Longa et Brevia, Gravia et Levia, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs!  There’s another L-O-N-G day on tap in my face-to-face teaching world, so I’m afraid that today’s post will be correspondingly short.  Just a few quick thoughts:

  • It’s heartening to see the high-quality questions and answers on the various listservs that appeal to Latin teachers these days!  This week in particular, there have been great questions about everything from details of Latin pronunciation to techniques for actively engaging students with both high-tech and low-tech response systems.
  • According to my children, I am hopelessly sentimental … and I can’t disagree.  But I got the one of the nicest thank-you notes ever from a student yesterday.  She had some previous, and very unpleasant, experience with Latin; in fact, she said she had always hated Latin in the past … but now she enjoys both the subject and the class.  I managed not to weep, both when I read the note the first time and now as I’m describing it for you lectōrēs fidēlissimī.  But I was reminded, once again, of the power we have as teachers.  I don’t know what caused my student’s former loathing of our beloved language, but I do know (because she told me) what changed her mind:
    • a positive approach
    • meaningful connections with her classmates
    • the strong sense that I, her teacher, care about students and want them to succeed
    • clear, well-organized assignments that help her understand concepts
    • tests and other assessments that actually measure what’s been taught
  • As we continue to put the final touches on Tres Columnae Version Beta, we’ll always keep in mind that it (like my face-to-face classes and yours) will continue to be a work in progress.  It won’t ever be “done” – after all, students and teachers, and their needs, change over time, and we need to respond to those needs.

quid respondētis, amīcī?  What have you been doing recently to build “the new 3 R’s” of rigor, relevance, and relationships in your teaching and learning situations?

Tune in next time, when we’ll explore those themes … and there will be another new Tres Columnae Project story sometime before too long, too.  intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 16, 2010 at 10:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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Longa et Brevia, Gravia et Levia I

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in: on September 15, 2010 at 10:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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Res Novae, V

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As I wrote the first draft of this post early Sunday evening, I stopped to think about a paradox of Change: the bigger the impending Change, the less evidence there often is of it … at least before it happens. I was thinking about the thousands of residents of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae, and Oplontis who assumed that there was “just another earthquake” – or just a few late-summer fires creating all that smoke on the summit of Mount Vesuvius. But this is hurricane season here on the East Coast of the United States, and I was also thinking about storms of the past … the ones that no one remembers, because they did not bring any changes other than a bit of needed rain, and the ones (like Hurricanes Fran and Floyd) that everyone in my part of the world remembers because they brought huge, destructive changes. My little corner of the world avoided most of the flooding and destruction that Hurricane Floyd wrought in other parts of Eastern North Carolina, but I remember the impending arrival of that storm well: schools had closed in anticipation of the storm, and with our small child safely strapped in the back seat of the car, we headed significantly inland “just in case,” much as Valerius and Caelia do in the story I shared in yesterday’s post. A few years earlier, before I had any children, we had a sleepless night (on the floor in the hallway!) as Hurricane Fran pounded over us with 100-mph winds, and we did not want to take any chances “the next time.”

Of course, it’s been over a decade since Floyd, and almost 15 years since Fran, and I’ve grown much more complacent about hrricanes than I was when the memories were fresh. I think that’s a fairly universal tendency, and it doesn’t just apply to natural disasters, either. How many times have we all looked at futurists’ predictions of vast, sweeping changes? And how many times have they actually come true? Especially in the world of schools, where Change comes slowly and the forces of tradition are strong, it’s hard not to be a bit skeptical of claims about sweeping, systemic Change.

