A Turning Point

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today marks a transition point for the Tres Columnae Project. We’ve officially finished our Free Trial period, though a few folks who attended the American Classical League Institute have a “secret code” that will give them a few more days of Free Trial access. Of course, you can still

  • read the stories,
  • hear the audio,
  • see the pictures, and
  • use the exercises and quizzes at the Instructure Demo Course site.

But for the next few days, you won’t be able to upload new stories, images, audio, or video, or, as we say, you won’t be able to make Submissions to the project for a few days.

Before too long, though, we’ll make our regular subscriptions available, so you’ll be able to follow the “regular” process for making Submissions. In the meantime, we hope you will have a chance to

  • explore the existing stories for Lectiōnēs I-XX;
  • find some intriguing “gaps” in the storyline that you might want to fill;
  • start writing stories to fill those “gaps,” or even to create your own independent “branch” of the storyline, as our subscriber David H. has done with his stories about Ortellius; and
  • start planning the images, audio clips, and/or video clips that will accompany your story.

If you’d rather not write your own story, you can still choose to base a Submission on an existing story. For example, you might decide to

  • create your own illustrations;
  • create your own audio narration;
  • create your own video;
  • create your own reading-comprehension questions, with suggested answers;
  • create your own vocabulary pre-teaching activity (or post-reading assessment) to accompany a story;
  • create your own set of grammatical analysis questions, with suggested answers; or even
  • do something we haven’t imagined yet! The possibilities are endless.

Of course, if you do create such things just for yourself or your own students, go right ahead! We’d love for you to Submit them to us, but you don’t have to. On the other hand, if you’d like to have your creation officially become part of the Tres Columnae Project – in other words, if you’d like us to publish it for you on the Version Alpha Wiki site or its successor, or include it in the Instructure course – we do need to make sure that it meets our quality standards and doesn’t conflict with our philosophy. (For example, an exercise called “Translate this story into English” might well work for your class, but it wouldn’t be a good fit with our commitment to extensive reading and direct comprehension.) We’ll let you know here, on the site itself, and on popular listservs like Latinteach and Latin-BestPractices as soon as you can sign up for a subscription or a Single Submission. In the meantime, though, please spread the word about Tres Columnae to your friends, coworkers, students, and local homeschoolers. And please keep reading and exploring the stories and other content on the Version Alpha Wiki site and the Instructure Demo course.

And speaking of stories, tomorrow we begin a series of posts focusing on the sad life of Casina, ancilla Valeriī. When we first meet Casina early in Cursus Primus, she seems to be a bit of a complainer, but we don’t exactly know why she’s bitter and unhappy. We learn more in this story, featured in this post from May, in which we learn the cause of Casina’s hatred for the city of Pompeii … and the sadness that continually seems to gnaw at her. Then, with this story from Lectiō XIX, which we featured in this post from May, poor Casina is confronted with the near-death of another innocent servus. Perhaps the combination of memories and shock is the immediate cause of the situation we’ll feature in our upcoming series, or maybe Casina’s woes only grow as she considers the upcoming wedding of Valeria, daughter of her dominus, and the (presumably) happy fate of any children born to Valeria and Vipsānius – a stark contrast to the awful fate of her own child. Anyway, something causes Casina to become extremely ill – and her illness, in turn, will give us an opportunity to explore a number of facets of Roman culture that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to address. As we find out whether, and how, Casina will recover, we’ll also explore

  • various forms of healing in the Roman world;
  • Roman attitudes toward sickness and healing;
  • Roman attitudes about death and what lies beyond;
  • some issues regarding social class; and even
  • the geography of Rome itself, as the Valeriī decide to take Casina there (for reasons that may surprise you).

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of our plans for the future?
  • What do you think of the subscription model? If you can think of a better way, I’d love to hear about it!
  • What do you think of the upcoming series of posts about poor Casina?
  • And what ideas are you starting to have about Submissions?

Tune in next time, when we’ll begin to explore poor Casina’s fate. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

Instructure: A Review, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Just a few more notes about Instructure today before we move on to something different.

The more I use the rubric generator, the more I like it. I created a V-E-R-Y simple rubric for written OR multimedia responses to questions, which I originally was only going to use for blog-post response to assignments like this one. But I realized that the rubric – or a better one – would work equally well for Virtual Seminar responses and even for reflective pieces like this one about English derivatives. Net time involved: almost none. In Instructure, once you’ve made a rubric, you can “search for a rubric” to find the ones you’ve made, select one, and either use as-is or adapt it. What a fantastic feature!

In case you’re wondering, the reason why all the quizzes and surveys in the demo course are “practice” rather than “graded” is because only enrolled students in a course can take “graded” quizzes. There are some good and obvious reasons for that, aren’t there? But since the demo course doesn’t have any real students – and since I wanted you all to be able to see what the quizzes looked like – it made sense to me to set things up so that you could all see and experience the quizzes easily. In the “real” Tres Columnae materials, we’ll obviously have graded quizzes for the most part. For “quizzes” that are really practice exercises, participants will be able to retake them unlimited times; for those that genuinely are diagnostic, I’ll set a limit on retakes … but I’ll also plan to use Instructure’s “question groups” feature so that you, the learner, get similar-but-different questions if you do a retake. (And I’m hoping a question bank or quiz-copy feature will be in place sooner rather than later!)

It’s also almost effortless to upload a file like the family tree of Familia Lollia on this page, and to include it – or an external image like the one of Lollius, Maccia, and their children on that same page – in a Page or Assignment. It’s a bit less obvious how to do this in a Quiz question, but if you switch views to see the HTML, you can copy and paste the relevant code pretty easily. (And yes, the problem I mentioned yesterday with embedding multiple images in the same Page or Assignment seems to be continuing, but the workaround still works just fine. Still, I’ll mention it to the folks at Instructure and see if it’s a known issue, or if it might possibly be a browser-and-hardware configuration problem.)

I realize I didn’t mention Instructure’s powerful and flexible Modules feature yesterday … largely because I haven’t had the opportunity to use it yet. After all, Lectiō Prīma is fairly small; it doesn’t really need to be subdivided into smaller segments. But if you do use Modules to organize a course, Instructure lets you set up what it calls “criteria and prerequisites” for accessing a Module. If you think back to blog posts like this one, in which I’ve talked about the idea of different paces or pathways through the material for different learners, you can probably see the utility of this feature. For example, after a Quid Novī explanation, we can offer learners a link to attempt to bypass the rest of the module if they truly grasp the material. That way, if you already understand, for example, the nōmen / verbum distinction, there’s no need for you to work through the rest of the material in that sequence; you can simply take the relevant quiz and, if you pass, unlock the the next module and move on. Simple, effective differentiation … and without any pain at all for the teacher in the classroom.

