Floors and Ceilings, VI

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! If you’re reading this post “live,” I’m probably on a brief trip to the nearest Apple Store to see about a battery-charging issue with my favorite-and-only daughter’s iPod. As I made my appointment (so painlessly! so quickly!) online yesterday, I was reminded of a lot of things I’ve read recently about enduringly great companies and the unique ways they find to retain and energize their customers. Even if, by some chance, the repair is more expensive than the simple battery replacement we expect, I’ll probably leave the store impressed and pleased with the service and support. In the same way, I look forward to seeing the genuinely happy server at a local restaurant who always wishes me a blessed day. It’s so important for businesses – and all other organizations that deal with people, including schools – to make customers feel valued and appreciated.

And yet so many organizations don’t even bother! We recently had an issue with our Internet service; it suddenly disappeared one evening last week, and no amount of restarting the modem would help. Next morning, it equally mysteriously had reappeared, and everything was fine. During the outage, I tried to call the company and see what was going on; after 15-20 minutes on hold each time, I had to do other things. Evidently they knew about the problem and were working on it – but they never told me. Earlier this year, I’d gone through a similar issue involving bad service by a professional firm I had used for years; that one seems to have ended much more happily, but it required a direct appeal to one of the managing partners, an appeal that many people probably wouldn’t have bothered to make.

And speaking of value … check out this remarkable blog post at Education Week, by a master music teacher in Michigan! And check out this blog from Edutopia for some low-cost suggestions to add technology to your classroom. (In all fairness to her, I must say that my face-to-face school district is utterly opposed to using donated computers in class, for reasons of security, but they do a great job of distributing donated computers to students who need one, but don’t have one at home.)

As the Joyful Learning Community of the Tres Columnae Project continues to grow, I want to make sure that we preserve that feeling of community – that sense that each member is important, valuable, even precious. We’ve been thinking about ways to enhance our community, and someone suggested a more private online space where Tres Columnae subscribers and supporters could interact with each other. Suggestions included

  • a private Ning, now that affordable, ad-free ones are available;
  • a Yahoo! group like the one that hosts Latin-BestPractices;
  • a special forum on the Version Alpha Wiki site, which would migrate over to Version Beta when that’s ready in a few weeks.

What would work best for you?

As I was writing yesterday’s post, I re-read a number of things I’ve written, here and elsewhere, about the uses and abuses of translation in our field. That got me thinking about the different things that the word “translation” can mean. Perhaps some of the conflicts about the practice of translation are actually conflicts (or disagreements) about the semantics – different, but unresolved, definitions of what the word “translation” means. As I think of my own life as a learner and teacher of Latin, I realize it’s meant very different things at different times:

  1. When I was a beginning student, it meant “a hand-written assignment in which I am to restate a Latin passage in something that approximates English, with “more literal” approximations in parentheses.”
  2. When I was an undergraduate, it meant “an oral restatement in English, for which you prepare by repeated reading of the Latin and by writing down dictionary listings of unknown words.”
  3. When I started teaching, it meant “I will never, ever have my students think or do #1, but we might do something like #2 chorally or individually.”
  4. For TPRS teachers, as David noted in the Latin-BestPractices post I referred to yesterday, it means “single-word L1 definitions of new L2 terms” and “choral L1 restatements of L2 passages that have been repeatedly heard or read.”
  5. On the AP® Examinations, it means “a rather artificial and formulaic use of English words that attempts to restate not only the thoughts, but the actual syntax of a Latin passage, scored by phrase groupings, which is an excellent predictor of students’ overall success on the exam.”

You can see why people fight about “translation!” There’s an obvious common core (restating things from one language in another language), but beyond that, the term can have vastly different meanings. When we don’t take time to clarify – or to try to understand how others are using the term – we open ourselves up to all kinds of unnecessary conflicts.

Speaking of unnecessary conflicts, poor Caelius and Vipsania will end up in an unfortunate one with Frontō, the architectus they’ve hired to design and supervise the renovation of their vīlla in Lectiō XXI. You probably saw that coming in yesterday’s featured story! For one thing, Caelius and Vipsania have agreed (or at least he’s decided to accept her complaints) about certain features of the house:

nōnne vīlis et parva est ista vīlla? nōnne pauca cubicula? nōnne antīquae turpēsque pictūrae, quās pictor patrī meō in mūrīs multōs ante annōs pīnxit?

But they haven’t necessarily agreed on how to correct the problem features. How pretiōsa et magna does the house need to be? quanta cubicula would be enough? Obviously they want novae et pulchrae pictūrae, and novae won’t be hard, but what exactly constitutes pulchrae in this context? Given their rather unsuccessful child-rearing and their disagreements about servī et ancillae, Caelius and Vipsania aren’t very likely to take the time and effort to communicate successfully with Frontō … and, as we’ll see, he might not be all that eager to listen in any case. See what you think of today’s featured story, which you can now find here on the Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like:

Caelius cum architectō Frontōne per tōtam vīllam ambulat. ātrium, cubicula, tablīnum, triclīnium architectō ostendit. Frontō attonitus vīllam īnspicit. “sine dubiō,” sēcum colloquitur, “iste Caelius avārissimus est! quis enim vīllam tam sordidam, tam parvam, tam antīquam tenēre vult? sine dubiō istae pictūrae sunt centum annōrum!” Frontō manūs Caeliō prēnsat et, “mī domine, mī amīce,” inquit, “quam fortūnātus es, quod mē nunc iam vocās! sine dubiō vīlla tua nōn modo sordida et parva, sed perīculōsa est! nōnne enim rīma per tōtum mūrum prōcēdit? nōnne, cum pluit, aqua per tegulās usque ad pavimentum cadit? nōnne tōta vīlla in cumulum dēcidere potest?”

