Quartus infans and Differentiated Instruction, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll continue with some examples of Differentiated Instruction in Latin, with a focus on how the Tres Columnae Project materials can support students and teachers. First, though, I wanted to point out this fascinating article from eSchool News about the Kansas City schools. In a time of budget crisis, they’re moving away from age-graded classrooms to a system that they (quite erroneously, meā quidem sententiā) call “ability grouping.” “Ability grouping,” to me, implies fixed groups that are assigned by some pre-determined cut scores on a standardized test … or, as my more cynical friends would say, by “how rich and white you are.” But the Kansas City model isn’t like that at all. It’s actually a flexible, multi-age system of differentiated instruction! Students are pre-assessed early in the school year, and based on their performance, they’re assigned to a temporary, flexible group where they work on what they need. They then are re-assessed, and the groups are restructured. Apparently students are actually expected – and encouraged – to progress at their own pace! Of course, I have no idea how well this system will actually be implemented, but what a great idea! But check out the quote from the superintendent about the “outdated, industrial, agrarian” model of education that’s based on seat time rather than mastery!

If students don’t move to different physical classrooms this way, is it still possible to provide them with high-quality differentiated instruction? I hope that yesterday’s post has answered that question for you; it helped our friend Magistrastein, as she says in this comment. It’s actually not even necessary to move students into different groups to differentiate instruction, and in some cases it may be logistically simpler not to. As Doug Lemov points out in his remarkable book Teach Like a Champion, teachers can construct a differentiated lesson by carefully preparing different levels and types of questions, then directing the questions so that each one is just a bit of a stretch for the student who’s selected to answer it.

If you have a class that doesn’t work well in groups – or if it’s early in the school year and you haven’t yet had a chance to develop and practice procedures for collaborative work – differentiated questioning can be a great solution. And, of course, it’s also possible to develop tasks of different levels of complexity that students complete individually.

If, like our thoughtful friend Magistrastein, you’re feeling overwhelmed at the idea of actually implementing such an approach, the fully-formed Tres Columnae Project materials will help with all four of her major concerns:

(a) determining the current level of each student, (b) creating/finding materials targeted at that level, (c) using those materials in such a way so that everyone knows what they’re doing and is comfortable with it, and (d) bringing everyone back together.

Let’s return to yesterday’s scenario: students are practicing creating sentences with nominatives, accusatives, and verbs, but this time they have access to the Tres Columnae materials and at least one Internet-capable device per working group. (Tres Columnae is designed to run well not just on desktop and laptop computers, but also on tablet devices, the iPod Touch, and even mobile phone browsers.) The pre-assessment would be similar, but instead of the teacher wandering around to monitor, students would get immediate feedback about right and wrong answers from the activity itself (Concern a). After creating 3-4 sentences, they’d be directed to a self-assessment (on a scale from 1-5, how comfortable do you feel with …?) with an opportunity to rate their vocabulary and their comfort with the nominative-accusative distinction. Then they’ll see a page with suggested pathways or ITINERA depending on their ratings in each area (Concern b). As the teacher, you might then ask the learners to find someone else who chose the same ITER, and who would be a comfortable partner to work with (Concern b). The equivalent of “Group Red” from yesterday’s post would collaboratively create a Tres Columnae Project Submission (a story with audio and illustrations). “Group Blue” would first work through an exercise where they made the accusative forms of familiar nouns – but they’d get immediate feedback from the exercise itself. After they made five accusatives correctly in a row, the exercise would automatically “excuse” them to the directions for the Submission that “Group Red” was working on. As for “Group Green,” they’d begin with a vocabulary review, then be “excused” to an exercise like the one “Group Blue” was working on, then be “excused” to the Submission. In all cases, the directions are clear, and there are links to click to review anything that might seem confusing. (Concern c)

Version Beta of the Tres Columnae Project will have a “private staging area” where Submissions like this can be viewed – and improved – by classmates and teachers before they’re Submitted for “official” editing and inclusion in the project. For that matter, we may be able to provide a “private Submission area” where your students’ work could be housed and viewed by you, and by their classmates ,but not made publicly available to everyone … just let us know if you’re interested in that feature! The teacher would, of course, want to evaluate the Submissions and have the learners share them with each other … but sharing could even happen asynchronously. For example, if Group Green needed some extra time, they might finish their stories while Groups Red and Blue were exploring each other’s Submissions and rating them against a rubric. The members of Groups Red and Blue would then be able to read and rate Group Green’s Submissions at home that night, and Group Green members would also be able to read and rate their classmates’ Submissions. (Concern d)

