Quality and Quantity, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! This is the second in a series of posts about “ways to encourage more qualitative learning in a quantitative online environment,” as I said at the end of yesterday’s post. Of course, we should probably pause and define both qualitative and quantitative before we go any farther! As I wrote the first draft of this post yesterday evening, I’d just come from a weekly book group where we were discussing, among other things, the ideas of forgiveness and reconciliation. It occurred to several of the long-time members of the group that in several books they’d read together, the words had clearly been defined very differently: what one author might call forgiveness, another might call reconciliation, and vice versa. Of course, I’m not sure we’ll ever agree completely on a definition for any word, but I do think it’s important to clarify just a bit before we go on.

By qualitative, I mean a more globally focused sense of the overall quality of one’s learning – a qualitative focus is certainly not exactly hostile to numbers, but it’s not bound by numbers or obsessed with them either.

By contrast, when I say quantitative, I imply a focus, if not a preoccupation, with types of learning that can easily be measured or expressed with numbers: scores on a quiz, for example, or percentage of work completed – things like that.

I don’t mean to imply that qualitative measures are better than quantitative ones, or vice versa; I just want to point out that they’re very different things. It’s certainly been the case over the past few decades that American education, in particular, has focused hard on quantitative measures of learning and teaching – test scores, of course, but also all the other statistics that educators love to collect. In so doing, I’m afraid we’ve discounted the things that are harder to count. And so, with the Tres Columnae Project and with the work I do with my face-to-face students, I want to restore a bit of balance. In fact, I even want to use some well-chosen numbers in a qualitative way. For example, with the self-assessments I mentioned in several posts last week, our learners are rating their perceived performance and comfort level on a numeric scale from 1-5 … but the point is not to “average some grades” or to determine a mean, median, mode, or any other statistic about the numbers themselves. Rather, the numbers are a tool that the learners (and their teacher) can use to observe their performance … especially their performance over time.

It may even be appropriate to produce charts, graphs, and statistics about the changes in those numbers over time … but the numbers, charts, and statistics are a tool for learning, not an end in themselves. Too often, when the focus is excessively quantitative, we educators forget that the numbers are a tool and start elevating them into a goal. When we do that, the results are too often disastrous – not just for the learning that we’re supposed to be measuring, but also for the accuracy and validity of the numbers themselves.

We’ve all read sad stories of students, teachers, and school leaders who respond to number pressure in wrong or unethical ways. When students cheat, they’re usually motivated by a couple of factors: a desire to do well (which is commendable) and an inability (real or perceived) to do well “the right way” (which is not commendable). How do we teachers respond in such cases? Too often, I’m afraid, we’re angry at what we perceive as an offense against ourselves, or against the purity of our academic discipline or something. We see the fault, but we fail to acknowledge the underlying desire to do well … and we don’t help our learners channel that desire into a more positive direction. You may have seen this recent discussion on a textbook-specific listserv about a “sample test” that the publisher had made available on its website. No one came right out and said it, but it was evident that a lot of the ire stemmed from a fear that “students might find it and cheat.”

As a young teacher, I’m afraid I took pleasure in “catching cheaters” – and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. I sometimes forgot, though, that the purpose of catching them isn’t to punish them so much as it is to correct the problem and keep it from happening again! But then, we educators often seem to have trouble remembering that. We love to catch and punish, but then we’re surprised when our students repeat the problem behaviors – and we’re quick to blame them, or their parents, or society, or television, or computers, or video games, or whatever. Unfortunately, we’re slow to examine what part, if any, we and our methods of catching and punishing might have contributed to the problem! We’re also quite slow to consider such factors as

  • whether the measures we’re using (the tests, quizzes, and such) actually measure what we’ve taught;
  • whether we’ve adequately prepared our students for the measures;
  • whether our students actually know and believe that they can be successful on the measures; and
  • whether we’ve established an environment where “the numbers” are seen as a helpful tool for learners, not just a punishment (or a sorting method) imposed by teachers.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of my qualitative vs. quantitative distinction?
  • What, to you, is the purpose of assessment? Is it a tool for learners or a sorting method for teachers? Or is it a combination of these?
  • What would you say is the proper response when students take improper shortcuts?
  • What do you think about my idea that catching and punishing are sometimes contributing factors in students’ occasional dishonesty?
  • And how can the Tres Columnae Project. a self-paced online learning environment, avoid or minimize the possibility of widespread cheating?

Tune in next time, when we’ll explore these ideas more fully and look at some specific examples. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

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Published in: on October 5, 2010 at 10:20 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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Making Contributions, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! While there haven’t been many blog comments recently, I’ve really enjoyed the private email conversations I’ve been having with some of our long-time lectōrēs fidēlissimī. It’s particularly exciting when people make great suggestions about additional stories they’d like to see, or backstory about characters they’d like to know, or additional ways to practice and reinforce grammatical concepts or vocabulary. Of course, you should know that if you want to do something like this, you can! You be able to make formal Submissions as soon as Version Beta of the project is ready, but even before then, please feel free to work on stories, exercises, explanations, or other things you’d like to Submit one day.

And for those of us who are concerned about financial issues, I’d like to announce a possible solution. You’re probably familiar with our proposed financial structure for access to the project materials:

  • Free subscriptions allow you to read stories, listen to audio, see images, watch videos, and make comments.
  • Basic subscriptions allow you to use the exercises and quizzes.
  • Standard and Premium subscriptions allow you to make Submissions to the project.
  • Single Submissions allow you to make Submissions on a pay-as-you-go basis.