And yet, when you take the perspective of decades or centuries rather than months or years, significant Changes have indeed swept through the world of schools. The building that houses my face-to-face classroom was built in the mid-1920’s as a neighborhood school for grades 1 through 11 (North Carolina did not add a twelfth grade until a decade or two later). It served the children of white mill workers who lived within walking distance, and whose parents worked within walking distance. No one would ever have imagined that, less than 80 years later, that building would house children of all races, learning together in general harmony! They certainly wouldn’t have imagined that it would serve children from all over the city … or that the contents of the world’s great libraries could appear projected on a screen … or that future inhabitants of their school building would be in touch with young people on the other side of the world instantaneously and electronically … or that their grandchildren and great-grandchildren would be able to carry thousands of hours of recorded music around in their pockets! And yet, all these changes and more have swept over that old brick building even as we (rightfully) complain about the slow pace of change in American education.

As I think about the Changes that are currently underway in my face-to-face world and in the broader landscape of American education, I wonder if they’re Vesuvius-like changes (or Hurricane Fran- or Floyd-like changes) … or if they’re more like the “threat” of Hurricane Earl in my face-to-face world a couple of weeks ago. Earl did bring a few raindrops our way, and it certainly brought some rain to the Northeastern U.S., but (like many storms) it hardly brought the damage … or Change … that some over-excited forecasters had predicted.

So what’s the best way to respond to unpredictable Changes? Or perhaps a better question is, what are some factors that one should consider when evaluating possible responses to unpredictable Change? I have some theories, but I’d love to hear from you lectōrēs fidēlissimī first.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time for your comments … and for my thoughts about responding to unpredictable Change. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 14, 2010 at 9:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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Res Novae, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! This will be the third in our series of posts about Change as a theme in my face-to-face teaching world, in the preparation of the Tres Columnae Project, and in the Tres Columnae stories themselves. On Wednesday and Thursday, we looked mostly at Change in my face-to-face teaching world, a theme which continues to surprise and delight your formerly-inflexible auctor here. Not only have I become ever more willing to change and adapt long-settled lesson plans and sequences of instructional activities, but I also seem to be increasingly willing to change and adapt lessons themselves when it’s clear my students need something different from what I’d planned. If you looked at my carefully polished, beautifully honed plans for this week :-), you’d see that my Latin III class was scheduled to take their first “real test over new material” today … but I realized they weren’t quite ready for that, so we postponed the test until Friday. For the past several years, I’ve “always” had a small-group review activity at the beginning of a class on test days, then finished the class period with the test itself. But I realized that my III’s needed to end the day today with that small-group review and start the day tomorrow with their test … and I was not only willing, but actually eager to adapt my plans to their needs. I don’t think I was ever as inflexible and unchanging as some stereotypic teachers – the ones who say “But the test is scheduled for today, and you should be ready, so you’ll take it today, ready or not!” But still, it used to be a lot harder for me to let go and give Ownership of the process to my students … and that’s been getting easier and easier for me the more I work on Tres Columnae materials.

Another big Change in my face-to-face teaching world has been a return to lessons that focus in detail on vocabulary work. Now, to be fair, I have always stressed the importance of vocabulary work, and I’ve always included specific work on vocabulary in the early lessons of my Latin I classes. But for several years, I had moved away from vocabulary work in the latter parts of Latin I and in my upper-level classes, moved by the belief (true enough, but incomplete) that vocabulary is best learned in context rather than in isolation. That’s true enough for certain types of learners, and it’s probably even more true for adult, self-motivated learners … but I work with high-school students, and many of my students are part-to-whole learners who really need to focus on specific words at some point. As I was designing the vocabulary exercises you’ve seen in the Instructure Demo Course, I realized that my face-to-face students needed similar types of reinforcement … so I’ve returned to a favorite old vocabulary-flashcard game and a choral-response formative assessment. My Latin III’s were delighted – especially those who had Latin I in middle school and had never experienced the glory (such as it is) of “Chartula! Chartula!” If you’re interested, here are the utterly simple rules:

  1. Everyone makes flashcards or a word list for an established list of words. (If you have a textbook, these would obviously be the words at the end of the chapter by default, but you could certainly add or subtract as needed. My Latin IV students, who don’t have a textbook with word lists, choose their own lists of “problem” words, so everyone’s cards or lists are slightly different – even more fun, since you might be asking your partner about words that you know fairly well.)
  2. At the start of the game, you exchange your cards or list with a partner.
  3. During the game, you try to win the words back, one at a time. (At the beginning, we use English equivalents on one side of the card, and the Latin words on the other. Later on, you can move to pictures, symbols, or Latin definitions if you prefer.)
  4. In Round I of a beginning game, your partner shows (or says) a Latin word and you give its meaning. If you’re right, you get the card back – or your partner checks the word off on your list. If you’re not right, you don’t get the card or the check. Now you select one of your partner’s words and give it to him/her Latīnē. Continue to alternate until you’ve won all of your words back, thus finishing Round I.
  5. For Round II, you exchange cards or lists again. This time, your partner shows (or says) the L1 word and you provide the Latin to win it back.
  6. Round III is like Round I, but faster.
  7. Round IV is like Round II, but faster.

I adapted the game from a wonderful strategy by Spencer Kagan and his associates called “The Flashcard Game.” It’s obviously not a high-level activity, since it’s clearly focused on Knowledge rather than Skill or Understanding. But Knowledge is important, too! And “Chartula! Chartula!” works very well if your goal is automaticity or over-mastery … not always an appropriate goal, but often helpful for “basic” vocabulary. My III’s have added a wonderful variation in which they come up with their own creative, original mnemonic devices for problem words and share the best of these with each other at the end of the game – in short, they’ve added an element of Skill and Understanding to a Knowledge-level task. Best of all, they did it all by themselves … and I was proud indeed!

As I work on the Tres Columnae materials in preparation for the launch of Version Beta, I find that I’m ever more willing to be flexible in the types of exercises and quizzes we include there, too. I also find that I’m really going to need the help of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī in designing and creating such exercises. Exercises and quizzes have always been one of the options for Submissions, and I really want to encourage you – and your students, too – to think hard about the types of exercises and other practice activities you’d like to see as part of the Tres Columnae Project. If you want something, please design it … and if you design it, please submit it! Do you think we should have a lower editing fee for exercise-type Submissions, which would presumably require less editing on our part? Or should every Submission be a Submission, priced the same?

quid mihi suādētis? et quid respondētis?

On Monday, we’ll finally see that long-promised new story about a favorite Tres Columnae character who has to confront significant Changes in his – or her – life. (There will be a post on Saturday, but it’s primarily in honor of that day and the Changes it brought to our nation and our world.)  intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 10:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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Res Novae, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today’s post is the first in a series about the scary (but necessary) idea of Change … as it applies to the Tres Columnae Project, to teaching and learning more generally, and to the characters we come to know and love as part of the Tres Columnae Metastory. This is an interesting time to be involved with teaching and learning! Just in the past few days, as I worked on drafts of this post, I came across two seemingly random New York Times Online articles about huge (potential) changes in our conceptions of learning … and in our ideas about the structure and functions of schools:

  • This article, after mentioning some research that challenges the ideas of learning styles and teaching styles, has some utterly counter-intuitive suggestions about study techniques that increase retention. I was especially fascinated by the idea of studying the same concept in different physical environments!
  • This one describes the growing numbers of teacher-led schools, which are organized along the lines of a legal or medical practice rather than a hierarchical factory. I’ve done a bit of reading about these in the past, but their numbers are apparently growing … and in some areas where you wouldn’t necessarily expect them. The comments on the article are, if anything, more interesting than the article itself … especially the ones from veteran teachers who are excited and energized by the idea.

Of course there are all kinds of other new things afoot, too.

Tres Columnae Version Beta will be here soon, and it represents a significant improvement over the Version Alpha Wiki. It also required me to Let Go of some of the control I’d maintained over the site; I’m no longer the Primary Person for technical matters, which is a welcome development but also, of course, a bit scary.

