Just Wondering, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! And warmest Christmas wishes, for those lectōrēs fidēlissimī who celebrate the holiday. I left you yesterday with this question:

Say that you were a young doctor, lawyer, accountant, plumber, electrician, auto mechanic … you name it. At some point early in your training, you confront the critical issue of Where The Money Comes From. But young teachers usually don’t. Why? And how would the world be different if they did?

As I mentioned, I’ve been wondering about that for a few days … and I’m also wondering why I never wondered about it before! Perhaps things are different for my colleagues in private schools. After all, even if you don’t formally discuss the issue, it’s pretty clear Where The Money Comes From there: it comes from some combination of tuition revenues and endowment income, if the school is fortunate enough to have an endowment. When I was a young teacher, I certainly understood, in general, Where The Money Comes From to run American public schools: there’s a mixture of federal, state, and local tax dollars, a mixture that varies widely depending on where the school is located, among other factors. But no one ever sat down with me and explained the different “pots” of money and how they’re used – and how, by law, money normally can’t be moved from one “pot” to another. (I remember, years ago, when I was chair of the Foreign Language Department at a previous school, a colleague wanted to purchase a file cabinet with a special grant for “classroom supplies” – but he couldn’t, because file cabinets are “equipment,” not “supplies.” That was a difficult explanation! In the end, we did find some money for a file cabinet for him … but not in the “supplies” budget, of course.)

Those budgetary restrictions aren’t unique to public education, of course – if you’ve ever had anything to do with the operations of a nonprofit or a religious institution, you’ve probably run into similar, possibly even more baffling restrictions. But the staff and board members of nonprofits, churches, and other religious organizations get some training or explanation about the restrictions … or, if they don’t, the results are unfortunate. Why is it, then, that the details of schools’ operating budgets, the sources of the funds, and the restrictions on expenditures are so often kept secret? I can certainly understand that the details of some expenditures might be kept private … but schools are public institutions! And in most places in the United States, citizens have a right to inspect public records … so it’s not as though the budgetary details could really be kept secret forever. And most school administrators I know really don’t have any personal interest in keeping secrets, either. When the budgetary realities are understood, their teachers tend to make fewer unreasonable requests … and there are always plenty of unreasonable requests (and a few reasonable ones) coming across their desks in any case.

Why is it, then, that schools don’t routinely inform and train their teachers about Where The Money Comes From? I’m really not sure. I suppose, though, that it might be a vestige of the factory-model system; after all, in a twentieth-century manufacturing firm, why would you bother telling the assembly-line workers about the details of your firm’s annual budget and revenue forecast? That’s very far removed from their daily task of making widgets, and they probably neither know or care about such things anyway. That wasn’t a bad way to run a company in 1950 or even 1970, but in today’s turbulent economy, those production-line workers are very concerned about the company’s long-term prospects … and they often have very good ideas for cost savings when their managers ask them.

I have a feeling that the same would be true of schools, factory-model and otherwise: the people closest to the front lines know where certain money is well-spent and other funds are wasted.

For example, many teachers complain about the costs – both in money and in time – of adopting, ordering, inventorying, distributing, collecting, and accounting for textbooks, especially when the information in them is often outdated even before they’re printed … and especially when today’s learners find it difficult to relate to static words on a printed page. And I think of a former principal of mine, now long retired, who was convinced that all of his teachers needed two boxes of large paper clips and two boxes of small ones per year, no more and no less. One of my colleagues, a P.E. teacher, asked him point-blank what the P.E. department could possibly do with so many paper clips … and I think he finally realized that some teachers might need less than two boxes of each type of clip per year. That was well over a decade ago, when the factory model was much stronger than it is today … and when budgets in my face-to-face school district were much stronger than they are now.

One odd benefit of the Great Recession for learners and teachers, I think, has been the realization that Business As Usual is simply impossible. When everything is open for reconsideration, new ideas naturally emerge, and I hope that the Tres Columnae Project will help a lot of schools and teachers in this time of financial struggle. Not only can the Tres Columnae materials help teachers work “smarter, not harder,” as the old saying goes, but they can significantly reduce costs for textbooks, copy paper, photocopies, and the kinds of “supplementary materials” that teachers often buy to help a particular student. Unlike a hard-copy textbook, the Tres Columnae pages never wear out … and no one will vandalize them or tear them out of the (non-existent) book. No need to make copies, legal or otherwise; no need to spend hours grading and returning paper worksheets, only to watch students leave them on the floor under their desks. No way for organizationally-challenged students to lose things, either, since all their results are safely and securely stored online!

