Testing, Testing, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today’s post, as you’ve probably guessed, is about testing in several senses of the word. Monday marks the end of our first reporting period in my face-to-face teaching world, so it’s an appropriate time to pause and give students (and teachers) an opportunity to see how well they’ve done with the important Knowledge, Skills, and Understandings presented in each class during those first 4 ½ weeks of school. For many of my colleagues, this means they “have to give a test” – or in some cases, several tests.

For some reason, we teachers often have love-hate relationships with tests … even with the tests we ourselves write and administer to our students. I think of a former colleague I’ll call Mrs. Y … as in, “Y R U doing this?” I once had a conversation with her at the photocopier that went something like this:

Mrs. Y:  I’m so disgusted and angry. [sadly, Mrs. Y often opened conversations like that.  She was clearly a happy, positive person who loved her life, wasn’t she? :-)]

Me:  What’s wrong? [sadly, I had not yet learned to avoid negative people who wanted to vent.  I also had not yet learned that some people genuinely want to be unhappy, and sometimes you should just get out of their way and let them.]

Mrs. Y:  Well, I have to give them a test today, and they’re all going to fail.

Me:   You know they’re all going to fail?

Mrs. Y:  Yes.

Me: So, why are you giving the test today?

Of course, I’ve also been like Mrs. Y a few times … that is, I’ve certainly given the occasional test for which I thought some of my students weren’t quite ready. Perhaps I just wanted a quiet, peaceful day, or I wanted to “send a message” to my students that they needed to do their work. But I think Mrs. Y genuinely felt that she “had to” give that test that day, even though she already knew (and admitted) that none of her students were prepared to do well on the test. I hope I haven’t ever done that!

Back before the advent of state-created tests for “core” high-school subjects, another former colleague, long retired, used to give three tests in a row on the last three days of school. First she gave a “nine-weeks test,” which included all the new concepts from the fourth grading period. The next day, without going over the answers or doing any additional work with her students, she gave a “semester exam,” which included all the concepts from the second half of the course. And then, of course, she gave a cumulative “final exam,” which included everything. When I asked her about the logic for this process, she claimed that her students “needed” the three tests in a row “to help them review what they learned.” Of course, they never saw their scores on the previous tests before they took the new ones, so I’m not sure how much help the tests actually provided; they did have the advantage of keeping her students quiet and busy at a time when they might otherwise have been a bit boisterous. Perhaps that was the real point of the three tests in a row?

Ironically, some recent research summarized in this New York Times article partly supported my former colleague’s commitment to testing in this way. It seems that practice tests actually do increase retention, at least of knowledge-level information, and it turns out that practice opportunities involving multiple skills and concepts work even better than those that focus only on a single skill or procedure. I think I owe Mrs. X an apology for some of the uncharitable thoughts that crossed my mind two decades ago!

On the other hand, does a test always have to be a test? In other words, what is the proper place of large, written, individually-administered assessments in a given teaching-and-learning environment? I doubt that there’s a single right answer to that question – so much depends on the needs and preferences of the school, the teacher, the students, and their families, not to mention the structure of the class itself and of the academic discipline involved.

When I was a young teacher, I was a firm believer in “tests at the end of every chapter.” In the course of a reporting period like the one we just finished, when my Latin I students usually work with 4-6 chapters of their “Big Three” reading-method Latin textbook, I would have given three or four “big” tests, lots of smaller quizzes, and a “huge” end-of-reporting-period cumulative test. We also would have done a complicated test-correction procedures for each “big” test, and we’d start the new reporting period by repeating that procedure for the “huge” cumulative exam. That process worked well for my students for a long time – they especially liked the fact that the test wasn’t the end of the learning, and that they could actually learn from their mistakes and shortcomings through the correction process.

These days, I still give a couple of “big” tests each reporting period, and we still follow the correction process, which I can describe in more detail next week if you lectōrēs fidēlissimī are interested. I also give a midterm and a final examination, which are required by the school and the district. At the end of a reporting period like this one, though, I find it a lot more helpful to use an interactive and dynamic summative task rather than a static and written one for several reasons:

First, my students don’t do their best work when they’re overwhelmed and exhausted … and many of them are overwhelmed and exhausted at the end of the first reporting period. Their other teachers tend to “pile on” projects, tests, and other large tasks at the end of the reporting period, and many of them also have jobs, significant family responsibilities, and other non-school commitments that take a significant amount of time and energy. Why give a test for test’s sake that doesn’t accurately measure what they know and can do?