Caelius attonitus et perterritus, “heus!” exclāmat, “sine dubiō vīlla antīqua est … sed perīculōsa? nōnne iussū avī meī servī hanc vīllam exstrūxērunt. perīculōsa? in cumulum lāpsūra? heu! quid facere dēbeō?”

Frontō sēcum rīdet. tandem “mī Caelī,” respondet, “cōnfīde mihi! vīllam tuam renovāre et reficere possum. dea Fortūna tibi favet, quod redēmptōrem perītissimum, quī vīllās tālēs saepe reficit, bene nōvī. ille redēmptor, M. Iūlius Frontō nōmine, frāter meus ipse est! tibi vīllam reficere perītissimē et celerrimē potest. nōlī tē vexāre; mihi ad urbem reveniendum est frātrem meum cōnsultum. paucīs diēbus reventum nostrum exspectā!”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • If you’ve ever embarked on a home-renovation project, you know how important it is to choose a good, ethical contractor. What do you think about Fronto? Would you hire him?
  • Whether you’d hire Fronto or not, what do you think of Caelius’ response? After all, he has been living in the house for quite some time; you’d think he would have noticed serious structural flaws if they were really there!
  • What do you think of Fronto’s, um, “unbiased” recommendation of his frāter the redēmptor?
  • And on another level, what do you think of the use of various verb tenses in this story?

Tune in on Monday, when we’ll meet Fronto’s frāter and discover a few things about the relationship between these two. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 14, 2010 at 11:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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New Beginnings, IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I’m not sure how many of you are aware of the daily online newsletter called Accomplished Teacher by SmartBrief. It’s a free subscription, and almost every day there’s something interesting, amazing, inspiring, or terrifying … well worth the price! For example, check out this amazing blog post at Edutopia by a Latin and history teacher who’s eliminated textbooks completely in all of his classes – on the grounds that textbooks “serve the teacher quite well” but don’t meet students’ needs at all. Shelly’s own blog is even more interesting; I was especially fascinated by the comments on this short post from July. There’s also a great interview with him here; I had to chuckle ruefully at his comment about the correlation between the length of a test and its quality! 🙂

Apparently a lot of teachers around the world – and their students – have been having the same sorts of responses to textbooks that I’ve noticed recently. That’s exciting and invigorating for me as a new school year is rapidly approaching! In a time of severe budget shortfalls for so many schools and districts, I really don’t see how the “traditional” 5-to-7-year textbook adoption cycle can be sustainable anyway … and I’m starting to worry about the “traditional” guarantee of pensions for public employees, too, a concern that only grew after I read this New York Times article!

I’m not ready to abandon textbooks completely for my Latin I and II students, but depending on my students’ preferences this fall, we may be using them as supplementary readers rather than as a primary tool – and that will be a big incentive for me to go ahead and finish those remaining fābulae, fabellae, and exercises for Cursus Prīmus in the next few weeks, won’t it? 🙂 As for the III’s and IV’s, we’ve moved more and more toward using texts that are freely available online anyway; the AP’s do have a book, but they mainly use sites like the Perseus Project and nodictionaries.com for their reading outside of class.

So … how many of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī are considering eliminating textbooks? And what are you planning to replace them with? If you do, especially for your beginning students, I hope you’ll consider the Tres Columnae Project materials as at least one piece of your instructional puzzle. You can’t beat the price for the free materials, and we think the subscription-based resources will give you good value for your money and save you a lot of time and effort, both in correcting student work and in planning your classes. We’ll let you know as soon as those are finished and available.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that we’d think about these important questions:

  • Do you see other ways to automate the collection and tabulation of “routine” but helpful data?
  • What other types of data might you want to collect to help you meet your students’ learning needs?
  • Do you have any concerns about data security that you’d want to address?
  • And what about actual face-to-face instruction once you have the data you want? How might the Tres Columnae Project materials help you there?

I also said that we would

look at a possible sequence of Tres Columnae Project materials in a one-computer Latin classroom.

In essence, we’ll be looking at several ways to answer this critical question:

How might a teacher use the Tres Columnae Project materials for pre-assessment as well as for instruction? In other words, how might a teacher use our “stuff” to assess Latin I students’ learning profiles, to devise compatible learning groups, and to provide for a high-quality learning environment for diverse learners?

When I talk to teachers, and especially when I first meet new teachers in the online staff-development course about Differentiated Instruction that I teach for my school district, they’re often overwhelmed by “all the work” that seems to be necessary to reach different types of learners. (Most of the course actually involves helping them learn ways to reach more learners, more effectively, which actually saves time and effort in the long run.) So one big goal for the Tres Columnae Project is to provide tools that teachers can use without “recreating the wheel” or making everything from scratch. Of course there are lots of other tools out there; I’d highly recommend Evan Milner’s new audio-visual course, which you can find here. His work is not only an inspiration, but a very practical form of assistance for Latin teachers who want to incorporate oral work in their classes but don’t know where to start. It’s also a return to the real, living tradition of language instruction that stretches back to the Romans themselves, continued unabated through the Renaissance into the nineteenth century, but has been almost completely forgotten by Latinists (and language educators in general) since the historically recent rise of grammar-translation methodology. I find it highly ironic, in a profession that claims a legacy of millennia, to hear and read grammar-translation teachers describe themselves as “traditional” Latin teachers! 🙂 For certain types of learners and for certain purposes, a grammar-translation approach can certainly be effective, but let’s not pretend that Caesar, Cicero, Vergil, or their teachers learned or taught Latin that way.

