Developing Vocabulary, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll continue with our focus on vocabulary, looking specifically at the last three elements in our list from Wednesday:

  • homophones and near-homophones;
  • prefixes, suffixes, and such; and
  • connections to English and other languages

Of these three, the second and third are probably common tools among Latin teachers, but we actually think the first one is the most important. All language learners tend to struggle with homophones, and near-homophones can be even more confusing, especially if your pronunciation of your new language is a bit imperfect. In Latin, where vowel quantity is phonemic, near-homophones with different vowel quantities can be especially problematic … and particularly so if the learner doesn’t normally pay attention to fine details. In my face-to-face classes, I like to address the importance of quantity early with some dramatic examples like

  • occidere (to fall or go down, like the sun) vs. occīdere (to kill, rather violently)
  • malus (bad) vs. mālus (apple); and of course everyone’s favorite
  • anus (old lady) vs. ānus

My students are always appropriately horrified at the thought of accidentally calling someone’s elderly grandmother a … body part, especially if that someone is a large, volatile Roman, probably armed! 🙂

In the Tres Columnae system, our first experience with near-homophones is pretty dramatic, too:

quid novī?

You probably noticed that the verbum in these sentences is almost but not quite the same.

  • Caelius paterfamiliās est.
  • mustēla mūrem ēst.

The only difference is the e-brevis vs. ē-longa … but it’s a big difference! est (short e) is a form of the verb esse (to be), but ēst (long ē) is a form of ēsse (to eat). It’s important to be careful … you wouldn’t want to be dinner when you thought you were going to have dinner, would you?

Fortunately, not all the forms of these two verbs are as similar as est and ēst or esse and ēsse … but some are.

  • “ego paterfamiliās sum,” inquit Valerius. “ego cēnam edō.”
  • “tū es Caelia,” inquit Valerius. “tū cēnam ēs.”

We’ll compare the plural forms (and the forms that refer to the past or future) of these two words in later Lectiōnēs.

On our traditional scale from 1-5, how well do you think you could distinguish the forms of esse and ēsse?

You can probably imagine the exercises that will follow. We’ll use a similar process with other pairs of strikingly-similar words … and with a few not-so-similar pairs that students tend to confuse, like solēre and sōlus or (I don’t know why this happens to my students, but it does … every year!) laudāre and laetus.

Of course, it will be up to the learner (with his/her teacher’s guidance, in the case of school-based subscribers) to decide whether or not to explore a particuar quid novī or to use a particular exercise. Remember, we are all about Ownership of learning at Tres Columnae … and that includes the learner’s right to choose to disengage from learning for a while, if necessary. We obviously don’t want any of our learners to exercise that right, but we honor their freedom to do so … and ironically, when you do honor a child or teenager’s freedom in this way, they’re a lot more likely to regulate themselves and a lot less likely to disengage. So it’s a win-win situation for everyone – another core value of ours! 🙂

Returning to our topic of vocabulary development, I want to look at the ways that Tres Columnae builds word-attack skills (in both Latin and the learner’s native language) by helping learners see the prefixes, suffixes, roots, and other word parts that go together to make up words. Most Latin teachers, especially in English-speaking countries, doubtless spend a lot of time helping their students with vocabulary development in this way, but the focus tends to be on the first language (“Today, children, we’ll learn about English prefixes that derive from Latin”) rather than on the second. The sad result, in many cases, is young learners with a lot of confusion!

At Tres Columnae, we plan to keep the focus of our “word-parts” study firmly on the Latin, and we also plan to include more types of word-parts than just the “traditional” scattering of prefixes and suffixes (really, mostly prefixes) encountered in English derivatives. In John Read’s terms (as summarized by Professor Robert Cape at this link to which I referred yesterday, we’re hoping for a more embedded and comprehensive approach even to the study of word parts. So, for example,

  • when we address diminutive endings, we’ll be able to refer to our character Caeliola;
  • we’ll look specifically at the formation of frequentative and inchoative verbs, not just present them in a vocabulary list as many Latin textbooks do;
  • we’ll pay as much attention to suffixes (especially the ones that change a word from one part of speech to another) as we do to prefixes; and, in the process,
  • we’ll resist the idea that a suffix (or prefix) has “a” single meaning … in John Read’s terms, we’ll show that even prefixes and suffixes are context-dependent to some degree.

