Floors and Ceilings, V

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As I was working on a draft of this post, I found this fascinating link from eSchool News about “Empowering the iGeneration!” It’s too good not to share! (If you’re not an eSchool News subscriber, you’ll only be able to see the first page of the article … but subscriptions are free and the content is usually quite interesting.) The article talks about a number of initiatives that involve today’s learners in online collaborative tasks with peers around the world … and their teachers rave about the positive effects on the students’ engagement and performance. I’ve always believed and known that Joyful Learning Communities are the way to go, but it’s nice to have some “official” validation of the concept! It’s also nice to see some public-private partnerships and to read about social entrepreneurs who are, as the old saying goes, “doing well by doing good.”

Today, as promised, we’ll be looking at a story that brings together our building metaphor of floors and ceilings with our discussion of alignment, connections, and core purposes. It’s been a while since I shared a new Tres Columnae Project story with you; I know that a lot of lectōrēs fidēlissimī look forward to those, and I do apologize. For some reason, I just hadn’t felt inspired to write much Latīnē for a while. Maybe it was the baking heat that’s afflicted my face-to-face world for the past few months!

Oddly, until I started working on the Tres Columnae Project in earnest last year, I had never subjected myself to the discipline of writing something on a regular basis. Many of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī are probably faithful journal writers, but that never appealed to me. Occasionally a family member would give me a journal as a Christmas present, and I’d make a real effort to write each day, but all too soon I abandoned the effort. One year I tried a more free-form journal, a notebook that didn’t have a set amount of space for each day; again, I quickly abandoned it. For some reason, writing about my own life – and writing in English – wasn’t very appealing to me. It was only when I discovered that I could write about the lives of characters I’d created – and that I could do so in Latin, and for an audience – that I found the blend of motivation, inspiration, and perspiration 🙂 that has enabled me to produce the core stories for the Tres Columnae Project. And only after writing in Latin for quite some time did I discover that I could enjoy the discipline of writing regularly in English, both here on this blog and in other places.

I suppose the problem was that writing had come to feel like work rather than art, to borrow terms from Seth Godin’s amazing new book Linchpin. But writing about Valeria, Lucius, Caeliola, and their family and friends doesn’t feel like “work” at all – it’s a joy and a privilege instead. In the same way, our conversation here has been both a privilege and a joy; I’m so grateful to all of you for the time you spend reading and responding. As our subscriber base grows, and as more and more lectōrēs become scrīptōrēs, I hope you’ll discover that same sense of joy in your Submissions to the project.

As I mentioned yesterday, we’ll be looking at a story that wraps up the themes of this week’s posts: floors, ceilings, alignment, connection, and core purposes. It comes from Lectiō XXI … a part of the project that I deliberately haven’t featured until now except in a few posts, like this one from February and this one from early March, about the grammatical elements. As I mentioned then, I deliberately postponed the introduction of non-present tense verbs for several reasons. First, I really wanted our subscribers to be able to use Tres Columnae stories as supplemental or “extensive” reading material. Even when you “know about” lots of other tenses, you can still understand and appreciate a present-tense narrative. Second, it’s culturally authentic: the Romans themselves frequently employed a “historical” or “narrative” present tense when telling stories. Third, I think the Latin tense system is endlessly fascinating and beautiful, and I want our subscribers to appreciate and relish its beauty. I don’t think that’s quite as easy to do when you, the learner, are rushed into learning the forms and asked to produce a formulaic English translation as proof of your “understanding” – or, to be more precise, your recognition of a given verb form.

As I’ve mentioned on many occasions, including this post, I really don’t object to translation as a strategy for language teaching and learning; I just think it’s been significantly overused, and sometimes even misused, in our profession for the last 150 years or so – especially when written translation becomes the primary tool for summative assessments. As a formative assessment tool, and as a way to assist with comprehension, oral translation can be quite helpful. For example check out this amazing Latin-BestPractices post, in which David shows how translation can be used in a TPRS classroom.

I’ve always been interested in the taxonomies of educational objectives developed by theorists like Benjamin Bloom and Robert Marzano. As you probably know, they both present a six-level scheme, beginning with Knowledge (Bloom) or Remembering (Marzano) and proceeding to Synthesis and Evaluation (Bloom) or Justifying and Creating (Marzano). In the middle, in both cases, you find things like Comprehension, Application, and Analysis. As with the goals I listed earlier this week, the higher levels presuppose proficiency with the lower ones.

