Longa et Brevia, Gravia et Levia I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs!  Today’s post will be a bit brief – hence our title – due to a pair of long days in my face-to-face world.  I left the house around 6:25 a.m. yesterday (I was fighting a cold, so decided to forego my normal morning workout at the local gym) and did not get home until 14 hours later … and most of that time I was constantly busy!  There were special events at school; typical Tuesday concerns; a district-wide meeting of world language teachers; seemingly endless PowerPoints; a church function in the early evening; and a quick trip to the grocery store just so the family and I could have food for the next few days.  Today looks to be more of the same, with a middle-school track meet thrown in for good measure.

I wonder, sometimes, if folks in the Roman world at the time of the Tres Columnae Project stories also felt that their world was too fast and too busy.  Is that a common human feeling, or just one that plagues post-industrial societies like ours?

Today is also the day that my Latin III students “officially” learn about longa et brevia, gravia et levia as we begin to work with the metrical patterns of Latin poetry.  It’s one of my favorite days – partly because it addresses the musical and rhythmic aspects of some students’ minds while speaking to the logical-mathematical aspects of others.  In a perfect world, the III’s would also work on correcting their most recent tests … and so would the 62 Latin I students who took their most recent test yesterday.  If all goes well, everyone will actually be able to do that – and in the interests of that, I should end this post in a bit.

As I think about the future, though, both for my face-to-face classroom and for the Tres Columnae Project, I certainly see the critical importance of the kinds of instantaneous feedback that Tres Columnae exercises and quizzes will provide for students and for their teachers.  Yes, it’s important to measure students’ progress, and to do so on a regular basis … it’s actually more important for the students, meā quidem sententiā, than it is for the teachers, since experienced teachers can usually tell how our students are doing with a given concept by observation and by informal measures.  But is it really a good use of teachers’ time and energy to have them constructing tests, making paper copies, distributing these, and then reading and marking each student’s answer to each question?  Having done so, one has a good sense of the class’s performance … but a self-correcting exercise would give the same (or better) information, probably in chart or graph form, and save countless hours that could better be spent on planning, working with struggling students, reflection, or even the creation of new, innovative instructional activities and materials.  That’s one reason we’re so committed to the exercise and quiz aspect of Tres Columnae Version Beta, which will be available before too long.

quid respondētis, amīcī?  What do you think about the possibilities – and the perils – of self-correcting online exercises and quizzes?

Tune in next time, when we’ll consider some other possible meanings of today’s title, focusing on the “gravia et levia” portion.  intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

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Published in: on September 15, 2010 at 10:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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Renovation and Communication, IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I’m writing the draft of this post as beautiful early-evening thunderstorm is getting started – and I’m very thankful for laptops and their batteries! My own children, who’ve grown up in a wireless world, find it funny that I spent years not answering “the phone” in the house during storms because of the threat of electrocution if lightning happened to hit “the wires.” Now, safely unplugged, their only complaint is that they don’t have wireless Internet access if the power goes out. How things can change in a few short years! (I recently discovered that my alma mater has stopped installing telephones in dorm rooms because all their students have cell phones … but I remember how excited I was as a student, less than 25 years ago, when those phones were installed, replacing the one or two “hall phones” on each dormitory floor. Why did that make me feel old and young all at once?)

Anyway, Wednesday was the day I officially introduced my school-district colleagues to the Tres Columnae Project. There are four Latin teachers in the district – one at a middle school, and three of us at high schools. We’re a congenial group, but we’ve sometimes disagreed about textbooks and methodology, so I was a bit unsure about how they’d respond. And then I discovered that my most “traditionalist” colleague had decided that textbooks were useless and counterproductive for her students, so she’s been working on a story-based curriculum with an innovative order of grammatical presentation! As you might imagine, it was a wonderful day … they’re all excited and are quite eager for their students to start reading the Tres Columnae stories. I think we’ve all decided to use our existing textbook (which, despite my occasional rants, I’m still pretty fond of) as a supplementary reader and for some small-group and individual work. But there are now at least 5 schools in the world that will be using Tres Columnae Project materials regularly … and I’m sure there are more out there that I don’t know about, too!

Of course, if you just want to have your students read the stories and use the other free material, I guess I don’t exactly need to know … but it would still be nice! So please send us an email or leave a comment here or on the Version Alpha Wiki site if you’re planning to use Tres Columnae with your classes this year. I’d also love to know how you’re planning to use the project materials and whether you’d be interested in any of the paid subscription models.