This last point may need a bit of amplification if you haven’t recently worked with students on word-building with prefixes and suffixes. If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you know that I have happily used one of the “Big Three” reading-method Latin textbook series for many years; the one I use, quem nōmināre nōlō, happens to do a very good job, overall, with inductive word-building exercises. For example, it presents a list of adjectives and corresponding nouns ending with –tās or –tūdō and asks students to figure out (1) the meanings of one column or the other and (2) the pattern of formation.

Unfortunately, my students often struggle with these exercises – not because they don’t see the pattern, but because they want the suffix to mean one thing … that is, they always want –tās to correspond exactly with English –ty or –ness, and they get frustrated when it doesn’t. I used to think it was a student problem, but I’ve come to realize that it’s a formatting problem: they see a vocabulary list and automatically assume that there’s a one-to-one correspondence between the words on the lists. After all, they’ve spent years in other classes doing the kinds of mindless vocabulary work that I described (a bit mockingly) in this post from early January!

I’ll talk a bit more about English (and other language) connections next time, and there will be a story that I hope you enjoy. In general, though, similar considerations apply:

  • we want to keep the focus on the Latin, rather than on the other-language derivatives or cognates;
  • we want the English (and other language) connections to feel like a joyful bonus rather than a drudgery-filled chore;
  • we particularly do not want to put learners at any kind of disadvantage if they happen not to know a lot of Latinate English words already! That’s just not fair! Besides, if one benefit of studying Latin is an increase in English vocabulary – and we as a profession are always claiming that this is so – shouldn’t we be aiming our efforts at students with smaller vocabularies? After all, they need us more!

So, now that you have an overall view of our approach to vocabulary, quid respondētis? I’m especially interested in your responses to the points about lists and students with small vocabularies. There’s an unfortunate (meā quidem sententiā) idea in some circles that Latin is “for” the “best and brightest,” and that others need not apply … and at Tres Columnae, we utterly reject that idea.

Tune in next time to witness Lucius, Caius, and Cnaeus’ first day at a new school, with a slightly unusual teacher (for first-century C.E. Herculaneum) who says he only beats students when they deserve it! 🙂 intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus legentibus et respondentibus! There’s still time (and space) to sign up for a Trial Subscription to the Tres Columnae project if you’re interested.

Developing Vocabulary, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodāl ēs! Welcome to the second in a series of posts about the ways that the Tres Columnae system will help our participants develop a solid, flexible vocabulary. Our faithful reader and contributor Randy F recently pointed out this link to an article by Professor Robert Cape of Austin College (TX) about the development of Latin vocabulary. Professor Cape, in turn, refers to a book by John Read called Assessing Vocabulary (Cambridge University Press, 2000), in which the author refers to three “dimensions of vocabulary assessment”:

Discrete – Embedded

Selective – Comprehensive

Context-Independent – Context-Dependent

To summarize Professor Cape’s summary, a discrete assessment would measure the learner’s comprehension of individual words, while an embedded assessment would consider how the words related to (and contributed to) the overall meaning of the text in which they occurred. A selective assessment looks at a particular list of words, while a comprehensive assessment considers the whole range of vocabulary a student has developed. A context-independent assessment considers all the possible meanings of a word (all the dictionary definitions, for example, or all the meanings on “the list”), while a context-dependent assessment considers the meaning – or meanings – that would be most appropriate in the actual context. As Professor Cape notes, most assessments of Latin vocabulary, even for advanced students, are on the discrete and selective side of the scale; he suggests several ways to move towards a more embedded, comprehensive, and context-dependent assessment of vocabulary. Given his audience, it’s natural that he emphasizes translation as a primary goal (and the main tool for assessment), but it would be quite easy to adapt this framework to a system, like Tres Columnae, which uses other measures as well. I am truly indebted to Randy for sending this resource my way, and I’m delighted to be able to share it with you! It has significantly changed this post and the ones that follow in this series.