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What benefits can you see from giving teachers (and parents and students and other community members) more detailed information about Where The Money Comes From to operate their schools?
  • What disadvantages or concerns can you think of?
  • What do you think of the potential cost savings from something like the Tres Columnae Project?
  • What other benefits – or disadvantages – can you see?

Once again, I wish all lectōrēs fidēlissimī who celebrate the holiday a very Merry Christmas, and I thank you again for continuing to read … and for coming back even on those dreary November and December days when sickness and too-busy-ness kept me from posting regularly. grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

Published in: on December 24, 2010 at 3:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Just Wondering, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! In the words of the holiday song, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” … but I’d like to take “wonderful” in a slightly different direction in today’s post. Once I’ve been away from the daily grind of the factory-model school for a few days, I often find that I have time to wonder about things that I normally take for granted. So, today, we’ll take a look at a few of those wonders, and we’ll continue tomorrow (if all goes well) and after the Christmas holiday weekend.

Returning for a moment to yesterday’s final questions, I wonder:

  • Why my students and I are so exhausted at this half-way point of the school year;
  • Why we, the teaching profession, so frequently fall back on the way we’ve always done things even when there are better, more effective, less difficult practices available – like the regular pattern of rehearsal that I mentioned in yesterday’s post; and
  • Why, in times of budgetary disasters, educators don’t tend to look for more cost-effective ways to do things.

I also wonder if these three wonders are somehow connected! And I think they are.

One common thread is that idea of the way we’ve always done things. If you’re a long-time lēctor fidēlissimus of this blog, you know that always is a problematic word for me. Latin teachers, for example, tend to believe that the language has always been taught with grammar-translation methodology, even though that system is, historically speaking, a very recent development. School people, in general, assume that schools have always looked and operated pretty much the way they do now – or at least the way they did when we ourselves were students. But factory-model schools are also a fairly recent innovation; even the idea of one teacher delivering information to a group of learners passively seated in rows dates only to the establishment of the Prussian system in the late eighteenth century, as a friend of mine reminded me in a recent email. Before that, the schools that existed – and the teaching and learning situations in which most people obtained the knowledge, skills, and understandings that would guide their work and daily life – were very different places.

As I was writing this post, an email from eSchool News arrived in my in-box that described this “flipped” model of science and engineering education, in which students “watch lectures at home and practice in class.” I’ve only had time to skim the article so far, but I’m intrigued … and I think this system is very much in line with the way that the Tres Columnae Project would be used in a “blended” learning environment. What do you think?

One of the wonders I’ve been grappling with over the past few days has to do with the ways that we train teachers and school administrators … and, in particular, with a significant difference between the professional induction of young teachers and that of young members of other professions. There are obvious differences like the length of the induction process, the degree of supervision and guidance that young professionals receive, and the level of mastery that’s expected – but I’ve addressed those in other blog posts, and they’ve certainly been at the forefront of the national conversation about education. What I’m wondering about today is different:

Say that you were a young doctor, lawyer, accountant, plumber, electrician, auto mechanic … you name it. At some point early in your training, you confront the critical issue of Where The Money Comes From. But young teachers usually don’t. Why? And how would the world be different if they did?

I’ll leave you to ponder that question, and we’ll pick up with more about it – and why I think it’s important – in tomorrow’s post. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on December 23, 2010 at 4:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Returning to Life Again

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Once again, it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to write to you this way. In fact, I see that this is my first post for the month of December! As many of you know, December is a very difficult month in factory-model schools. Even if courses aren’t ending (or about to end in January, in our case), there’s still pressure to “get to the right place” before the Winter Break. And of course there are lots of interruptions to the routine – special holiday programs, field trips, and the like. They’re good for students, who need and deserve the opportunity to do a few “non-academic” things from time to time, but they’re hard on teachers, who have to plan around them. It’s also hard to readjust to the routine on a day when something “special” or “exciting” has happened.

In my face-to-face teaching world, where the semester ends (and new classes begin) in mid-January, December is also the time when I pledge to my students that “everything new” will have been “covered” or “introduced” before they leave for their Winter Break. This leads to a rapid pace during the earlier months of the school year – a pace that my students sometimes complain about at the time. By December, though, when they see that “everything new” really has been “covered” or “introduced” in their Latin classes, they tend to feel a lot more positive about the pace – especially when they compare the relative calm of our classes with the frantic forced march they experience in others. Yes, they’ll see a few new vocabulary words in January, and they’ll read a few new stories – but they won’t have to deal with any brand-new grammatical concepts, and they will have had plenty of time for the “older stuff” to sink in over their two-week vacation.