If all goes well, those will be available by early September at the latest. Our biggest remaining hurdle was embedded audio, and our technological advisor has finally found a good solution for that. So Version Beta of the Tres Columnae Project should be available soon. All the stories and other content from the Version Alpha Wiki will still be there, of course (and we’ll maintain the Version Alpha Wiki “as is” after the move, too, for those who are fond of it). But, in addition to embedded audio, we should also be able to offer you

  • a much-improved interface for comments on stories;
  • a straightforward way to subscribe – and purchase paid subscriptions – online;
  • a very simple process for uploading and editing content (Free Trial subscribers who attempted to submit stories know that this was harder than it should have been with Version Alpha); and
  • some other behind-the-scenes features that will make our lives easier.

We’ll keep you posted on the developments, and we definitely want to know if you find any issues or problems with Version Beta once it’s been officially launched. And unlike the Frontō brothers’ cōnsilia in this week’s featured stories, we don’t think your response to Version Beta will be silence followed by horrified laughter! 🙂

Speaking of yesterday’s featured story, I know you’re probably dying to find out why Caelius and Vipsania responded as they did – and what those pictures looked like! And you will find out … but not today. We’ll pick up with that story in Friday’s post, or possibly Saturday’s. If you’re reading this post “live,” the school Open House is this evening, so it’s a long and late day in my face-to-face world.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What features would you like to see in Version Beta of the Tres Columnae Project?
  • Are there any features you’d like to see disappear forever?
  • What are some ways that you’re thinking about using the materials with your students (or with yourself, if you’re an independent learner) this school year?

If all goes well, though, I should be able to put the final touches on that story when I get home … or early Friday morning, if necessary. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 19, 2010 at 11:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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New Beginnings, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, one possible use for the Tres Columnae Project materials is as a self-paced review for students returning to Latin. Of course, we’d be thrilled if you also decided to use the materials with your Latin I students, and we’d be ecstatic if you decided to use them in place of a traditional textbook. But for many teachers and students in Latin II and above, the beginning of the year seems to hold a special dread. You know you need to do some sort of review before jumping into new material, but what’s the best way?

  • Some teachers go through an undifferentiated and lengthy process of reteaching everything (or “everything important”) from Latin I. Depending on how you do this, and how much mastery of “old stuff” you want from your students, this can take weeks or months! Of course, by the end, many students will be utterly bored and others will still be completely lost … but you, the teacher, can pat yourself on the back because you “did a thorough review.” I have often been that teacher! 🙂
  • Other teachers attempt to diagnose their students’ areas of strength and weakness, then devise review activities that meet those needs. I’ve been that teacher as well! The problem, of course, is devising the activities and finding the materials. You don’t want to do exactly the same work that the students did in Latin I, but you may not have anything else to use. And you can’t very well re-issue the Latin I textbooks; after all, the current Latin I students are using those!
  • Still other teachers jump into new material right away and pause, as needed, to review things that turn out to be problematic for their students. I don’t think I’ve ever been that teacher :-), but I admire their bravery. The problem with this approach, for me at least, is that I don’t like unpleasant surprises. I would much rather find out in advance that 65% of my class need to review a particular grammatical feature; that way, I can plan ahead and provide them with what they need. An impromptu adjustment in midstream of a lesson can be exciting, but it can quickly deteriorate into “I shall lecture while you take notes, then yell at you because you can’t apply the information from the notes.” I prefer a world with less yelling; it’s much less stressful for everyone concerned! 🙂

In place of these common options, I think the Tres Columnae materials, especially the ones that we’ve made available for Lectiōnēs I-XX on the Version Alpha Wiki site, can provide a really positive alternative. Of course, we’d love for you to choose a paid subscription for your students (those will be available by the end of this month), but we think that even the free materials would provide your upper-level students with an enjoyable, engaging, and different approach to review. Here’s one possible pathway through the materials:

  1. Obviously, if they’ve retained any vocabulary or reading strategies, Latin II students would find the fabellae and fābulae of Lectiōnēs I-II supremely easy to read. That effortless direct comprehension is a big boost in confidence! If you want to check their comprehension, you might use some of the exercises in the Instructure Public Demo course; students can’t keep a permanent record of their scores in the demo, of course, but they can print out or save their results for you to look at.
  2. Depending on the textbook and pacing, your students might not have been exposed to the genitive case in Latin I, so they’d run into “something new” ­– but something easy to understand, and something that hooks a lot of other things together for them – early on. We’ll have a lot of genitive exercises (and even some, designed for my own students, that review other cases) as early as Lectiō II in the “real” exercises and quizzes. You might want to see about subscriptions for your classes, but you’re certainly welcome to make up your own “stuff” for use with your students.
  3. Lectiōnēs I-XX are, of course, written in the present tense. They introduce passive, deponent, and subjunctive forms along the way, so there might be something new for your students. If you want to review other tenses, you might ask your students to rewrite a story in the tense (or tenses) that made the most sense; they could even compare versions and discuss different choices they had made. We’d love for you to Submit these to the project, of course, but you could also keep them and use them just with your own classes if that made more sense to you.
  4. Once you finished the formal review process, you might have your students use the Tres Columnae stories for extensive-reading practice. We’ll provide comprehension exercises for our subscribers, of course, but you could certainly make up your own … or just have your students make summaries of your own design if you want an “accountability” check.
  5. Along the way, you might have students participate in a Virtual Seminar or two that seemed interesting. If you don’t want to subscribe, you might just share the opening question with them (those will be freely visible to everybody) and have them respond to you, or to each other, by email.