Second, at this early point in the course I’m as interested in the process my students use as I am in the final product. When they’re constructing Latin sentences, I want to know what they’re thinking about – are they choosing words randomly? Do they understand the connection between a given noun or verb form and its function? And when they’re reading for comprehension, I want to know how comfortable they are with the vocabulary of a passage, with the structure of a sentence, and with the relationship, say, between a question I’ve asked and the text where the answer can be found. A typical test will show me the product of students’ thoughts, but it won’t show me the process. I’d really like to be able to look into their heads as they’re producing the product …and I’ve finally found a way to do something like that. To keep this post from getting too long, I’ll tell you all about it on Monday!

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think about testing and learning?
  • How did you respond to that article I mentioned earlier?
  • What’s the proper role of testing in your face-to-face teaching-and-learning world?

Tune in next time, when we’ll explore my alternative process and product in more detail. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 25, 2010 at 5:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Floors and Ceilings, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I’d like to share a couple of interesting, possibly disconnected things before we get to today’s main topic. First, thanks to our friends at Accomplished Teacher by SmartBrief, I ran into this article in the Harvard Education Letter about the use of cell phones as learning tools. It’s obvious that one could use smartphones for all kinds of purposes in a class setting; after all, they’re rather more powerful computers than the one that sat on my desk 10-15 years ago. But I really hadn’t thought of using plain-old cell phones as a tool for formative assessment! The article describes a simple, free way to do that – and it also describes ways that teachers have managed the potential for distraction and disengagement. In a time of budget crisis, it certainly makes sense to use technology that students already own rather than running out and spending money on other tools … especially when, as the article points out, students are actually asking for this tool rather than another. Of course, there’s a lot of understandable fear that needs to be overcome, and a lot of schools’ and districts’ technology-use policies would have to be revised. But isn’t it great when a “tool for evil” (as so many teachers see students’ cell phones) can be reconfigured into a “tool for good”?

Second, there’s been an interesting thread on the Latinteach listserv about the use of rewards and incentives, especially for whole groups of students. Depending on your philosophy of teaching, that might get you really excited, or it might repel you completely. But, just as a student’s cell phone doesn’t have to be a “tool for evil” all the time, extrinsic motivators are neither the ultimate solution to every classroom problem nor the single factor that destroys teaching and learning. In his recent book Drive, Daniel Pink talks about the complicated interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. He points out the depressing research about how extrinsic rewards can actually lead to a decrease in intrinsic motivation for a task – research that every teacher and curriculum designer ought to take to heart! But he also notes that unexpected rewards don’t seem to have this effect, and that the effect doesn’t apply to tasks that aren’t intrinsically rewarding. Lots of food for thought! I’m still grappling with the implications after reading the book twice this summer.

Unexpected technology use and possibly harmful rewards: is there a common thread? And how do these topics relate to our main topic of the day? According to yesterday’s post,

we’ll look at some specific examples of Tres Columnae Project materials that support big-picture goals.

I think the common thread is that idea of goals vs. by-products that I’ve mentioned several times in this week’s posts. A cell phone, a computer, a potential reward for students – all of them are tools or instruments that one might use, or not use, to reach a particular goal. But many organizations (not just in education, but across the spectrum of human organizations) tend to confuse the goals with the tools. For example, schools often install interactive whiteboards or other forms of technology “to increase student achievement,” but they don’t train their teachers in ways to use the new tools constructively. (An example of this just reached my email in-box as I was writing this post: a colleague and Free Trial subscriber says her school has purchased several interactive whiteboards but “we are supposed to figure them out on our own.”) Churches and other religious organizations sometimes build new buildings “to attract members,” and businesses reorganizes themselves or pursue new initiatives seemingly for their own sake. There’s nothing wrong with the tools per se. But you have to know how, when, and why to use a particular tool effectively; otherwise, you may make the situation worse. I think of a slightly dripping faucet in my own house – it might be tempting to use a hammer on it, but that wouldn’t fix the leak, would it? 🙂

In the same way, the individual tools (stories, exercises, quizzes, etc.) in the Tres Columnae Project are designed and deployed to help learners achieve particular goals. If you’re not interested in a given goal, or if you’ve already achieved it, that’s fine – but then you probably don’t need or want to use the tools that are designed around that goal. Consider, for a moment, the goals for Lectiō Tertia, which haven’t appeared on the Version Alpha wiki site until now:

  1. Distinguish nominative, genitive, and ablative noun forms
  2. Distinguish and classify nouns by declension pattern
  3. Continue to build Latin vocabulary and make connections with words in other languages
  4. Understand and create Latin stories that use nominative, genitive, and ablative case nouns
  5. Continue to explore the concept of pietās
  6. Understand Roman views of family relationships (especially patruus, amita, avunculus, matertera)
  7. Compare and contrast Roman family relationships with those in participants’ own culture(s)

If you’re starting from scratch with all of these goals, you’d probably want to try all the available activities in Lectiō Tertia. But if you’re already good at #1 and #2, you could easily skip over things like

  • the first quid novī? explanation, which points out the “new” ablative case forms;
  • the exercise called cuius cāsūs est nōmen? (available for subscribers only) which asks learners to distinguish nominative, genitive, and ablative forms of familiar nouns from Lectiōnēs Prīma and Secunda;
  • the second quid novī? explanation, which introduces the idea of declension patterns; and
  • the exercise called cuius cāsūs? cuius dēclinātiōnis? which allows subscribers to classify nouns by case and declension pattern.

If you absolutely know that you’ve mastered goals 1 and 2, you could skip these items completely. If you’re pretty sure, you might try the diagnostic assignment called quid est nōmen rēctum? which asks subscribers to choose the right noun form to complete a sentences and to classify some nouns by case and declension. In the same way, if you think you’ve already mastered the important new words in Lectiō Tertia, we’ll have a diagnostic exercise you can use. I’ve listed the goals such that the latter ones require mastery of the former ones. As an independent learner, you can, of course, choose the goal that’s most significant to you; as a teacher, you can choose for your students, but I hope you’ll choose #6 or #7. That way, even if your students fall a bit short of the insights you’d hoped for, they’ll still leave Lectiō Tertia with

  • knowledge of nominative, genitive, and ablative singular case endings;
  • knowledge of more Latin vocabulary;
  • skill at reading and comprehending connected stories featuring these three cases;
  • skill at connecting Latin words to words in other languages;
  • skill at using details from a story to develop understandings;
  • deeper understanding of how the Latin case system works; and even some
  • deeper understanding of Roman family structure

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Can you see how the “lower” goals are subsumed in the “higher” ones?
  • Does it make sense that if you aim high, but fall a bit short, you can still reach most of the “lower” goals?
  • Are there some even “higher” goals we should be striving to reach at this early point in the Tres Columnae Project?

Tune in next time for more on this theme, including some stories and other Tres Columnae Project tasks that haven’t been publicly revealed until now. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 11, 2010 at 11:38 am  Comments (2)  
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Floors and Ceilings, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! If you’re not a subscriber to the Latinteach listserv, you may not know about the passionate and highly encouraging discussion over there about the idea of “Latin as foreign language” vs. “Latin as philology” or, as one of my colleagues and friends said, Latin as “deliberate reading.” I really don’t see a conflict between the two! After all, how can you possibly do deliberate, careful reading of a text if you don’t have a good command of the language in which it’s written? To take an extreme example, I don’t think I could say anything intelligent about a Russian text, even though I “know the alphabet” (or did twenty years ago) and could probably manage to look up several of the words in a dictionary if I had enough time. But I obviously don’t have any sense of the connotations of those words – why the author chose one word rather than a synonym, or what suggestions a particular phrase would raise in the mind of a native speaker. I could, of course, read a translation of the work if one happened to be available, and then I could probably say something sensible about the plot and characterization – but I certainly wouldn’t be doing philology, in any meaningful sense of the term, with the actual Russian text. Too often, I’m afraid, Latinists of the past century-and-a-half have tried to short-circuit their way to “deliberate reading” without actually developing proficiency at reading itself!

I’ve been re-reading a remarkable book by Dr. John Townsend called Leadership Beyond Reason, which is about integrating the emotional and intuitive sides of ourselves along with the logical and rational sides in our dealings with others – and especially with those, like our students, for whom we function as leaders. Dr. Townsend reminds his readers of a really important point: Happiness, he says, is a wonderful by-product of the things we do in life, but if we set up happiness as a goal or outcome for ourselves, we’re likely to be miserable! Stop and let that sink in for a moment.