Anyway, let’s suppose that you’ve decided (as I have) to use the Tres Columnae Project materials at least some of the time in your classroom instruction. As it happens, I have a multiple-computer classroom – there are 5 rather elderly desktop computers for student use, plus a teacher workstation with an interactive whiteboard, a document camera, and an LCD projector – a nice end-of-school-year present from the school district, which had some funds that needed to be spent. Though the whiteboard and document camera are new, I’ve had access to an LCD projector and to three wireless slates for a few years; if you haven’t used one, the slates really allow you, the teacher or learner, to do everything that the big board does, and they have the extra advantage that they can be used simultaneously by small groups. I’m not quite ready to go completely paperless like Shelly, but I am ready to cut back significantly on my paper use; it seems like good environmental and budgetary stewardship as well as a good way to increase students’ engagement with what they’re learning. So, what will the first few days of my revised class look like?

I actually described what I’ve typically done here, in response to that “placement test” post I mentioned yesterday. In the interests of avoiding chaos – and because most of our students haven’t yet returned their Acceptable Internet Use Policy forms on the first day of school – we’ll still begin with the paper-and-pencil information cards and surveys, and we’ll probably work with classroom vocabulary and pronunciation in much the same way as we did in the past. On Day 2, though, when I’d normally distribute textbooks, I’ll be planning to begin with Fabella Prīma of Lectiō Prīma instead. We’ll do a whole-class, choral response lesson with Fabella Prima and Fabella Secunda, and then we’ll probably have volunteers read Fabella Tertia and possibly Fabella Quarta. We’ll pause for a vocabulary check, possibly using one of the exercises I’ve written for the Instructure Demo Course, then have pairs read an equivalent section in the no-longer-primary textbooks. Depending on how many students have reliable Internet access at home, we may move to a completely online homework assignment system, or I may provide printed versions for the students who need them. Since my students and their families are already paying for my editing-and-approval services with their property taxes, they won’t have to pay for Submissions, but I’ll make sure that any Submissions they create are of the highest possible quality. I expect that the opportunity to share their work – and to have it be a model for other subscribers – will give them plenty of Ownership even though they won’t be paying directly.

Obviously the grammatical sequence of Tres Columnae Project materials is very different from that of most conventional textbooks. But our focus is always on reading for comprehension rather than puzzling over grammatical issues. So I expect that my students will be able to read and enjoy textbook stories at roughly the same pace they’ve always done even though their main focus will be on the Tres Columnae storyline. After all, we’ll save the roughly 15 minutes a day that it takes to do a good, thorough job of correcting homework: turning it in, recording credit, return it, going over answers, and reteaching problematic grammatical concepts. You can do a lot of meaningful reading and writing in those 15 minutes a day … or a lot of contextual vocabulary practice or high-level discussion of Big Ideas and essential Understandings, for that matter. By January, when our first semester ends and my Latin I students are ready for Latin II, I expect they will have completed Lectiōnēs I-XXX of the Tres Columnae project and read the relevant stories in the “official” textbook. I’ll keep you posted, of course! The transition to Latin II will be interesting, as most of the students will be coming directly from Latin I but a significant minority will have “just” used the textbook in their Latin I classes last year. But then, the transition from Latin I to II is always an interesting adventure!

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in on Monday for more preliminary thoughts about using Tres Columnae materials with a “real” class. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 7, 2010 at 12:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Turning Point

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today marks a transition point for the Tres Columnae Project. We’ve officially finished our Free Trial period, though a few folks who attended the American Classical League Institute have a “secret code” that will give them a few more days of Free Trial access. Of course, you can still

  • read the stories,
  • hear the audio,
  • see the pictures, and
  • use the exercises and quizzes at the Instructure Demo Course site.

But for the next few days, you won’t be able to upload new stories, images, audio, or video, or, as we say, you won’t be able to make Submissions to the project for a few days.

Before too long, though, we’ll make our regular subscriptions available, so you’ll be able to follow the “regular” process for making Submissions. In the meantime, we hope you will have a chance to

  • explore the existing stories for Lectiōnēs I-XX;
  • find some intriguing “gaps” in the storyline that you might want to fill;
  • start writing stories to fill those “gaps,” or even to create your own independent “branch” of the storyline, as our subscriber David H. has done with his stories about Ortellius; and
  • start planning the images, audio clips, and/or video clips that will accompany your story.

If you’d rather not write your own story, you can still choose to base a Submission on an existing story. For example, you might decide to

  • create your own illustrations;
  • create your own audio narration;
  • create your own video;
  • create your own reading-comprehension questions, with suggested answers;
  • create your own vocabulary pre-teaching activity (or post-reading assessment) to accompany a story;
  • create your own set of grammatical analysis questions, with suggested answers; or even
  • do something we haven’t imagined yet! The possibilities are endless.