The problems I see with written translation happen when we employ it too soon in the instructional cycle. Formal, polished translations are definitely a work of evaluation and creation, and so, I would argue, are the highly artificial things that we Classicists call “literal” translations. When we take the time to use some other tools to help our students comprehend, apply, and analyze, translation is a lot less difficult and a lot less painful – especially when it’s not the only way that our learners can demonstrate evaluation and synthesis. But when we rush to high-level tasks for which we haven’t adequately prepared our students, it’s like building the roof of a house before the walls and foundation are done.

And that brings us to today’s story, which is about building and rebuilding. It occurs right after the lengthy trip to Rome to seek a remedium for the morbus novissimus that afflicted Casina, ancilla Valeriī. Everyone has safely returned, and Caelius’ wife Vipsānia – who has her own reasons to be suspicious of a dominus who takes good care of his ancillae – has decided she wants Caelius to remodel their farmhouse. If you’ve seen Lucy M’s amazing pictures of vīlla Caeliī, you may be wondering why! Perhaps she’s just jealous of the even fancier house of their friend Claudius Pulcher in Rome; perhaps she’s looking for assurance that Caelius really does care her; or perhaps she has other reasons yet to be revealed. See what you think as you read this story, now available here at the Version Alpha Wiki site if you’re interested:

dum Lūcius cum Marcō in urbe colloquitur, Q. Iūlius Frontō architectus ad vīllam Caeliī equitat. Caelius enim Frontōnem paucīs ante diēbus arcessīvit, quod vīllam suam renovāre in animō habēbat. nam Vipsānia, postquam tōta familia urbe Rōmā domum revēnit, īrātissima erat quod tam parva erat vīlla, tam pauca cubicula, tam antīquae pictūrae. cotīdiē igitur marītum suum quaerēbat castīgātum. “nōnne miserrima sum?” cotīdiē inquit. “num ille Claudius Pulcher, amīcus tuus, uxōrem tam contemptam habet? fortasse ille, ut tū, sibi ancillās pulchrās praebet – sed uxor Claudiī in domō splendidā habitat. num mē decet hunc dolōrem, hanc trīstitiam frātrī meō epistulā patefacere?”

Caelius, quī tālēs uxōris minās neglegere multōs annōs solēbat, Vipsāniae respondēre paucōs diēs nōlēbat. cum tamen Vipsānia Ūtilem iussit cērās stilōsque ad ātrium ferre, ille, “haud tē oportet,” inquit, “frātrem tuum epistulīs vexāre. praetereā Ūtilis tibi pārēre haud potest, quod eum nunc iam arcessīvī. Ūtilī enim necesse est epistulās mihi scrībere, quod architectum arcessere in animō habeō. nōnne vīlis et parva est ista vīlla? nōnne pauca cubicula? nōnne antīquae turpēsque pictūrae, quās pictor patrī meō in mūrīs multōs ante annōs pīnxit? quam mē taedet huius vīllae!”

Vipsānia sēcum clam rīdēbat, sed nihil respondēbat. Frontō architectus, cum epistulam Caeliī accēpit, maximē gaudēbat quod Caelius vir maximae pecūniae erat. servum suum statim arcessīvit et epistulam dictāvit. tum epistulam servō Caeliī trādidit et “tibi festīnandum est, puer!” inquit. servus ad vīllam Caeliī celeriter revēnit et dominō epistulam trādidit. Caelius, cum epistulam lēgit, quoque gaudēbat. Vipsāniam vocāvit et epistulam Frontōnis tōtam lēgit. Vipsānia, cum epistulam audīvit, clam rīdēbat.

hodiē māne Frontō in vīllae āream equitat et ex equō dēscendit. lōra servō trādit et “heus! puer!” clāmat, “Quīntus Iūlius Frontō architectus adsum! adventum meum dominō tuō nūntiā!” servus Frontōnem salūtat et mandātīs architectī celeriter pāret. vīllam ingreditur dominum quaesītum. Caelius, quī adventum Frontōnis avidus exspectat, per vīllam festīnat architectum salūtātum.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think about the cum-clauses with indicative verbs? Those are awfully common in “real” Latin even though our textbooks often claim otherwise. Check out this link, for example, and the relevant part of Allen and Greenough on GoogleBooks.
  • What do you think of the interactions between Caelius and Vipsania?
  • What’s your initial impression of Frontō architectus?
  • What do you think will happen once the renovations actually begin?
  • And how well does this story relate to our themes for the week?