In a comment I made yesterday at Fireside Learning, I mentioned this idea and related it to the ongoing discussion over there about creativity and academic standards. I wonder if knowledge and skill, which we so often set up as goals for instruction, should really be seen as by-products of a quest for understanding? After all, if my goal (the ceiling, in our continuing metaphor) as a teacher is to impart a list of knowledge and skills, I may well fall short and some of my students probably will. But if our goal or ceiling is to develop understandings that are based on a given set of knowledge and skills, those become the floor on which we build the understandings rather than the ceiling toward which we reach in vain. We may well still have some construction to do to make sure that everybody’s floor is stable and level, but the work will be much more satisfying – and a lot more of our learners will probably end up mastering that set of knowledge and skills!

So how does this floor-vs-ceiling paradigm work in an actual class? And how does it work with materials like the Tres Columnae Project stories, exercises, quizzes, and virtual seminars? It’s not so much the activities themselves that change as the attitude and sense of purpose. (Michael Gerber, the famous writer about entrepreneurship and small business, makes an oddly similar point in his description of “the business plan that always works” in one of his books. The document, he says, looks similar to any other business plan, but the process used is utterly different.)

First let’s consider a quick physical-class illustration – one that many teachers are already facing, or soon will, as the school year begins with their Latin II students. Most likely, the teacher feels a need – or the students have made it quite clear that they need – to review the noun cases, verb tenses, and other grammatical concepts learned in Latin I. But what are some possible purposes or goals for this activity?

  1. You might want your students to be able to identify ancillam as an accusative singular first-declension noun and quaeram as a first-person-singular future indicative active verb. That’s a recognition or knowledge-level goal.
  2. You might want your students to be able to make the forms of ancilla or quaerere – to decline and conjugate. Those are application or skill-level goals, but on a fairly low level.
  3. You might want your students to be able to use the forms to understand a passage that they’re reading – perhaps you want them to translate the passage once they understand it, or to answer questions about it, or to illustrate it, or to do something else with it. These goals involve some skill (application and analysis) and some understanding (evaluation and synthesis or creation).
  4. You might want students to emerge with a deeper, more coherent sense of how Latin morphology conveys meaning – definitely an understanding-level goal.

Of course, you probably want your students to be able to do all of these things! But which goal is most likely to help them get there? The way I’ve ordered the list, each new goal encompasses the essential learnings of those before it. If I aim for #4 (and I have to confess I don’t always do this, but I should!), my students will probably be pretty good at #1, #2, and #3 by the end of the process even if they don’t entirely master #4. (And how exactly would I measure #4 anyway?) But if I just aim for #1 or #2, my students probably won’t all get there – and even if they do, will their efforts necessarily bring them any closer to #3 or #4?

If my goal really is #4, I suppose it could be measured in several ways:

  • Students might participate in a Socratic Seminar on the topic of Endings and Meanings.
  • They might write about their understanding of Latin cases or tenses and how that understanding has deepened.
  • They might create an original product (an illustration or model, for example) that shows the relationships between different cases or tenses. I once had a Latin III student who built such a model because she felt confused about Latin verb tenses and moods and wanted to be able to see and feel the relationships. Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for her), I let her keep it! 🙂

So, if that Understanding is the ultimate goal, we obviously need to make sure that students have the knowledge of noun and verb formation and the skills of identifying and analyzing inflected forms – not to mention the skills of using inflections to comprehend a connected passage. There will obviously be assessments along the way that measure the knowledge and skills – and those assessments may, in the end, weigh more heavily in the students’ grade than the culminating assessment does. But by seeing students knowledge and skills as sign-posts rather than the ultimate goal – as floor (or maybe walls or support beams) rather than ceiling – I’ve changed the focus of the class completely. If I’ve done my job well, students can clearly see how this knowledge, this skill, this exercise or other activity is connected to the bigger goal – and they can also chart their progress toward attaining that goal. Motivation and focus increase, and complaints about “why are we doing this?” tend to decrease.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Is this an excessively rosy picture? Or have you found that students do, in fact, get caught up in bigger goals and find their achievement increasing?
  • Can you see how differentiated activities are not only necessary, but much easier to plan with a big-picture goal in mind?
  • And can you see how materials like the Tres Columnae Project can make it easier to support students in their quest for big-picture goals?

Tune in next time, when we’ll look at some specific examples of Tres Columnae Project materials that support big-picture goals. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 10, 2010 at 11:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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Floors and Ceilings, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As I mentioned on Saturday, we’ll be thinking more about how to use the Tres Columnae materials with a “real” Latin I class in this week’s posts. Some of us, who have already returned to school or are just about to do so, may want to look away 🙂 and preserve the illusion of the endless summer. For me, though, that last “week of freedom” is an important time to think about the big picture of what I’ll be doing in my face-to-face classes … and about what I still need to do with the Tres Columnae Project materials to make that happen.