In my face-to-face teaching world, I’m experimenting with a number of New Things besides, of course, Tres Columnae materials themselves. I’ve (gasp!) slightly reorganized the classroom – a bit step for a strongly kinesthetic learner like myself. I’ve (louder gasp!) re-thought when my students should be introduced to certain concepts – a big change for the former Mr. Predictable, who used to gaze with utter satisfaction at his beautifully organized file cabinet. And I’ve completely rethought – and significantly improved – lesson closure, especially in my Latin I classes. It’s a simple little system: near the beginning of the class, we look at the specific learning goals for the lesson, which I’ve taken to phrasing as questions in the form of “Can I … ?” So, at the end of class, I now ask, “Can we, in fact, … ?”

Scores on the first Latin I test are usually pretty good, but they were dramatically better than usual this time – and even my one completely-lost student seems to have found herself, or at least found her way closer to the path. (Plus, there’s only one completely lost Latin I student out of 62, and in a “typical” year there would probably be two or even three in each class at this point.) Change can be very, very good, but it’s still hard, even in a culture that claims, as most 21st-century Western cultures do, to embrace change as a good – or at least a necessary – thing.

Just imagine how scary the thought of change must have been for Romans, for whom (as I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post) the very term rēs novae implied a violent political or military upheaval. And yet, of course, Romans did sometimes try new things; in many ways Roman culture was very progressive and open to change, especially when you compare it with some of its violently xenophobic neighbors. The Roman attitude toward change and newness obviously wasn’t monolithic, any more than the “21st-century Western culture” attitude toward change or even my own attitude toward change … or toward anything else, for that matter.

One important goal for the Tres Columnae Project will be to help our learners (and teachers) deal with the complexity of Roman attitudes and perspectives – to undermine the kind of stereotypic thinking that, all too often, we language teachers unwittingly encourage in our beginning students when talk about “the Romans” or “the Roman attitude” or “Roman” whatever, as if “Romans” were a monolithic group with a single attitude. If you’ve looked at the Framework for 21st-century Learning, you probably noticed that the idea of handling complexity appears over and over again, in strand after strand. So I hope the Tres Columnae materials will help our 21st-century learners come to terms with their own complex world as well as with the complex Roman world they’ll be studying with us.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • How do you feel about Change … or should I say, about different Changes that are happening in your face-to-face world?
  • What evidence of the changes in teaching and learning I’ve mentioned here have you seen? How are those affecting you – and how do you feel about the effects?
  • How do you feel about the changing learners (and teachers!) you’ve encountered recently?
  • What role for the Tres Columnae Project materials do you see in a complex, changing world?

Tune in next time, when (if all goes well) we’ll finally see that long-promised story in which several of our characters have to confront an uncomfortable change. I hope that “next time” will be tomorrow, but Wednesdays are often crazy days in my world, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to get the post completely drafted. We’ll have to go with the flow … and the complexity and the change!

intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus. Thanks again for sticking with us through all the complexity, change, and uncertainty of the past few weeks!

Published in: on September 8, 2010 at 10:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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Best-Laid Plans, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Life seems to have intervened yet again! I do apologize for the lengthy delay since our last post on September 2. It was a busy and hot week, as I mentioned in that post, and Friday was, if possible, even busier. I had hopes for a post on Saturday morning, but then life intervened yet again … this time in the form of a series of cluster headaches. I usually have one or two of those a year, but apparently the combination of extreme heat, opening-of-school stress, and then the sudden arrival of cooler, drier air in my face-to-face world led to 5 or 6 of them over about a 36-hour period. The whole family was sick with something-or-other on Sunday, and only on Monday evening, as our holiday weekend drew close to its end, did we all start to feel better. As I wrote the draft of this post early Monday evening, the headaches were mostly gone, but my energy level was quite low. If all goes well, though, we’ll be on a more normal posting schedule in the days and weeks to come.