In any case, we think you’ll end up with a much more engaging, thoughtful, and enjoyable review for your upper-level Latin students, and with a lot less time, effort, and angst on your part.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What have you typically done for review with your Latin II students?
  • Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the results?
  • What do you think of this possible way to incorporate Tres Columnae materials in a review for upper-level students?
  • Can you see other, different, better ways to use Tres Columnae materials with an upper-level class?
  • We think it would be especially helpful to use these materials with a combined class; in fact, my fall-semester Latin II-and-III class last year was a big inspiration for me in that regard. What do you think about that?

Tune in next time, when we’ll explore your responses and look at ways to use the Tres Columnae materials with a beginning class. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 5, 2010 at 1:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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quo contendimus? V

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I hope yesterday’s post wasn’t too repetitive for you all! In looking over it, I was afraid I’d simply rehashed what I said on Tuesday and Wednesday; if so, I hope you’ll forgive me. We’ll definitely try to break some new ground today as we consider this critical point about the exercises and quizzes for Lectiō Secunda:

But we think there might be some steps we skipped. We’d really like to know what you think, too.

If you think back to last week’s posts, especially this one and this one about Differentiated Instruction, you probably realize what I think is missing. There seems to be an assumption that everyone will need to do all parts of every exercise – in other words, that everyone is starting at the same point (knowing nothing about the nominative-genitive distinction) and will need to travel the same route (all the exercises) at more or less the same pace in order to reach the goal. Of course, that’s probably not true.

  • Some learners may come to us with prior experience, either with Latin or with another language (German, Russian, Polish, Greek, …) with noun inflections.
  • Some may be “quick learners” who grasp everything almost instantaneously, needing little practice.
  • Some may struggle with the concept and need some additional practice.

So how does the Tres Columnae Project accommodate different types of learners? Of course, if you’re using the project materials in a “regular” classroom, the teacher can obviously decide which exercises – or how much of a given exercise – to assign. In doing so, the teacher will most likely consider the needs of the learner … although, of course, it’s not necessary for the teacher to do so. Some teachers might well ask all their students to proceed through the materials in lockstep and according to a fixed, unalterable plan developed by the teacher. (We hope none of you will choose to do that, but we do have to admit it’s possible.)

For our homeschooled learners, a parent could obviously play the deciding role if necessary. Of course, many homeschooling families choose that option because they want their children to develop autonomy and ownership of their learning. So in many cases the learners themselves could fill the regulating, differentiating function. But what about learners who don’t have much self-confidence? And what if there was a school, or a homeschooling cooperative, or a group of adult learners using the Tres Columnae Project materials without a trained teacher? In other words, is it possible to differentiate instruction effectively in the absence of an instructor?

We certainly don’t think that such a situation is ideal, but we recognize the possibility. We also recognize that, over time, some young or inexperienced teachers might want a helping hand as they work to devise the right learning paths for their students. So, while the Tres Columnae Project can’t do all the work of matching the task to the learner, it can do quite a bit to help teachers and learners choose appropriate tasks, levels of difficulty, and amounts of work. Here are some ways that can happen even as early as Lectiō Secunda.

If you think back to Wednesday’s list of the existing instructional activities for Lectiō Secunda, you’ll probably remember that we begin with

Fabella Prīma, which contains sentences that introduce genitive case forms in a simple, highly comprehensible way

and we continue with

Quid Novī? I, which helps learners make a comparison between the genitive endings and English possessive markers.

At the end of the quid novī? we can easily invite our learners to rank their comfort with the idea of genitive-case nouns on a scale from 1-5, where 1 is something like “I really have no idea what you just said” and 5 means “I grasp the concept and can recognize the forms easily.” Then it’s just a matter of developing suggested ITINERA (small ones, in this case) for the different levels of self-rating. For example,

  • If you chose 1 or 2, we might provide some more examples of English possessives and Latin genitives, then an exercise where our learners choose the right Latin form (nominative or genitive) to complete a Latin sentence … possibly even with an English version provided. For example, given Lūcius fīlius _____ est (Lucius is Valerius’ son), the learner would choose between Valerius and Valeriī. In previous posts like this one, we’ve considered the types of feedback such an exercise can provide for right and wrong answers. It’s possible to set up exercises like this such that they automatically end themselves after a learner has a certain number of consecutive right answers; we might do that, or we might count on the learners themselves to decide when they are ready to move on.
  • If you chose 3 or 4, your ITER would skip over the examples and proceed directly to the exercise … or perhaps a similar one without an English prompt. (We’d probably include sentences without English prompts later in the “1 or 2” exercise in any case.) Again, the exercise might end itself after the learner had a certain number of answers correct in a row, or might leave the learners themselves in charge.
  • For a 5, the ITER would lead directly to a self-checking quiz similar in structure to the last sentences in the exercise for the “3 or 4” ITER. If you, the learner, did not demonstrate proficiency on the quiz, its feedback would suggest that you go back to one of the other ITINERA … again, depending on your overall score.