In yesterday’s post, I pointed out ways that the Tres Columnae project meets several of our core beliefs and assumptions about vocabulary. And then I closed with this:

But what about the other promises we made? Specifically, what about

  • finding out whether the learner knows the word;
  • actual “presentation” of words that need to be presented
  • opposites and synonyms;
  • homophones and near-homophones;
  • prefixes, suffixes, and such; and
  • connections to English and other languages?

And are there elements of vocabulary learning that we’ve neglected?

I closed with a promise to begin with the first three elements today, taking up the others on Friday and sharing a story (or two) after that. So here we go:

1. Diagnosis – how do you know if a word needs to be presented?

This is a huge question in a Factory-model learning environment, where one naturally assumes that all learners (raw material) start at the same point and require exactly the same “processing” or “production” in order to become “finished products.” In such an environment, the tendency is always to “teach to the middle” – to find the words that most students don’t yet know and, somehow, present or deliver those, even if some students already know them and others aren’t ready to learn them yet. Many of us experienced that school, and some of us still teach in it! But just because it’s common, that doesn’t make it best or right.

In a Workshop-model learning environment, or in a Retail Store model, the assumption is that each learner is different … and that’s OK. Whereas the Factory is busy standardizing its production methods, these other approaches are more concerned with helping the individual apprentices or customers. As you know, Tres Columnae is firmly committed to the Workshop model, but we recognize and value the Retail Store model too. In both systems, the learner develops Ownership of his or her learning, and in both cases, the essential approach to diagnosing vocabulary needs is quite similar … and quite simple. You Ask!

In other words, in the Tres Columnae system, we’ll provide lots of ways for learners to determine their own vocabulary needs, and lots of ways to help them strengthen their vocabulary over time. You’ve seen some of these if you’ve visited the website:

  • the illustrations for every small fabella and longer fabula;
  • the audio versions of every fabella and fabula; and
  • the quid novī explanations, which sometimes deal with vocabulary as well as grammar.

Given our focus on Ownership, we’ll provide lots of possible presentations, and learners will pick the ones they need … certainly with our guidance, if they request it, or with the guidance of their teachers if they’re using Tres Columnae in a school environment. We want to send the message that it’s OK not to do everything, but how do we send that message to perfection-obsessed learners? I struggle with this question all the time, remembering a former student who burst into tears when she received a test on which she’d scored 108%! Were they tears of joy, you ask? Sadly, no; they were tears of grief and disappointment because she’d missed two questions and could have had a 110%. As our friend Cnaeus would say, “vae! heu!”

2. Presentation – how do  you actually present the word?

Speaking of presentation, you’ll find that we have several methods of actually presenting new vocabulary. We’re a bit cautious about presenting it in advance, especially given the study we referred to yesterday! Most vocabulary presentation in the Tres Columnae system happens in context, in the short, illustrated fabellae that introduce the longer fabulae. For example, in Lectio Prima, we learn the words for family members and the main forms of housing (domus, īnsula, vīlla) through pictures. If a word isn’t introduced that way, and if its meaning isn’t obvious in context, we’re likely to feature a hypertext gloss – perhaps to an external source like Glossa or the Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary at Perseus, or perhaps to an internal page of our own.

3. Synonyms and Antonyms – a specific technique

We often introduce new words through synonyms and antonyms. For example, in Lectio V, when we first meet deponent verbs, we see them with some near synonyms in this fabella:

  • Valerius cum Lolliō colloquium habet. Valerius cum Lolliō colloquitur.
  • Casina “vae! heu!” clāmat et vītam plōrat. Casina vītam queritur.
  • Milphiō ē tablīnō exit. Milphiō ē tablīnō ēgreditur.

Sometimes we’ll make specific points about the differences as well as the similarities between synonyms, as with this quid novī explanation:

quid novī?

You may have noticed that Cnaeus frequently (!) says “vae! heu!” When you look them up in a Latin dictionary, or in an online resource like Glossa, you’ll find that they both mean “alas!” So what’s the difference?