In addition, we’ll also be inviting some subscribers (and potential subscribers) to become what we’ll call Contributing Editors to the project. Someday, we may have a vast staff of well-paid editors 🙂 … but pretty soon, as our Submission rate goes up, we’ll be in the awkward position of needing additional Editors but not being able to afford them. As a Contributing Editor, you’ll be able to make a certain number of Submissions to the project for free in exchange for editing and commenting on other contributors’ Submissions. We haven’t worked out all the details yet, but if you’d be interested, please let me know – either leave a comment here, leave one on the Version Alpha Wiki site, or send me an email if you have that address. As you may remember if you’re a long-time reader, Jeff Howe’s book about Crowdsourcing was a major influence on the Tres Columnae model; if you’re familiar with crowdsourced editing projects, you’ll probably see the influence even more clearly. Some crowdsourced projects allow everybody to make edits, but we’ll be a bit selective; we want to see your best Latin writing before we invite you to edit other people’s writings! You will, of course, retain almost all rights to what you write, though you’ll grant us a limited right to publish it … and you’ll grant other participants certain rights to use and remix it. But if anyone wants a physically published version of your writings or illustrations – or if they want a physical product with your writings, illustrations, audio, or video – you’ll be entitled to royalties as part of our commitment to Ownership.

So if you’d like to be considered as a potential Contributing Editor for the project, please get in touch! I’ll send you a private message with the details of what we’re looking for.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of the Contributing Editor model?
  • Do you think crowdsourced editing is a great idea or a terrible one?
  • Where are some places that you think we need supplementary stories? And what would you want those to focus on?

Tune in next time for more. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

Published in: on August 24, 2010 at 9:02 am  Comments (2)  
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Renovation and Communication, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! If you’re reading this post “live,” today is the day I’m officially introducing my face-to-face teaching colleagues to the Tres Columnae Project, with a three-hour block of time set aside for Latin teachers during our district’s fall professional-development day. The time is divided into a 90-minute morning block and a two-hour block in the afternoon. Since I already had a roughly 90-minute introductory session for my presentation at the American Classical League Institute earlier this summer, I’ll be using a revised version of that for the morning session. Then, in the afternoon, we’ll actually try to build some stories, exercises, quizzes, and other elements together.

Letting go of the characters – and letting my colleagues play with them, and with the materials – is a hard but necessary step for me … of course, very soon there will be a lot more subscribers and other participants “playing with my toys,” so to speak, as they create their own Submissions. If you’ve seen the beautiful work done by our partner school in England, you know that I know, intellectually, that there’s nothing to be afraid of – no one is likely to break any toys (to continue our metaphor for a moment), and even if that happened accidentally, the beauty of a wiki is that the toy can always be restored to its previous, unbroken state. Still, like any child at the playground, I was feeling a bit possessive about those toys!

Speaking of playgrounds and toys reminded me of this New York Times blog post about parents who “obsessively” focus on their cell phones and other electronic devices when they’re at the playground with their children. Like several people who left comments there, I’m a bit puzzled by the whole thing … and by the amount of rage and energy that people seem to be devoting to the issue! Of course, my children have always been good at handling themselves on playgrounds; even when they were small, they were more likely to dismiss their hovering parents than to request assistance. And like a lot of those who left comments, I spent many happy unattended hours as a child … usually not on playgrounds, but running around in back yards, woods, and other unsafe places 🙂 with neighborhood friends. Perhaps that’s part of the reason I’ve tried to build a safe, but still intriguing and interesting “playground” for Tres Columnae participants!

Anyway, today’s featured story doesn’t have much to do with playgrounds, but it does have to do with safety and with the idea of letting go of favorite toys … and there’s an unexpected twist that I hope you’ll enjoy. You can also find the story here on the Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like:

duōbus post diēbus, Q. Iūlius Frontō architectus cum frātre redēmptōre ad vīllam Caeliī regreditur. manū suā librum tenet, in quō pictūrās multās iam pīnxit. frātrēs vīllam ingrediuntur et per conclāvia ad tablīnum, in quō Caelius ipse anxius exspectat, celeriter prōcēdunt. Caelius “salvēte vōs ambō!” exclāmat. Frontō librum in mēnsā dēpōnit et, “ecce, domine!” inquit. “hīs enim pictūrīs speciem vīllae tuae renovātae dēmōnstrāre volō.” Caelius attonitus et tacitus pictūrās diū spectat. tandem, “heus!” inquit, “mē decet uxōrem meam vocāre.” Caelius ē tablīnō contendit Vipsāniam quaesītum.

Vipsānia in peristyliō sedet et lānam facit. duae ancillae prope dominam stant. altera librum legit, altera cibum vīnumque offert. Vipsānia sēcum carmen cantat. laetissima est Vipsānia quod hae ancillae, quās Caelius nūper Rōmae ēmit, labōribus dīligentissimae, corporibus haud formōsae sunt.

Caelius in peristylium currit et “heus! Vipsānia mea!” exclāmat, “sine dubiō iste architectus, quem ad vīllam nostram nūper arcessīvī, vel stultus vel īnsānus est! tē oportet pictūrās novissimās, quās pīnxit ille, spectāre! quās cum spectābam, lacrimāre et rīdēre simul volēbam!”

Vipsānia attonita, “num quae pictūra tam nova est?” rogat. Caelius tamen manum uxōrī prēnsat et, “tibi celerrimē veniendum est!” clāmat. “novissima quidem et turpissima!”

Vipsānia igitur ancillīs, “heus!” inquit, “mihi necesse est dominum nostrum comitārī, vōbīs hīc manēre dum regrediar.” domina lentē surgit, lentē marītum suum per conclāvia vīllae comitātur.

intereā Frontō architectus cum frātre redēmptōre in tablīnō vīllae manet. sollicitus est Marcus Frontō quod Caelius tam celeriter ē tablīnō exiit; laetus tamen est Quīntus Frontō quod liber pictūrārum plēnus etiam nunc in mēnsā est. “mī frāter,” inquit, “nōlī tē vexāre! sī enim odiō patrōnīs sunt pictūrae meae, illī semper librōs in caput meum iactant! ille tamen Caelius librum in mēnsā relīquit et uxōrem suam quaesīvit. sine dubiō igitur illī cordī, nōn odiō sunt pictūrae.”