Of course, if you do create such things just for yourself or your own students, go right ahead! We’d love for you to Submit them to us, but you don’t have to. On the other hand, if you’d like to have your creation officially become part of the Tres Columnae Project – in other words, if you’d like us to publish it for you on the Version Alpha Wiki site or its successor, or include it in the Instructure course – we do need to make sure that it meets our quality standards and doesn’t conflict with our philosophy. (For example, an exercise called “Translate this story into English” might well work for your class, but it wouldn’t be a good fit with our commitment to extensive reading and direct comprehension.) We’ll let you know here, on the site itself, and on popular listservs like Latinteach and Latin-BestPractices as soon as you can sign up for a subscription or a Single Submission. In the meantime, though, please spread the word about Tres Columnae to your friends, coworkers, students, and local homeschoolers. And please keep reading and exploring the stories and other content on the Version Alpha Wiki site and the Instructure Demo course.

And speaking of stories, tomorrow we begin a series of posts focusing on the sad life of Casina, ancilla Valeriī. When we first meet Casina early in Cursus Primus, she seems to be a bit of a complainer, but we don’t exactly know why she’s bitter and unhappy. We learn more in this story, featured in this post from May, in which we learn the cause of Casina’s hatred for the city of Pompeii … and the sadness that continually seems to gnaw at her. Then, with this story from Lectiō XIX, which we featured in this post from May, poor Casina is confronted with the near-death of another innocent servus. Perhaps the combination of memories and shock is the immediate cause of the situation we’ll feature in our upcoming series, or maybe Casina’s woes only grow as she considers the upcoming wedding of Valeria, daughter of her dominus, and the (presumably) happy fate of any children born to Valeria and Vipsānius – a stark contrast to the awful fate of her own child. Anyway, something causes Casina to become extremely ill – and her illness, in turn, will give us an opportunity to explore a number of facets of Roman culture that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to address. As we find out whether, and how, Casina will recover, we’ll also explore

  • various forms of healing in the Roman world;
  • Roman attitudes toward sickness and healing;
  • Roman attitudes about death and what lies beyond;
  • some issues regarding social class; and even
  • the geography of Rome itself, as the Valeriī decide to take Casina there (for reasons that may surprise you).

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of our plans for the future?
  • What do you think of the subscription model? If you can think of a better way, I’d love to hear about it!
  • What do you think of the upcoming series of posts about poor Casina?
  • And what ideas are you starting to have about Submissions?

Tune in next time, when we’ll begin to explore poor Casina’s fate. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

What about Vocabulary? IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll take a closer look at a specific type of vocabulary-learning material that Tres Columnae participants might first work with, then create for each other. We’ll use another new story to get there, and then we’ll return to the question I left you with at the end of yesterday’s post, about the differences – if any – between adults paying children for good grades and learners paying each other for the use of learning materials. It’s a hugely important question, and I’ll have more to say about it on Wednesday.

First, though, let’s look at this suggestion from our faithful reader Laura G, which she made in response to Saturday’s post. She’s referring to this story from the Tres Columnae project, which appeared in Saturday’s post and now can be found here on the Version Alpha Wiki as well:

WORD GROUPS: One fun task for readers might be the following: find examples of words you could put in the following groups – don’t define them; just identify them as being in the group:

At least 5 words in the passage that refer to SOCIAL ROLES (lots of possibilities here: ancilla dominus maritus senator servulus servus uxor verna)

At least 5 words in the passage that refer to BUYING, SELLING AND GIVING (e.g. emo vendo venalicius donum dos gratis pretium praebeo)

At least 5 ADJECTIVES NEGATED WITH IN- PREFIX (this is trickier because I think there are just 5 total: ignavus impudens ingratus inutilis infans… but maybe I missed one?)

Challenging students to find words that fit into specific groups demands that they know something about the word, but it avoids the tedious task of asking them to provide the English definition.

I thought Laura’s suggestion was absolutely inspired! And, in the spirit of the Tres Columnae system, I immediately imagined ways to involve learners themselves in creating such materials. After all, our story comes from Lectiō XVIII – if we’ve done our job well in the earlier lessons, our participants should be quite ready to create their own Word Groups activities (complete with possible answers) and share them with each other. Even if there were a few errors (as we’d define them), those in themselves would probably be interesting learning opportunities, both for the learners who created them and possibly even for others who used the materials later. For example, imagine that a participant has created this Word Groups activity:


with suggested answers (festīnat, contendit, revertere, ēgreditur, celeriter)

Obviously celeriter isn’t a verb … so how might we improve the Word Groups? Participants could submit their own suggestions, such as

  • Replace celeriter with something that is a verb (like mittō) or
  • Change the category to WORDS, not necessarily verbs, WHERE SOMEBODY IS MOVING

I know some readers have been suspicious of “correct the error” assignments when we proposed those in the past, but I think this is a bit different: the error would be explicitly pointed out, and your task is to make a change that eliminates the error. (It’s rather like the difference between “Tell whether each statement is true or false. If it’s false, explain why” and “Each of the following statements is false. Please explain why, or change each one so that it’s true.” The second task is less difficult than the first, but more complex – check out this nice summary of David Sousa’s work from a school district in Arizona if you’re not familiar with this distinction.)