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • One common fear about online curricula, especially when they involve self-correcting assessments, is that they’ll “displace the teacher.” But I hope you can see that both teacher and students still have an active, important role. It’s a different role from the conventional classroom – but we think it’s much more creative, collaborative, and enjoyable.
  • Another common fear is “loss of instructional time” caused by system outages. Of course, Internet sites do go down, and so do schools’ servers and school districts’ networks. It’s always good to have a backup plan! But when things operate as they should, the Tres Columnae Materials should save you a lot of time. Both teacher and student are freed from the drudgery of “checking papers” and “recording grades” and “handing back work” – and that can fill countless hours in a conventional classroom. Why not take advantage of good tools, eliminate that wasted time, and use it for learning?
  • Of course, the biggest concern about an online learning environment is that it’s pre-packaged and static; there’s no room for creativity by the teacher or the students. We hope you know us well enough to know that Tres Columnae is all about creativity! Also, if you as a teacher want to create a unique exercise for your students, we’ll be glad to host it for you … and we’ll even review it for you, like other Submissions, if you’d like. You can keep it private, just for your students, or you can choose to share it with others – and if you do that, you can decide whether you want to give it away or charge others to use it. For that matter, if you’re a teacher – or a learner – and you want to charge for access to one of your Submissions, we should be able to manage that, too.

As you know, Ownership is really important to us. If you want to profit from the work you’ve done, we won’t stand in your way. But we also won’t stop you if you prefer to give things away. After all, our core stories, audio, and illustrations are our gift to the world of Latin learners.

It seems that new things are being born all over the place! I’m glad that our current set of stories is focused on new birth! And speaking of birth, how did you feel about Wednesday’s story, in which not-so-little Quartus finally arrives and is unfavorably compared to Hercules? At Tres Columnae, we always try to “sneak in” some interesting tidbits that you, the learner, can pursue if you’d like … so we wanted to provide an opportunity for our mythology lovers. I once had friends who tried to “sneak in” vegetables for their children by grating them (the vegetables, not the children) and putting them in meatloaf and spaghetti sauce – but I hope our “sneaking in” works better than theirs did! 🙂

Anyway, in tomorrow’s post, we’ll see young Quartus’ lustrātiō and try to wrap up the themes of this somewhat disjointed week. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Quartus infans and Differentiated Instruction

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Just as little Quārtus īnfāns is “on the way” in the Tres Columnae Project stories we’ve featured this week, it feels like a lot of other things are “on the way,” too – things are building, growing, and developing at exactly the right pace. That’s exciting, but also a bit frustrating if you want those things to hurry up and get here already! 🙂

First, I must mention this amazing video interview with Alan November, which happened to appear in my in-box as I was working on a draft of this post. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much insight and wisdom in less than eleven minutes! Plus, it’s nice to know that folks outside the Tres Columnae Project and the National Paideia Center talk about Knowledge, Skills, and Understanding as distinct aspects of learning.

It’s also really heartening to see how many Latin teachers are moving away from a lockstep “delivery” of a unitary curriculum. I loved this comment on yesterday’s blog post from a young teacher, who writes

I have been following the debate on Best Practices as well, and I do like your mission statement. My problem with differentiated instruction is simply implementation. I’m a beginning teacher still figuring things out, and the idea of (a) determining the current level of each student, (b) creating/finding materials targeted at that level, (c) using those materials in such a way so that everyone knows what they’re doing and is comfortable with it, and (d) bringing everyone back together seems so overwhelming. I think I just need some concrete examples, which I hope to obtain from the list as well as you.

Yes, Magistrastein, there will be some specific examples in today’s post. In fact, there will be an example of how to do differentiated instruction with a traditional textbook-based class. And Magistrastein, you are absolutely right about the complexity of the four steps you mention! On the other hand, walking is also an incredibly complex process for a beginning walker … and driving a car is even more complex! Yet, out of the lectōrēs fidēlissimī reading this post, I assume that well over 90% of you walk without conscious thought, and many can probably drive without constant attention to your hands and feet. Practice is the key to this automaticity – deliberate practice, with reflection. And it’s perfectly OK to experiment, make mistakes, learn from them, and try again in the classroom, just as it was when you were learning to walk.

There was a wonderful post on the Cambridge Latin listserv yesterday that addresses step (a) on Magistrastein’s list. Fran notes that, as teachers, we often “don’t know what our students don’t know” until we give a formal assessment like a test or a quiz … but that’s awfully late in the learning process! There are lots of ways to assess learners informally, and to encourage them to assess their own levels of understanding. We’ll look at some of them later this week.

