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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Inter-Language Connections

salvēte, amīcī et collēgae. This is a day of great meaning for me, and it’s also the first day of Spring Break in my face-to-face teaching world. So I apologize in advance if this is a bit disjointed or unfocused. Also, there won’t be a post tomorrow or on Easter Sunday; we’ll pick up on Monday with a series of posts about exercises and quizzes in the Tres Columnae system, including links to some live, interactive examples. Today, though, we’ll finish our exploration of vocabulary-related issues raised by this story from the Tres Columnae project, in which young Cnaeus and his sisters engage in an all-too-familiar sibling conflict.

In a “typical” Latin textbook, whether it follows the reading method or the grammar-translation approach, this story would occur as part of a “chapter” or “lesson” or “stage,” and at the end of this subdivision, there would be some type of “vocabulary list.” Depending on the book, the words might be listed with their complete lexical information, or in a different way that the authors found more suitable, and each word would have one or more English equivalent. Teachers would expect their students to “learn the words and their meanings” and would probably give some type of “vocabulary quiz” or “vocabulary test” to determine if the words and meanings had, in fact, been “learned.” Along the way, there would be some “exercises about derivatives” – perhaps provided in the textbook, or perhaps prepared by the teacher – and the English (or other language) derivatives would then be “included on the quiz” (or on the test) in some way to make sure that they, also, had been “learned.” If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I do this myself, to some degree, with my face-to-face Latin students … but you also know that I’m profoundly suspicious of anything that “everybody” does, especially when there’s no discussion of the purpose or goal of the activity.

So, before we look at inter-language vocabulary connections, I want to raise, once again, a couple of disturbing questions that I can’t exactly answer:

  • What’s the purpose of “learning vocabulary” by lists in this manner?
  • If students “learn the vocabulary” by memorizing lists, will they naturally apply their learning when they see the word in context … especially if it’s in a different form from the list?
  • Suppose the word appears in a list with “two meanings” – or more than two. How will the learner know which one is “right” in a particular context?
  • Does an emphasis on lists actually harm students by confirming their unstated assumption that Latin and English (or any other pair of languages) are “exactly alike” – that there’s a one-to-one correspondence between words in the two languages?
  • If so, how can we possibly help students past this misconception?
  • And, more specifically related to our immediate concern, what’s the purpose of “learning derivatives” anyway?
  • Does it help or hurt students’ learning of Latin … and does it help or hurt their English vocabulary?

Actually, I do have an answer to the very last question: it’s intuitively obvious that learning English derivatives must help students’ English vocabularies … at least if they have a chance to take Ownership of the words and actually use them in a meaningful way. To that end, I think it’s probably better if the learners have as much control as possible over the English derivatives they study: for example, they might be asked to find derivatives for a particular root word, or to determine the root word of a particular derivative, or to analyze a given English word to determine its prefix, root, and suffix. I also think that English (and other language) derivatives work best for students – or, at least, for the ones I know best in my face-to-face teaching world – when they’re an exciting, surprising treat (a lagniappe) rather than a drudgery-filled requirement. And if one goal of learning Latin is to use one’s Latin vocabulary to figure out the meanings of unfamiliar English (or other language) words, I think it’s important to test that skill by providing unfamiliar words for the student to work with.

In other words, I’m very suspicious of those pre-generated lists of derivatives to be “learned” and “included on the quiz.” Depending on the age and sophistication of the learner, it can be perfectly appropriate and reasonable to provide some English (or other language) derivatives as examples, and it certainly makes sense to explain how words in one language morph into words in another. But, as much as possible, learners need Ownership of these connections for themselves.

In that context, I had an interesting conversation yesterday with one of my brightest Latin II students, who wondered if there are any “rules” about derivation … for example, if a Latin noun could only create English nouns. In talking with her (she really does ask excellent, deep questions like this every day!), I realized that she has a very inflexible, rule-governed view of language development; the idea that someone could simply decide that a word needed to exist, make it up, and start using it was a big surprise to her. But then I thought about what I know of her education from kindergarten through tenth grade (and from what I understand, it has been a good one, for a factory-model education): when, if ever, did she see any examples of invention or creativity applied to language – or other things – in school? I’m not sure she ever did! And I’m not sure my own children ever did, either … although, in all these cases, the learners in question have had plenty of opportunities to be creative outside of school.

So, if you were looking for pre-set “derivative exercises” to go with the story of Cnaeus, Prima, Secunda, and the Terrible Insult, I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. These types of exercises tend to operate at the Knowledge level on the Paideia framework, but that’s not where derivatives are … they’re about Connections and Comparisons in the National Standards model, or Skill and Understanding in the Paideia framework. Instead of closed-ended derivative exercises, we’ll feature open-ended ones like these:

  1. Now that you’ve read the story, think of three or four words that are problematic for you – for example, words that you have to look up repeatedly, or words that look and sound similar to each other (like sūs and suus). Do a search at or or and see how many interesting English (or other language) derivatives you can find for your “problem” words. If you’re a Basic, Standard, or Premium subscriber, you might want to add them to the relevant Adopt-A-Word page.
  2. If you have been struggling with a particular word, see how many English (or other language) derivatives you can find – or make up – for the word by adding the prefixes and suffixes we’ve used so far. Check them out at or and see how many of them are “real” English words. If you have invented a wonderful word, and if you’re a Basic, Standard, or Premium subscriber, you might want to add your new word to the Adopt-A-Word page and see if anyone else starts using it!
  3. If you’re a Standard or Premium subscriber, you might also want to create an exercise or quiz that uses the words you found. Remember to make it wonderful so that others can really benefit from it, and please review the Rubric for Exercises and Quizzes before you upload it.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • This is obviously a long way from the “typical” approach of “learning the word” and “learning the derivative!” But does it make sense to you?
  • Even if you disagree with it for your own face-to-face teaching situation, can you see why it would be appropriate as an option for the Tres Columnae system?
  • Would you, personally, enjoy derivative assignments like these? Do you think your students would enjoy them, either as a supplement or as a replacement to the work you’re doing with derivatives now?
  • And, for you English speakers, what about derivatives in languages other than English? Are they a distraction from your primary goal, or are they a helpful supplement that shows the continuing influence of Latin on all kinds of world languages?
  • How much attention to derivatives seems “right” to you – and is there such a thing as too much attention to them? At what point does a Latin class “about” derivatives cease to be a Latin class and become an English vocabulary development class? And is there anything wrong with that?

I wish you a wonderful and peaceful weekend … and I hope that readers for whom this weekend has profound meaning, as it does for me, will experience both the depths and the heights of the Triduum. grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus. Please keep those comments and emails coming, and don’t forget that there’s still time (and a bit of space) if you’d like to sign up for a Trial Subscription.