Tune in next time, when we’ll witness the negotiations between Caelius and Frontō – and the beginnings of the actual construction. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 13, 2010 at 1:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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quo contendimus? V

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and we continue with

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

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

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

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

quid respondētis, amicī?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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

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

Quartus infans and Differentiated Instruction, II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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

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

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

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

Quartus infans and Differentiated Instruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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

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

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

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today, as many of us are traveling – or preparing to travel – to the 2010 American Classical League Institute in lovely Winston-Salem, North Carolina, we’ll continue our exploration of the rather shorter journey that young Valeria takes to begin her married life to Vipsānius. Actually, today we’ll be focusing on the final preparations for the cēna nūptiālis – the first wedding feast, the one that occurs in the bride’s father’s house right after the actual ceremony, and before the dēductiō. We’ll look in on familia Vipsānia next time, in the house that Quartus Vipsānius has bought, just for the occasion, in Herculaneum … apparently he is as considerate as he is wealthy, and he decided to spare everyone a lengthy journey from Herculaneum to Milan. As a friend of mine sometimes says of such cases, “Must be nice!”

Today, though, we take a break from the emotional ups and downs of Valeria and her parents to look in on the servī et ancillae as they make final preparations for the cēna nūptiālis. For some reason, I had in mind that everything regarding a Roman wedding took place in the evenings – probably because I love the Catullus wedding hymns, with their references to Vesper and the dēductiō. But in Private Life of the Romans, Harold Johnston maintains that the first part of the ceremony (the iunctiō dextrārum, the cōnfarreātiō or coemptiō, and the cēna) took place earlier in the day, and that the ōmina were checked before dawn … which, of course, makes sense both in terms of pietās (you’d hardly want to start a wedding on a diēs nefastus, after all) and of logistics (these things do take a while).

No doubt Gallicus did the serious cooking yesterday, or perhaps he was up most of the night; in any case, he’s now working on the, um, delicious mustāceum, which (as I had temporarily forgotten) was not only flavored with must but baked on a bed of bay leaves. Not exactly what the twenty-first-century sweet tooth looks for in a dessert! But, of course, the Roman sweet tooth had far fewer sweet things to choose from than its modern equivalent … no chocolate, no refined sugar! vae Rōmānīs! But they didn’t know what they were missing, did they? 🙂

Anyway, it turns out that poor Gallicus is “in a tizzy,” as some of my relatives like to say. He doesn’t do well under stress in any case, as we discovered in this story from Lectiō XI, and his mood can’t be helped by the fact that Casina, his old friend, will soon be departing, a wedding gift to Valeria from her father. (We’ll find out more about how that happened in some stories from Lectiō XIX that I’ll feature in an upcoming series.)  Besides, Gallicus is not entirely pleased with the replacement that Valerius has bought (on the cheap) from his brother-in-law Caelius; if you’ve read this story, this one, and this one from Lectiō XIX, you may remember that Caelius was under a bit of pressure to replace some ancillae. But Gallicus’ opinion of Dulcissima is about to change, as we’ll see in this story. You can now find it at this link at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha wiki site, if you’d like.

dum Caelia et Valeria in ātriō Herculem precantur, in culīnā domūs clāmātur et festīnātur. Gallicus enim coquus ultimās cēnae nūptiālis epulās parāre cōnātur. “heus!” clāmat ille, “ubi est mustum? ubi folia laurea? mē oportet mustāceum celeriter cōnficere – sed quis mustāceum sine mustō foliīsque facere potest? vae! heu!”

Casina, iam Valeriae dōnō nātālī dāta et ad salūtem reducta, cūlīnam ingressa “ēhem!” inquit. “mī Gallice, nōnne tē decet mēnsam īnspicere? nōnne omnia quae petis adsunt?” Gallicus “hercle!” respondet, “adsunt enim omnia! Casina mea, quid tamen faciam, quandō tū cum Valeriā et marītō disēcdēs? quis mē adiuvābit, cum tālia invenīre nōn poterō?” Casina subrīdēns, “nōnne illa Dulcissima, quam dominus noster nūper ēmit, tē adiuvāre potest? nōn modo perīta, sed pulchra est illa.” Gallicus tamen, quī Dulcissimae nōn iam crēdit, “pulchra certē, sed haud tam perīta quam tū!” respondet. “nēmō enim tam perītam quam Casina sē praestāre potest!”

Dulcissima, culīnam ingressa, haec Gallicī verba audit et ērubēscit. paulīsper tacet; tum “ēhem!” inquit, “mī Gallice, quid petis?” Gallicus quoque ērubēscit et “Dulcissima!” exclāmat, “an ades? heus! rēs enim dīra etiam nunc accidit – cultrum enim meum invenīre haud possum! hercle! ecastor! ubi est iste culter?” Casina subrīdet, sed nihil respondet. Dulcissima quoque subrīdēns “mī Gallice,” respondet, “nōnne manū nunc iam tenēs? tibi cūrandum est, mī Gallice; facile enim est coquō, quī cultrum ignārus fert, sibi nocēre!”