Today, though, I want to look at a complete lesson I’ve used with my own face-to-face students; then, tomorrow, we’ll look at how Tres Columnae Project materials can make the process a lot easier. We’ll also get back to the stories of Quartus’ birth tomorrow.

Very early in Latin I, my face-to-face students discover the distinctions between nominative and accusative case nouns. (We actually introduce the genitive before the accusative in the Tres Columnae system, partly because English possessives, like Latin genitives, have a distinct ending, and partly because genitives empower our learners to use a standard Latin-English dictionary.) Before this lesson, my students have heard, read, repeated, and understood a lot of sentences and stories with nominative-accusative-verb sentences. They’ve also noticed and practiced the patterns of forming accusatives. Today’s goal is to apply and create: they will work together to construct a story that uses nominative-accusative-verb sentences, assess their own stories, and share them with each other.

We’ll begin the lesson with an informal pre-assessment. I put a simple English sentence on the board and ask groups or pairs to restate it (notice that I don’t say “translate”) Latīnē on mini-whiteboards. I could also use a picture rather than an English sentence as the prompt, of course. I’ll have three or four of these sentences prepared; students take turns as the Writer and the Checker, and after they’ve worked for two minutes or so, we all reveal our answers by holding up the boards. During the work time, I walk around and listen to each group’s conversations; I also see their end products. I now have a good, informal sense of how each student is doing with the nominative-accusative distinction and with vocabulary.

Having taught this lesson many times, I know there will probably be three levels of performance:

  • those who can make the sentences well (who have both vocabulary and forms under control);
  • those who know vocabulary pretty well, but have trouble with accusatives; and
  • those who have trouble with both vocabulary and forming accusatives.

Near the end of the pre-assessment, I might ask students to decide for themselves which group is right for them, or (since this is early in the school year) I might assign the groups by giving each person a colored index card. I’ll then direct the groups to report to different parts of the classroom for the next activity.

Once they arrive in their assigned areas, each group will discover a colored folder (matching the color of their card) with copies of the assignment – and its rubric – for each pair. I might assign the pairs, or I might allow students to choose their own partners, depending on the personality of the class. All three groups will be producing a similar product, but their learning materials and process are different.

Group Red, the strongest group, divides into pairs to create a Latin story (5 or more sentences) using the nom / acc / verb pattern. They have some possible scenarios (building on stories they’ve read in their textbook) but no specific suggestions for vocabulary. They may take a while to decide on the scenario and the vocabulary.

Group Blue, the middle group, receives a chart with a large number of familiar nouns, listed as they would be in the textbook. They are to make the accusative singular form of each noun, taking turns as the Writer and the Checker. When each pair finishes, it compares answers with another pair. Then the partners work together to create a Latin story (5 or more sentences) using the nom / acc / verb pattern, including five of the accusatives they made.

Group Green, the weakest group, also forms pairs. But each pair receives a word bank. Some nouns are provided in both nominative and accusative forms; others have the nominative missing; still others are missing the accusative. The partners work together to supply the missing forms, and I check their answers as they work. When they finish, they use the word bank to create a Latin story (4 or more sentences) using the nominatives, accusatives, and verbs in the word bank.

I monitor the groups as they work and help with any problems.

When they finish, the pairs use a rubric (included on the assignment sheet) to assess their stories. If they have extra time, they can also exchange stories within their group and rate each other’s stories. I also make preliminary notes about ratings at this point if I have time.

Once everyone is finished, each pair presents its story orally to the class, and everyone else proposes a rating with the rubric. If there is any disagreement, we discuss the story and attempt to reach a consensus.

The next day, there will be a quiz where students choose the correct (nominative or accusative) form to complete sentences in a story. Everybody takes the same quiz.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • You probably noticed that this lesson involves a good deal of advance planning and preparation, but it doesn’t produce a whole lot of “grading” in the traditional sense. Since the products, the students’ stories, are presented to the class, I can have “the grade” instantaneously.
  • Do you think students would tend to be more successful – and more on-task – with a lesson like this, where the tasks are much more closely aligned with their current level of proficiency?
  • What are the alternatives to a differentiated lesson like this? I can think of two common ones called “teach to the top” and “teach to the middle,” and one called “teach to the bottom” that I don’t think is very common. What usually happens when you choose one of these?
  • How might something like Tres Columnae make the planning and preparation easier?

Tune in next time, when we’ll look at how Tres Columnae Project materials can support differentiated instruction,. We’ll get back to Quartus īnfāns on Saturday. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

Published in: on July 22, 2010 at 10:31 am  Comments (6)  
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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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