As I left school on Friday, I was very pleased with the progress my Latin I and III students have made in their first few days of school. As I mentioned before, the Latin I classes are “large for us” (31 each, which I realize is a tiny number to some of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī and an impossibly large one to others), and there are 19 Latin III students. The I’s haven’t had much opportunity to use Tres Columnae materials yet, but we’ll be doing more with Lectiōnēs I and II, in particular, this week. The III’s, by contrast, did a lot of reading of “TC” stories over the summer and are eager to learn more about their new favorite characters … particularly Rīdiculus mūs and his familia, of course!

Meanwhile, I had a very positive report from one of our lectōrēs fidēlissimī who’s just finished using Lectiō I as a supplemental text with some of her middle-school students. Not only did they enjoy the text, but they had some great suggestions for improvement – including a “real” introduction to each of the three familiae. I’ve suggested that they might want to construct those “real” introductions for themselves; we’ll see how they (and their teacher) feel about that.

Behind the scenes, we’ve also made some significant progress on Version Beta of the site, which will use different “back-end” software and have a much-improved look and feel. If all goes well, we’ll be able to make an official announcement about that before too much longer. I truly appreciate your patience with the delays in Version Beta; it’s been a long road, and the hot weather here – especially when combined with my headache ordeal this weekend – hasn’t exactly helped.

I realize that the Tuesday after Labor Day is the First Day of School for many, many teachers and students – of course, in my face-to-face teaching world, we’ve been back for a week and a half, and many others have finished a month or more of school already. But for those who are beginning another year today, I wish you optimam fortūnam … and I hope you and your students will find time to explore and enjoy the Tres Columnae Project materials. I also hope you’ll be able to build a Joyful Learning Community together … and I truly hope that everyone will have a significant feeling of Ownership in their teaching and learning this year.

Tune in next time, when we’ll finally get to that long-promised new story about transitions and trying new things – a prospect that, I suppose, was even more scary to the Romans than it is to us. After all, when rēs novae means a violent political upheaval, and when you assume that the world started off Golden and ended up far less than Golden, it’s hard to see change as a positive thing, isn’t it? 🙂 intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 7, 2010 at 9:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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Best-Laid Plans, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs!  I do apologize again that there wasn’t a post yesterday … as I mentioned on Tuesday, that was a truly hectic day, and I seem to be recovering from a minor case of Something That’s Going Around.  No serious symptoms; I’ve just been tired and a bit under the weather, and our continuing extreme heat here in my face-to-face teaching world hasn’t helped.  The school is an old building, built long before the days of air conditioning, so it’s designed to stay as cool as possible in hot weather.  Still, when it’s over 95 degrees every day (and usually well over 95), those window-unit air conditioners can only do so much.  Our students have been tired and frustrated from the heat, too, and that’s probably helped to drain my energy.

My Latin I students just took their first “real” test yesterday; I’ve glanced at them, but need to make detailed marks this morning.  We’ve not made much use of the Tres Columnae Project materials yet, but I expect to be assigning particular stories and exercises as “homework options” for those who need extra practice with particular pieces of Knowledge or Skill.  We’ll also be using the materials more in class over the next few days, and I’ll give you a full report about that.  Even as the creator of these materials, I sometimes find it hard to step out of my comfort zone of “The Textbook” and the well-polished procedures and approaches I’ve used for so many years.  So I can certainly understand if any of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī are feeling hesitant, too.  When we roll out Version Beta, I’m hoping that the new look and feel – and the additional features – will help to overcome not only your hesitations, but also mine.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Do you find it hard to stray from “what I’ve always done” or “what I usually do” even when you know or believe it’s the right time to do that?
  • What strategies have you employed to make these transitions easier?

