know that this was harder than it should have been with Version Alpha); and
  • some other behind-the-scenes features that will make our lives easier.

We’ll keep you posted on the developments, and we definitely want to know if you find any issues or problems with Version Beta once it’s been officially launched. And unlike the Frontō brothers’ cōnsilia in this week’s featured stories, we don’t think your response to Version Beta will be silence followed by horrified laughter! 🙂

Speaking of yesterday’s featured story, I know you’re probably dying to find out why Caelius and Vipsania responded as they did – and what those pictures looked like! And you will find out … but not today. We’ll pick up with that story in Friday’s post, or possibly Saturday’s. If you’re reading this post “live,” the school Open House is this evening, so it’s a long and late day in my face-to-face world.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What features would you like to see in Version Beta of the Tres Columnae Project?
  • Are there any features you’d like to see disappear forever?
  • What are some ways that you’re thinking about using the materials with your students (or with yourself, if you’re an independent learner) this school year?

If all goes well, though, I should be able to put the final touches on that story when I get home … or early Friday morning, if necessary. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 19, 2010 at 11:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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