More Quality and Quantity, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! It’s a week of beginnings and endings in my face-to-face teaching world: the end of a grading period, the beginning and end of midterm exams, the departure of some students whose families are moving. It’s a time for taking stock and reflecting … and it’s also been a very up-and-down week. Monday afternoon I felt as though I’d been completely unsuccessful with three students in particular, and yet, by the end of the day on Tuesday, things seemed to have turned around for at least two of them. I also had wonderful, positive conversations with the mothers of those two. They both continued to have some struggles (and, at times, to be extremely unpleasant to me and their classmates) for the rest of the week. But as I write this on a sunny, cool Friday morning (the first day of a three-day weekend in my face-to-face teaching world), I feel more hopeful about the two of them than I have in a very long time.

The experience of midterm exams in my face-to-face classes is often a bitter learning experience for my less-responsible, less-mature students – the ones who haven’t yet taken Ownership of their learning in particular. They certainly have wake-up calls along the way in the form of smaller, more targeted assessments … but those can be easy to ignore. As you know if you’re a long-time lēctor fidēlissimus, I have some reservations about large, summative assessments in general – but if they’re going to happen (and, by policy of my face-to-face school district, they’re required), I want them to be a real learning experience and a real indicator of my students’ progress with all the Knowledge, Skills, and Understandings they’ve developed at the half-way point in their courses. The sober faces – and the false bravado that some of my students like to put on as a mask – were good indicators that this year’s exams achieved both goals. I’ve looked at them, but am waiting until later today (or possibly tomorrow morning), over a cup of coffee or tea, to do the actual marking and grading. If it were just a bit less windy, I’d sit outside in the late fall sun … but wind and exam papers don’t mix well! I’d also have a very disappointed dog if I were outside and he were stuck inside – and a very difficult time concentrating if he were outside with me.

Of all weeks, exam periods really bring out the industrial side of factory-model schools. The very existence of a midterm or final examination implies the kind of post-production quality control I mentioned in Monday’s post, of course. And since factory-model schools are all about attendance and seat time, my poor students are stuck at school all day – even when some of their teachers have “nothing” for them to do. After years of schooling, they’ve come to expect such wasted time … so much so that they often resent being asked to “do work” on such days. I was able to find an engaging – and utterly different and self-contained – learning opportunity for them yesterday, the “makeup exam” day, but it was a painful struggle. There were several times I felt like the foreman at a factory where the workers were about to strike … or maybe the vīlicus on a Roman farm where the servī were considering rebellion! 🙂 My hope is that within a few years, schools (and assessment techniques) will change to the point that this paragraph seems hopelessly quaint and outdated! And I hope that the continuous assessment model at the heart of the Tres Columnae Project will help to lead the way.

But in a time of huge changes and shifts across society, it’s hard to know what aspects of any institution will need to change and what will need to stay the same. Is it more difficult, or just different, I wonder, when the institution is a school? Like all institutions, schools are fundamentally a conservative, restraining force – and what’s more, they (I should say “we”) exist, at least in part, in order to maintain the social order, to socialize young members of society into their “expected” or “proper” roles. That can be difficult, to say the least, when the social order is changing! And it’s always difficult to find the right balance of structure and freedom or opportunity for young people who are on the cusp of adulthood, but not quite there yet … especially when they make poor choices, or when they abuse the freedoms or opportunities that are provided for them.

When I was first planning the Tres Columnae Project, it seemed to me that a self-paced, collaborative learning environment would make it easier to strike the right balance between structure and freedom or opportunity for our learners and subscribers. After all, unlike a student in a factory-model school, a Tres Columnae subscriber presumably

  • comes to us by choice rather than by compulsion;
  • is free to work at his or her own pace, rather than at a “forced march” dictated externally;
  • can linger over difficult or intriguing points until his or her curiosity is satisfied; and
  • can become a co-creator, not just a consumer, of the learning materials by making Submissions to the project.

But just as my own face-to-face students sometimes make poor choices and abuse their freedoms and opportunities, the same is certainly possible for Tres Columnae subscribers … and for participants in any learning environment. What structures might we want to put in place to help them? Or is the process of making – and learning from – poor choices an essential part of growing up?

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time for more – and for an exciting preview of Version Beta of the Tres Columnae Project. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on October 29, 2010 at 2:30 pm  Comments (1)  
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What about Passive Verbs?

salvēte, sodālēs!  grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus!  Today, as promised, I want to share some ideas about the introduction of passive verbs other than the modus inpersōnālis. In my original draft, I had delayed these until Lectiō XLI (midway through Cursus Secundus), largely because that’s where they’re often introduced in both grammar-translation and reading-method approaches to the the language. There’s nothing sacred about that point, and I haven’t begun writing the stories for Lectiō XLI.

But I wondered what you all think about passives. After all, you’re the core of the community, and you (and your students) will have a lot of Ownership of the project as you begin to use it.   How soon, after the introduction of deponents (Lectiō VI) and the inpersōnālis (XI), would it make sense to start seeing passive verbs that do have subjects – or, for that matter, passive verbs that aren’t third-person singular?

