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.

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Reading and Translating, Part II

salvēte iterum, amīcī – et, fortasse, nunc inimīcī!  If you find yourself in the inimīcus or even hostis category after the most recent post, I truly appreciate your continued interest in the project.  It’s hard to keep reading about stuff that you simply detest! 🙂  For those who are still amīcī, we’ll take a closer look in this post at why Tres Columnae won’t use a “pure” grammar-translation approach, even though we’ll certainly learn about Latin grammar (and even learn how to use it!) … and even though some tasks for our participants may well involve some translation.

For early language learners, though, I see two main problems with a grammar-translation approach: the grammatical analysis and the translating.  Both, I’m convinced, are higher-level tasks for which learners need to be prepared.

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, analysis is a very high-level task. On Bloom’s taxonomy, it’s near the top of the pyramid; in the Paideia framework, it’s firmly ensconced at the level of Understanding. But a beginning Latin student is often struggling with knowledge and comprehension – the base of Bloom’s pyramid.  It’s one thing to read and comprehend a sentence like these, from early in Cursus Prīmus of Tres Columnae:

Milphiō est servus Valeriī.  servus in faucibus stat et iānuam aperit.  Lollius est cliēns Valeriī, et Valerius est patrōnus Lolliī.  Lollius domum intrat et patrōnum salūtat.

A beginning Latin student could quite easily comprehend these sentences,and could certainly “translate” them if needed.  In fact, the beginning student could easily distinguish the nouns, or even the nominative or genitive nouns.  These are reasonable goals for a beginning Latin student.  But is it really reasonable to assume, as many “hard-core” grammar-translation teachers do, that students should be able to say and understand all this information about a word:

Valeriī, 2nd declension, genitive, singular, masculine, genitive of possession with servus

What if the student accidentally says “partitive genitive” instead?  Does this mean he or she doesn’t “know” Latin?  Now, at some point, it might be perfectly reasonable to ask a learner for all this information – but in Lectiō Tertia of Cursus Primus?  After the equivalent of a week or two of instruction?  I really don’t think so!

As for translation, it’s an even higher-level task than analysis.   Fundamentally, translation is an act of evaluation and creation – the highest level in both Bloom’s revised taxonomy and the Paideia framework. Translation may seem straightforward with a simple sentence like the ones above – and yet, what if the student says “Valerius is Lollius’ patron” rather than what the teacher wanted, which is “Valerius is the patron of Lollius”?  Was the student wrong?

But what about this one, from Eutropius’ Breviarium ab urbe condita VI.21, describing the last battle between Caesar and Pompey:

Pugnatum tamen est ingenti contentione victusque ad postremum Pompeius et castra eius direpta sunt.

How can we faithfully represent that impersonal passive verb pugnatum est?   And how can we deal with the position of tamen?  To translate literally, we’d have to say “it was, however, fought” – but that doesn’t mean, in English, what pugnātum tamen est means Latīnē. “A fight, however, occurred?” “Fighting, however, happened?” “There was, however, a fight?” “But they fought?”   All are possible translations; how to choose between them?

In the end, all translation choices involve aesthetic, artistic questions (which is why no two published, literary translations of anything are exactly the same).  And to make such judgments, the translator requires a high level of comfort and familiarity with both Latin and English – in other words, a high level of ownership of several disparate things: Latin grammar, English grammar, Latin syntax, English syntax, Latin prose style, English prose style, Latin vocabulary ….

And yet this Eutropius passage appears in at least one third-year high-school textbook.  Latin III students are perfectly capable of reading and understanding such a sentence, and they ought to be able to analyze it grammatically.  But is it really appropriate to ask them to “translate literally” something that, by its very nature, can’t be said in English?  Of course, the solution is usually to “have a note about it” or to omit that sentence from the literal-translation part of the test! 🙂  But whenever we do so, aren’t we admitting that “literal translation,” the One Right Way, isn’t always the right way – or even a possible way?

Part of the problem, I suppose, is that as a profession, we Classicists haven’t been clear about our goals, or about the level of understanding that our goals require. That lack of clarity is not unique to Classicists, by any means!   We teachers, as a group, tend to “teach as we were taught.” If we prepared written “literal” translations as Latin II or III students, we’re likely to ask our Latin II or III students to do the same, just as math teachers who completed 35 odd-numbered problems for homework every night are likely to ask the same of their students, or teachers who were made to “outline the chapter” assign that same task to their own students.

In each case, we assume “they’re learning something” – even though we’re not quite sure what that “something” is! In fact, we assume that our students “understand the passage because they can translate it” – or, conversely, that they don’t understand the passage because the can’t translate it to our liking! Yet our wise colleague Dexter Hoyos of the University of Sydney makes it one of his Ten Rules for Reading Latin that

RULE 5: If translating, translate only when you have seen exactly how the sentence works and what it means. Do not translate in order to find out what the sentence means. Understand first, *then* translate.

Another problem with “teaching as we were taught” is that we tend to exclude learners who aren’t like the “us” who do the teaching. In the case of that math teacher, students who quickly develop a conceptual understanding will grow bored and restless with those 35 odd-numbered problems, while those who need real-world applications will probably be lost at problem #1. In the case of the Latin teacher, think of all the students who might feel excluded:

  • those who read and understand quickly, but find written translation tedious
  • those who might understand the passage fairly well, but whose written English is non-standard, or not as developed as the teacher expects
  • those with visual-processing disabilities, or with dysgraphia or other muscle-control issues that make lengthy writing tedious
  • those who decide the task is pointless because they’ve already Googled the text and found a “literal” translation (or more than one, depending on the text. Just try it if you don’t believe me! Yes, the publishers will send a cease-and-desist order if it’s a textbook, but just wait: more “literal translations” will pop up, like mushrooms!  I dare you: Google a textbook title and the word “translation” – do it right now!  And let me know if you don’t get any results back!)

Yet Magister A and Magistra B, overwhelmed with multiple preparations, continue to teach as they were taught, perhaps pausing sometimes to wonder why their upper-level classes are so small – or why, when their students’ homework was “so good” (and so similar), the translation sections of tests are so poor. :-0

While Tres Columnae will not exclude translation as a tool, we think it’s been so overused, especially with beginning and intermediate level learners, that we’ll severely limit its use. From our perspective, there are a lot of ways to demonstrate understanding, on the one hand, and grammatical analysis, on the other. And so we aim to help our participants do one thing at a time, well, rather than many things, poorly, as so often happens when we ask students to “translate the passage.”

At least, that’s what we’ll aim to do. quid tamen respondētis, lēctōrēs cārissimī? If you’re a passionate devotee of translation – or if you feel it really is a superior technique for developing or testing understanding – I’d like to hear from you. For that matter, if you’re a passionate opponent of translation and feel it should be banned forever, I’d like to hear from you, too. I would not, however, like to sit between the two of you at dinner! 🙂

How exactly will Tres Columnae test understanding, on the one hand, and grammatical analysis, on the other, without translation? Ask a modern-language teacher if you know one, or take a look at many, many discussions about this issue on the Latinteach and Latin-BestPractices listservs. You can also find some clues in the previous blog posts where we previewed stories from Cursus Primus and Cursus Secundus. But in tomorrow’s post we’ll take a closer look at another sample story, and we’ll follow the whole process from pre-reading through reading and beyond.  Tune in tomorrow for more!