  • vae can be used by itself, but it’s frequently used with a nōmen cāsūs datīvī (or occasionally with a nōmen cāsūs accūsātīvī) in the way that English speakers once said “woe to …” or “alas for …”
  • heu is normally used by itself, or occasionally with a nōmen cāsūs accūsātīvī, and expresses a wider “range of grief or pain” according to its Glossa entry.
  • heu has a cousin, ēheu, which normally introduces a whole clause starting with quam. It’s something like an archaic English “alas, how …” expression.

We’ll handle other near-synonyms like et, -que, and atque – and, on a grimmer note, necāre, interficere, caedere, and occīdere – in a similar fashion, as you can probably imagine.

You may have noticed just a bit of semantic feature analysis in that last quid novī, though we didn’t use a formal SFA grid. And if you’re familiar with Robert Marzano’s academic notebook, you may be able to imagine how that inspired us to create an online portfolio in which our participants collect and reflect on their favorite words … and even adopt a word, or word family, and create a special page about it. Many thanks to our collaborator and friend Laura G for the idea of adopting a word! And if you haven’t seen her amazing Latin animal proverb zoo, you’ve missed a treat. Go ahead, click on the link now … we’ll wait for you! 🙂

(You did click the link, didn’t you?)

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of our application of the idea of Ownership to the learning of vocabulary?
  • What do you think of the Read (and Cape) model for vocabulary assessment?
  • What do you think of our system of offering vocabulary support without demanding its use?
  • And, finally, what do you think of our specific examples of vocabulary explanations?

Tune in next time, when we’ll address

  • homophones and near-homophones;
  • prefixes, suffixes, and such; and
  • connections to English and other languages

as well as your comments, of course. We’ll see a vocabulary-building story (set, ironically, in a school) on Saturday … or possibly on Monday if life intervenes. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus! Please keep those comments and emails coming, and remember that there’s still time to sign up for a Trial Subscription!

Past, Present, and Future, II

salvēte, amīcissimī! Today we continue our exploration of verbal aspect, or, to be more precise, of grammatical or viewpoint aspect. (As our friends at Wikipedia point out, there is also lexical aspect, which has to do with the meaning of the verb itself, not its morphology. But we’re not concerned about that today!)

The more I think about aspect, the more I see it as an essential feature of the Latin language, even though nobody ever seems to talk about it in either a grammar-translation or a reading-method approach to the language. But what if aspect is a more fundamental feature than tense in Latin – or at least as important as tense?

Warning: if you’re not a Latin teacher, the rest of this post may be a bit technical for your liking! That’s OK; you can tune in tomorrow for an example of a story that introduces aspect. 🙂  Even if you are a grammar-loving Latin teacher, you may find the rest of this post a bit dry and theoretical.  If so, please feel free to tune in tomorrow, as well!

Now that the room has cleared out a bit … 🙂

Think about the Latin participles for a moment, for example. Teachers tend to say things like, “The tense of a participle is relative to the tense of the main verb” – which probably sounds as nonsensical to a learner (how can tense be relative? and what is tense, anyway?) as it looks when I write it.  (Oh, how I tried to resist writing, “It’s making me tense just thinking about it!”  But in honor of my father, a great lover of puns who celebrated a birthday yesterday, I stopped resisting!)  What I think we mean is actually something like this: “Present participles are really imperfective-aspect participles. They show that the event is ongoing at the time of the main verb. Perfect participles are really perfective-aspect participles. They show that the event is completed before the main verb. And future participles show that the event hasn’t yet started at the time of the main verb.” If you want to translate, you can then talk with learners about how to show this relationship in a translation; if you don’t want to translate, you can use other forms of questioning or analysis to make sure that learners are clear about the time relationships.

Isn’t the same thing true of infinitives? Instead of talking about “the sequence of tenses of infinitives” (or the translation of infinitives in indirect statements), I think we really mean to say, “Present infinitives are really imperfective-aspect infinitives. They show that the event is ongoing at the time of the main verb. Perfect infinitives are really perfective-aspect infinitives. They show that the event is completed before the main verb. And future infinitives show that the event hasn’t yet started at the time of the main verb.”