Tune in next time, when we may just see a Tres Columnae Project story about this very issue.  For those American readers who will be starting school next week, I wish you a safe and happy holiday weekend as you enjoy your “last few days of freedom,” and for those who (like me) have been “back in harness” for a while, I also wish you a relaxing, happy, and much-needed break this weekend.  intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 2, 2010 at 10:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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Best-Laid Plans, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs!  If you’re reading this post “live,” it’s the last day of August … one day before we had hoped to have Version Beta of the Tres Columnae Project ready for public consumption.  I’m afraid we were a bit ambitious with that date!  We’ve made great progress with Beta, and it should be ready quite soon … but not tomorrow!  For that, you may feel free to blame

  • me, for my over-ambitious scheduling plans;
  • my favorite computer, for its unplanned trip to the nearest Apple Service Center;
  • the weather in my face-to-face teaching world, for being so hot and miserable for the past several weeks; or
  • any combination of the above.

I’m happy to take full blame, or credit as the case may be.  On the other hand, with the Version Alpha Wiki site, you do already have a good sense of the Tres Columnae stories for the first twenty or so Lectiōnēs, and with the Instructure Demo Site, you have a good idea of what the exercises and quizzes will look like.  While the look and feel of Version Beta will be significantly improved, the content won’t change very much … except that there will be a much easier pathway from one story or activity to the next.

It’s almost inevitable that plans change, but the process of planning is incredibly useful.  I thought about that again today in my face-to-face teaching world.  We had a class assembly that took all tenth-graders out of my morning Latin I class for about a third of the period, while the afternoon class was undisturbed.  I knew about the assembly and had planned for it, but the timing was slightly different from what I’d hoped … and so I had to change a number of specific things about the plan.  And yet, if I hadn’t gone through the process of planning (including planning how to deal with the different available amounts of time in the two classes), what would have happened?  Fear and panic, perhaps?  Anger?  Despair?  I hope not :-), but I don’t really want to find out.  After almost two decades as a teacher, I’ve found that (at least for me) planning avoids many crises and emergencies, even if the plans themselves have to be adjusted to meet the real needs and circumstances of the actual rather than ideal students in my classes.

One goal for the Tres Columnae Project, of course, is to make that planning easier for new teachers.  I think of a young colleague who emailed me today and talked with me over the weekend: she’s struggling, as I think all teachers do, with that move from teaching about Latin or teaching pieces of Latin to letting her students use the language.  It’s so hard to make that move … rewarding, of course, and vital, meā quidem sententiā, but still hard!  It’s my hope that Tres Columnae can make that process easier for all teachers, but especially for new, overwhelmed ones.  I’ll never forget that awful first-year-teacher feeling, and I’d love to make it so that no one ever has to feel that way, ever again!

In this week’s posts, if all goes well, we’ll be focusing on plans and planning as they relate to the Tres Columnae Project and to teaching Latin more generally.  At least, that’s my plan!  But that plan may be disrupted by several factors:

  • I have an appointment this afternoon that may prevent me from writing a post for Wednesday … but it may not.
  • As I write, Hurricane Earl may or may not interfere with my face-to-face world.
  • Of course, my favorite computer is still being repaired … and who knows exactly when it will return?
  • Wednesday and Thursday afternoons include meetings (of unpredictable length) about a student and about the school-wide seminar program I coordinate.
  • Who knows what special plans my favorite children have developed for the Labor Day holiday weekend?

And so, just as my plans for my classes may not “survive contact with the students” as someone wise once said, my plans for this week’s posts may not survive contact with the realities of the week.  But by planning, we should be able to minimize the disruptions.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time (and I sincerely plan for that to be tomorrow!) when we’ll consider plans and planning in more depth.  intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Making Contributions, IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As the first week of school in my face-to-face teaching world comes to a close, I’ve been realizing once again how valuable the Tres Columnae Project materials will be for so many teachers and learners. Unfortunately life has intervened a bit in our timeline for migrating to Version Beta, but that should still happen before too long. When it does, I hope the improved look and feel of the site, the ease of registration, the enhanced security functions, and the other new features will be worth the wait – not just for me, but for all of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī. Without you, and without your comments and encouragement, there would be no Tres Columnae Project. (I suppose I might have written a few stories to share with my students, but I probably would not have taken all the time and effort to develop the Metastory, the Continuing Virtual Seminar idea, and the ever-evolving system of users’ contributions “just” for myself and a few hundred learners. Anyway, please know that I really appreciate you!