While we assume that most learners know themselves well and would tend to rate themselves accurately over time, we also recognize that there are a lot of not-so-confident learners out there – not to mention a lot of formerly-confident learners who have been led to take a passive stance by poor school experiences. Like a released prisoner adjusting to freedom, such learners may need a “halfway house” with a bit more structure for a while … and the Tres Columnae Project can provide it for them. After a while, though, we think our learners will be more than capable of managing their own learning and assessing their own progress. But we certainly encourage all of our teachers and learners to use the structures and supports for as long as necessary, and we definitely want teacher-subscribers to play an active role in guiding, assessing, and encouraging the learners in their classes.

quid respondētis, amicī?

  • What do you think of our model for differentiating instruction in pursuit of our common goal for all learners?
  • What do you think of the goal itself?
  • Do you get the picture, or would you like some more specific examples of how the  Tres Columnae Project can use differentiated assignments in the context of a Joyful Learning Community?

Tune in on Monday, when we’ll respond to your comments, wrap up this thread, and preview the next few topics for blog posts. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on July 31, 2010 at 12:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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quo contendimus? IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I’m very sorry there wasn’t a post here yesterday! Both Wednesday and Thursday were busy days for the family, with many demands both on my time and on everybody’s favorite computer. I was also both physically and emotionally drained, and it seems I was fighting off a summer cold or some other minor health issue. Anyway, things are a bit calmer today, so I hope to be able to catch up a bit.

I’m excited to see, from a recent thread on the Latinteach listserv, that so many people are interested in teaching Latin to upper-elementary and middle-school aged children. While there are all kinds of great materials out there already, I hope that some of these learners – and their teachers – will be interested in exploring the Tres Columnae Project. I think we can provide a really exciting, engaging alternative, especially if

  • the learners are meeting after school and don’t want a “traditional” textbook;
  • the teacher or facilitator doesn’t want to deal with a lot of paperwork;
  • there isn’t a lot of money available to buy books, packets, photocopies, or other materials; and
  • the learners would like to make and share beautiful things as part of the learning process.

If you know anyone who would like to start such a program – or if you’ve been thinking about such a thing yourself – I hope you’ll take a look at Tres Columnae and tell us what you think. We’d be happy to help you build an ITER through the materials that would meet your needs and those of your favorite young learners.

Of course, we firmly believe that the Tres Columnae materials are for people of every age. We certainly don’t claim to be in the timeless league of fairy tales, folktales, and fables, but we do aim to have universal appeal on many different levels. We’d love to know what you think, both of our goal and of how well we’ve reached it so far.

Anyway, at the end of Wednesday’s post, after I listed the instructional materials that we’ve already developed for Lectiō Secunda of the Tres Columnae project, I asked us all to think about these questions and issues:

  • I hope you like what you see so far … but if you don’t, please let me know.
  • There are obviously some missing steps – or at least I think there are some missing steps.
  • Before I tell you what else we’re planning, though, I’d love to hear from you. What other steps in the instructional sequence do you think there need to be for learners who use the Tres Columnae materials as a supplement, or even a primary text, in classroom-based instruction?
  • Are there any additional (or different) steps that might be needed for a learner who is using the Tres Columnae materials in a homeschool or self-study environment without a trained Latin teacher?

I want to deal with the “missing step” and “other step” issues today. First, though, let’s step back and consider the goals of Lectiō Secunda as I listed them on the relevant page on the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site, and in earlier posts this week:

  1. directly comprehend a Latin sentence;
  2. distinguish Latin nominative and genitive case nouns;
  3. continue to recognize and explore English derivatives of Latin words;
  4. continue to compare housing and family structure in Roman world with our own housing and family structure; and
  5. continue to understand, analyze, and explore the concept of pietās.

The exercises and quizzes I listed on Wednesday are all about Goal 2, distinguishing and using Latin nominative and genitive case nouns. We think this large goal needs to be broken down into a number of simpler steps:

  • First, we need some examples of sentences with genitives – sentences that our learners can comprehend directly without explicit knowledge of the genitive forms.
  • Then, after a bit, we need to point out the new words to them.
  • We’d like the learners, rather than “us,” to be the ones who discover the genitive endings.
  • Then we think our learners will need to practice distinguishing nominatives and accusatives with several different kinds of exercises.
  • Since distinguishing the forms is not an end in itself, but a tool to greater Skill and Understanding, we want to practice nominatives and genitives in the context of reading comprehension exercises.
  • Then we want our learners to be able to create sentences and stories that use the nominative and genitive forms.
  • Along the way, we believe our learners will also develop some deeper Understandings about the structure of Latin, and perhaps even about languages in general.