Marcus tamen frātrī suō, “st!” respondet, “tibi tacendum est, quod Caelius etiam nunc cum uxōre regreditur!”

Caelius et Vipsānia tablīnum intrant. dominus uxōrem suam ad mēnsam dūcit librum spectātum. Vipsānia diū tacet; tandem rīsibus et cachinnīs sē trādit. Caelius quoque vehementer rīdet. architectus tamen et frāter tacitī et attonitī stant.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • You’re probably eager to know what the pictures actually look like! And I promise we’ll find out at some point … but not today. In fact, the story in which the pictures are described may be one that Tres Columnae subscribers are invited to write for themselves.
  • Where do you see the themes of play and safety at work in this story?
  • What new insights do you have into the relationship between Caelius and Vipsania? What about the relationship between the brothers Fronto?

Tune in next time, when we’ll find out what – if any – renovations will actually be done to the vīlla. I’ll also plan to describe our face-to-face day, with my colleagues’ first real introduction to the Tres Columnae Project. We’ll see how that relates to the themes of play and safety too. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 18, 2010 at 10:45 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.

Floors and Ceilings, IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As I’ve thought about the metaphor of Floors and Ceilings I’ve been working on this week, I realized again the importance of connections and alignment. After all, in any given building, the floors, ceilings, walls, and other elements need to be connected – quite tightly, in fact – if the building is to remain standing. But connection by itself isn’t enough! For a building to stand firm, the floors also need to be (fairly) level, the walls need to be (reasonably) plumb, and the corners need to be (more or less) square. I thought about that a lot last week, when the family went to look at a beautiful old house that we might consider buying at some point. It’s well over 90 years old (I know you European readers are laughing, but that’s pretty old for an American structure), but it’s still rock-solid. The builders obviously took the time to build it right, and the owners have lovingly preserved its best features while making a few appropriate updates along the way.

In the same way, the various programs and elements that make up a learning environment need to be connected to each other, and the whole structure needs to be aligned with a common purpose. Unlike a building, a school or classroom probably won’t literally fall apart if it has some disconnected pieces – but the learning won’t be optimal. Stephen Covey makes this point powerfully in his recent book The Leader in Me, which is about schools around the world that use his “Seven Habits” framework as an organizing principle. At one point, he includes a great illustration where arrows, representing the major programs and initiatives in the school, are either pointing in the same direction (because they’re aligned around a common purpose) or in all different directions (because there isn’t a core purpose).

As we continue to build the Tres Columnae Project together, I think it’s really important to keep this idea of connection, alignment, and common purpose in mind. That’s one reason we insist on editing participants’ Submissions before they become part of the project. No matter how good a story, image, or illustration is by itself, it mustn’t conflict with the Metastory. For example, Rīdiculus mūs simply can’t admit that he really lives in a cavus rather than a cēnāculum, and young Cnaeus can’t suddenly become kind and considerate. And no matter how well a Submission fits with the Metastory, it can’t be riddled with grammatical errors or have an audio track filled with mispronunciations. Connection, alignment, and common purpose – they’re important!

Unfortunately, many large organizations – not just schools – forget about these elements in their quest for improvement. It’s easy to look at a hot new trend and decide “we should do this” – or, worse, “our people should do this” – without considering whether the new thing is connected or aligned with your core purpose or your existing programs. The ideas may be good, and the programs may have achieved great results elsewhere. But if the alignment isn’t there, the results probably won’t follow.

For example, many schools and districts decide to implement character education programs that seem “bolted on” (or “slapped on”) because there’s no alignment or connection with the schools’ other programs.  It’s obviously important for schools to address important principles like respect, responsibility, and fairness, but these programs are a lot more effective if they don’t feel like an afterthought or an “extra.”  For a number of years, my face-to-face school district has had a Character Education program with a “concept of the month” focus. When the program was new, most schools genuinely focused on the concept of the month – I remember developing a lesson plan for April that compared the Roman ideal of pietās with “our” concept of Citizenship. (We started with areas of obvious similarity and moved on to things like the iūs necandī where “our” response and that of the Romans would be utterly different.)

In those early days, my students occasionally complained that the “concept of the month” was “stupid” or “pointless,” but they usually liked the ways the concepts were infused or interwoven in my classes. For example, when my Latin I students researched a major mythological figure in the fall, we talked about ways that each figure did, or did not, display respect and responsibility. We also spent some time thinking and talking about different possible meanings for these two loaded terms! The program worked because we – or at least most of us – paid attention to alignment, connection, and core purpose.

As years went by, and as other programs came along, the “concept of the month” became less important in many schools … and the program became correspondingly less effective. No longer was it aligned or connected with daily instruction. It’s still alive, though, because it is aligned with one of the district’s core non-academic purposes, and because there are some non-academic programs that align and connect with it.  If it stood completely on its own, it would doubtless have been forgotten.

By contrast, a really fascinating thread at Fireside Learning about “character education” led to this link about the “Smart & Good Schools,” a Templeton Foundation initiative that, in the words of the website, focuses on helping schools and students develop these “four keys:”

self-study (self-assessment and goal-setting), other-study (learning from the positive and negative examples of others), public presentation (sharing one’s goals and work with others), and a community that supports and challenges.