I’ve had interesting conversations with my face-to-face colleagues this week: it seems that we’re all stepping out of our comfort zones and trying new things. For some, it’s new technology; for others, new teaching techniques; for still others, new ways of engaging and relating to students and their families. I guess the Tres Columnae Project involves all of these areas, but the most important one for me is the issue of student engagement. Even in these first few days, I’ve seen that some of my new Latin I students (especially those who are new to the school) are wary. They’d like to believe in the idea of a Joyful Learning Community – and my face-to-face school really does try to be one – but they’ve never really experienced that before, and they’re not sure whether to trust us or not. And trust, of course, is the foundation on which a Joyful Learning Community has to be built.

Those first few days of school can certainly help to build trust, but they can also make trust-building difficult. Sometimes schedule adjustments have to be made; sometimes classes have to be extended or shortened for logistical reasons; and sometimes busy teachers and administrators forget to keep our students “in the loop” about what’s happening. Even when we tell them what’s happening, we sometimes forget to explain why it happens … and that can take a toll on a fragile sense of trust. I realized yesterday that I needed to be absolutely, utterly clear about transitions between small-group and large-group activities – apparently some of my newer students, and even some of my “veterans” in Latin III, were having trouble with a signal that used to work beautifully. So we adapted … and adopted a much clearer signal, which seems to be working well. We also took the time to talk about why … and I think that contributed to one of the best seminars about “Knowing Vocabulary” that I’ve ever had with a Latin III class.

If you recall, I talked briefly about the plan for that in yesterday’s post, but I was a bit apprehensive: some of these students really struggled with the seminar process when they were in Latin I and II. In the end, though, I was delighted because most of the critical issues came up in students’ conversations – I didn’t have to ask questions about them. My III’s have really taken Ownership of their learning, and I’m eager to see how that new-found sense of Ownership will play out as we continue through the semester.

But why did I begin this post with a claim that the Tres Columnae Project materials will be so useful and valuable?

  • Partly because I’ve seen, once again, how much my students need learning materials other than traditional textbooks.
  • Partly because the budgetary realities of schools in the current economic conditions have left me with significantly larger classes (a good thing!) and insufficient numbers of textbooks … and we’re a well-run school district that so far has avoided severe budgetary issues.
  • Partly because I can see how much better it is for students to have individually responsive learning materials … and things that offer them immediate feedback when they’re struggling.
  • Partly because I can imagine how hard all this would be for a new teacher, when it continues to tax my imagination and energy even after almost two decades in the classroom.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time, when we’ll wrap up the themes of this week’s posts and have a short preview of what’s coming next. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 27, 2010 at 10:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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Making Contributions, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! If you’re reading today’s post “live,” it’s the second day of school in my face-to-face teaching world. We’ve survived the excitement and jitters of the first day, including a first-day celebration that’s become a cherished tradition over the past few years. It was a particularly nice first day of school, too. For some reason, I always expect fog in the morning on that first day; I remember many first days of school with fog in my childhood, and I can’t remember the last time we did not have fog here on The Day. Today, though, there were a few morning showers and some clouds … but no fog! By the end of the day, it was a beautiful, sunny day, but not at all as hot as it’s been for the past few weeks. Even the weather cooperated to make an especially nice day.

Today, other than a briefly extended homeroom period (to collect all those required forms and go over a few procedural things), we’ll be on an almost-regular schedule. My Latin III students will be following a not-so-cherished tradition known as the “Cumulative Vocabulary Review Thing” – it’s a pre-assessment of vocabulary in isolation, followed by a Socratic Seminar about the idea of Knowing Vocabulary. We’ll consider such issues as

  • what knowing means, and how it’s connected with Skill and Understanding;
  • what vocabulary means, and whether the “Review Thing” really measures it or not;
  • what strategies have worked well for us as we attempt to Know Vocabulary in various disciplines, not just Latin; and
  • why one would even bother Knowing Vocabulary in an always-on world where a Latin dictionary is only a few keystrokes away … and where the Lewis & Short is an almost-free download for your iPhone or iPod Touch.