But we think there might be some steps we skipped. We’d really like to know what you think, too.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in tomorrow for a few of the missing steps we’ve already identified. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on July 30, 2010 at 4:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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quo contendimus? III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today, as promised, we’ll look at how a sequence of exercises, quizzes, and explanations in the Tres Columnae Project can be designed to fulfill the second of the important goals for Lectiō Secunda. As a reminder, the goals are that the learners will:

  1. directly comprehend a Latin sentence;
  2. distinguish Latin nominative and genitive case nouns;
  3. continue to recognize and explore English derivatives of Latin words;
  4. continue to compare housing and family structure in Roman world with our own housing and family structure; and
  5. continue to understand, analyze, and explore the concept of pietās.

We’ll look more closely at our approach to Goals 3, 4, and 5 in posts later this week.

As you know if you’ve taken a close look at the Version Alpha Wiki site, the sample materials available for Lectiō Secunda are

  1. Fabella Prīma, which contains sentences that introduce genitive case forms in a simple, highly comprehensible way;
  2. Quid Novī? I, which helps learners make a comparison between the genitive endings and English possessive markers;
  3. Fabella Secunda, which has a lot more examples of genitives in context;
  4. some sample Quaestiōnēs in draft form, including a draft self-assessment;
  5. quid novī about the question words quis and cuius;
  6. this quid novī explanation and this one about declension patterns;
  7. an exercise that practices the application of nominative and genitive forms; and
  8. a fābula longa that practices the new forms extensively.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • I hope you like what you see so far … but if you don’t, please let me know.
  • There are obviously some missing steps – or at least I think there are some missing steps.
  • Before I tell you what else we’re planning, though, I’d love to hear from you. What other steps in the instructional sequence do you think there need to be for learners who use the Tres Columnae materials as a supplement, or even a primary text, in classroom-based instruction?
  • Are there any additional (or different) steps that might be needed for a learner who is using the Tres Columnae materials in a homeschool or self-study environment without a trained Latin teacher?

Tune in next time, when we’ll look at your suggestions and our ideas. We’ll also take a closer look at the process of actually creating exercises, quizzes, and such. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on July 28, 2010 at 4:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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quo contendimus? II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! At the end of yesterday’s post, I listed some possible directions we could go this week:

  • We could certainly look at some more sample stories if you’d like.
  • We could consider some more specific examples of differentiated lessons, both with and without the Tres Columnae materials.
  • We could consider the things you like and don’t like about the Version Alpha Wiki site, with a view to planning the “look and feel” and the features of Version Beta.
  • We could consider ways that you might use the Tres Columnae materials in a “real” school or classroom setting, especially if you have limited access to computer technology.
  • We could look at the Tres Columnae exercises and quizzes from the perspective of differentiated instruction.

Apparently many lectōrēs fidēlissimī are busy – or busy relaxing, which is important in the summer, too 🙂 – and don’t have a lot of suggestions. So I think we’ll start with the last item on the list and look for ways to incorporate the others. That’s important because I need to do some significant work on the exercises and quizzes for the first few Lectiōnēs anyway … especially since our pilot school in England will be using those materials before too long!

For those of us who subscribe to the Latinteach listserv, there’s been a very interesting thread recently about “checking homework” that has also addressed the purposes and goals of homework assignments, and of the assignments we teachers give our students in general. In my own case (and this may not be true for everyone), I don’t think it’s possible for me to make good decisions about specific assignments or strategies unless I have a clear sense of the overall goal. Different goals can lead to radically different needs and approaches!

With my face-to-face students, I want them all to experience real success as readers of Latin and to develop a deep Understanding of the language and culture, so I prioritize reading tasks and an inductive-to-deductive approach to grammatical elements as I’ve described in posts like this one. I don’t think culture and history can be separated from the language, so I prefer to have my students think about cultural and historical issues in the context of their reading; we do, of course, read and talk about cultural background information that’s provided in our textbook, but I don’t give “culture lectures” or “history lectures” very often. Hands-on, creative work is important to me, and so are opportunities for students to share their work (especially stories they’ve written) with each other. In a perfect world, with 100% efficiency in class time, I probably would not assign much outside homework; in the world as it stands, I do have students practice choosing, and sometimes making, appropriate grammatical forms in context, and they also do some vocabulary work outside of class.