I particularly like the way that the Templeton Foundation has combined academic excellence – what they call “performance character (doing one’s best work)” – with personal excellence or “moral character (being one’s best ethical self in relationships).” Even if you happen to disagree with the core purpose, I expect you can see the alignment and the connections in this program.

Of course, alignment and connections are also important in training programs for teachers. I’ve occasionally referred to the Differentiated Instruction course that I teach as part of my district’s online professional development program. So often, teachers come in with (stated or unstated) fears that their time will be wasted on “useless” stuff, only to leave with rave reviews for the practicality and relevance of the course. I’d love to give credit to my charming and witty personality :-), but I think the real secret is that the course is connected with what participants are already doing, and that they can see how the new techniques they learn are aligned with their core purpose of helping students learn. By contrast, most teachers have endured professional-development courses and workshops where the alignment and the core purpose aren’t clear … no need for examples, is there?

As I write this post, I’ve just been asked by my school district’s foreign-language coordinator to make a presentation about the Tres Columnae Project to my fellow Latin teachers at our system-wide professional development day next week. If you’re among the long-time lectōrēs fidēlissimī of this blog, you may remember that I did a very preliminary presentation back in February … to a very small but receptive audience. This time, though, I have a lot more time (over three hours) and, of course, there’s a lot more material available for our participants to look at. In designing this presentation, I’m thinking a lot about these issues of alignment, connection, and core purposes. I want to make sure that my colleagues can see

  • what the Joyful Learning Community model looks and feels like;
  • why it might be appropriate for their students, either as a primary learning resource or as a supplement to what they’re already doing;
  • how the Tres Columnae Project may be able to meet the needs of today’s learners better than a conventional textbook;
  • how Tres Columnae materials can fit with what my colleagues are already doing and save them some time and effort; and
  • why they might decide to participate, or have some or all of their students do so.

If time permits, we should also be able to work together to create a Submission – or at least parts of one. I can see the session in my mind, but I’m eager to see it play out in real life.  I’m working hard to make sure that there’s alignment, connection, and core purpose – and that these will be clear to all the participants.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time, when we’ll relate the theme of floors, ceilings, and building – not to mention today’s themes of alignment, connection, and purpose – to a brand-new Tres Columnae Project story in which somebody is trying, rather unsuccessfully, to build something. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 12, 2010 at 11:18 am  Comments (1)  
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dies lustricus

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll attempt to wrap up the themes of this week’s posts, which have included

As I made this list, I realized that everything related, somehow or other, to the theme of new birth and new beginnings. Changes in practice are obviously a kind of new birth, especially when teachers adapt or even eliminate practices that we’ve used for years or decades. Paulla’s decision and the lesson structure I described in Thursday’s post are also, in very different ways, examples of a major change and a new beginning. Even though I created the character of Paulla, I realize I don’t know why she decides to go and help. Does she feel some responsibility for the death of Tertius? Is she moved by Lollia’s pleas? Is she just glad to get some money from Lollius? Does she have a sense of professional obligation that overrules her economic calculations? Did she, perhaps, lose a child of her own? Does she identify with Maccia for some other reasons? We don’t know; we just know that she does, in fact, go and help with the delivery … and she seems to be a lot happier than her typical dour, cynical self as a result.

Perhaps that’s a message for all of us about the importance of giving back when you feel down and discouraged, as Paulla definitely is at the start of this story. Like many teachers, I love the summer months, but the lack of structure for my days and weeks can sometimes take a toll on me – even though I’m careful to set up other, self-imposed structures and tasks. This summer, of course, those tasks have largely related to the Tres Columnae Project. It’s really helped to know that we’re creating something that Latin teachers all over the world can freely use, and it’s an even greater help to know that we’re building a community of learners as well as a set of learning materials. So, to all of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī who are part of the Tres Columnae community, grātiās maximās iterum!

Of course, the Tres Columnae Project is by no means the only way to learn Latin. There are all kinds of textbooks and other materials out there, and depending on your needs, you might find one of them to be a better fit for you, your students, or your learning goals. For example, check out this Latin-BestPractices post for a venerable and highly successful programmed-learning approach available both in book form and on CD-ROM.

As I think about the wider community of Latin teachers and learners, I’m always impressed by the thoughtfulness and generosity we tend to show each other. But one thing has been bothering me this week – especially when I read and reflect on the thoughtful things that Latin teachers say to each other on the various lists I subscribe to. For the most part, our hard-won professional knowledge is locked up in our own heads and in our own classrooms. Yes, we share our ideas, strategies, and materials freely when asked, and we ask, quite vocally, when we need help. But still, a new teacher joining our world has so little access to the “tricks of the trade”! Things are certainly better now than they were before the advent of the Internet; at least a young, overwhelmed teacher can now look for help from colleagues online! And if that young teacher knows where to look, there’s even a consensus about what beginning teachers ought to know and be able to do by the end of their first few years of practice. There are, of course, some wonderful books for beginning teachers: Harry Wong’s First Days of School, Fred Jones’s Tools for Teaching, Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion, just to name a few. (These are actually for all teachers, young or “young at heart” – but they’d be especially useful for young teachers who are struggling to survive.) Unfortunately, though, there’s not a collection of content-specific daily survival strategies – things like how to implement differentiated lessons in a Latin class, as Magistrastein noted on Wednesday, or how to reconcile the anti-homework movement with a concern that language learners need more practice than class time allows, as Magistrastein mentions in this blog post. Not that there’s a single right answer for any of these! But there are a lot of good, hard-won answers … and new teachers don’t usually have access to them.

I’ve often said in this space that you can’t directly transfer Understandings, but you can help learners (including new teachers) develop them – and you can definitely help them develop their teaching Knowledge and Skills. I’ve been trying to figure out how the Tres Columnae Project might help with that, but I’m really not sure. quid mihi suādētis, lectōrēs cārissimī?