If you’re not a member of the Fireside Learning Ning, you may not have seen this Newsweek article about an apparent decline in American children’s creativity over the past twenty years. The discussion at Fireside Learning has been very interesting, too! (If you’re not a member, and if you’re interested in getting to know a really thoughtful, committed group of teachers and learners from all around the world, I’d recommend it highly!) I’m not entirely sure that creativity has declined – I think it may just be expressed differently, as I mentioned in a comment I made over there. I’m really curious to know what you all think: do you find that your students today are less creative, more creative, or differently creative from those a decade or more ago? My sense is “differently creative” – especially when I think about all the new forms of online creativity (fan fiction, various kinds of contributions to social-networking sites, construction of virtual worlds, just to name a few) that my students are involved in. At the same time, a lot of my students are very shy about sharing what they’ve created, especially with adults … but that’s not exactly new, is it? I don’t think I ever shared my not-so-wonderful adolescent poetry with any of my teachers, for example.

But I do fear that schools have become less supportive of divergent thinking – and of the kind of divergent-to-convergent thinking described in the later parts of the article. Sadly, in a world of standards, the predictable response by schools and teachers is to see those standards as the “ceiling” or aspirational goal of instruction, and then to devise curricula that approach the standards in a mechanical way. But I don’t think that’s inevitable, and I certainly don’t think it’s the best approach.

In my own classes, and in designing the Tres Columnae Project, I prefer to see standards as the “floor” on which the curriculum and learning activities will be built, not as the “ceiling” to which some of us might ultimately arrive. Of course, there will always be a few students who need a boost up onto that floor – that’s part of my job as a teacher. But the vast majority of students are already capable of reaching, and indeed surpassing, any curriculum standard you care to name. Another big part of my job is to help students see that – and, of course, to develop (or help them develop) learning activities and structures that will help them far exceed these standards.

As I think about floors and ceilings – and as I look around my own two-story house – I realize that the ceiling of one level is, of course, the floor of the next one. I also realize that you need stairs, or possibly an escalator or elevator, to get from one level to the next. If you’re not familiar with the work of Dr. Art Costa, you might not know about a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes about one-story, two-story, and three-story thinkers – Dr. Costa and his colleagues have developed a wonderful metaphor called the three-story intellect, which you can read about here if you’re interested. It corresponds, to a degree, with our threefold distinction among Knowledge, Skill, and Understanding … but like all of Costa’s work, it’s utterly profound! See what you think when you’ve had a chance to read about it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about floor-vs-ceiling approaches recently as I prepare for a new school year, and as I read and participate in some of the recent discussions on the major email lists for Latin teachers. There was one on the Latinteach list about preparing students for the Advanced Placement Examination – I didn’t participate in that one, but I was interested to see what some of my colleagues are doing. In many cases, they seemed to be focused on the first goal of the AP® curriculum (that the student will be able to create a literal translation of a passage on the syllabus) to the exclusion of all the other goals. Now, if you’ve been among our lectōrēs fidēlissimī for any length of time, you know that “literal” translation isn’t my favorite form of assessment – and I certainly don’t think it should be the primary way to interact with a new text, or to try to develop an understanding of a text. But you probably also know that I’m pragmatic about translation; I do ask students to develop translations sometimes in my face-to-face classes, and I do ask my AP® students to work on their “literal” translation skills and to understand the “segment scoring” approach that used to assess translations on the exam. But I certainly don’t ask my students to “translate everything” – instead, I’d much rather have them read and understand everything … and think deeply about the critical issues that are raised by the portions of the Aeneid that they read. We certainly work on translation – and on the other subskills, like scansion and the identification of prescribed figures of speech, that are tested on the exam – but our perspective is different. Instead of viewing the exam and the reading list as an insurmountable hurdle, we try to see it as an engaging but achievable challenge. I think that makes all the difference for my students’ attitudes – and it certainly makes a big difference for mine!

quid respondētis, amīcī?

In this week’s posts, we’ll think about ways that the Tres Columnae Project materials can help all of our students – but especially those who are struggling, or who need a little extra boost – see the curriculum standards they’re asked to meet as an engaging challenge rather than an impossible burden. Whether you end up subscribing to the project, looking in occasionally, or just thinking about us from time to time, I hope this idea of floors and ceilings will be helpful to you. Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll develop the metaphor a bit further and look at specific stories and activities that can change a ceiling into a floor. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 9, 2010 at 10:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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quo contendimus? II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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

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