Instructure also has the ability to create Sections of a larger course, which I think we could use for school-based groups to work together with their own teacher. And it’s possible to copy a whole Course, and to make changes to the copy … so the dream of customized Itinera through the material won’t have to stay a dream for much longer.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • If you’ve had a chance to play around with the Tres Columnae Demo course on Instructure, what did you think?
  • For those of you who’ve signed up for an Instructure account of your own and started playing with that, what did you think?
  • Whether you’ve seen Instructure “live” or not, what do you think of my descriptions of its features?
  • What features did you find especially interesting or helpful?
  • Were there any that left you scratching your head and wondering why?
  • And are there questions about Instructure you’d like to ask me, as an external fan, rather than asking someone inside the company? If so, I’d be glad to try to answer them.

Tune in next time, when we’ll return our focus to the Tres Columnae storyline, and to the long-promised wedding of Valeria and Vipsānius. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Instructure: A Review, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I hope you all had a peaceful and happy weekend and, for those who celebrate it, a very happy Father’s Day! (Mine was wonderful … and you probably noticed the father-and-children themes in last week’s post, which were not accidental in their timing.) Today we’ll begin to take a look at Instructure, the new online learning management system that our friend and collaborator Laura G recommended I take a look at. You can see her review here if you’d like, and a bit about the history of the company here. I was really impressed by the way the founders designed the features of the site – they actually asked potential users what features they would want first, and only then (after they knew what their customers wanted) did they start building the system. And they continue to be very responsive and open to suggestions from users and potential users.

I actually had a two-hour live demo from one of the company’s founders last Tuesday afternoon, and since then I’ve been working to create what Instructure calls a “public” course (that is, one that anyone can look at) for things other than stories in Lectiō Prīma of the Tres Columnae Project. Check it out at this link and see what you think of the first version. I’ll be adding the Quaestiōnēs (#14) and the Fabella Scrībenda (#12) … and a few other things … in the next day or so, but I ddn’t want to keep you waiting any longer!

Here are my first impressions after a few hours with Instructure:

It’s very easy and straightforward to sign up for a free account. You can either click a link from their home page to “Try It Out” (if you’d like a formal demo) or just “Log In” here and “Click to register” for a new account. If you choose the second option, which I did, there’s a very short information screen that you fill out, and then you get an automated email with a link to click to complete the process. In less than 5 minutes, you’re ready to start.

Once you do have an account, it’s extremely easy to create and set up a course, too. It’s also easy to go back and modify the setup if you decide you need to do that.

When you’re ready to enroll students in a course, that’s also easy. If you have students’ email addresses, you can just type or paste them into a box on the “enroll students” page. Instructure automatically generates usernames and passwords for them and sends invitation emails.

Instructure is hosted, which means that the company takes care of security, backups, and site administration … so teachers, schools, and colleges have one less thing to worry about. During the live demo, everyone I talked to stressed the security measures they take with students’ and teachers’ data. Still, if you want absolute control of student data, that may be a concern for you.

It’s also very easy to create Assignments, Pages, and Discussions. I really like the Discussions feature, which incorporates everything I had hoped for the Continuing Virtual Seminar – including the ability to respond not just in writing, but with audio or video. And you don’t have to use an external audio or video program; audio and video support is built right into the system. You just use your microphone and/or webcam, and Instructure does the rest.

Any time you’re working with text, Instructure uses the same, very simple editing screen. If you can use any word processor, you won’t need any explanation at all.

It’s remarkably easy to create links … not just to other Assignments or Pages within your course, but to external websites. For example, on this page, there’s a link to Fabella Prīma of Cursus Prīmus … and it took no time or effort to create.  It’s also very easy to upload files and images, and to work with them once you’ve uploaded them.

You can also link to external images … for example, in this quiz, the images are the ones you see in Cursus Prīmus and (since we purchased the right to use them for Tres Columnae) it was simple to make links to them as well. In one case, the image link didn’t seem to want to be pasted in the normal way, but it was easy to click the “switch views” link and just paste the link into the HTML code. (That may have been a server issue on Instructure’s end, or it may have been due to an internet connection glitch I was having that day; in any case, it only happened once or twice.)

Instructure has a beautiful rubric generator, and it’s quite simple to re-use and tweak rubrics that you’ve created. You can have students use the rubrics for self-assessment, and you can even have students assess each other’s work on an Assignment or a Discussion if you want.

Instructure’s built-in Gradebook has a lot of options for sorting and reporting, and you can even download and upload grades.

I haven’t had the chance to look at them yet, but there’s a nice-looking Chat feature for real-time discussion, and the Conferences feature is designed for synchronous work like online lectures, screen sharing, or “virtual office hours” (according to the Conferences tab). For what we’ll be doing with Tres Columnae, it probably isn’t that useful, but for a more conventional course, it would be extremely helpful.

The weakest part of Instructure at the moment is its Quizzes function. The Quiz editor works like all other text-editing functions of Instructure, so it’s simple and flexible, and you can create groups of questions from which the program will automatically choose – so that each student gets a slightly different quiz. But there’s no way to bank and reuse questions. If you want, for example, a practice quiz and a graded quiz with similar questions, you have to create both quizzes from scratch and re-enter the questions. Instructure does have an Import function, but it’s really designed to import whole courses that were created in a system like Blackboard or WebCT. I’m told that the Quiz features will be significantly improved when the next update to the program comes out later this summer. (Given the download / upload features already in place, that shouldn’t be too difficult for them to add.)

Overall, I was very impressed with Instructure and look forward to using it for the “non-public” aspects of the Tres Columnae Project as well as for the public demo. I’m particularly interested in using it for

  • self-correcting exercises and quizzes (which will be even better when they improve that module)
  • the Continuing Virtual Seminar (I haven’t found anything, anywhere, that works as well for this), and even
  • the creation, editing, and approval of participant-generated content.

If any of you do decide to try out Instructure, just let the folks there know how you heard about them. They seem to think the Tres Columnae Project is cool and interesting – and of course I agree, but I might just be a bit biased! 🙂 And they’re very committed to improving their product.

Tune in next time, when we’ll take a brief look at some other Instructure features I didn’t have time or space to mention today. Then we’ll start looking at another series of stories – the actual wedding of Vipsānius and Valeria from Lectiō XXIV. That will probably take us through the rest of the week. I’ll be at the American Classical League Institute in Winston-Salem, NC, from Saturday through Monday, and I’ll be making a presentation about Tres Columnae at one of the Saturday sessions. Depending on how things go, that may mean that our posts later this week are a bit shorter than usual. Also, there may or may not be a post on Monday or Tuesday next week – but I’ll try to make sure that there’s something, even if it’s just a sentence or two. And I’ll try to have a full report about ACL once I’ve returned home and recovered a bit!

Published in: on June 21, 2010 at 12:10 pm  Comments (1)  
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So Many Stories!

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! After our long series of posts about the stories in Lectiō XIV, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of connected Latin that Tres Columnae participants are exposed to – especially if you come from a grammar-translation approach to language teaching. You may be wondering how a class – or an individual student – could possibly read so much Latin in the time available … especially if you recall that we claim that Lectiōnēs I – XXX might roughly correspond to a year of high-school Latin or a semester of college Latin. You may have done the math, dividing 180 instructional days by 30 to find an approximate pacing of 6 class periods per Lectiō – and if you did that, you probably thought it would be “impossible” to “cover” so much Latin in such a short time.  (Nine stories in six days!  What is he thinking?)