It would even be possible for learners (and for your friends at Tres Columnae) to create self-scoring Word Group exercises – which of the following sets of words fits the category? I’ll have more to say about that in a bit, after we have some text to work with. First, please take a look at this story, which immediately follows the one from Saturday’s post.  (As of today, you’ll also be able to find this new story here on the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site.)

Ūtilis ē vīllā celeriter contendit. casam suam ingreditur et lacrimīs sē trādit. Ūtilis in casā vītam servōrum plōrat. “dī magnī, dī magnī, cūr nōs servōs ita afflīgis?” iterum iterumque clāmat. Planēsium sollicita casam quoque ingreditur et “mī Ūtilis!” exclāmat, “cūr flētur et lacrimātur? cūr tot lacrimās effundis? quid accidit?”

Ūtilis trīstis, “vae! heu!” exclāmat et lacrimīs ululātibusque iterum sē trādit. Planēsium, “num mortuus est Pertināx noster?” perterrita exclāmat. “num dominus tē vēndere in animō habet? an mē, an Pertinācem nostram? lacrimās retinē et rem nārrā!”

Ūtilis tandem Planēsiō cēdit et “vae! heu!” inquit, “nec mē nec tē nec Pertinācem, sed innocentēs dominus vēndere vult. ille enim mē Pompēiōs mittit vēnālīcium quaesītum. ‘necesse est mihi,’ inquit dominus, ‘servōs inūtilēs vēndere.’ sine dubiō dominus Dulcissimam et Fēlīcissimam cum īnfantibus vēndere in animō habet. vae īnfantibus innocentibus! vae ancillīs miserrimīs!”

Planesium, “et vae tibi, quod cum istīs cubitāre nōn potes?” īrāta Ūtilem rogat. “et vae dominō, quod eum oportet ancillās pulchriōrēs quam illās emere? meā quidem sententiā, tibi gaudendum, nōn ululandum est.”

Ūtilis tamen, “ō Planēsium, quaesō, amābō tē, nōlī mē contemptam habē! nōnne vīlicum oportet mandātīs dominī pārēre? quid, sī dominō pārēre recūsō? quid, sī cum Fēlīcissimā vel Dulcissimā cubitāre recūsāre soleō? nōnne dominō necesse est mē verberāre, quod servus impius sum? an in agrōs labōrātum mittere? an necāre, quod parum pāreō? nōnne et manus et patria potestās et pietās ipsa servōs cōgit dominō pārēre? quaesō, amābō tē, nōlī mē contemnere quod pius esse cōnor!”

Planēsium Ūtilem amplectitur et, “vae tibi, mī Ūtilis, ignōsce mihi, quod piissimus servōrum es,” iterum iterumque mussat. tandem Ūtilis surgit et, “vae! heu! mē oportet ad urbem Pompēiōs contendere,” inquit. Pertināx casam ingreditur et, “pater! pater! quō contendis?” innocēns rogat. Ūtilis, “dominus mē ad urbem mittit, mī Pertināx,” respondet. “pater! pater! cūr?” clāmat puer. Ūtilis, “mī Pertināx, quaesō, nōlī mē causam rogā!” trīstis respondet.

Pertināx Ūtilī ōsculum dat et, “valē, mī pater!” laetus clāmat. “laetus tē exspectō!”

Ūtilis ē casā contendit et “vae puerō! utrum puerō meō annōn, vae puerō Pertinācī!” sēcum putat. vīlicus trīstis per agrōs ad urbem Pompēiōs contendit vēnālīcium quaesītum.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What are some possible Word Group activities for this story?
  • What else might we do to help learners see relationships among words … or draw distinctions among words (or constructions) that are somewhat similar in meaning?
  • And why on earth do we plan to offer royalties – and personal Ownership – for content created by our participants?
  • How can we facilitate payments to our subscribers without sending a message that we’re “paying you for your good school work”?
  • And why do we think it’s so bad to “pay for A’s” anyway?

Tune in next time for more. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

What about Vocabulary? II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll take another look at vocabulary-related issues in the Tres Columnae system … and we’ll also take a look at a new story, thinking about the types of vocabulary exercises (and other vocabulary questions) that we might ask about it. When I look at blog traffic statistics, lectōrēs cārissimī, I’ve certainly noticed that you all like posts with stories better than posts without them. So I’ll try to give you plenty of stories, even in the more philosophically oriented posts.

Anyway, here are some quick thoughts about vocabulary, partly in answer to the questions I asked yesterday, and partly in answer to a great question from our faithful reader Laura G. You can read her comments and my preliminary response if you’re interested.

Today we’ll focus on Vocabulary Lists and Flashcards. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m deeply skeptical of the kinds of lists that present a “Latin word” and “its English meaning.” Of course, I grew up with such lists; the textbook I use in my face-to-face teaching life uses them; and I continue to assign list-related vocabulary work to my face-to-face students. But I’ve grown increasingly skeptical that vocabulary lists can actually promote deep, meaningful learning of vocabulary. Instead, I’m afraid they send two messages that I don’t want my students to receive.