When I compare typical final-exam results on this schedule to those from the brief period when we did try to end the semester before the holidays, I’m amazed at how much better my students do when they take exams after a break. Of course, there’s a good bit of recent brain research about the importance of “rehearsal” for long-term memeory, and about the connection between “rehearsal” and adequate sleep. Check out this link from the California Department of Education for a good summary, and this fascinating one about the implications of the brain’s natural rhythms for when – and how often – you should review things you really want to transfer to long-term memory. How well are we doing with the kind of regularly spaced, intentional rehearsal described in that second link? And are we teachers showing our students why and how to do it?

I don’t think we are – and I think that’s a big cause of the exhaustion that teachers and students experience at this time of year. Even though I’ve been fascinated by The Brain for years – and even though I regularly teach my colleagues about “connections between Differentiated Instruction and the Brain” in that online staff-development course I teach for my face-to-face school district – I had never seen the recommendation to rehearse the day’s learning an hour or less before you go to bed, which features prominently in the California Department of Education link I mentioned in the paragraph above. I suppose we all have experienced the “mysterious” solutions that come to us, either in dreams or when we wake up, if we’ve been thinking about a problem right before we go to bed at night. But I’d never made the connection with learning – or with brain function! It’s amazing what adequate rest can do!

And yet, for so many students and teachers in factory-model schools, adequate rest during the regular school term is a distant hope at best. Students rush from class to class; they rush to each lunch; they rush to after-school events or jobs; they rush home for a rushed dinner; and they rush to complete homework assignments that their teachers rushed to prepare and will rush to discuss or grade the following day. Is it any wonder that so many students and teachers are exhausted so much of the time? Or that the levels of mastery and retention are less than we’d wish? I’m reminded of a sign that used to hang in the office of the wise, crusty old mechanic who maintained our family cars when I was a child. It said something to the effect of, “We can do things three ways: good, fast, and cheap. You can choose any two.” Sadly, I think too many schools choose fast and cheap, then wonder why the results aren’t as good as they could be.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Do you find that you (and your students, if you’re a teacher) are exhausted at this time of year?
  • What do you think of the brain-research findings we looked at in this post – especially the ones about regular rehearsal and about the rehearsal – sleep connection?
  • What are the implications for the ways that you teach and learn?
  • And what are the implications for the Tres Columnae Project?

Tune in next time, when we’ll take a closer look at these questions and raise a few others. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 2:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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More Quality and Quantity, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I’m sorry this post is a few hours later than usual today. It was a quiet, peaceful start to the weekend in my world, but it had been a very busy and tiring week … and it’s also the weekend before midterm exams in my face-to-face teaching world. And it was “Spirit Week” at school – always a tiring, if enjoyable, time – and an utterly beautiful Fall day today.

I was intrigued at all the connections with our conversation about qualitative and quantitative approaches to assessment that I’ve noticed over the past few days … and about the connections to students’ Ownership of their learning. For example, I spent a good bit of Friday afternoon on the phone with a very concerned parent of one of my Latin I students, who’s apparently been struggling with all of his classes this year. I had hoped to hear from this set of parents, as I’d been very concerned about their son as well: he’s one of those quiet, very respectful, but very disengaged kids who would “fall through the cracks” at many large schools … and, from talking with his mom, he had apparently been hoping to fall through the cracks with us, too. Fortunately for him (but unfortunately for his desire), he has very caring parents and a small school with caring teachers, so we’re now working on creating conditions where taking Ownership will be less painful for him than his current practice of refusing Ownership.

I had a real shock, though, when I looked up D’s current grades in his other classes and discovered just how badly he’d been doing there. If, as a profession, educators embraced the idea of qualitative assessment as we’ve defined it, all kinds of warning bells would have gone off weeks ago, when his grades began to decline. Think about it! If the purpose of assessment is to help teachers and learners, wouldn’t it have helped both D and his parents to know as soon as he started struggling? If we really lived in a qualitative world, I would have been in touch with them early this month, right around the time I got sick … or at least when I had recovered from that horrible, draining virus. But if we really lived in a qualitative world, I suppose there would be systems and procedures in place that allowed students, parents, and teachers to monitor their progress much more easily … and that notified everyone when students’ performance began to slip.