When I first envisioned the Tres Columnae Project, I was looking for a way to make this work easier and more satisfying for my students and to give them a safe, self-paced way to do extensive reading outside of regular class hours. I also wanted to save precious in-class time and energy by automating the process of checking homework; with self-correcting exercises, students know right away how they’ve done, and I can easily check to see who is having difficulty with any given concept. Having spent a number of years developing and polishing written versions of assignments like these, I had a pretty good idea of what I want the “TC” exercises to look like. But it’s still a challenge to figure out the details … especially since we want to make sure our learners have Ownership of the whole process.

As you know if you’re a long-time reader, you can see some sample exercises and quizzes for Lectiō Prīma at our Instructure Public Demo course. I’ve talked about Instructure, and their Canvas learning management system, in this post and this one. Today I want to start walking through the steps I use to create a learning pathway for material like Lectiō Secunda of the project. If you see an easier, better, or different way to do anything I describe, please tell me! This is important work for the future of the project, but it can also be exhausting – especially with the extreme heat in my face-to-face world, and with the cold (or whatever it is!) that’s been slowing me down for the past few days.

As you know if you’ve looked at the relevant page on the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site, the goals for Lectiō Secunda are that the learner will

  1. directly comprehend a Latin sentence;
  2. distinguish Latin nominative and genitive case nouns;
  3. continue to recognize and explore English derivatives of Latin words;
  4. continue to compare housing and family structure in Roman world with our own housing and family structure; and
  5. continue to understand, analyze, and explore the concept of pietās.

Since the fabellae and fābulae of Lectiō Secunda are obviously designed to work on Goal 1, it’s possible that some learners won’t need any extra practice. Others, though, might want to check – or at least self-assess – their comprehension of the stories. So we’ll need at least one self-assessment opportunity (probably one per story) and some comprehension questions. These questions, in turn, need to address a variety of learning and processing styles: at a minimum, we need some that are verbally oriented and some that are visual. Given backend software that incorporates question banks, it will be fairly easy to rearrange these questions into different exercises and quizzes. For example, we might have an ITER that features visually-oriented material and one that features word-based questions, followed by a common assessment that includes both types of prompts.

Goal 2 will obviously involve a sequence of quid novī? explanations, guided practice, independent practice, and assessment (including a self-correcting quiz and a self-assessment prompt). We’ll look at those in more detail in tomorrow’s post.

Goal 3 will be similar in form to the equivalent exercise in Lectiō Prīma, but it will involve the core vocabulary for Lectiō Secunda. So we need to establish exactly which words are “core” and give our participants an opportunity to think about how well they know and can use them.

Goals 4 and 5 will be addressed in the Virtual Seminar, which isn’t exactly an exercise. On the other hand, if we send our learners out to read difficult background material (or material with an obvious slant or bias) on the Web or in print, we should probably give them a safe, private, and self-correcting way to check their understanding.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • When I was a new teacher, my longterm goal was “finishing the textbook” and my shorter-term goals were things like “find something interesting for the students in X period class to do today.” It’s taken me quite a while to get to this “backward design” approach. Where are you in your planning, and what do you think of this approach?
  • What types of self-correcting exercises would you want to see as a learner at this point in the Tres Columnae Project? Are there any types you would not want to see?
  • What exactly do you think students should be able to do to demonstrate that they have met Goals 1 and 2 for the Lectiō? In other words, how would you measure their achievement of the goals?
  • Are there other important goals that should be – but aren’t – included here?

Since this post is getting a bit long, I’ll stop here. Tune in next time for your responses and for my first attempts at Goals 1 and 2. We’ll probably have more to say about Goal 2 on Thursday, and we’ll save Goal 3 for Friday. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

quo contendimus?

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! et grātiās maximās omnibus lectōribus fidēlissimīs! I really enjoyed our conversation last week about differentiated instruction in the pursuit of a common curriculum or set of learning goals. It was great to hear (or at least read) so many of your voices, both in comments here and on the CambridgeLatin and Latin-BestPractices listservs. It was also really interesting to see how much we, the broader community of Latin teachers, seem to agree on:

  • we obviously want our students to learn Latin, and to enjoy learning;
  • we know that different students learn differently;
  • we recognize that learners will have different levels of mastery of any given skill, and that they’ll come to us with different amounts and types of background knowledge; and
  • we’re struggling, like teachers in many other areas, with bridging the gap between what we want for our students and what we’ve “traditionally” done to reach them.

I put “traditionally” in quotation marks because tradition is a long and diverse thing. I would think that, if we could call up a Roman grammaticus or rhetor and have a conversation about pedagogy, he (sorry, but it would most likely be he, especially if it’s a grammaticus or rhetor) would be astounded by a lot of our Industrial-Age assumptions about teaching. If you work with students one-on-one or in a small group, as Roman teachers did, and if you work with them over a period of years, it’s hard to blame “the system” or “those parents” for gaps in your students’ knowledge! It also wouldn’t make very much sense to forge blindly ahead, introducing new knowledge and skills, when your learners hadn’t yet grasped the foundational, prerequisite knowledge. Most likely even a nineteenth-century American teacher (especially one who worked in a multi-age one-room schoolhouse) would be amazed by our systemic lack of flexibility and attention to individual students.