What about subjunctives? Again, we could spend months giving lectures about “the sequence of tenses of the subjunctive.” But I think we really mean to say this:

  • Present subjunctives are imperfective. They show that the action is ongoing at the time of the main verb, and that the main verb relates to the present.
  • Perfect subjunctives are perfective. They show that the action was completed at the time of the main verb, and that the main verb relates to the present.
  • Imperfect subjunctives are imperfective. They show that the action was ongoing at the time of the main verb, and that the main verb relates to the past.
  • Pluperfect subjunctives are perfective. They show that the action was completed at the time of the main verb, and that the main verb relates to the past.

It’s a much shorter lecture, isn’t it? And a lot easier to understand … at least for me!

But then, I think we’re really saying this about indicative verbs:

  • Present indicatives describe ongoing, imperfective action from the perspective of right now.
  • Perfect indicatives describe completed, perfective action from the perspective of right now.
  • Imperfect indicatives describe ongoing, imperfective action in the past.
  • Pluperfect indicatives describe completed, perfective action in the past.

I’m not sure what to say about futures and “future perfects” or “future subjunctives” or whatever those –eri– things really are grammatically! 🙂 If they are future perfect indicatives, then

  • Futures describe ongoing, imperfective action that hasn’t happened yet.
  • Future perfects describe completed, perfective action that hasn’t happened yet.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Do you think this conception will help or hurt learners’ Understanding?
  • And what effect do you think it will have on their Knowledge and Skill?
  • Do you think the imperfective vs. perfective distinction will help learners remember “which stem goes with which tense”?
    • Personally, I think it’s pretty obvious when you look at it this way.
    • The imperfective ones use the infinitive stem, and the perfective ones use the perfect stems.
    • But I may not be looking at things the way you would … or the way a learner would!
  • Do you think this approach makes more sense than your existing “sequence of tenses” lecture?
  • Or do you love-love-love your existing “sequence of tenses” lecture … so much that you’ll gladly give it 15 or 20 times a year? 🙂
  • Or are you tired of all this theoretical linguistic “stuff”?
  • And, tired or not, do you want to see theory become practice? In other words, are you ready to find out how Tres Columnae might actually go about presenting the various tenses with a focus on aspect?

Tune in next time, when we’ll take a look at the very first introduction of the perfective vs. imperfective distinction, as our learners discover perfect indicative verbs in Lectiō XX. And in the meantime, please keep those comments and emails coming!

A Complete Lectio, VI

salvēte, amīcissimī! As promised, today we’ll consider Continuing Virtual Seminar questions that might relate to Lectiō Secunda. In a face-to-face teaching environment, the Paideia model proposes that about 20% of instructional time should be devoted to these “collaborative, intellectual dialogues about a text” – which, in my face-to-face context, would translate into one full class period per week. As a friend of mine says, with a rueful smile, “I’m good, but I ain’t that good!” I certainly try to engage my students in collaborative intellectual dialogues every day – and frequently we do engage in formal seminars or the “mini-mini” ones I’ve described in a previous post. But the pressures of time and “coverage” keep me from using seminars as regularly as I’d like to.

Of course, in the Tres Columnae system, there’s no pressure for time or coverage. Learners can take as much time as they’d like, and they can progress at the proper rate for them rather than a standardized, factory-model “pacing” that’s too fast for some and too slow for others. In that context, the Continuing Virtual Seminar is an opportunity to stop and reflect, whenever you’d like, on what you’ve been learning. You might go back to a previous Lectiō with a new insight; you might look forward to a future Lectiō whose subject matter fascinates you; you might have a lot to say, or you might have very little to say. And, of course, no one will make you participate at all!

So I envision at least two Continuing Virtual Seminar opportunities in each Lectiō, maybe more. One will be primarily concerned with Language features, while the other is more concerned with Story or Culture. And, of course, participants can start their own new Continuing Virtual Seminar if they want; all they have to do is post an internal blog, or a comment on a story, and see what happens.