I can certainly understand the concern – but stop for a moment and think about the language in it. Class periods, instructional days, pacing, cover – this is the language of a system where time is constant but learning is variable. In other words, it’s the language of the factory – and not the enlightened factories where production workers pay attention to the quality of their products, either! If we can step outside of the factory model of “batch-processing” students with severely limited time, we can probably imagine lots of ways to overcome the “time for coverage” objection. For example,

  • Students might well be encouraged to proceed through the material at their own pace. Some would finish the 30 Lectiōnēs in 30 days; some in 60; some in 180; and some in a longer period of time. But all would proceed at the right pace to achieve mastery for themselves.
  • Even if time is held constant, it’s not necessary for everyone to read every story with equal care. What’s the goal of the process? Is it for everyone to do the same activities, or for everyone to master the same knowledge, skills, and understandings? If the former, I can see that we might have a problem; but if the latter, there’s really not an issue. For example, say that the goal for a particular Lectiō is for learners to demonstrate that they understand, analyze, and productively use a particular set of vocabulary and grammatical structures. Assessment opportunities can be built in at the end of each task, whether it’s a story, an explanation, or an interactive exercise of some kind. As soon as you, the learner, demonstrate an acceptable level of proficiency with the material, you can be excused from the remaining “stuff” that’s just designed to practice those concepts. (For example, you could be asked to skim over those stories that are critical to the rest of the plot, or just to listen to the audio and look at the illustrations.) Once we stop looking at classrooms as assembly lines and start seeing them as learning communities, the possibilities and opportunities are endless!

Even so, you might have wondered about the sheer quantity of stories in the Tres Columnae Project. Even by comparison with a typical reading-method textbook, there’s a lot more Latin per Lectiō. (As I think about the “Big Three,” one usually has a single long story per chapter; another has 3-6, on average, per Stage; and the third falls somewhere in between. “Number four,” which is really a direct-method approach, is entirely in Latin, but even it often has fewer lines of reading per Capitulum than Tres Columnae has per Lectiō.)

The biggest difference between “us” and “them” is that “they” provide intensive reading, while we aim for a blend of intensive and extensive, with an emphasis on extensive. If you’re not familiar with the terminology, reading experts usually say that intensive reading is slower, more careful, and more deliberate, and the reading passages are more difficult for the reader – they’re at the learner’s instructional reading level, where he or she really needs some support and guidance from a teacher to make sense of the material. (If you’ve studied Latin formally in a classroom setting, you probably experienced nothing but intensive reading!) With extensive reading, by contrast, the goal is to read quickly, fluently, and without support from a teacher, so the passages should be at the learner’s independent reading level. According to first-language reading research, independent reading requires that you, the reader, be familiar with 95-99% of the words in the passage. Hence the very slow introduction of new vocabulary in Tres Columnae, and the constant repetition of vocabulary items.A

And of course we do know that old saying, repetitio mater memoriae. We’re strongly committed to the principle that the most efficient way to remember new words is not through lists and “memorization” but through repeated use. Of course, if lists help you (and they do help certain learning and thinking styles … a lot!), we’ll also provide lists – and we’ll highlight the words on those lists that are included in “standard” vocabulary for exams like the UK’s GCSE.

Speaking of vocabulary, here’s a brief rant: Wouldn’t it make sense for test publishers in the US to publish equivalent lists – maybe not the NLE Committee, but the College Board? Especially with the current revisions planned for the AP Latin Examination! A bit of work up-front, perhaps, but a big payoff later: no more agonizing decisions about which words to gloss! Much greater ease in choosing translation passages! No more complaints from customers about vocabulary issues? Well, that might be too much to ask!) I’m done with my rant now! 🙂

Another good reason for so many stories, as far as we’re concerned, is that our subscribers can pick and choose which ones they read carefully – they don’t have to read, or even hear, every sentence of every story. In keeping with what the iGeneration likes, we’ll probably split up some of the longer stories into paragraph-length pages, each with audio and images … then you, the learner, can decide if you want to continue with this story; just read it; just listen to it; or whatever seems best to you.

One of our models is the “fan fiction” communities that grow up around popular stories, movies, TV shows, etc. To encourage our participants to join the community, we want to have lots of existing stories … but lots of loose ends for them to “tie up” if they’d like – and even for different users to “tie up” differently, with various “branch” options. We have one example already in Lectiō 12, where you, the reader, can choose to have Vipsānia either believe Caelia or insist that there must be a potion that’s making Lucius be good.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of our commitment to extensive reading?
  • What about our commitment to learners’ choice … and to learning differences?
  • And what do you think of the idea of combining stories, audio, and image?

Tune in again on Monday, when we’ll begin to look at the Instructure platform and compare similar exercises there and on the Tres Columnae Moodle site. I’ll really be looking for comments from you as we look at these exercises side-by-side! Then, later in the week, we’ll find out what happens when Valeria and Vipsānius are actually married. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Rites of Passage, VII

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll wrap up our current series of posts with a couple of stories, and then on Saturday we’ll step back and take a more “big picture” look at the how and why of Tres Columnae Project stories. Next week we’ll pick up with my first impressions of the Instructure LMS software, and we should have some examples of exercises, quizzes, explanations, and Continuing Virtual Seminar prompts for the first few Lectiōnēs to share there … and to compare with the versions at the Tres Columnae Moodle site, in case you’re interested. I’d really love to know what you all think when you have a chance to make side-by-side comparisons between similar activities on the two platforms. After that, we’ll most likely look at the actual wedding stories from Lectiō XXIV, which haven’t yet appeared on the Version Alpha Wiki site.

Today, though, let’s finish – or almost finish – the sequence of stories about the engagement of Valeria and Vipsānius. When we left them yesterday, Valeria and her family had just arrived at the vīlla rūstica of the Vipsāniī, and poor, nervous, sweaty Vipsānius was trying to avoid greeting his future bride. If you’ve ever been, or known, a teenager, you probably smiled in sympathy as you read his feeble excuse! 🙂 Today’s story picks up just after their awkward meeting, as Quārtus Vipsānius the elder is showing everyone around his “little place in the country.” You’ll be able to find it at this link at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like.

Quārtus Vipsānius Valerium salūtat et “ēhem! libenter vōs in vīllā accipimus!” exclāmat. omnēs per iānuam vīllae prōgrediuntur et ātrium intrant. “nōnne magnificum est ātrium!” Lūcius Cāiō susurrat. “nōnne hoc ātrium māius est quam vīlla vestra?” respondet Cāius attonitus. “fortasse vīlla māior est quam urbs Herculāneum!” respondet Lūcius. “Vipsānius enim vir maximae pecūniae est, et senātor Rōmānus. utinam tālem vīllam habeam!” et Cāius, “utinam nē ex hāc vīlla discēdam! utinam nē ad cēnāculum parvum regrediar!”

omnēs per ātrium prōcedunt. servī et ancillae susurrant, “quaesō, dominī, nōbīscum venīte ad cubicula vestra.” et Quārtus Vipsānius, “valdē laetāmur,” exclāmat, “quod vōs in vīllā meā parvā hodiē accipiō. hodiē celebrātur et cēnātur; crās ad Circum ītur; tertiō diē negōtium agitur.” Valeria Vipsānium iuvenem cōnspicit et iterum ērubēscit. “nōnne benignus et cōmis est iuvenis?” sēcum putat. “nōnne lepidus et fortis! utinam nē innūpta ad Herculāneum regrediar!” Vipsānius quoque ērubēscit et, “dī immortālēs! quam pulchra et cōmis est Valeria!” sēcum putat. “utinam nē umquam discēdat!”