First, they seem to send a message that “Latin and English are exactly the same; there’s a one-to-one equivalent for everything.” I didn’t realize this until recently, when I was reflecting on the homework assignment turned in by a (very capable) Latin III student. We’d been reading the Daedalus and Icarus sequence from Book X of the Metamorphoses, and the assignment was to vertite Latīnē a couple of English sentences that summarized part of the action. (I deliberately don’t say “translate into Latin” because I want my students to think about turning thoughts rather than looking up words.) Anyway, the sentence involved an English indirect statement with a “that,” and she did a creditable job of making ōrātiō oblīqua out of it … but she also threw in a seemingly-random ille to represent the word that in the original sentence. Of course, if you look up that in an English-to-Latin dictionary, you will see the word ille! And that’s pretty much all you’ll see … certainly not any guidance as to different ways the English word that is used, and the different ways that Latin represents them. After all, dictionaries have to be reasonable in size and price, and that type of detailed explanation would make them unmanageably large in both respects. But an unfortunate consequence is that, even when using a dictionary, a learner thinks “Latin Word X = English Word Y.”

Second, vocabulary cards and lists seem to send a message that “vocabulary in a language class is like all the other vocabulary work I do in those other classes” – that is, it can be “learned for the test,” regurgitated in some form, and promptly forgotten. I talked about that in more detail in this post from January, but it continues to bother me … especially when I watch my face-to-face students do reading-comprehension activities in class. The most faithful vocabulary-card and vocabulary-list makers, in general, are the same young people who chronically raise their hands, plaintively seeking my help because “I can’t find this word in the dictionary.” It’s there, of course, and it’s also on the cards or lists they just turned in – but it’s in a declined or conjugated form, and they can’t make the connection. Or else it never occurred to them that there should be a connection between the cards/lists and the words in the reading passages … or that the cards or lists have any higher purpose beyond “do them and turn them in” … such as, for example, helping you, the learner, actually learn the words on them! 😦

Ten or fifteen years ago, my students eagerly made and used cards (or lists, for the card-challenged) because Latin class was the only place in their school experience where cards happened. Now, though, their counterparts make cards for everybody – including Mrs. X, who takes the cards up and never gives them back! So a strategy that once seemed different and special has become boring and ordinary, at least in my corner of the world. Has that happened where you are?

Lest I bore you :-), I’ll save further reflections on the other points I raised yesterday for another post, and we’ll turn to the obvious next question: If not lists, what? And how, in a list-free world, would the Tres Columnae system help learners process and reflect upon the Latin words they encounter?

I actually think a world without any vocabulary lists would be difficult to achieve … there are certain words that don’t lend themselves to pictorial representation, or that aren’t obvious in context, or that don’t have obvious derivatives or cognates. Even then, though, I’d like to make it clear that the connections between English and Latin words are rarely one-to-one… in other words, I’d like to build not only Knowledge of the basic meanings of the words and Skill at using them (for comprehension and for production), but also Understanding of the deeper issues and ideas involved in words and meanings. For example, I envision that learners might “adopt a word,” research its connotations in a Latin dictionary, and create a semantic map, illustration, or other learning tool that presents some of the differences in connotation between the Latin and English words. Even a simple word like et is rich in possibilities (for example, a Roman can have a series like Caelius et Valerium et Caeliam et līberōs salūtat, but we can’t say *Caeilius greets and Valerius and Caelia and the children). So imagine what you could do with a noun or a verb! And imagine trying to represent the differences in meaning, connotation, and what we might call “closeness of connection” among et, –que, and atque! 🙂

So, in the context of a real Tres Columnae story, what might we do to

  • present new vocabulary
  • help learners relate new words to words they already know
  • help learners practice the new words, developing their Knowledge and Skill, and
  • help learners reflect on the new words, increasing their Understanding?

Let’s look at this story from Lectiō XVIII, next in sequence after the one in Wednesday’s post about servī et ancillae.  (You can also find it at this link at the Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like.)  Vipsānia, uxor Caeliī, has finally noticed that many of the vernae bear a suspicious resemblance to her husband, and she confronts him in a way that many Roman women would be unlikely to do. Of course, it helps when your own pater was a senātor, your marītus is an eques, and you were married sine manū….

annō proximō, Dulcissima et Fēlīcissima ambae parturiunt. Dulcissimae puer, Fēlīcissimae puella nāscitur. Caelius Ūtilī pecūniam dat et, “vernās optimōs mihi praebēs!” exclāmat.

Vipsānia tamen suspiciōsa “heus!” exclāmat, “vultūs enim Caeliō meō quam similēs! mihi necesse est istās ancillās pūnīre!”

Vipsānia ergō ad Caelium festīnat et, “marīte!” exclāmat, “tē rem maximī mōmentī quaerō. novās enim ancillās habēre volō, quod mē taedet Dulcissimae et Fēlīcissimae. ignāvae enim et inūtilēs sunt illae, quod īnfantēs iam nūtriunt. quaesō, amābō tē, illās vende et aliās ancillās mihi eme!”

Caelius, “hem!” respondet, “aliās ancillās habēre vīs? ancillās novās et pulchrās? fortasse, sī pretium aequum –”

Vipsānia tamen īrātissima, “pulchrās enim? pulchrās?! num mē contemnis? num spernis? haud caeca, haud īnsāna sum! rēs enim gestās tuās plānē intellegō! num pater meus, ille Vipsānius senātor, tālia ferre potest? nōnne mē decet–”

sed Caelius, “Vipsānia, Vipsānia, cūr tē vexās?” respondet. “nōnne dominus sum? nōnne mihi est patria potestās? nōnne quoque manus servōrum et ancillārum? tē haud vexō, haud contemnō! tibi dōna aptissima emō! et tibi servulōs grātīs praebeō! cūr tē vexās? num ingrāta mē dēplōrās? num dīvortium quaeris?”