Unfortunately, American public education usually takes a quantitative approach, as we’ve defined the term, when it comes to assessment. We’re much more interested in crunching numbers – in seeing statistical patterns, on the macro level, and “averaging grades” on the micro level – than we are in using the information to help individual struggling learners. The more I think about that, the less I understand it. Even if we fully embraced the factory model, the purpose of quality assurance in a factory is to improve the production process, thus lowering costs and decreasing production defects. So, if an inspector at the local plant discovered that a significant number of widgets had a defect that could be traced to Step 43 on the production line, most companies would be paying some significant attention to Step 43, if only for economic reasons.

And yet, in the “education industry,” we develop all kinds of statistics – statistics about student performance, about the number of students proficient with a given objective, about the number of students who miss a particular question on tests we administer in our own classroom. And then we stop. We don’t change the data into information by acting on it! For example, I’ve noticed this year that my Latin I classes complete less homework on Wednesday nights than they do on other nights … and I stopped there, influenced by decades of a quantitative approach to such information.

In a qualitative world, I would have acted on this discovery somehow:

  • Perhaps I would have asked my students if they had a lot of outside commitments on Wednesdays.
  • Given their responses, I might have adjusted the amount of homework assigned on Wednesday evenings, or I might have worked with them on time-management skills.
  • I might have gone to my colleagues and seen if they were noticing a similar pattern.
  • I might even have contacted colleagues at other schools in the district to see if they were experiencing a similar issue.
  • But no … I just observed the information and recorded it!

The participants in that online staff-development course I teach have mostly reached our unit about “Assessing Your Assessment Approaches” as I write this post. It’s always an eye-opener for them. We don’t use the qualitative and quantitative terms, but we do stress the idea that the results of both formal and informal assessments aren’t a goal in themselves. Instead, the purpose of assessment is to find out how our learners are doing so that we can make changes, if necessary, in our instruction. We may need to speed up, slow down, divide into different groups, or whatever … but the purpose of assessment is to have a basis for our future actions. Anyway, one of “my” participants made the best comment in an assignment I just finished reading. She said she’d always resented the time it takes to develop, grade, and record tests and quizzes, but she now realizes that assessment is a “conversation” (her term) between the teacher and the learners.

A conversation between teacher and learners! What a great definition for assessment … and for education in general! I’m still pondering all the implications of that … and how we can build such a conversation into the heart of the Tres Columnae Project.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time, when we’ll continue to look at the implications of qualitative and quantitative assessment approaches … and we’ll also think more about assessment as conversation. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on October 23, 2010 at 7:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Continuity and Change, IV

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

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

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

grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

Published in: on September 23, 2010 at 10:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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Res Novae, V

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

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

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

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

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

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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

Published in: on September 14, 2010 at 9:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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Floors and Ceilings, VI

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! If you’re reading this post “live,” I’m probably on a brief trip to the nearest Apple Store to see about a battery-charging issue with my favorite-and-only daughter’s iPod. As I made my appointment (so painlessly! so quickly!) online yesterday, I was reminded of a lot of things I’ve read recently about enduringly great companies and the unique ways they find to retain and energize their customers. Even if, by some chance, the repair is more expensive than the simple battery replacement we expect, I’ll probably leave the store impressed and pleased with the service and support. In the same way, I look forward to seeing the genuinely happy server at a local restaurant who always wishes me a blessed day. It’s so important for businesses – and all other organizations that deal with people, including schools – to make customers feel valued and appreciated.

And yet so many organizations don’t even bother! We recently had an issue with our Internet service; it suddenly disappeared one evening last week, and no amount of restarting the modem would help. Next morning, it equally mysteriously had reappeared, and everything was fine. During the outage, I tried to call the company and see what was going on; after 15-20 minutes on hold each time, I had to do other things. Evidently they knew about the problem and were working on it – but they never told me. Earlier this year, I’d gone through a similar issue involving bad service by a professional firm I had used for years; that one seems to have ended much more happily, but it required a direct appeal to one of the managing partners, an appeal that many people probably wouldn’t have bothered to make.

And speaking of value … check out this remarkable blog post at Education Week, by a master music teacher in Michigan! And check out this blog from Edutopia for some low-cost suggestions to add technology to your classroom. (In all fairness to her, I must say that my face-to-face school district is utterly opposed to using donated computers in class, for reasons of security, but they do a great job of distributing donated computers to students who need one, but don’t have one at home.)