The next story in the sequence, of course, is the one we looked at back in February – the unfortunate events in the Circus. The good news, as we’ll see in this story from Lectiō XV, is that the drunken spectators do get what they deserve:

extrā Circum vigilēs Iulium et Clōdium vehementer vituperant. “vōbīs dīligenter audiendum est!” exclāmant īrātissimī. “nēminem decet in Circō ita pugnāre! nōnne rem intellegitis? tū enim, stultissime, senātōrī enim Rōmānō, virō maximae dignitātis, caput bōtulō percutīre audēs! et tū, asine, senātōrī Rōmānō ōs oculōsque vīnō foedāre audēs! nōnne in perīculō maximō estis, quod pietātem spernitis? nōnne vōs decet multōs annōs in carcere manēre?”

Iulius ēbrius et attonitus vigilēs invicem vituperat. “cūr ā servīs clāmātur? cūr ā gallīs vituperātur? ego enim et amīcus cīvēs sumus Rōmānī; vōs nec decet nōs tangere nec comprehendere! mihi ad Circum reveniendum est, vōbīs lacrimandum et flendum!”

Clōdius tamen, quod minus ēbrius est quam amīcus, sollicitus interpellat, “Iūlī! tē nōn decet vigilēs vituperāre! tibi tacendum est! nōnne vigilēs tē in carcere conicere possunt? nōnne vigilēs decet cīvēs turbulentōs comprehendere? tacē, stultissime – ad istum carcerem redīre haud volō!”

Iulius tamen verba Clōdiī neglegit. bracchium vigilī prēnsat et, “tibi audiendum est, serve! et tibi cavendum est quoque! nōnne–”

vigil tamen īrātus manūs Iuliō prēnsat et, “satis! satis! tacendum tibi est!” clāmat. vigil Iulium vehementer verberat et ad carcerem trahit. cēterī vigilēs Clōdium quoque prēnant et in carcerem coniciunt. spectātōrēs vigilibus plaudunt. “optimē facitis!” exclāmant. “nōnne bōtulum ēsse vultis?”

And the really good news is that, even despite the assaults of spectators Clōdius and Iūlius, Valerius and Vipsānius do successfully make the arrangements, with the wedding is scheduled for the following June. Check out this story:

intereā familia Valeria ē Circō exit et per viās urbis prōcēdit. familia Caelia quoque ad domum Vipsāniī regreditur. Quārtus Vipsānius ipse rīdet et “heus!” exclāmat, “spectātōrēs īnsolentissimōs! nōnne istīs ēbriīs necesse est poenās scelerum dare? rīdeō tamen, quod spectāculum novissimum nōbīs hodiē, multās pecūniās in tempore futūrō praestāre possunt illī. nōnne mē oportet istōs ad basilicam quaerere?”

Valerius quoque rīdet et, “mī Vipsānī,” vōce blandā inquit, “nōnne nōs decet dē dōte colloquium habēre?” “dē dōte?” respondet Vipsānius. “num quis fīliam meam in matrimōnium dūcere vult? Vipsānilla enim puella sex annōrum haud est.” tum Vipsānius rīdet et, “nōnne iocus optimus?” exclāmat. “nōs sānē decet dē dōte et dē matrimōniō ipsō colloquī. fīlius enim meus cotīdiē ad mē venit nūptiās Valeriae tuae quaesītum. cotīdiē mē ōrat, cotīdiē deōs precātur.” Vipsānius et Valerius tablīnum ingrediuntur pecūniam commemorātum.

Vipsānius iuvenis ērubēscit et ad iānuam currit vīllam intrātum. “valēte vōs omnēs!” susurrat. Valeria cum mātre stat et “ēhem! iuvenem pulchrum et benignum!” sēcum putat. Caelia rīdet et, “Valeria mea, num istum iuvenem dīligere audēs?” rogat. Valeria attonita rīsūs matris cōnspicit et quoque rīdet. “iuvenis sānē tam celer quam pulcher est!” respondet et cachinnīs sē trādit.

Lūcius attonitus “vah! mē taedet fēminārum!” exclāmat. “māter mea, nōnne Cāiō et mihi ad forum festīnandum est? nōnne per viās currendum est? nōs enim maximē taedet dōtis et matrimōniī!”

Caelia rīdet et, “festīnāte, puerī, sed dīligentiam maximam praestāte!” respondet. “et vōbīscum veniendum est consōbrīnō tuō!” Cnaeus “vae! heu! mē taedet viārum, et pedēs mihi maximē dolent!” respondet. Caelia tamen, “abī pestis!” exclāmat. Caelia et Valeria garrītum vīllam ingrediuntur; puerōs in viā relinquunt.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • First, what do you think of Vipsānius’ and Valeria’s response to each other?
  • What do you think of the rather relaxed, jocular relationship between Valerius and the elder Vipsānius?
  • How about Lucius’ and Caius’ response?
  • What other big issues – of characterization or of culture – do you want to talk about after reading these stories?

Tune in next time for the “big picture” questions … and your questions and answers, if you’re willing to share them. Then, on Monday or Tuesday, we should be able to start looking in detail at Instructure. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Building Understanding, V: More about Derivatives

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we continue with our series about Building Understanding as well as Knowledge and Skill in the Tres Columnae system. This is Day 5 of the overall series, and Day 2 of our focus on English derivatives. We’ll be looking at specific exercises and other tasks today, and I hope you’ll agree that the tasks we focus on are at least as much about Understanding, in the end, as they are about Knowledge and Skill. We addressed some of the problems that arise when Knowledge and Skill are taught without a focus on Understanding in yesterday’s post, and on Sunday I left you with this related thought:

Sadly, many American learners come to the study of Latin after a unit (or several) about “Greek and Latin roots and prefixes” in their English classes … but they’ve never developed the Understanding that languages borrow words from each other, or even the Understanding that languages change over time, or that you can often predict the meaning of a word if you know the meanings of its various components. So, while we’ll also develop some Knowledge of English derivatives and some Skills at working with them along the way, our primary goal is this Understanding

How can it be, we’ve probably all wondered, that students come to our Latin classes after “learning about” Latin and Greek word parts in English class, but yet they still “can’t” (or, at least, don’t) look at an English word like matronly and see any connection with māter or matrōna? How can it be that they “learned about” the chemical symbols of elements like gold and silver in several science classes, yet are surprised (pleasantly surprised, yes, but still surprised) by the connection of Au with aurum or Ag with argentum? And how can it be that they “learned about the Roman Empire” in World History class, but “know nothing” about Roman history?