So much to think about, and so much on the horizon! But sometimes that leaves us in a “hurry up and wait” state. So perhaps it’s fitting that we close the week with this story, which you can now find here on the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like. Little Quartus, of course, has to wait the requisite eight days to be named; his brother Caius had to wait to see him; and there’s a lot of other waiting that goes on, as you’ll see:

quārtō diē post Quārtum nātum, familia Valeria Herculāneum regreditur. Cāius laetus ad cēnāculum currit. “quam mīrābilis est urbs Mediolānum!” exclāmat. Cāius cēnāculum ingreditur et, “heus! quid est? num īnfāns iam adest?” attonitus rogat. Maccia Quārtum īnfantem tollit et “ecce frāter tuus!” inquit. Cāius attonitus et laetissimus ōsculum īnfantī summā cum cūrā dat. tum grātiās maximās dīs omnibus agit et “heus!” exclāmat, “mihi ad domum Valeriī statim regrediendum est! nōnne patrōnus noster hunc nūntium optimum audīre dēbet?”

familia Valeria quoque laetātur, et Valerius ipse Lolliō epistulam mittit. “mī cliēns cārissime,” inquit, “tē decet diem lustricum nōbīscum celebrāre. nōlī timēre; mē decet omnia parāre, quod familia tua mihi cordī est.”

nōnā diē post Quārtum nātum, diem lustricum celebrat familia Lollia. Lollius cum Cāiō Lolliāque scālīs dēscendit et per viās ad domum Valeriī celeriter contendit. Maccia Quārtum īnfantem manibus fert. Lollius iānuam domūs pulsat et Milphiō per faucēs festīnat iānuam apertum.

in ātriō domūs tōta familia Valeria cum augure adventum Lolliōrum exspectat. Valerius ipse Lollium amplectitur et, “nōnne Fortūna tibi favet?” laetus exclāmat. tum omnēs ad peristylium prōgrediuntur. Maccia Quārtum in mediō peristyliō dēpōnit. Lollius ipse crepundia collō pōnit et pompam dūcit. tum bullam quoque collō pōnit et omnēs vehementer plaudunt. “fēlīciter! fēlīciter!” exclāmant omnēs. Lollius sacrificia rīte offert, et omnēs vōta precēsque dīs omnibus offerunt.

tum augur caelum spectat ōmina cognitum. “heus!” exclāmat, “nōnne aquila ad dextram nunc iam volat! ōmina optima dī fīliō tuō dant!” Lollius augurī grātiās maximās agit et sacculum pecūniā plēnum trādit.

tum Gallicus ē culīnā, “nōnne epulae optimae sunt parātae?” exclāmat. omnēs laetī ad triclīnium festīnant epulās optimās ēsum. Lollius manūs Valeriō prēnsat et, “ō mī patrōne,” inquit, “laetissimus tibi grātiās maximās agō, quod tantō honōre familiam meam afficis!”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in on Monday, when we’ll shift gears yet again and look at an entirely different part of the Tres Columnae Project. But we may find a few recurring themes as so many new things continue to be born. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

A Missing Character?

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs!  And grātiās maximās to our faithful reader Rebecca, who mentioned this post from February in a recent message to the Oerberg listserv about impersonal verbs.  I thanked her there, but I want to acknowledge her publicly … and to welcome any new lectōrēs fidēlissimī who have found the blog because of her post.  There’s an interesting conversation going on there at the moment; more about it in tomorrow’s post.

Just to repeat one point I made there: one of the primary purposes of the Tres Columnae Project is to build a large collection of “extensive” reading material – stories that a Latin learner can read quickly, independently, and confidently without much guidance from a teacher or other authority figure.  Extensive reading builds speed, confidence, fluency, and what we call Ownership of the learning process … and we think that’s absolutely vital.  If you’re just joining us, I’d like to invite you to check out the information about Who We Are and learn more about our Core Beliefs.  You might also be curious about why we call ourselves a Joyful Learning Community.

If you’ve looked at the very beginning of the Tres Columnae Project, the stories that introduce the Valerii, the Lollii, and the Caelii in Lectiō Prīma and Lectiō Secunda, you may have noticed that all three of the primary families appear to have 3 children:

  • Valerius and Caelia have Valeria, Lucius, and Caeliola
  • Caelius and Vipsania have Prima, Secunda, and Cnaeus
  • Lollius and Maccia have Caius, Lollia, and … Quārtus īnfāns?

But why hasn’t Quārtus appeared in any of our existing stories? You may have wondered that … and so did our amazing illustrator Lucy when she was developing the illustrations for the familiae. As it turns out, little Quartus is a – what’s the opposite of a flashback? A flash-forward? A prolepsis? A not-yet?

Anyway, at the narrative time of Lectiō Prīma, Quartus is still on the way; he’ll actually be born in Lectiō XVI, along with all the animal babies in this story of Ferox and Medusa’s puppies and this one of Ridiculus and Impigra’s baby mice.

This week we’ll focus on little Quartus, and on the related issue of his brother Tertius, who (as it turns out) died young as so many Roman babies did. Infant mortality is a sad thing for us to think about (especially for me as a parent), but it was certainly a fact of life in the Roman world – and throughout the world well into the “modern” age. My own grandfather was one of three brothers who survived to adulthood, all born between 1904 and 1910, but there were at least two other siblings who died in infancy.

And yet, common as it was, infant mortality seems to be another cultural issue that most Latin textbooks don’t address. I’m not sure whether it’s because they don’t want to offend or upset young children who might be using the textbooks, or whether there’s just a desire to gloss over the less-pleasant aspects of Roman society. Of course, most introductory Latin textbooks don’t have very many strong female characters, and that may be another reason for their silence about this “women’s” issue. I don’t think the reasons are actually all that important, though.