Vipsāna tamen “dīvortium? num tū impudēns dīvortium quaeris? nōnne sine manū uxor tibi sum? facile igitur est mihi cum dōte Mediolānum revertere! num paupertātem cupis, mī Caelī?”

Caelius attonitus, “quid hoc?” tamen susurrat. “Vipsānia cārissima, num iocōs meōs agnōscis? sī enim ancillās novās quaeris, nōnne–”

Vipsānia attonita et īrāta nihil respondet, sed ē tablīnō celeriter ēgreditur. “tē oportet tacēre et istās ancillās cum īnfantibus statim vēndere!” exclāmat et ad cubiculum suum contendit. Caelius “haud necesse est Dulcissimam vel Fēlīcissimam vēndere!” clāmat. “tibi autem trēs ancillās novās emere in animō habeō!”

paucīs tamen post hōrās, Caelius Ūtilem arcessit et, “Ūtilis,” inquit, “tē ad urbem Pompēiōs mittō vēnālīcium quaesītum. mihi enim necesse est servōs inūtilēs vēndere!”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Which words are likely to be new to our participants?
  • Which ones are important enough to present first, in a fabella, with pictures, or with some other explanation?
  • Which (new or familiar) words might learners still want, or need, to practice?
  • And what kinds of practice would work best?

Tune in next time, when we’ll begin to address these questions … and the other big issues I raised on Friday. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Servi et Ancillae, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we turn from the horrible fate of Dulcissima, Fēlīcissima, Ūtilis, Planēsium, and their children to the even more horrible fate of slaves working in a fullonica. As bad as the life of a servus was in a Roman familia, imagine how much worse it would be to be a servus in an industrial or agricultural operation! Your master, if present at all, need not even know your name, and he’s even more likely to see you as “equipment with voices” (to quote a memorable translation of a bit from Cato the Elder’s dē agrī cultūrā). Yes, it would be horrible to work in the fields on a huge estate, and yes, dying in a Roman mine would be horrible. But for some reason, the idea of standing all day in, um, Roman bleach, treading on people’s clothes, seems particularly horrible to me … and I know it does to my face-to-face students as well.

I had a real struggle with this story because Gellius fullō, a new character, tried to take over as I was writing it. In the first version, no one else came into the shop, and the poor slave … but I’m getting ahead of myself. Check out the story and see what you think of this version:

in īnsulā Valeriī habitat Gellius fullō cum uxōre et quattuor līberīs. Gellius fullonicam parvam prope Forum urbis Herculāneī tenet. in fullonicā labōrant octō servī. necesse est illīs miserrimīs per tōtam diem in ūrīnā et aquā stāre. “quandō vestēs sunt sordidae, nihil melius est quam ūrīna,” Gellius dīcere solet. “ūrīna enim sōla vestēs pūrās et candidās reddit.” Gellius servōs saepe castīgat, quod lentē labōrāre et saepe vomere solent. “heus! servī ignāvissimī! cūr vomitis?” exclāmat et servōs vehementer verberat. “vōbīs labōrandum, nōn vomendum est! nōnne servīs ignāvissimīs pereundum est, sī in urīnā ipsā vomunt et vestēs sordidās reddunt?”

hodiē Casina, ancilla Valeriī, ad fullonicam contendit trēs togās purgātum. Casina prope fullonicam consistit et “heus! odōrem horribilem!” exclāmat. “dīs gratiās maximās agō, quod in vīllā, nōn fullonicā mihi labōrandum est. vīta servōrum est dūra, dūrissima tamen servōrum quī in fullonicā labōrant!”

Casina fullonicam intrat et, “domine Gellī,” clāmat, “Valerius, dominus meus, trēs togās tibi mittit. nōnne togās sordidās purgāre potes?” Gellius per fullonicam contendit et, “heus! nōnne Casina Valeriī ancilla? certē, certē, mihi facile est togās dominī pūrās reddere. tē oportet proximō diē cum tribus dēnāriīs revenīre.”

Casina, “trēs denāriōs quaeris?” exclāmat. “num Imperātor ipse est dominus meus? nōnne ūnum tantum dēnārium quaerere solēs? nōnne ūnum sestertium? num dominum oportet alium fullōnem quaerere?”

et Gellius, “ancillam impudentem!” respondet. “nōnne quattuor līberī, nōnne uxor aegra mihi est? nōnne octō servī optimī? ūnus dēnārius haud satis est! num īnsānīs?”

et Casina, “domine Gellī,” impavida respondet, “nōnne quoque cēnāculum optimum in īnsulā Valeriī ipsīus? num vīs alium cēnāculum invenīre? num dominum meum contemptum habēs?”

tum Gellius “heus!” exclāmat, “vērum est quod dīcis. nōnne ūnum dēnārium ūnumque sestertium mihi dare dominus tuus potest? nōnne amīcus veterrimus sum, et cliēns fidēlissimus?”

et Casina, “cōnsentiō,” respondet, et togās Gelliō trādit. tum Casina ē fullonicā ēgredī incipit. subitō tamen cōnsistit et, “heus!” sibi putat, “quis est ille servus miserrimus, quī in fullonicā labōrat? num illum cognōscō?” Casina servum dīligenter spectat et, “fātum horrendum!” sēcum putat. “nōnne enim frātrem meum videō?” Gellius per fullonicam ambulat servōs pūnītum. iuxtā frātrem Casinae stat et “servum impudentem!” exclāmat, “num vomis? num labōrāre cessās? tibi moriendum est, quod inūtilis es!” et servum miserrimum in ūrīnam impellit. servus dominō resistere cōnātur, sed frustrā. Gellius enim pedem in collō pōnit et nāsum sub urīnā tenet. cēterī servī perterritī tacent.