I can see several possible directions to take this week’s posts, but I’d like a bit of advice from you, the Tres Columnae community. What would you like to talk and think about next?

  • We could certainly look at some more sample stories if you’d like.
  • We could consider some more specific examples of differentiated lessons, both with and without the Tres Columnae materials.
  • We could consider the things you like and don’t like about the Version Alpha Wiki site, with a view to planning the “look and feel” and the features of Version Beta.
  • We could consider ways that you might use the Tres Columnae materials in a “real” school or classroom setting, especially if you have limited access to computer technology.
  • We could look at the Tres Columnae exercises and quizzes from the perspective of differentiated instruction.

If I don’t hear from you, I’ll probably do the last of these – largely because I need to do some significant work on the exercises and quizzes for those first few Lectiōnēs anyway! But if you do want to talk about any of the other issues at any point, just let me know. I’d love to know what would be most interesting and helpful for you right now, that odd period of time when some teachers are imminently preparing to return to school and others may have a month or more of “freedom” left.

Tune in next time for more. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus. Thanks again for all the great comments and conversations!

Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Yesterday was an exciting day for the Tres Columnae Project, and today looks like it will be full of adventures, too. In yesterday’s post, I mentioned the recent thread on the Oerberg listserv about passive verbs, in which this blog post of mine from February was mentioned very favorably. That led to an interesting exchange about the mechanics of teaching such structures. Two items, in particular, stood out for me:

  1. Rebecca, our regular reader who started the exchange, mentioned that it helps her to think about how a construction (especially an impersonal one) might be “literally” expressed in English – not as an end in itself, but as a gateway to understanding the differences between the Latin and English structures.
  2. One teacher who responded mentioned that his students’ eyes glaze over when he tells them about such things. He also mentioned that his students understand who does the action and who is affected by it in both passive and active sentences, but they have trouble transforming sentences from active to passive – to change his metaphor just a bit, they seem to get lost in a jungle of endings. He wondered if this was a common problem.

Of course, translation is such a hot-button issue for so many Latin teachers! And I’m sure we all struggle with students who get lost in that metaphorical jungle. For those of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī who don’t subscribe to the Oerberg listserv, here’s a portion of what I said… and I invite you to join in, especially if you disagree!

As for “translation of a structure,” for want of a better term, for it to be most successful, I think the key is that it has to be done by the learner, not by the teacher! Now, obviously, as a teacher, you can ask or even require your learners to participate in the process, but “translation of a structure” is a high-level cognitive task. It has to do with what learning theorists would call Analysis and Synthesis, or what the Paideia model calls Understanding. For that to happen, and to stick, the learner has to do the analysis and synthesis him/herself. Otherwise, you’re just imparting factual Knowledge (“the Latin literally means …”), which is probably why you get those blank stares.

That principle of small steps with plenty of practice is definitely operative when it comes to passives. It sounds like your students are at a good place: they comprehend the sentence AND can tell who is doing and who is receiving the action. Those are two important steps in making that transformation, but there are MANY others. Perhaps the next step is to practice _matching_ a passive sentence with its active equivalent, and vice versa. Picking a frequent example from the Tres Columnae stories, “Cnaeus ā sorōribus dērīdētur,” the choices would be “Cnaeus sorōrēs dērīdet” or “sorōrēs Cnaeum dērīdent.” From there, you might move to having students just change the verb ending (since the passive verb endings are the “new thing” in this context): “Cnaeus ā sorōribus dērīd____.” Then you might practice one of the two noun transformations (acc to nom, or nom to abl) in isolation, and then practice changing it AND the verb at the same time. Then you’d add the other transformation, first in isolation and then in context. And, of course, if you want to “go the other way,” you’d need to model and practice each step of that process, too.

Actually, I think the “thicket of changing cases and endings” – like other “thickets” in which our students get lost – is a sign that there are too many steps going on at once. Latin teachers (and teachers in general!) tend to fall into the trap of explaining or demonstrating a complicated process once or twice, then assuming our students should be able follow all the steps perfectly. But that rarely happens! Breaking the process down this way might appear to take more time in the beginning, but it saves a lot of time later … no anguished cries of “I don’t get it,” fewer low quiz scores, less frustration!

I went on to mention that the Tres Columnae self-correcting exercises (like the samples you can see here at our Instructure Public Demo site) are designed to build students’ skills in this step-by-step manner. I also noted the old axiom that comprehension precedes production, which I hope was helpful to him and to the other list members there. Even if you haven’t used the textbook, I think you’ll find a very congenial, creative, insightful bunch of teachers and learners on that list … and many of them don’t participate in such “mainstream” groups as Latinteach or Latin-BestPractices.