Part of the problem may be that students come to us with an expectation that different school subjects are inherently disconnected from each other. I can’t be the only one who’s had to counsel – or console – students deeply upset because of “all the math in Chemistry,” can I? (You’d think it would be obvious … but then two of my college roommates were Chemistry majors.) Sadly, for many students, Subject A and Subject B (fill in any subject you’d like as either A or B) couldn’t possibly have anything to do with each other. After all, they’re taught in different class periods, by different teachers! They even have different textbooks, and the state (or national, depending on where you are) exams are different. Factory-model schools, by their very nature, promote this sort of disconnected view of their curricula; but even in such schools, many Latin teachers aim to help our learners synthesize knowledge from different areas. I don’t know that we can have a direct effect on curricular fragmentation, but we can probably have an indirect effect as we encourage our students to make their own connections to areas that are personally meaningful and interesting to them.

But how can we build these types of Understanding with real derivative exercises based on real stories? Let’s take a look at Prima Fabula Longa, the first “long” story in Lectiō Prīma of the project. After our learners have read it, we’ll ask them to work through a sequence of tasks like this:

quid novī?

As you read and heard the story, you probably noticed that a lot of the words were familiar to you while others were unfamiliar or even brand new. Most readers would probably say that these words were familiar:

in, tablīnō, sedet, labōrat, est, Rōmānus, māter, fīlius, fīlia, puella, puer, peristyliō, canis, frāter, et, soror

They’d probably say these words were somewhat familiar:

cīvis, lānam facit, fēmina, quoque, lūdit

And they’d probably say these words were unfamiliar:

summae, doctrīnae, magnae, prūdentiae, bona, benigna, paene, formōsa, lūdus (in lūdō), geminī

Choose two or more words that seemed familiar, one or two that seemed somewhat familiar, and one or two that seemed unfamiliar to you (it’s OK if your categories are different from ours), and click on them. (Obviously the links aren’t clickable yet, but they will be in the exercise!) These links will take you to the Online Etymology Dictionary, a wonderful resource that will show you many, many English words that developed over time from each of these Latin words. When you’ve explored the words you chose, please record some of your observations in your Tres Columnae learning blog. (In an amazing example of serendipity, as our faithful reader Laura G was developing her Vocabulary Blog idea in this totally free online Latin composition course, I was thinking about derivative blogs … and we both had the idea at the same time, I think!)

So far we’ve primarily looked at Knowledge and Skill-building work. Here comes the Understanding piece:

On a scale from 1-5, how much do you think you know about how words from one language turn into words in another language?

If you chose 4 or 5, you’ll continue to another quid novī? (see below). If you chose 1, 2, or 3, we’ll encourage you to look at this sequence:

  1. We’ll show you a paragraph full of English derivatives from the familiar words in our previous list.
  2. When you advance to the next screen, the paragraph will be color-coded, showing the language of origin for each word.
  3. Then we’ll ask, Did you know that a large number of English words – and an even larger number of words in French, Spanish, Italian, and the other “Romance” languages, developed from Latin words over time?

If you choose Yes, we’ll ask, Do you know how this happened?

If you choose No – or if you want our brief history-of-English lecture anyway 🙂 – we’ll then take you on a short summary – focusing on English, since that’s the first language of many of our current subscribers – of

  1. the Roman conquest of Britain
  2. the spread of Christianity, with Latin as the language of education, international communication, and the Church
  3. the Roman withdrawal from Britain and the “fall” of the western Empire
  4. the development of vernacular languages in Europe after the “fall”
  5. the Norman Conquest of England and its huge, but secondary, Latinate effect on English
  6. the “Renaissance” and its “rediscovery” of classical learning
  7. scholarly borrowings of Latin and Greek roots from then through the present day.

Then, in that other quid novī? screen, we’ll ask you to revisit at least one of the Online Etymology Dictionary entries you looked at earlier, and at least one new one. This time, we’ll have you take a closer look at how the words changed and developed over time, and how their meanings are both related to and different from the meanings of the root words. (It’s a big move, for example, from paene to penitent if the folks at the Online Etymology Dictionary are right about that connection!) We’ll invite you to add to your blog post and to participate, if you’d like, in the Continuing Virtual Seminar about word origins and language change.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think about the element of choice in derivative work? It’s very different from what most Latin teachers do, but does it make sense to you?
  • Can you see how our core values of Joy, Learning, Community, and Ownership would impel us to give our learners some choices about vocabulary and derivatives?
  • Do you think we have, in fact, helped our learners build some Understanding as well as Knowledge and Skill? Or have we just confused them with Too Much Information?

Tune in next time, when we’ll begin to examine how we can build Understanding of cultural elements, from products (like houses) and practices (like family structures) to perspectives (like the untranslatable concept of pietās). intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Building Understanding, III: Nouns and Verbs

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we continue our series about the Understandings that we hope our learners will develop, along with increased Knowledge and Skill, during the first two Lectiōnēs of the Tres Columnae project. (For new readers, this three-fold distinction among Knowledge, Skill, and Understanding is central to the Paideia model of education, and you can learn a lot more about Paideia’s “Three Columns of Instruction” at this link.) We’ll be looking specifically at Understandings about language today, and in particular at the second of our five goals for Lectiō Prīma, that the learner will

distinguish Latin nouns and verbs

At first glance, this may seem like a Knowledge level task (after all, what could be more basic for a language learner than parts of speech) or perhaps, at best, a Skill (since we’re asking our learners to distinguish rather than just recognize or list nouns and verbs). And, in fact, we will certainly be building both Knowledge and Skill when we focus on this goal. But we’re not content to stop with Knowledge or even Skill; we also want our learners to develop some deeper Understandings about the nature of language, and to be able to apply these Understandings not only to Latin, but to their native languages and to other languages they may learn down the road.

So consider the following sequence, which (until now) has never appeared on the Version Alpha Wiki site. It comes right after Fabella Prīma and Fabella Secunda:

quid novī?

You probably noticed that Latin, like other languages, has words for people, places, animals, and things, and that it also has words for actions. So far we’ve seen

People: familia

Places: mōns Vesuvius, Ītalia, urbs Herculāneum

Things: columnae, domus

Actions: est, stant, habitat

You may know that English speakers call the “people, places, animals, and things” words nouns and the “actions” words verbs. The Romans called them nōmen and verbum.

On a scale from 1-5, where 1 is very uncomfortable and 5 is very comfortable, how comfortable do you feel with the concept of nōmen and verbum?

On the same scale, how comfortable do you feel with distinguishing a nōmen from a verbum?

So far, we’ve mainly been building Knowledge (what nouns and verbs are – which we hope, but are no means certain, that our learners already know to some degree). Of course, the self-assessment involves some Skill and a bit of self-understanding … or at least self-awareness! But wait, there’s more:

If your comfort level with distinguishing a nōmen from a verbum is 3 or less, we’ll invite you to follow a link to a further explanation:

quid novī?

At this point in our learning of Latin, it will actually be quite easy to distinguish a nōmen from a verbum, because all the verba we’ll see until Lectiō Quīnta will have something in common! Take a closer look at the three verba we’ve seen so far:

est, stant, habitat

What do they have in common?