I thought about a place mid-way through Cursus Prīmus, where there’s currently a lot of plot development but not much “new grammar.” (Lectiōnēs XIII through XVII, where our characters will make a trip to see a chariot race and make final arrangements for a marriage.)  But I’m not sure, so I want to ask my favorite experts … and the community … and the potential subscribers.

So you know, I’ve posted a table that summarizes my current vision for introducing “grammar” and “culture” elements throughout the 30 Lectiōnēs of Cursus Prīmus over at the Tres Columnae site – you can click here for a direct link. Remember, if you’d like to comment over there, you can register for a free subscription. For you lectōrēs fidēlissimī who just prefer to read the blog, here are the highlights for “Grammar”:

  • Concept of nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech in Lectiō I
  • Nominative and genitive case, and declension patterns (all 5) in Lectiō II
  • Ablative case in prepositional phrases in Lectiō III
  • Accusative case in Lectiō IV
  • More about verbs (“normal” and deponent) and their principal parts (especially first-person singular and infinitive) in Lectiō V
  • Second-person singular verbs, imperatives, and vocatives in Lectiō VI
  • Plural nouns and verbs, and a bit about adjectives in Lectiōnēs VII-XI
  • Demonstratives in Lectiō X
  • modus inpersōnālis in Lectiō XII
  • Review and consolidation in Lectiōnēs XIII-XVIII (present passives might perhaps be introduced somewhere in here, and I also thought about present subjunctives, as we’ll see in an upcoming post)
  • Datives in Lectiō XIX (or should these come earlier?)
  • Imperfect and perfect tense verbs in Lectiōnēs XX-XXI (I really want to wait on non-present-tense verbs!  An excessively early introduction of other tenses seems to (1) confuse learners and (2) make them forget about the present tense.  Besides, Roman writers routinely used present tense (the “historical present”) for narration in any case.)
  • Pluperfect in Lectiō XXII
  • Future and future perfect in Lectiō XXIII
  • Relative clauses in Lectiō XXIV (we will have seen them for a while before this)
  • Ōrātiō oblīqua beginning in Lectiō XXV
  • Supines and gerundive purpose expressions in Lectiōnēs XXIX and XXX

As for “Culture,” we’ll focus on

  • Housing, social class, gender roles, and family life in Lectiōnēs I-VI
  • Schooling, including some mythology and history, in Lectiōnēs VII-XI
  • Entertainment (gladiators, chariots, theater) and slavery in Lectiōnēs XII-XVIII
  • Roman religion and life-transition rituals (marriage, adulthood, birth, death) in Lectiōnēs XIX-XXIV
  • The eruption of Vesuvius in Lectiōnēs XXV-XXX

A big part of culture, of course, is the Roman idea of virtūs.  So each Lectiō will address, in some ways, one or more of the big virtūtēs like dignitās, pietās, gravitās … all those untranslatable –tās words! 🙂  You can see a complete list here on the website, along with the grammatical and cultural elements in more detail.

quid putātis, amīcissimī?

  • How do you feel about this “big picture” overview?
  • How do you feel about the pacing?
  • Keep in mind that Tres Columnae is designed to be a self-paced system. So, if you’re a faster learner, you can proceed quickly; if you’re a slower learner, you can linger over things that seem difficult.
  • But, even so, is the pace too fast at the beginning?
  • Should we move some “consolidating” Lectiōnēs around, rather than having a block of them in the middle?
  • Should we try to introduce more forms – or fewer – in Cursus Prīmus?  (Keep in mind that the final product will be ever-evolving and web-based, so the twentieth-century idea of “textbook costs” is less of a factor.)
    • On the other hand, it wouldn’t be hard to produce a “book version” – or many book versions – if that’s what the community wants.
    • Since contributors retain rights to their “stuff,” that would also mean that you, the contributor, got a (very small) royalty for every “book version” sold.
  • You’ll probably notice that I’ve put “grammar” in quotes, and that all the “grammar” items I’ve mentioned are morphological rather than syntactic.
    • To what extent would you want Tres Columnae to talk about syntax?
    • And would you want us to use “traditional” terms (that is, the late-nineteenth-century grammarians’ terms)?
    • Or would you prefer the Romans‘ own terms from Priscian and Donatus?
    • Or the terms that linguists use?
    • Or some mixture?
  • And where do you think passives naturally “fit” in this schema? Or do they naturally “fit” after these things, somewhere in Cursus Secundus, as I’d originally believed?
  • And would you like to see a sample story with present passives from what I’m calling the “chariot-race trip” part of Cursus Primus?  If so, I can probably accommodate your requests early next week. 🙂

Tune in next time when we consider the subjunctive mood. Then, after a sample subjunctive story on Friday and Saturday, we’ll dive into a series of posts about a linguistic issue next week.  Verbal aspect (ongoing vs. completed action) receives very little attention in most grammar-translation approaches, where the focus is often on naming the forms and constructions rather than on the big-picture relationships.  It receives even less in most reading-method approaches, where the focus is often on comprehension rather than any form of analysis.  But, as we’ll see, aspect is really fundamental to the way the Latin verb system works. How might we make that clear to our learners without overwhelming them with terminology?

In the meantime, grātiās maximās iterum omnibus legentibus. And please keep those comments and emails coming! 🙂