As the Joyful Learning Community of the Tres Columnae Project continues to grow, I want to make sure that we preserve that feeling of community – that sense that each member is important, valuable, even precious. We’ve been thinking about ways to enhance our community, and someone suggested a more private online space where Tres Columnae subscribers and supporters could interact with each other. Suggestions included

  • a private Ning, now that affordable, ad-free ones are available;
  • a Yahoo! group like the one that hosts Latin-BestPractices;
  • a special forum on the Version Alpha Wiki site, which would migrate over to Version Beta when that’s ready in a few weeks.

What would work best for you?

As I was writing yesterday’s post, I re-read a number of things I’ve written, here and elsewhere, about the uses and abuses of translation in our field. That got me thinking about the different things that the word “translation” can mean. Perhaps some of the conflicts about the practice of translation are actually conflicts (or disagreements) about the semantics – different, but unresolved, definitions of what the word “translation” means. As I think of my own life as a learner and teacher of Latin, I realize it’s meant very different things at different times:

  1. When I was a beginning student, it meant “a hand-written assignment in which I am to restate a Latin passage in something that approximates English, with “more literal” approximations in parentheses.”
  2. When I was an undergraduate, it meant “an oral restatement in English, for which you prepare by repeated reading of the Latin and by writing down dictionary listings of unknown words.”
  3. When I started teaching, it meant “I will never, ever have my students think or do #1, but we might do something like #2 chorally or individually.”
  4. For TPRS teachers, as David noted in the Latin-BestPractices post I referred to yesterday, it means “single-word L1 definitions of new L2 terms” and “choral L1 restatements of L2 passages that have been repeatedly heard or read.”
  5. On the AP® Examinations, it means “a rather artificial and formulaic use of English words that attempts to restate not only the thoughts, but the actual syntax of a Latin passage, scored by phrase groupings, which is an excellent predictor of students’ overall success on the exam.”

You can see why people fight about “translation!” There’s an obvious common core (restating things from one language in another language), but beyond that, the term can have vastly different meanings. When we don’t take time to clarify – or to try to understand how others are using the term – we open ourselves up to all kinds of unnecessary conflicts.

Speaking of unnecessary conflicts, poor Caelius and Vipsania will end up in an unfortunate one with Frontō, the architectus they’ve hired to design and supervise the renovation of their vīlla in Lectiō XXI. You probably saw that coming in yesterday’s featured story! For one thing, Caelius and Vipsania have agreed (or at least he’s decided to accept her complaints) about certain features of the house:

nōnne vīlis et parva est ista vīlla? nōnne pauca cubicula? nōnne antīquae turpēsque pictūrae, quās pictor patrī meō in mūrīs multōs ante annōs pīnxit?

But they haven’t necessarily agreed on how to correct the problem features. How pretiōsa et magna does the house need to be? quanta cubicula would be enough? Obviously they want novae et pulchrae pictūrae, and novae won’t be hard, but what exactly constitutes pulchrae in this context? Given their rather unsuccessful child-rearing and their disagreements about servī et ancillae, Caelius and Vipsania aren’t very likely to take the time and effort to communicate successfully with Frontō … and, as we’ll see, he might not be all that eager to listen in any case. See what you think of today’s featured story, which you can now find here on the Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like:

Caelius cum architectō Frontōne per tōtam vīllam ambulat. ātrium, cubicula, tablīnum, triclīnium architectō ostendit. Frontō attonitus vīllam īnspicit. “sine dubiō,” sēcum colloquitur, “iste Caelius avārissimus est! quis enim vīllam tam sordidam, tam parvam, tam antīquam tenēre vult? sine dubiō istae pictūrae sunt centum annōrum!” Frontō manūs Caeliō prēnsat et, “mī domine, mī amīce,” inquit, “quam fortūnātus es, quod mē nunc iam vocās! sine dubiō vīlla tua nōn modo sordida et parva, sed perīculōsa est! nōnne enim rīma per tōtum mūrum prōcēdit? nōnne, cum pluit, aqua per tegulās usque ad pavimentum cadit? nōnne tōta vīlla in cumulum dēcidere potest?”

Caelius attonitus et perterritus, “heus!” exclāmat, “sine dubiō vīlla antīqua est … sed perīculōsa? nōnne iussū avī meī servī hanc vīllam exstrūxērunt. perīculōsa? in cumulum lāpsūra? heu! quid facere dēbeō?”