They all end with the same letter – a ___

(If “I” or “you” or “we” do the action of a verbum, it will change, but we don’t have to worry about that until Lectiō Quīnta!)

Then everyone goes on to this quid novī? – the one that firmly focuses on Understanding:

It’s actually easier to recognize a Latin verbum than it is to recognize an English verb.

For example, consider these five unfamiliar Latin words, which we’ll come to know well in future Lectiōnēs:

mustēla, plōrat, cēnāculum, īnsula, reddit

Two of them are verba – which two?

(if you answer correctly)

  • certē! Even though you’ve never seen the words before, you could tell that plōrat and reddit had to be verba, because they both ended with -t.

(if you answer incorrectly)

  • vae! heu! You might want to take a closer look at the quid novī? explanation. Check again to see the letter that all verba will end with until at least Lectiō Quīnta, then try the question again!

Now (if you’re a native English speaker) consider the following list of English words. Which ones are definitely verbs and couldn’t be any other part of speech?

drink, swim, fly, run, crawl

You probably noticed that all of them could be verbs, but they could also be something else.

The people drink water (verb) – but you can also have a drink of water (noun)

The boy likes to swim (verb) – but the boy went for a swim (verb)

Birds fly (noun) – but I see a fly on the table (noun), and (in some dialects) you can look fly (adjective).

See if you can generate your own examples for run and crawl, and see if you can come up with some other English words that can be several different parts of speech in different contexts.

Unlike those English words, though, Latin verba will be easy to recognize – at least until Lectiō Quīnta – because they end with -t.

On a scale from 1-5, how comfortable do you feel with recognizing nōmina and verba now?

On the same scale, how comfortable do you feel with some of the differences between Latin and English?

With this quid novī? explanation, we’ve firmly crossed over from Skill (recognizing or classifying words as nouns or verbs) to Understanding, as we focus on a critical difference between Latin and English. Of course we’ll go on to complicate the picture a bit, as we consider some words that can be used as bases for both nouns and verbs (coquus and coquere early on, and labor and labōrāre after a while, among others). But from the very beginning, we want to build not only Knowledge (these words are nouns, these are verbs) and Skill (here’s how you can distinguish a verb from other parts of speech) but also Understandings (languages indicate parts of speech in different ways).

Personally, I think most existing Latin textbooks do a great job with building Knowledge, and in general they’re also pretty good at building Skills – grammar-translation books, for example, build the Skills of producing and analyzing grammatical forms, and reading-method books build Skill at reading comprehension. But I’m far from convinced that most textbooks focus on Understanding … and, of course, textbooks always drive instruction to some degree even when a teacher (or a school district) insists that some curriculum document or set of standards is “much more important” than the textbook. Unfortunately, when we don’t work to build (or at least to assess) Understanding, we can leave our students without the context or basis to apply their developing Knowledge or Skill.

I had a dramatic illustration of that recently, when my Latin I students suddenly started adding noun endings to verbs (and vice versa) in writing exercises. First I was surprised, then I was angry, then I was sad, then I was puzzled – I guess I went through most of the stages of the grief process, come to think of it, though I refused to get to Acceptance of what they were doing! 🙂 Anyway, I eventually discovered that for several of them, the noun-verb distinction just wasn’t clear … and this was in late April, after several months of daily 90-minute classes! We went back, built the missing Understanding (and related ones about which verb stems form which tenses), and saw a big improvement. It’s not surprising … after all, if you don’t have the Understanding of what Skills or Knowledge to apply, it’s like flying or driving while blindfolded: you’re unlikely to get to your destination, and you’re quite likely to crash and, possibly, burn on the way!

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • How do you feel about the Knowledge-Skill-Understanding distinction we’ve been using?
  • Do you agree with my claim about building Understanding of language through these quid novī? explanations and exercises?
  • What about my claim that textbooks, in general, prioritize Knowledge and Skill over Understanding?
  • And what about my poor, wayward Latin I students? Was it really that they had a lack of Understanding, or was it (as some teachers might claim, especially at this difficult time of year) just that they were being “bad” or “lazy” or “unmotivated” or something like that?

Tune in next time, when we’ll see how even the study of English (and other language) derivatives from Latin can be made into an exercise for Understanding as well as Skill and Knowledge. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

What about Vocabulary? III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! On Saturday, I left you with this story, which is now online here at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site. I also left you with these questions:

  • Which words are likely to be new to our participants?
  • Which ones are important enough to present first, in a fabella, with pictures, or with some other explanation?
  • Which (new or familiar) words might learners still want, or need, to practice?
  • And what kinds of practice would work best?

Today we’ll develop some preliminary answers to the questions, and we’ll also use them to address the second and third of the larger issues about vocabulary that I listed on Friday:

  • If not lists, what?  Obviously some words can be introduced with pictures; some are clear from context or English derivatives; and some can be defined through paraphrase.  But what do we do with a word that can’t easily be introduced in one of these ways?
  • How should we decide which words are core, critical vocabulary and which words are nice to know?  Or should we even make such a distinction?

We’ll start with the smaller questions and move out to the larger ones. Then, tomorrow, we’ll look at some other issues … and a great suggestion from our faithful reader Laura G, who made this comment in response to Saturday’s post.

The new (or newish) words in this story include partūriunt, nāscitur, vultūs, and nūtriunt (though we’ve known nūtrīx since we met Planēsium back in Lectiō ()).

We obviously don’t want pictures of these words … especially the first two verbs! But it wouldn’t be hard to construct a fabella that introduces them:

īnfāns (with picture)

māter īnfantem partūrit, et īnfāns nāscitur.

ecce ōs et oculī et nāsus īnfantis!

ecce vultus īnfantis!

īnfāns ēsurit! “vae! vae!” clāmat īnfāns.

īnfāns tamen cibum ēsse haud potest!

māter igitur īnfantem nūtrit.

  • quid significat partūrit?
    • is born
    • gives birth
    • gives milk
  • quid significat nāscitur?
    • is born
    • gives birth
    • gives milk
  • quid significat nūtrit?
    • is born
    • gives birth
    • gives milk

Since these words are clustered or related semantically, it’s probably easier to learn them all together than it would be to learn them separately. (What does linguistic research say about this?  I have to confess I’m not sure! 😦 )

All the other words in the story are at least fairly familiar to our participants, though some – vēnālīcius and arcessit, for example – haven’t been used much recently. Of course, each learner’s vocabulary is unique, so it probably makes sense to customize the vocabulary-practice activities as much as possible. One simple way is to

  • Pull out the “important but theoretically familiar” words from the story … even, perhaps, in a list, but just a list of Latin words 🙂
  • Perhaps let each word be clickable so the learner can check meanings easily if necessary.
  • Have the learner rate each word on a scale like this
    • 1 – I don’t even recognize this word! Has it really been used before?
    • 2 – I think I have seen this word before, but I did not remember what it meant.
    • 3 – I must have seen this word before, but I have trouble remembering what it means.
    • 4 – I am fairly comfortable with this word and its meanings.
    • 5 – I am very comfortable with this word and its meanings.
  • Encourage the learner to create – and upload and share – something that helps him/her remember a few “problem” words that he/she rated at 3 or below.