Regardless of the cause, while infant mortality is certainly mentioned in “cultural background” essays, it rarely appears in the actual core stories of most Latin textbooks. But, as with the other “unmentionable” features of Roman culture that we’ve addressed in Tres Columnae Project stories, I really think we do a disservice to our learners if we don’t at least give them an opportunity to think about infant mortality. If the topic is too sensitive, or too painful, for a given group of readers, we encourage them – and their teachers, if it’s a school-based group – to create an ITER through the materials that meets their need and avoids topics that are unnecessarily painful. But in general, we want to give as full and accurate a picture as we can, and sometimes that includes some potentially painful topics.

Anyway, we’ll begin our series about little Quartus (who does survive, as we’ll discover) with this story from Lectiō XVI, in which his arrival is imminent and his father is praying for a safe delivery. This is the only story that features little Tertius, and it’s hardly essential to the plot. So if your learners would be disturbed or saddened by him, it’s one you can safely skip. For the rest of us, though, here we go:

dum Cāius Lollius cum familiā Valeriā urbem Mediolānum iter facit, Maccia et Lollia in cēnāculō cūnās parant. Maccia enim partūrīre parat. laeta est Maccia, quod fīlium secundum Lolliō suō dare valdē cupit. anxia tamen et trīstis est, quod īnfantem Tertium, duōbus ante annīs nātum, memōriā tenet. Tertius īnfāns pulcher sed aeger erat. febrēs et tussēs maximī saepe eum afflīgēbant. novem mēnsēs nātus, Tertius mortuus est. Maccia cotīdiē Tertium suum flet et saepe ad sepulcrum contendit precātum et dōna datum. Lollius quoque Tertium suum saepe tacitē flet.

hodiē Lollius ante prīmam hōram surgit et ad sepulcrum ipse contendit flētum. quamquam Lollius ipse pauper est, inter māiōrēs erant nōnnūllī virī dīvitēs. magnum igitur et splendidum est sepulcrum Lolliōrum. extrā mūrōs urbis Herculāneī stat, et multās urnās tenet. in urnīs sunt cinerēs Lolliōrum mortuōrum. prope sepulcrum stat āra, ubi Lolliī sacrificia precēsque Dīs Mānibus offerre solent. hodiē māne Lollius ipse ad āram stat. mātrem, māterterās, aviam, et omnēs mulierēs iam mortuās adloquitur. “quaesō, ō mortuae,” inquit, “uxōrem meam aspicite et eī partum facilem dā!” tum Lollius urnam parvam cōnspicit et lacrimīs ululātibus sē trādit. urnam manibus suīs tenet et Tertium, īnfantem suum, adloquitur. “mī īnfāns,” inquit, “utrum mē audīre potes annōn? utrum īnfantēs quoque auxilium ferre possunt annōn? quaesō autem, amābō tē, sī haec potes, parentēs cum frātre et sorōre aspice et nōbīs favōrem deum conciliā! nōnne māter tua nunc iam partūrīre parat? quaesō, amābō tē, mātrem tuam aspice et eī partum facilem dā!” Lollius Mānēs māiōrum iterum adloquitur et eīs quoque sacrificia vōtaque offert.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • I suppose Lollius, like any good Roman, was probably praying for another son (who could carry on the family name and bring some money into the family through marriage) rather than a daughter (who would require an expensive dōs down the road), but he doesn’t say so. Do you think he should?
  • I asked a few lectōrēs fidēlissimī about the depiction of Roman religion in this story, and the general consensus was that
    • we know very little about what everyday Romans actually did and believed;
    • “Roman religion” is a monolithic term for what was actually a very diverse set of practices and beliefs; and
    • it’s probably impossible to reconstruct “authentic” Roman beliefs and practices in any case.
  • What do you think about that? How important is reconstruction of authentic Roman beliefs and practices to you?
  • Looking at the story itself, I was aiming to acknowledge the reality of infant mortality without dwelling on it excessively. How well do you think this story accomplishes that goal?
  • Do you find any new insights into Lollius, as a character, from this story?
  • Is there anything else you wish you knew about him, or about the family?
  • What other questions about the story do you have?

Tune in next time, when Lollius’ wife Maccia sends for the midwife, as Quartus’ arrival is imminent. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on July 19, 2010 at 10:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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More about Casina, VI

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I closed Friday’s blog post with a number of questions about that day’s featured story from the Tres Columnae Project, in which the lemur of Casina’s īnfāns mortuus appears to her in somniīs as she’s riding home from her visit to the templum Bonae Deae. I wondered how you lectōrēs fidēlissimī felt about such issues as

  • the quotation from Vergil by the lemur;
  • the difference in tone between this and Casina’s other somnia about the lemur;
  • the terrifying image of the dominus īrātus at the end of the somnium;
  • Casina’s silence about a very similar situation she witnessed in this story; and
  • possible causes for Casina’s morbus in twenty-first-century terms.

I also promised that we’d

consider how questions like these are related to a Joyful Learning Community where Choice and Ownership are important.

I’m not sure about answers to any of the questions I raised yesterday – but I think the questions, and others like them, are intriguing. I encourage you (and all our participants) to pursue the ones that are meaningful and relevant to you. And that’s where Choice and Ownership become very important! At Tres Columnae, we feel very strongly that deep learning requires the learner to grow in Knowledge, Skill, and Understanding – and so we provide lots of ways for our learners to do that. On the other hand, the very nature of the Tres Columnae Project is such that you don’t have to pursue any individual question if you don’t want to.

  • If you’re an independent learner, you can choose the areas of the project you want to explore without any interference from anyone.
  • Even if you’re a school-based learner, you can choose your personal areas of focus.
  • And of course, if you’re a teacher, you can suggest an ITER through the material for your students – or, if you prefer, you can step back and help them find their own way through.