In the case of Lectiō Secunda, the Language seminar will focus on our big new concept: that Latin words have different forms to show their different functions in a sentence. We might start out with something like this:

As you reflect on your own native language – and other languages you know – what are some similarities to the Latin system of cāsūs? What are some differences?

Our Story and Culture seminar (or seminars) might focus on the characters:

From what you have seen and learned about Roman gender roles, to what extent do Ridiculus and Impigra seem to embody a “typical” Roman marriage relationship?

Or on their attitudes:

From what you know of Roman social class attitudes, how do you suppose a Roman might respond to Ridiculus’ insistence that it’s a cēnāculum, not a cavus?

Or on “material culture”:

Using your favorite search engine, look for images of houses in Herculaneum and, if you’d like, in Pompeii, Stabiae, and Oplontis. What are some of the thoughts and feelings you had when you looked at these?

“We” (that royal or Imperial we for the moment) will be reading participants’ responses … and responding to them, as needed, to help them connect and deepen their ideas. Sometimes “we” will ask additional questions, but sometimes other participants will do that for us. And, of course, there’s no formal Closure or Post-Seminar step with a Continuing Virtual Seminar since, by their nature, they continue! 🙂

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Do these seem like reasonable topics for a Continuing Virtual Seminar for Lectiō Secunda?
  • What are some other good topics?
  • What responses might participants make … to any or all of them?
  • And how would you respond to these if you were “we”?

Tune in next time for a Big Question of a different sort … a Big Question about verbs. In some ways, Tres Columnae has chosen a very “traditional” order of introduction of grammatical concepts: we start with nominative and genitive case nouns so that you, the learner, can use a standard Latin dictionary. Of course, in other ways, we’re rather “untraditional”: you learn about all 5 declensions from the beginning, and you use your knowledge of nouns to create stories, not to fill out declension charts. But we’re contemplating something very untraditional when it comes to verbs, and I’d really like to know what you think!

Tune in next time for the question, and after that for some answers. And please keep those comments and emails coming!

Examining the Story: Connections and Comparisons, III

salvēte, sodālēs! In this rather brief post, we’ll look at ways that learners might demonstrate the Connections they’ve made between elements of a story (like the one we’ve been playing with for the last week) and elements of other academic disciplines. Last time, we made a pretty long list of possible Connections, such as

  • Roman slavery with American slavery (or slavery in other societies);
  • Roman gender attitudes with those of the United States today, or of some other period in American history, or some other culture with which the learner is familiar;
  • Latin words used in the story with English derivatives or cognates, or with derivatives in the Romance languages (a number of community members are suspicious of excessively emphasizing derivatives and cognates as a language or vocabulary activity, but when the learner notices one, I think it’s obviously a Connection that might be explored);
  • Latin syntactic or morphological elements with their English equivalents;
  • Roman ideas about pets and pests with the ideas of other cultures;
  • the “typical” Roman diet of different social classes, with the “typical” diet in other cultures, including perhaps the learner’s own culture; or
  • “typical” Roman housing for various social classes with “typical” housing in other cultures.

Of course, a given learner might be interested in a Connection I never thought of: Roman tableware with its contemporary equivalents? Roman tableware manufacturing with its modern equivalents? The mining operations that produced the metal for the tableware with mining operations today? The possibilities are as endless as the interests of the learners.

But once a learner has become interested in a particular Connection, what then? How might he or she explore the Connection further, and how might he or she share the results of this exploration with the community? For starters, it would obviously be easy to adapt the kinds of presentations that teachers have always assigned to their students. For example, learners might:

  • collect background links (or even conduct research in – gasp! – a physical library, if one is geographically accessible), perhaps tagging them with a site like as our faithful reader Laura G suggested in a recent comment;
  • create self-checking comprehension quizzes about these links, perhaps using a free Javascript quiz creator like Hot Potatoes, or perhaps an online quiz-creation site;
  • condense the information (and the connections they made) into an illustrated presentation, perhaps using Google Docs or a slide-sharing site like () so that the presentation would “always” be available to future learners;
  • create a story or non-fiction Latin piece exploring the connections;
  • blog about the connections, and share a link to their blogs; or
  • participate in a threaded discussion – perhaps hosted by a site like Yahoo! Groups, or perhaps actually hosted by us at the Tres Columnae site. I’ll have more to say about this notion on Saturday, when we examine the logistics of the Continuing Virtual Seminar.