Frontō sēcum rīdet. tandem “mī Caelī,” respondet, “cōnfīde mihi! vīllam tuam renovāre et reficere possum. dea Fortūna tibi favet, quod redēmptōrem perītissimum, quī vīllās tālēs saepe reficit, bene nōvī. ille redēmptor, M. Iūlius Frontō nōmine, frāter meus ipse est! tibi vīllam reficere perītissimē et celerrimē potest. nōlī tē vexāre; mihi ad urbem reveniendum est frātrem meum cōnsultum. paucīs diēbus reventum nostrum exspectā!”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • If you’ve ever embarked on a home-renovation project, you know how important it is to choose a good, ethical contractor. What do you think about Fronto? Would you hire him?
  • Whether you’d hire Fronto or not, what do you think of Caelius’ response? After all, he has been living in the house for quite some time; you’d think he would have noticed serious structural flaws if they were really there!
  • What do you think of Fronto’s, um, “unbiased” recommendation of his frāter the redēmptor?
  • And on another level, what do you think of the use of various verb tenses in this story?

Tune in on Monday, when we’ll meet Fronto’s frāter and discover a few things about the relationship between these two. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 14, 2010 at 11:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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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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Quartus infans II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Yesterday was an interesting day – at one point I described it as an “up-and-down” day in an email to a friend. I started the day with a really positive conversation with a friend who’s a school-district-level technology administrator, and who’s also very committed to students, teachers, and learning. She had a lot of positive things to say about the Tres Columnae Project and some great suggestions (including some specific people to talk to). I also had some other good conversations this morning, and that thread about passive and impersonal verbs on the Oerberg listserv, which I mentioned in yesterday’s post, has continued to be a really interesting conversation. Since the Latin-BestPractices list has public archives, you might also want to look at this thread about Differentiated Instruction, which looks really promising, too. (Scroll down a bit to see links to previous and subsequent messages in the thread.)

One point that I made – and which I’m not sure I ever realized until I was writing it – is that the term Differentiated Instruction is really significant. What’s differentiated according to students’ needs and interests is the instruction (that is, the learning materials a teacher uses, or the processes, or the products students make to demonstrate their learning). But the Curriculum (that is, what we at Tres Columnae, with a nod to our friends at the National Paideia Center, would call the essential Knowledge, Skills, and Understandings) remains constant for everyone … or is equally open to modification for everyone, depending on your perspective. A class, or any learning environment, where the teacher (or anyone else) sets different expectations for different students – where he or she expects “more” from you or “less” from you because of what you look like or what your cumulative record says – is not an example of Differentiated Instruction … and it’s not a class where I’d want my children or even my dog to be. In a nutshell, my goal for every learner, whether in my face-to-face teaching world or in the Tres Columnae Project, is quite simple:

I will meet you where you are, and I will help you learn and do more about Latin and the Romans than you ever thought possible.

To do this, I’m willing to try almost anything … as long as it helps you, the learner. If it helps everybody, everybody is welcome to do it; if it helps some, they are welcome to do it; if it doesn’t help others, I really hope they won’t do it!

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Does this definition of what Differentiated Instruction is, and isn’t, make sense to you?
  • How congruent is it with the goals and instructional design of your learning and teaching environment?
  • And in terms of this definition and perspective on Differentiated Instruction, is the Tres Columnae Project a good example?

I obviously must think so, and I’ll tell you why … tomorrow. But today I’d love for you to mull that over and respond, if you’d like, either by email or by a comment here.

Meanwhile, I’d like to think for a moment about the issues and questions raised by yesterday’s featured story, which you can find here on the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like.

  • I’m most interested in your response to the character of Paulla, and her interactions with little Lollia. You’ll find echoes of strong, earthy women characters from folklore and literature in her, I’m sure. Do you like Paulla so far, or does she bother you? And what do you suppose that response says about you?
  • What about Lollius’ significantly delayed payment of Paulla? Does that change your impression of him – or, for that matter, of her?
  • And what about little Lollia?

We continue today with the next story in the sequence, which you can find at this link on the Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like. Little Quartus is born, though of course he has no name yet … and he’s really not “little” Quartus, either:

quīnque post hōrās, Lollia īnfantem magnum partūrit. “heus!” exclāmat Paulla, “fortasse Herculēs nōmen aptissimum est!” Lollia rīdēre cōnātur; difficile tamen est eī rīdēre, quod corpus tōtum maximē dolet. “dīs grātiās agō,” tandem susurrat, “quod Herculēs alter nōn est hic īnfāns! sī enim Herculēs adest, nōnne Iphiclēs ipse in ūterō nunc iam manet? perīre mālō quam alterum īnfantem tam magnum partūrīre!”