Over time, we hope you’ll engage with the issues that are most meaningful to you, not the ones that we dictate to you; we’re building a Joyful Learning Community, not a Standardized Learning Factory here.

At the same time, though, no single community is perfect for everybody, and that’s OK. As our lector fidēlissimus pointed out in that email I quoted the other day, communities do develop behaviors, languages, and other norms that both shape and express the values of their participants. A participant whose values don’t fit with the behaviors, languages, and norms of a given community probably won’t want to join that community. For example, when I was a young teacher, I avoided one group of colleagues during lunch; their interests (the soap operas they’d taped and watched yesterday, and the complaints about “those kids” and “those administrators” they liked to share) were very different from mine. Rather than make everybody unhappy, I chose to sit at a different lunch table … and that was fine with everybody! Community is a complicated thing, and its borders can shift in different circumstances. I did enjoy the members of that lunch-table community in different settings – for example, in staff-development sessions, when they usually had interesting, thoughtful perspectives about teaching. We just liked to talk about different stuff over meals!

And that concept of Community, with all its complications, is critical to the plot of today’s story, in which poor Casina is asked to reveal her dream to her dominus. No doubt she has many reasons to be afraid. And yet, as we’ll see in today’s story – which you can also find here on the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like – Casina does, in fact, tell Valerius about the dream:

in ātriō domūs Claudiī Pulchrī, Valerius et Lūcius reditum fēminārum exspectant. subitō clāmor extrā iānuās domūs oritur. mox servī per faucēs contendunt iānuās aperītum. per iānuās ingrediuntur Caelia et Valeria cum Casinā. lectīcāriī lectīcam umerīs tollunt et per angiportum ad postīcum ferunt.

Caelia et Valeria per faucēs contendunt et ātrium celeriter ingrediuntur. Casina lentē eās sequitur, quod fessa et anxia est. in ātriō Valerius uxōrem fīliamque salūtat. tum anxius, “uxor mea,” inquit, “quaesō, rem mihi nārrā. quid Casinae sacerdōs suadet? utrum herbae remedium afferunt annōn?”

Caelia sollicita marītō rem tōtam nārrat. tum Casinam arcessit et, “Casina mea,” inquit, “nōnne tē decet somnium dominō patefacere?” Casina perterrita paulīsper tacet. mox tamen Valerium adloquitur et somnium tōtum nārrat. anxia et sollicita est ancilla, quod dominī servōs, quī morbōs simulant, ferōciter pūnīre solent. Valerius tamen, “heus!” exclāmat, “sine dubiō dī ipsī tibi haec somnia mittunt! nōnne sacerdōs tē iubet in īnsulā Aesculapiī hodiē vespere dormīre? nōs decet mandātīs sacerdōtis sapientis pārēre.”

Casina anxia, “ō domine,” respondet, “hōs multōs annōs tibi fidēliter serviō. grātiās quoque maximās tibi agō, quod mihi remedia comparāre iam temptās. mē tamen oportet tē hoc rogāre: vīsne mē, aegram et inūtilem, līberāre? nōnne servī, quōs dominī in illā īnsulā relinquunt, aut perīre aut lībertī fierī solent?”

Valerius, “vae tibi, Casina nostra,” exclāmat, “num tē ita relinquere volō? num Caelia haec vult? num Valeria? haud tē oportet sōlam in īnsulā dormīre! nōnne Lūcius noster tē comitārī potest? sī tamen lībertātem cupis, nōnne tē līberāre possum?”

Casina “ō mī dominē!” exclāmat, “quam benignus es! nōnne optimus es omnium dominōrum Rōmānōrum?” ancilla Valerium amplectitur et lacrimīs sē trādit.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of Valerius’ offer to Casina? Is it “Roman enough” for you, or do you think he should be less generous?
  • What about Casina’s reaction? Is it “over the top,” or does it strike you as authentically Roman?
  • Why on earth did I claim that this story is an illustration of Community?
  • And finally, what do you want to happen? Do you want Casina to be free, or do you want her to remain a very loyal and grateful ancilla?

In a previous series of posts featuring this story from Lectiō XII, we actually experimented with having participants choose their own ending for a story. What did you think of that approach? And do you think it would work well here?

Tune in Monday, when we’ll turn our attention to a different part of the Tres Columnae Project and look at an entirely different sequence of stories. We’ll see if the themes overlap, and we’ll also find out about a “mystery character” whose very existence seems to be in doubt! intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on July 17, 2010 at 1:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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More about Casina, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! It was good to hear from several lectōrēs fidēlissimī by email about the idea of the I, they, and we aspects of teaching and learning. (If you come from a religious tradition that uses the Revised Common Lectionary, you probably heard the parable of the Good Samaritan last Sunday, and that may have sparked some of your thoughts about community – we, rather than I or they – as it did for me.) We’ll actually explore more issues of community and identity in today’s featured story – and, like the wounded man in the parable, we (and our characters) may find community in some pretty unlikely places, though I hope we won’t suffer the kind of rejection by “our own” community that he faces.

First, though, I’d like to deal with an issue I meant to raise in yesterday’s post, but postponed until today so the post wouldn’t become excessively long … and also because writing about I, they, and we took a lot of emotional energy! That issue, which you’ve probably guessed if you read yesterday’s featured story, was the way that Latin teachers and textbooks relate to various kinds of violence in the ancient world. As I think about the Latin textbooks I know best, they certainly make it plain that Rome was a violent place: there are lots of violent stories from Roman history and from mythology, and of course there are scenes of slaves being beaten and of spectācula in the amphitheater. But it’s not all that common to mention crucifixion – even though crucified criminals were a fairly common sight along Imperial roads.