At the moment, though, let’s return our focus to the Tres Columnae Project stories featured in this week’s posts. Today, as promised, we feature the story from Lectiō XVI in which Maccia Lolliī, mother of Cāius and Lollia, is about to give birth to their baby brother Quartus. Cāius, conveniently, is still on the trip to Milan with his friend Lucius that begins in Lectiō XVI, and Lollius himself (as we saw in yesterday’s featured story) is busy praying for a safe delivery. So Maccia turns to her daughter Lollia for help summoning the midwife.

As I think about the Latin textbooks I know well, I realize that midwives aren’t very prominent, even when (as usually happens in the “Big Three” reading-method books) a character does give birth. I don’t know why that is, either. Of course, midwives are the archetype of the independent woman in the ancient world – and, for that matter, they’re just about the only independent women in the ancient world – so Roman men probably found them a bit terrifying. Other than the father’s role of acknowledging paternity by picking up the newborn child, men had very little to do with birth in the Roman world, and that probably helps to explain the silence of the textbooks. But we’re aiming for more, so Paulla the obstētrīx (like her mouse-counterpart in this story from later in Lectiō XVI), plays a major role in the birth narrative, which you can also find here on the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site if you prefer.   We think you’ll find her a memorable character, too!

dum Lollius ad sepulcrum māiōrum Mānēs precātur, Maccia quoque mātūrē surgit et deae Iunōnī Lucīnae precēs adhibet. tum per cēnāculum celeriter ambulat onmia bene purgātum. dum mūrōs lavat, subitō “heus!” exclāmat, “nōnne venter mihi maximē dolet. Lollia! mē audī!” Lollia ad mātrem celeriter contendit et, “quid vīs, māter mea?” sollicita rogat. tum Maccia, “heus!” inquit, “venter mihi maximē dolet! tē oportet obstētrīcem quaerere, quod tempus adest!”

Maccia ad cubiculum prōgreditur et statim recumbit. Lollia iānuam cēnāculī aperit et celeriter ēgreditur. obstētrīx est anus sexāgintā annōrum, cui nōmen Paulla est. in īnsulā proximā habitat. Lollia igitur celeriter quīnque scālīs dēscendit et hanc īnsulam ingreditur. tribus scālīs Paulla in cēnāculō pulchrō habitat. Lollia iānuam pulsat et, “quaesō, Paulla obstētrīx, māter mea Maccia Lolliī tē rogat!”

Paulla in cēnāculō clāmōrēs Lolliae audit et “hem!” sēcum putat, “sine dubiō iste pauper Lollius mē grātīs uxōrem adiuvāre exspectat.” īrāta et fessa est Paulla quod hīs tribus diēbus quīnque mātrēs īnfantēs suōs gignere iam adiuvat. ad iānuam cēnāculī igitur haud contendit, sed in sellā suā prope fenestram sedet. Lollia tamen, ignāra īrārum Paullae, iterum iterumque iānuam pulsat et clāmat. tandem Paulla “heus!” sēcum putat, “mē oportet istam iānuam aperīre! sine dubiō ista puella eam frangere in animō habet!” Paulla igitur iānuam aperit et, “quis mē ita appellat?” īrāta Lolliam rogat. Lollia anxia, “salvē, obstētrīx,” inquit et Paullam rīte salūtat. Paulla “salvē atque tū, puella,” respondet et, “num tū partūrīs?” magnō cum rīsū rogat. Lollia ērubēscit et, “nōn ego, sed māter mea, illa Maccia Lolliae, amīca tua,” obstētrīcī respondet.

Paulla “haud mihi amīca māter tua, sed pater certē dēbitor!” exclāmat. “nōnne pater tuus mihi trēs dēnāriōs hōs duōs annōs iam dēbet?” Lollia iterum ērubēscit et, “obstētrīx benigna,” Paullae respondet, “nōnne adveniō dēnāriōs tibi datum?” sacculum pecūniā plēnum obstētrīcī offert. Paulla sacculum aperit et pecūniam avida numerat. tum “ēhem! trēs enim dēnāriōs, duōs sestertiōs quoque! dī mihi favent … et sine dubiō dī patrī tuō favent! cūr tamen mē hodiē petis?”

et Lollia “ō obstētrīx benigna,” respondet, “quaesō, amābō tē, venī mēcum ad cēnāculum! māter enim nunc iam partūrit et tē exspectat.” Paulla “veniō nunc iam,” Lolliae respondet. “fortasse iste pater tuus mihi dēnāriōs dēbitōs celerius iam potest.”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Since this post is getting a bit long, we’ll save my questions … and any that you want to share … for tomorrow’s post. We’ll also find out what happens when little Quartus arrives. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on July 20, 2010 at 10:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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