Paulla et Lollia rīsibus et cachinnīs sē trādunt; Maccia quoque rīdēre cōnātur. subitō Lollius iānuam aperit et, “heus!” inquit, “nōnne vīcīnī mē arcessunt? quid accidit?” obstētrīcem īnfantemque cōnspicātur et “ō Maccia mea!” exclāmat. “nōnne fēlīcissimus sum omnium cīvium Herculānēnsium? quam pulcher, quam magnus est hic puer!”

Paulla īnfantem in pavīmentō pōnit et Lollius celeriter eum manibus tollit. “mī fīlī, mī fīlī,” Lollius iterum iterumque cantat.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

I’ve given you a lot of questions to ponder today, so I think we’ll save questions for this story until tomorrow. We’ll also look at the next story in the sequence, as familia Lollia celebrates Quartus’ diēs lūstricus with some generous help from their patrōnus. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on July 21, 2010 at 12:35 pm  Comments (4)  
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More about Casina, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As I continued to reflect on the themes of community and identity we’ve been addressing in this series of posts, I noticed several things. First, of course, there are obvious connections between these themes and the core beliefs of the Tres Columnae Project. Even our commitment to providing for various types of learning stems from a passionate commitment to the very different identities of our participants: Some of you learn best in one way, while others learn best in another; some would like to make and create a lot of Submissions to the Project, while others would prefer to focus on their reading and listening-comprehension skills. Rather than dictate every step of the learning process, we aim to provide you with lots of different material, and we’ll guide you (if you need some guidance) to find the right path for you. At the same time, though, if you do join our community, we ask you to commit to building your Knowledge, Skill, and Understanding of Latin and of the Roman world.

In order to join any community – and perhaps especially a Joyful Learning Community – you, the potential member, have to make a conscious choice to identify with the values and expected behaviors of that community. In our case, of course, those values include Joy, Learning, Community, and Ownership, and expected behaviors include extensive reading, active creation, participation in thoughtful dialogue, and an avoidance of what Dexter Hoyos calls “translation in order to understand.” A lēctor fidēlissimus made an excellent point about the connection between values and behavior in an email to me the other day, which I’m quoting with his permission:

I suspect that it is true of the human being that anything we do, repeatedly over time, both expresses and shapes who we are. Early on, it may express more, and through time, shape more.

So, that language that we use about what we do does express and shape who we are. A teacher who chooses to speak of what “we are doing together” is expressing something and, I believe, radically reshaping the work of education. I find that when I run into a parent in the grocery store or somewhere, and we begin to chat, I usually tell them that I have enjoyed “working with” their son or daughter. I just find it uncomfortable and really not quite true to say “I’ve enjoyed teaching your child.” Some days, some class sessions, it’s not always clear who the teacher is!

We could probably spend at least a week unpacking all the implications of this comment, and relating it to the points about I, they, and we that we’ve been considering this week! For the moment, though, I invite you to read it again and let each phrase and clause sink in.

Speaking of Joy, Learning, Community, and Ownership – and Identity, too, for that matter – check out this amazing video from our faithful friend and collaborator Ann M and her Year 7 students in England. It’s the beginning of their slightly adapted version of the story of Cnaeus and the horse from Lectiō XIV. I’m told that there’s more to come!

Themes of identity and community are also important to the development of the story-line itself. By their decision to seek a cure for Casina’s morbus, Valerius and Caelia have clearly chosen a form of community with their ancilla: they’ve taken the whole familia on a difficult, expensive trip to Rome in an attempt to cure her, and Valerius himself has faced some surprise (and even some ridicule) from friends and acquaintances in the process. He seems to be committed to the spirit as well as the letter of notions like pietās, and of the complicated customs and laws that govern the interactions between dominī and servī in the Roman world – in sharp contrast to his brother-in-law, who has displayed a very different attitude about servī (and ancillae in particular) in stories like this one and this one. In fact, even Caelius’ friend Claudius Pulcher, with whom the familiae are staying in Rome, seems shocked and surprised by Valerius’ pietās, despite his not-entirely-serious exclamation of respect near the end of this story.