Why this silence about crucifixion, I wonder? Perhaps some textbook authors are understandably squeamish – after all, crucifixion was certainly one of the most painful and horrible methods of execution ever devised. Others may not want to bring up the obvious and unavoidable connections to Christianity, fearing that their books might not sell as well. But I really don’t think we do justice to the whole picture of the Roman world without considering the public display of executions, both in the arena and on crosses. In both case, there’s an obvious show of state power, and an obvious belief that public executions will serve as a deterrent to others who might commit similar crimes … and yet, in both cases, there was a continuing supply of victims! Does that mean that public executions did or didn’t work as a deterrent? I’m not sure that we can know – especially since we don’t have access to Imperial Roman crime statistics, and in any case we can’t use our local time machine to go back and do a controlled trial in different parts of the Roman world. But that issue is one that might fruitfully be discussed with a group of learners, depending on their interests and maturity.

And that raises yet another issue: how old, or how mature, should young learners be before we introduce them to the ugly realities of the ancient world?   If you’re producing a conventional textbook, one where all the learners will, ipso facto, be expected to read all the stories and do all the exercises, that question alone might cause you to leave out the Romans’ penchant for violent public executions. After all, you might lose sales to programs for younger learners – and rightfully so! But with the Tres Columnae Project, that is much less of an issue. There are more stories than most teachers or students would probably want to read, so you have a choice … and as a teacher, you might well want to make some choices for your learners, especially if you work with younger children or with families who have special requirements. We’ll be designing ITINERA through the materials for that purpose, and we invite you to create – and share – your own ITER or multiple ITINERA too. And if you like parts of a story, but think other parts are too violent or “too too” in some other way, we’ll invite you to create a Submission that keeps the parts you like and eliminates the ones you find objectionable. Just try that with your local textbook!

Anyway, in today’s story, which you can now find here at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site, the Valeriī and Caeliī have finally arrived at Rome, and Valerius expects to need a hotel room. There’s a bit of a conflict when he discovers that Caelius has made other arrangements:

post longum iter familia Valeria urbem Rōmam advenit. “nōbīs necesse est,” inquit Valerius, “tabernam nōtissimam invenīre, ubi manēre et quiēscere possumus.” Caelius tamen attonitus, “mī Valerī!” exclāmat, “num mē, quī senātor sum Rōmānus, decet in tabernā manēre? nōs oportet cum Claudiō Pulchrō, quī cōnsōbrīnus uxōris meae est, manēre. nōnne Claudius vir optimī ingeniī et multae pecūniae est? nōnne amīcus et hospes vīcīnī tuī, illīus Flavius Caesōnis? Claudius autem nunc iam nōs exspectat.”

Valerius, quī Claudium haud amat, nihilōminus cōnsentit, quod Claudius ipse prope portum urbis stat. lectīca maxima, quam octō servī ferunt, quoque adest. Claudius Valerium cōnspicit et “heus! mī Valerī!” clāmat. “nōnne mē decet hospitium tibi et Caeliō praebēre? dīc mihi, amīce, quis fēminārum tuārum nunc aegrōtat? num uxor tua? num fīlia?”

Caelius haec interpellat: “mī Claudī, Valerius noster hoc tam longum iter facit, quod ancilla aegrōtat.” Claudius attonitus manūs Claudiō prēnsat et “ancilla?” susurrat. “num ancilla – in lectīcā meā – Caelī, cūr nōn –?”

Valerius īrātus interpellat, “mī Claudī, tacē et audī! ancilla enim mea, cum aegrōtat, in somniīs imāginem īnfantis mortuī semper videt et audit. nōnne portentum horribile? Rōmae adsum, quod pietās ipsa mē cōgit. mē enim decet cāsūs ruīnāsque ā familiā meā āvertere!”

Claudius, quī dīs portentīsque haud crēdit, sēcum rīdet, sed tandem, “mī Valerī, tē valdē laudō,” inquit, “quod vir summae pietātis es. nonne ego, quī sacerdōs ipse sum, tē adiuvāre possum? omnēs enim sacerdōtēs, quī in hāc urbe habitant, nōtissimī mihi sunt. facile est tibi cum illīs colloquī; facile est cūram ancillae invenīre et portentum āvertere.”

Valerius laetus cōnsentit. Caelia cum Valeriā et Caeliōlā lectīcam cōnscendit; Casina perterrita quoque cōnscendit. Vipsānia cum Prīmā et Secundā cōnscendit. lectīcāriī summā cum difficultāte lectīcam tollunt et per viās urbis lentē prōgrediuntur. Valerius et Caelius cum līberīs lectīcae sequuntur. Claudius ipse cum decem servīs agmen dūcit. in animō verba Valeriī volvit et cachinnibus rīsibusque sē trādit. “heus!” inquit, “quam stultus et rūdus est iste, quī dīs ita crēdit!”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • How might you approach the social-class issues inherent in this story?
  • Would it make a difference if you were working with very wealthy students (who might identify with Caelius), with very poor students (who might identify with Casina and the colōnī), or with a socioeconomically mixed group?
  • What about Claudius’ attitude towards dīs portentīsque, even though he is sacerdōs ipse?
  • How do you suppose Valerius would have responded if he’d heard Claudius’ closing words?
  • Or for that matter, do you think Valerius himself believes what he said to Claudius about the portentum? Or are both of them playing their parts, saying the “right” words and hedging their bets just in case there really are listening, thunderbolts in hand?

Tune in next time, when the search for Casina’s cure begins in earnest. We may or may not find out the answers to some of these questions! intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus. Thanks again for becoming part of the “we” that is the Joyful Learning Community of the Tres Columnae Project.