That gives the learner a tremendous amount of Ownership, since he or she is free to

  • select the words;
  • create something personally meaningful;
  • make it part of the Tres Columnae system; and possibly even
  • receive royalties, down the road, if others like and benefit from his/her submission.

So we’ve begun to develop answers for the two large questions I mentioned above:

  1. If not lists, what? Lots of different things, mostly created by our learners and shared with each other.
  2. How to distinguish core, critical vocabulary from “nice to know”? To some degree, it depends.
  • If you’re an independent learner, not aiming to take any external examinations, you get to decide what’s core.
  • If you’re working within a system where certain words “must be known for the test,” that list of words will obviously determine which words are core for you.
  • We’ll provide lots of repetitions of the words we think are core.
  • You can always create activities, stories, exercises, or other kinds of material to help other learners work on words you think are important.

Of course, we may be making things a bit difficult for teachers who want to “give everybody a vocabulary quiz because it’s Thursday” (and, of course, the “chapter test is on Friday”). But then, Tres Columnae isn’t really designed for that type of teaching! If that’s what you need or want to do, there are some excellent traditional textbooks that would fit your teaching style a lot better and cause you a lot less stress. But if you’re not that type of teacher, you may just find that your students’ vocabulary increases exponentially precisely because they conceive of it as a useful, necessary tool rather than an end in itself or a thing we do because the school makes us.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • First, what do you think of the story? All I can say is, Poor Utilis! Poor Felicissima and Dulcissima! And, at the same time, poor Vipsania! No wonder everyone in that house is always saying “vae! heu!”
  • Second, what do you think of the vocabulary development process … the fabella and the creative products?
  • And finally, what do you think of the Ownership issues?

I have to tell you that my thinking about Ownership has really changed in the past few months. When I first realized that Ownership was a core value of the Tres Columnae project, right up there with Building a Joyful Learning Community, I was still thinking of Ownership as a metaphor, in the way that teachers often talk about “taking ownership of your learning” or parents (I’m guilty here!) talk about “taking ownership of your life” or your choices and their consequences. But I’ve realized that literal Ownership is important, too – Ownership of the content you create, and of the financial benefits of good work that you do. Oddly, I find myself very opposed to adult authority figures‘ “paying students for grades” as this retired teacher in California is planning to do … but I’m very much in favor of learners’ paying each other for the use of learning materials they create. What’s up with that? Am I an utter hypocrite? Or is there a real difference between the two situations?

Tune in next time for more thoughts on this issue, and for more on some other issues of vocabulary. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

What about Vocabulary? I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs!  I had intended to write a longer post this evening, but ran into a former student while I was doing some errands and ended up having a very long, productive conversation.  She was very excited to hear about the Tres Columnae project and had some great suggestions … and since she’s a former student of mine who has become a teacher herself, I was especially glad I ran into her.  More about that conversation another day!

I did promise you all the start of a series of posts about vocabulary development in the Tres Columnae system, and I wanted to make sure to keep that promise.  If you’re a longtime reader of the blog, you may remember this post and this one from January, the beginning of our previous series about vocabulary.

  • In this post from the last series, we dealt with the effects of Latin on English vocabulary.
  • In this post, we looked at some specific strategies for building ownership of vocabulary – most of which I’ve used in a face-to-face teaching situation, but some of which could be adapted, fairly easily, for Tres Columnae participants.
  • In this post, we started a five-part series about Ownership and Vocabulary, which continued with this post, this post, this post, and this post.

So you might think we had thoroughly addressed all issues relevant to vocabulary … and in some ways, we did.  But as the Tres Columnae system  has developed over the past few months, you may have noticed that we still don’t have a formal or “official” list of vocabulary for each Lectiō or for the program as a whole.  You’ve probably also noticed that there aren’t any vocabulary-specific exercises available yet.  And you may be wondering if this is a deliberate decision on our part, or if it’s just that we haven’t put everything online yet.

Yes, there will be a list, and sooner rather than later … in fact, there will be a master list, and in each Lectiō we’ll distinguish words that you, the learner, should know well by the end of the Lectiō from those that are less important.

In the posts in our previous series about vocabulary – the ones linked above – I addressed some of the issues about vocabulary, especially for Latin learners in the United States, that made such a list harder to develop than you might expect.  But when you collate the available lists and look at the “standard” authors that Tres Columnae participants might read after they finished our materials, the “core” vocabulary is relatively easy to develop.  The problem is deciding which words to introduce when!

As for exercises, yes, we’ll have those too!  I actually would prefer for participants to create most of them, since they’re likely to have really interesting ideas (like Laura G’s amazing slide shows, which you can learn more about on her blog here, here, and here).  But we’ll certainly have a few available to get people started.

I actually have more questions than answers in today’s post … I’ll have some possible answers tomorrow, but there are several big questions where I really need input from you.  Here we go:

  1. When language teachers discuss vocabulary, we tend to assume vocabulary lists … lists of L2 words with “their meaning” in L1.  But we know, or at least I think we know, that the relationship between any two languages is a lot more complex than “servus means slave or servant and ille means that.”  (Learners quickly discover that ille and that have some partial overlap in meanings, but so do ut and that, and ōrātiō oblīqua and that, and … you get the idea!)  Do you think, on balance, that vocabulary lists (the kind that imply a one-to-one equivalent between L1 and L2 words) are helpful or hurtful for students?  And how might we improve them to make them more helpful … and/or less hurtful?
  2. If not lists, what?  Obviously some words can be introduced with pictures; some are clear from context or English derivatives; and some can be defined through paraphrase.  But what do we do with a word that can’t easily be introduced in one of these ways?
  3. How should we decide which words are core, critical vocabulary and which words are nice to know?  Or should we even make such a distinction?
  4. How can we tell – or help our learners discover for themselves – that they have mastered a particular word, or set of words?
  5. How do we build – or help our learners build – a desire to master or own words in general, or a particular word we’ve decided we want them to master or own?
  6. And what about flashcards … physical ones or virtual ones?  Do they help or hinder authentic ownership or mastery of words?  And should they be a part of the Tres Columnae system … or should we just encourage participants to make them if they, personally, find them helpful?

Tune in next time for some partial answers, including the ones you suggest.  intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

Making a Contribution, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! This was supposed to be Thursday’s post, but somehow, when you don’t press that “Publish” button, it doesn’t automatically publish itself.  The “future” story to which I refer at the end is, of course, the one that you read today(vae! heu!) 🙂 ….

Today we continue with our look into the future of the Tres Columnae project, imagining a world where the “fully formed” project has many subscribers who have begun to create and upload their own content. In Clayton Christensen‘s language from yesterday’s post, we have begun to become a facilitated user network as well as a Joyful Learning Community.

We’ll continue with the adventures of Jane and John, our fictional sister and brother participants in the project. Delighted by the response to her audio clips and his silly videos, they’ve now decided to create some exercises and quizzes to go along with their previous submissions. Here’s what that process will probably look like.