We may look at some early Tres Columnae Project stories after that, or we may save them for a day next week when we’ll review verbs. I think it might be fun for my students to transform a short Tres Columnae fābula from a historical present to a “typical” narrative with imperfect, perfect, and maybe even some pluperfect tense verbs. They can work together to decide which tense seems best for each verb in the story, and we can talk about the process and about the different choices that each group makes, especially with imperfects and perfects. There are twenty Latin III students and five student-use computers in the classroom, so we might rotate among different stations for this review process. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were a one-to-one computer school … or if students could use the technology they bring with them to school each day? Recently I was reminded once again that my (not very new) cell phone is much more powerful than the mainframe computer my mother programmed for years in the 1980’s and 1990’s. That filled a room, but the phone doesn’t even fill my whole pocket!

Of course, in my face-to-face teaching world, students aren’t allowed to use cell phones or other electronic devices that the school doesn’t provide – and I do understand the reasoning behind that policy, since I’ve dealt with my share of surreptitious (and not-so-surreptitious) texters and emailers over the years. For many teachers, especially new ones, tired ones, and impatient ones, making sure that technological tools are actually used for instructional purposes would be quite overwhelming! I’ve been all of those teachers myself, sometimes at the same time, so I have a lot of sympathy for them. Still, I remember the battles about calculators in math class 25 years ago, which have pretty much been settled; I don’t know very many math teachers who refuse to let their students use calculators these days! I also wonder (and this may be a bit cynical on my part) how long it will take cash-strapped school districts around the country to offload their technology budgets by embracing tools that students already have. In a world where some schools are asking students to bring toilet paper, it’s easy to imagine asking them to bring phones and computers before too long.

Meanwhile, if all goes as planned, my Latin I students will be reading and hearing some Tres Columnae Project stories from Lectiō Prīma in addition to the stories in their textbook that we’d usually read today. I think we’ll see and hear the first several fabellae, and we might even get to Prīma Fabella Longa if all goes well. If not today, then possibly tomorrow … though much of tomorrow will be devoted to a Connection and Comparison activity called vīlla Rōmāna et vīlla mea in which students create a floor plan of their “dream home” and try to label as many rooms as possible with “their Latin names.” Of course, we quickly discover that a lot of rooms – and their functions – don’t translate very well, and that leads to a seminar (or something like one; this is, after all, very early in the year for the “real thing”) about the idea of housing and homes, and about the difficulties involved in translation between different languages and cultures. As you know, Understandings are really important to me, and I want my students to grapple with important ideas like this from the beginning of their time with me. I also want to know how much work on seminar process we’ll need to do, and the best way to find out is by attempting a seminar and seeing what happens! I will, of course, make sure that my students know it’s OK not to be proficient the first time … that’s an important life lesson that schools often don’t have the time or resources to teach.

As I continue to work on Tres Columnae Project materials – and on the logistics for the project – I’m reminded again and again that it’s not only OK, but quite expectable, for versions Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and even Epsilon of anything to have some flaws. The great thing about the Tres Columnae Project, of course, is that the flaws are easy to fix … and the changes happen instantaneously! By contrast, there always seem to be a few typographical errors in even the best-proofread textbook, but just imagine the cost and difficulty of preparing corrections! Even if you send out a sheet of errata and corrigenda, as most publishers do, you can’t know for sure that every potential user will receive it … or that the corrections will be made. If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you know that’s one of the main reasons I embarked on the journey toward the Tres Columnae Project to begin with.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time, when we’ll continue to explore the theme of new beginnings, ways of knowing, and making contributions. It’s possible that there may not be a post tomorrow; my afternoon and evening are unexpectedly full today, so I may not have my normal writing time. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.