In the end, though, Tres Columnae participants will pursue Connections (and Comparisons, and all other aspects of language learning) from a perspective of Ownership. If you’re interested in a particular Connection, you can explore it as much as you’d like; if you’re not interested in another, you need not pursue it. Such accommodation of individual learning preferences is very difficult for a factory-model school (after all, that production line is supposed to produce a standardized product, not an individualized one), but it’s natural – and, I think, unavoidable – in the Joyful Learning Community that we’re aiming to build with Tres Columnae.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • How do you feel about the possible Connections themselves – and about the possible products?
  • What about assessment? We’ll have more to say about that tomorrow, but what do you think now? How on earth could anyone assess so many different products – and who should do the assessing, anyway?
  • How do these Connections relate to the more personal Comparisons that learners will also be encouraged to make?

Tune in next time for more about Connections, about assessment of Connections, and about Comparisons. Then we’ll look more closely at the Continuing Virtual Seminar, the natural home for Connections and Comparisons in the Tres Columnae system. What will these things look like, and how will they actually work? We’ll find out soon.

I don’t want to specify a timeline for the next few posts, as there’s a major winter storm headed towards my face-to-face world as I write this.  No power,  no Joyful Latin Learning Posts! 🙂   In the meantime, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus! And please keep those comments and emails coming. 🙂

Columns of Culture(s), Part IV

salvēte iterum, amīcī et sodālēs … et inimīcī iam haec verba legentēs! Welcome back, all of you. Today we continue with our series of posts about culture and Culture, with more of an emphasis on the present and the future. We’ll also begin to explore the ways that culture and Culture relate to the Tres Columnae system. If you’re wondering why I’ve titled this series Columns of Culture(s), though, you’ll have to wait till tomorrow to find out. 🙂

First, though, a point of clarification in response to a recent comment by our faithful reader Laura G. She reminds us all that Latin and Classics are not synonymous. They’re certainly overlapping fields, but there’s a lot of non-Classical Latin to read (and hear, and write, and speak, and …), and there are lots of non-Latin elements to Classics (Greek, of course, and Sanskrit and Biblical Hebrew and archaeology and papyrology and epigraphy and …). As she said,

My biggest gripe with all of this is the equation of Latin studies WITH Classics – which is not an equation that matches my own encounter with Latin, and not an equation that matches the role of Latin in Catholic education, the importance of Latin in the history of music and art, and also the history of science, too, etc.

The Tres Columnae system is a “big tent,” and it can accommodate these other elements, too.  But why is it so hard for us Classicists to acknowledge the non-Classical uses of Latin?

If you love something – and Classicists do often love Latin – I guess it’s natural to assume that everyone else who loves it, loves it just the way you do. Thanks to Laura for reminding us all that different lovers love differently! 🙂

Now back to our focus on the present and future of culture and Culture, as related to Latin and Classics. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a growing sense that the early twenty-first century is a very different time, that there’s been a shift from a modern, Enlightenment-based, rationalist worldview to a post-modern, post-Enlightenment, post-rationalist understanding. In fields from religion to business, new organizational forms emerge to reflect the new worldview. Our own culture and Culture are changing rapidly, so it only makes sense that we would reevaluate how we study the culture and Culture of other societies.

In our first post yesterday, I mentioned Jeff Howe’s book Crowdsourcing. While he traces the recent past as part of his argument, Howe is ultimately focused on the present and the future, of which he paints a rather bright picture … at least for industries that embrace “the power of the crowd,” or move “from the firm to the crowd” as an organizing principle.

For Howe, and for a lot of other writers about the changes in business, “the firm” – a hierarchical organization that keeps information under tight control and builds factories – is a relic of the Industrial Revolution. He says you obviously still need factories for things like steel, but you don’t need them for information, for entertainment, or for other areas where “the crowd” can come together and build things in a collaborative, interdependent way. Of course, with the Tres Columnae project, we’re trying to add education to the list of fields where “the crowd” or “the amateur” does a better job than “the firm” or “the professionals.”