  1. John and Jane are working with Lectiōnēs XV and XVI of Cursus Prīmus, where the grammatical focus is on consolidating and becoming more comfortable with “what we already know” before we meet the non-present-tense verbs in Lectiō XX. There’s also a lot of new cultural content as we consider marriage, childbirth, and related issues.
  2. John has been struggling a bit with the optātīvus, which was introduced in Lectiō XIV. He decides to create an English-to-Latin exercise where you choose the right verb form (indicative or subjunctive) depending on the sentence. (We’ll be featuring Latin-to-Latin exercises, but we don’t have any objection to translation, as you know, especially when it helps our participants.) Meanwhile, Jane is fascinated by the different types of Roman marriage and especially by the cum manū / sine manū distinction. She decides to create a simple quiz with multiple-choice and true-false questions about the various types of marriage.
  3. Since John and Jane are Tres Columnae subscribers (and yes, their family gets a small discount for those two subscriptions!), they have access to a portion of the site – which will be ready very soon – called Create an Exercise or Quiz. They log on, read the directions, and each one downloads a copy of the spreadsheet that will make their task easier.
  4. They notice that the spreadsheet contains columns called Question, Correct Answer, CAFeedback, Wrong Answer 1, W1Feedback, and so forth.
  5. They both have a lot of fun making up wrong answers and feedback … some of which is not very nice!
  6. They eagerly upload their spreadsheets and wait for a response from Tres Columnae.
  7. “Somebody at Tres Columnae” (who, who could it be?) likes the overall idea, but makes some specific suggestions for corrections – num mentem habēs? nōnne arbor mortua es? is clever and funny, but it’s not very helpful feedback for a wrong answer, for example. “Somebody” also checks carefully to make sure that all the correct answers are, in fact, correct, and that all the wrong answers are, in fact, wrong.
  8. John and Jane add some helpful feedback, and each has one or two questions where the answer needs to be edited or the question needs to be reworded.
  9. They resubmit their spreadsheets and “somebody” approves them.
  10. Busy, busy “somebody” goes through a fairly simple process (but you probably don’t want to know the details) that converts the spreadsheet into a form that can be imported into the Moodle system, and soon there are new exercises and quizzes featured on the New Contributions page.
  11. A very “tradition-minded” Latin teacher is creating a “grammar-focused” Pathway through the Tres Columnae materials for his students. He’s delighted to find John’s exercise and Jane’s quiz – in fact, he says something about how much better they are than “all that new-fangled Latin-only stuff” – and decides to feature both of them in his Pathway. John and Jane, in turn, are happy with the royalty. Should we tell our friend the “traditionalist” that both authors are younger than his high-school students? 🙂

And now a few words about Pathways or Itinera. At the moment, you won’t find any of these, largely because our collection of stories, explanations, audio, and video is still small enough that one person could reasonably use all of it. But as our numbers of participants grow, we expect that will change – imagine trying to watch all the videos on YouTube, or even just all the ones tagged with a single phrase like “silly cat.” (For the record, as of mid-April 2010, there were about 9,130 videos so tagged, and no, I did not watch any of them!) So we assume that our participants will want some help as they navigate through all the material. In part, we’ll depend on the participants themselves to check out – and rate, and comment on – new submissions, which we’ll feature on our New Submissions page. We’ll also invite our participants to categorize their submissions, though we’re not exactly sure what the categories will be in the end.

But we also know that different participants will have different needs and different preferences. For example, some may love the animal stories, while others may prefer stories about the human characters. Some may want an inductive approach to new grammatical concepts, while others may want a deductive approach. Some may be fascinated by Roman culture or history, while others may only be interested in the linguistic elements of Tres Columnae. Over time, as our collection of materials grows, we’ll encourage participants to make their own collections of the material they find most helpful, and we’ll give them a way to share their collections with each other. (It may well be as simple as a collection of Delicious tags, or it may be something that hasn’t even been invented yet!)

Anyway, as time goes by, we expect that teachers, groups of teachers, homeschooling groups, and other organizations of our users will probably want to create their own pathways or Itinera through the ever-larger collections of materials, and we’ll encourage them to do so. If you create a public Iter that’s open to everyone, there’s no fee; after all, it doesn’t require any editing by us, and you’re not doing anything special with anyone’s contributions. But if you decide to create a private Iter, you’ll pay royalties to the creators of any materials you choose to include, much as you would if you bought a DVD with their video clips, an audio CD with their recordings of stories, or even a custom-printed book with their stories or illustrations. (Over time, we expect that people will want to buy those things, and we’ll make it happen if they do; it’s a win-win situation for us, for the creators, and for the purchasers!)

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Do you see the potential for rapid growth that we’re starting to see? Or do you think that Tres Columnae will remain small and won’t need some of the additional navigation features we’ve discussed?
  • How do you feel about the editing process as we’ve described it? Does it sound like too much – or not enough? And how would you go about improving it?
  • As the project grows, we’ve been thinking about how to handle editing. One logical way would be to invite community members to become part-time editors. Would it make sense to compensate them by giving a discount on their own subscriptions in exchange? Or should we pay them a per-item editing fee?
  • How do you feel about the idea of Itinera?
  • And, if you like the idea in general, what about the idea of an exclusive Iter which would prevent its users from seeing “stuff” that wasn’t on the Iter, rather than just recommend certain “stuff” to them?
  • For example, imagine that a Classical Christian school has purchased subscriptions for its students. They don’t have any objections to teaching about Greco-Roman mythology, which is an important part of their curriculum, but for religious reasons, they would prefer not to include any stories where characters actually pray to Greco-Roman divinities. Should we let them construct such an Iter for their students? Or should we insist that “everybody can see everything” even if some of that “everything” is objectionable to them?
  • What do you think about royalties for “private” use of the materials? And what do you think would be a reasonable royalty? Or should it depend on the type of content … or on the popularity of the item … or on some other factors we haven’t thought of?

When you set out to build a Joyful Learning Community, and when Ownership is a core value, some decisions are a lot simpler, but others are a lot more complicated. And some decisions are just complicated by their very nature. We don’t intend to “punt” those decisions to the community, but we do want to know how you feel about the underlying issues. And as issues come up, both now and in the future, we’ll be bringing them to our subscribers for their input, and sometimes even a formal survey or possibly a vote. I’ve noticed, over the years, that my face-to-face students are often happy for me to make the decisions (after all, that is why I get those big bucks as a public-school teacher!) as long as they know I’ve heard their concerns. It will be fascinating to see whether you, the Tres Columnae community, feel the same way!

Tune in next time when we’ll feature a story from around the point where John and Jane created their materials. It raises interesting issues of identity and community, as well as friendship and loyalty, and it even touches on that quintessentially Roman concept of pietās. And yet most of the characters aren’t human! 🙂 After we explore it, we’ll take a look at the Continuing Virtual Seminar for which it might serve as a text. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus! Please keep those comments and emails coming … and there’s still time to register for one of the few remaining Free Trial subscriptions. Remember, even after the Free Trial period expires, you’ll still be able to read and comment for free, so please spread the word about Tres Columnae to your family and friends.