“manū?” exclāmat Gallicus. “nunc iam?” Gallicus attonitus cultrum manumque spectat et “heus, Dulcissima mea, mihi ignōsce!” gaudēns exclāmat. “tē enim nōn modo pulchram sed etiam perītissimam nunc praestās! fortasse perītior es quam Casina nostra ipsa!” Casina subrīdēns, “fortūna tibi faveat,” Dulcissimae susurrat et, ē culīnā ēgreditur. Dulcissima quoque ē culīnā exit et “num Gallicus semper ita sē gerit?” attonitus rogat. “semper,” respondet Casina. tum ancillae ambae cachinnīs et rīsibus sē trādit.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of poor, frazzled Gallicus?
  • And what about Casina and Dulcissima?
  • Do you like the idea of breaking the tension with a comic episode like this one, or would you prefer an uninterrupted set of wedding stories?

The good news is that with an online text like the Tres Columnae Project, you can choose the “perfect” order for yourself. No more compulsion to read page 92 before you go on to page 93!  In fact, if you don’t want to read the stories that aren’t directly about the wedding, you can skip them completely! We promise we won’t tell! 🙂

Besides, the point of extensive reading material like this is that you, the reader, get to choose stories and sequences of stories that appeal to you! Just try that with a typical textbook … by their very nature, and by the economics of their production, they really can’t offer much in the way of extensive reading. If they tried, they’d be huge, heavy, and prohibitively expensive.

Tune in next time for another story from the sequence. Depending on how things go Saturday, when I’ll be making my presentation about the Tres Columnae Project at the 2010 American Classical League Institute, I may interrupt the series for a special report about that, or I may save that special report for the end of this series. If you have a strong preference either way, please let me know. And, once again, safe travels to those who are coming from a distance to the Institute.

intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus. Please keep those comments and emails coming!

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.

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.

Building Understanding, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we begin to look at the ways that the Tres Columnae system builds not only

  • Knowledge (of vocabulary, morphology, details of Roman culture and history) and
  • Skill (at reading, hearing, speaking, writing, understanding, analyzing, and interpreting Latin) but also
  • Understanding (of what our friends at Paideia call “concepts, ideas, and values about the curriculum”).

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post,

We’ll actually look in detail at the Understandings that might be developed during the first two Lectiōnēs of Cursus Prīmus. We’ll take apart the stories themselves, looking for important cultural – and trans-cultural – ideas implicit in them. And then we’ll explore how you, the members of the Tres Columnae family, might create stories or other submissions that encouraged further exploration of important ideas.

So what are some of the big “concepts, ideas, and values” we’ll be addressing? And how do they relate to the stated goals for Lectiōnēs I and II? If you recall (or if you’d like to look at the relevant page on the Version Alpha Wiki site), the goals for Lectiō I are to help the learner

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

I realized – and our faithful reader Laura G pointed out kindly in a blog post of hers – that I had forgotten to upload the exercises for goals 2 and 3 … they’re on the way, and we’ll look at them on Monday. Goals 4 and 5 are closely connected … and there’s a lot more material for both of them coming as well.

As we consider the goals again, you’ll probably notice that Goal 1 is primarily about Skill, though learners certainly build some Knowledge (of the meanings of Latin words and of typical patterns of Latin sentence structure) and some Understanding (if nothing else, the concept that Latin and English word order are sometimes different) in the process. Goal 2 is also primarily about Skill, though it also builds some Knowledge (of typical endings for Latin nouns and verbs, for example) and some Understanding (that Latin, like other languages, has different parts of speech, and that they can be recognized even if you don’t know the exact meaning of the word in question).

The last three goals, though, are primarily about Understanding, as you’ll see starting on Monday when we examine them in detail. Yes, even the Derivatives and Culture goals are more about Understanding than they are about Knowledge – which, alas, isn’t universally true in Latin textbooks or Latin teaching! I’ve seen a lot of “Derivative Trees” and lovely models of Roman buildings in my life, but I’ve also known a lot of Latin students who didn’t make the connections to deeper understanding … and, of course, many of those students were mine! 🙂 So the quest for Understanding is very personal and very important for me.

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. In the same way, while we want our students to develop some Knowledge about Roman history and culture (including the housing and family structure topics we address in Lectiō I), our main goal is to help them Understand some ways that cultures are similar – and different – over space and time, and to begin to grapple with some of the issues that this Understanding raises for them.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of the Paideia model’s three-fold division?
  • What do you think of our application of it?
  • And what do you think of our claim that we are, in fact, aiming for Understanding with these final three goals?

Tune in on Monday, when I’ll try to prove this claim with some specific exercises, explanations, and other tasks from Lectiō I … things that, until now, have not been featured on the Version Alpha Wiki site. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!