As the overall story-line of the Tres Columnae Project continues to unfold, we’ll see some further repercussions of Valerius’ pietās, and we’ll also find out whether young Lucius fulfills the childhood dream he expresses in this story. But that’s for another day! 🙂 Today, let’s continue to explore the sequence of stories about Casina and her morbus novissimus with the story, now available from this link at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha wiki site, in which Valerius is explaining the initial treatment plan to a bewildered, but ultimately delighted Casina:

hodiē māne Casina ē lectō anxia surgit. Valerium quaerit et “mī domine,” inquit, “cūr mē tantō honōre afficis? nōnne ancilla sum tua? cūr igitur mēcum iter Rōmam facis? cūr remedia mihi quaeris? plūrimī enim dominī, cum servī aegrotant, illōs vel pūniunt vel vēndunt.”

Valerius “Casina mea,” respondet, “nēminem oportet servum aegrum pūnīre vel vēndere. nōnne enim et legeēs et pietās ipsa tālia prohibent? praetereā, nōnne somnia tua sunt ōmina perīculōsa? sī lemur dominum tuum quaerit pūnītum, haud mē decet tē vēndere; lemur enim sine dubiō et mē et dominum novum sānē petere potest! num quis dominōrum tam audāx est? num quis tam stultus? perīculum ā familiā meā āvertere volō, sed hospitī vel clientī trānsferre certē nōlō. nōs ergō decet tē cūrāre et remedia tibi quaerere. fortasse et dīs et lemurī sīc placēre possumus!”

Casina attonita nihil respondet. haec Valeriī verba in animō iterum iterumque volvit. tandem Valerius, “heus!” exclāmat, “tibi ad cubiculum regrediendum et quiēscendum est, Casina. hodiē enim ad templum Bonae Deae cum Caeliā Valeriāque festīnāre dēbēs, et iter longum est.”

Casina anxia, “mī domine,” rogat, “cūr ad hoc templum prōcēditur?”

et Valerius, “in hortō templī,” Casinae respondet, “sunt plūrimae herbae, quae remedia morbōrum plūrimīs aegrōtīs iam praebent. tum hodiē vespere in templō Aesculāpiī dormiendum est. nōnne deus Aesculāpius saepe somnia mīrābilia aegrōtīs mittit? fortasse vel Bona Dea vel deus Aesculapius tibi remedia praebēre potest.”

Casina, “tibi gratiās maximās agō, mī domine,” Valeriō respondet et ad cubiculum regreditur quiētum. “heus!” sēcum susurrat, “fortasse īnfāns meus lībertātem quam mortem mihi fert? nōnne enim servī aegrī, quōs dominī prope templum Aesculapiī relinquunt, sunt līberī sī forte convalēscunt? dīs dominōque grātiās maximās agō! sī enim mors mihi imminet, cum īnfantī meō erō; sī vīta manet, fortasse līberta erō; et dominus mē Valeriolae meae dōnō nūptiālī nunc iam prōmittit. grātiās maximās dīs vōbīs īnfantīque agō, quod nūntium optimum mihi fertis!”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • As I wrote this story, and even more so as I read it in preparation for this blog post, I was struck by the many issues it raises. Issues of gender, of silence and speech, of authority and the response to authority, of freedom and slavery – we managed to pack quite a lot into a relatively simple little story! Which issues do you think would be the most productive to discuss with your students, and how would you want to shape the discussion? Are there issues you would not want to raise with them?
  • What do you think about Casina’s morbus now – especially her visions of the īnfāns? Do you suppose that, at some level, the sickness and the dream might have been caused by Casina’s desire for freedom? What evidence from this or other stories might you use to support such an interpretation?
  • If you accept that interpretation, I suppose it raises a number of other questions. For example, is Casina taking advantage of Valerius’ generosity and pietās? If so, is she doing it consciously or unconsciously? And would that – or should that – make a difference in Valerius’ response to her?
  • Or, if you don’t accept that interpretation, what do you suppose did cause the morbus and the dreams? And how do you respond to Casina’s sudden realization about the potential for freedom if, in fact, it is a sudden realization – or at least a sudden conscious realization?
  • How do you want the story to end? Should Casina recover? Should she join her īnfāns and be at rest? Should she become a līberta? Or should she go with Valeria as a dōnum nūptiāle? Or should this be one of the cases where we provide several alternate endings and let you, our lectōrēs fidēlissimī and subscribers, choose the one that works best for you?

Tune in next time, when Casina and her domina travel to the first of the two templa. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.