As I mentioned yesterday, Howe traces the development of professionalism to its nineteenth-century roots. But he also notes that, on the undergraduate level and below, education today is still more about generalization than specialization. Specialists in one area often have deep interests, even passions, in other areas: that’s why there are so many people with the knowledge, the passion, and the free time to participate in projects like Wikipedia or iStockphoto or InnoCentive or the other “crowdsourcing” organizations he describes in the book.

Until recently, Howe notes, these interests and passions had to be expressed in private hobbies.  But now people can pursue their passions in “crowds” or (as Seth Godin calls them) “tribes” or (as we call them) Joyful Learning Communities.

Given the ugly history and the current realities we’ve discussed, it’s completely understandable that “the firm” and “the professionals” of Latin and Classics have pushed culture and Culture to the margins of “serious” Latin instruction. And of course there are other good reasons for us professionals to de-emphasize culture and Culture. It’s difficult to come up with simple, satisfactory answers to questions like these in a time-scarce, production-line environment like a factory-model school:

  • What time period – or periods – should be emphasized?
  • How can we know enough about culture and Culture, anyway, since the people are all dead?
  • How much detail should we include, and about what topics?
  • How can we train teachers to “deliver instruction” about all the possible topics?
  • How can we allocate scarce time and resources among the many topics that we might address if we had unlimited time?

In a factory system, it’s only natural to push aside a messy, difficult topic like culture and Culture, especially when there are clean, scientific, rational, easily-tested things like noun declensions or verb conjugations or literal translations we could spend time on instead.  Besides, we say, those things are “more rigorous,” or “more central to the discipline,” or “more necessary if you really want to know Latin” anyway.

But at Tres Columnae, by the nature of our program, these messy questions are a lot less messy. After all, Tres Columnae is not a factory-model school.  It’s not a face-to-face, time-limited, teacher-centered program; it’s an online, self-paced learning community.

And so the biggest difference is that the last question – the one about allocating scarce time and resources – simply isn’t relevant. For most of our participants, time isn’t unlimited, but it is under their control; in other words, they own their time, at least as it relates to their participation in Tres Columnae.

  • One of the primary arguments in favor of homeschooling, at least if you follow what advocates say online, is that it gives “you” (the parent and the child) freedom to “go at your own pace” and to explore your interests in depth. For a family learning Latin together, the freedom is even greater, since different family members could choose to pursue different areas of interest, then share them with each other.
  • For adult learners and re-learners, the only limitations on their time are self-imposed: “I want to be able to read this type of Latin text, this well, in this amount of time.”
  • Even for school-based learners who use Tres Columnae, while their teachers may specify a goal (“To get credit for Latin I, you must finish Cursus Primus by the end of the school year”) and perhaps a minimum amount of time (“the principal says you must document 150 hours of seat time to get an academic credit”), no one can prevent them from exceeding these requirements, or from following their personal interests along the way.

Since Tres Columnae participants own their time, they also own a big part of their culture and Culture study. We’ll start them out on their journey, giving them some essential supplies, but as they travel they may discover a passionate interest in something we never imagined – like the details of aqueduct construction, or road maintenance, or public sanitation, or book-making, or the various types of lectīcae.

When that happens, we’ll encourage them to “run with” their new interest, to build stories around it, to collect links about it, and even to create exercises or quizzes about the links. In that way, the culture and Culture side of Tres Columnae builds ownership for our participants just like the stories, the illustrations, the audio, and the videos.

quid respondētis, amīcissimī? Does this seem like a good way to study culture and Culture? Are there “core cultural concepts” that everybody needs to learn – the “essential supplies” I mentioned earlier? If so, what are they, and how – and when – should we teach them? Should we combine a limited number of “core concepts” with the exploratory play I’ve been describing?  Or should it be all core concepts, or all exploratory play?

Tune in next time for more details about exactly how the study of culture and Culture might happen – I say “might” because, in the end, it depends on the participants! In the meantime, please keep reading, and please keep those comments and emails coming.