Casina perterrita et immōta stat et rem tōtam spectat. subitō vōcem ignōtam audit. aliquis enim fullonicam intrat et, “heus! Gellī! quid facis?” exclāmat. Gellius attonitus pedem tollit; servus surgit et urīnam sanguinemque identidem vomit. in fullonicā stat Flavius Caesō, vir maximae dignitātis. “Gellī! cūr istum servum pūnīs? quid facit ille?” rogat Flavius Caesō. “num tē decet urīnam tuam sordidam facere? num togae meae nunc sordidae et sanguineae sunt?”

et Gellius “heus! mī Caesō! inopīnātus advenīs!” susurrat. “cūr poenās istīus servī commemorās? nōnne togae tuae–”

Caesō tamen, “Gellī, mē summā cum dīligentiā audī!” interpellat. “nōnne fullō es? nōnne tē oportet vestēs pūrās reddere?”

et Gellius, “certē, mī Caesō, et–”

sed Caesō, “tē igitur oportet verba mea dīligenter audīre, mandātīs dīligenter pārēre. sī enim servus in urīnā perit, nōnne umbra in fullonicā manēre solet? nōnne umbra vestēs sordidās reddere vult? et nōnne perīculōsissimum est umbram īrātam reddere?”

Gellius attonitus, “vae mihi!” sēcum susurrat. “mē oportet multa sacrificia hodiē facere!” et Caesō, “nōlī umquam,” susurrat, “servum mortuum in urīnā reddere!” Caesō maximā cum dignitāte ē fullonicā ēgreditur.

Casina rem tōtam attonita spectat. servus tandem vomere cessat et ad urīnam regreditur. Casina servum intentē spectat et “heus!” sēcum putat, “vae illī! sed quam fēlīx sum, quod iste servus haud frāter meus est!”

Casina nihil dīcit, sed ē fullonicā celeriter contendit. ad domum Valeriī celerrimē regreditur, ubi lacrimīs ūlūlātibus sē trādit. “vae mihi! vae vītae! vae istī servō miserrimō! et vae fratrī meō!” iterum iterumque exclāmat.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • In the first draft of the story, no one else came into the shop, and Gellius did drown the servus. But I just couldn’t stand it! I also thought it would be too much for our younger, more tender-hearted subscribers.
  • I actually talked about the story with some of my face-to-face Latin II students, and they all agreed that the servus needed to live. That’s when I had the idea of Flavius Caeso ironically saving the day. Do you think he’s right for the part, or should someone else do it?
  • What do you think of Casina’s response … both before and after she realizes it’s not her brother?
  • And do you suppose she could share her concerns about Gellius with her dominus … or that, if she did, he’d care?

As I was writing this story, I was aiming not just to horrify (though it’s certainly horrifying enough!) but also to show our participants that, to a Roman, a servus – especially one like the one who isn’t actually Casina’s frāter – seems much more like a car, a lawnmower, or a washing machine than a person. We’ve all read stories of guys who shoot their lawnmower when it won’t start in the spring … stupid, but they don’t go to jail for murder, do they? And we’ve all replaced defective or worn-out cars, washing machines, or other equipment … without any regard for the feelings of the appliances, or of their fellow appliances that remain in the house, for that matter! Of course, our appliances don’t actually have feelings … unlike a servus or ancilla. But to a Roman, the feelings of the servus or ancilla are as irrelevant as our appliances’ feelings would be … even if we did think they had feelings.

As for Flavius Caeso, if you’ve read this previous story, you probably now have a pretty good suspicion about why he’s so conflicted about the treatment of servī.

Tune in next time, when we’ll begin to shift our attention to what I’m going to call Vocabulary With Minimal Translation. In other words, how can the Tres Columnae system help our learners acquire a deep understanding of the Latin words they learn, as well as knowledge and skill at using them, without resorting to the typical “vocabulary list” with all its perils? And what perils, exactly, am I referring to? We’ll find out more next time. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Taking Precise Measurements

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Before we go on to another set of exercises and quizzes, or even another story from the Tres Columnae project, I wanted to take some time to think through a very important, but often unexamined, issue in teaching languages, and especially in teaching Latin and Greek. It’s an issue of measurement and assessment – a critical one, in fact: how do we know that our measurements (the quizzes and tests we give our students) are actually measuring what we want them to measure? Statisticians and experts in assessment refer to this idea as validity; it’s closely linked with a related concept called reliability, which has to do with how close a learner’s scores would be if he/she took the test or quiz more than once. The closer the scores, the more reliable; the more the instrument measures what it’s supposed to measure, the more valid.

When I closed yesterday’s post, I made this point about translation, both as an instructional tool and as an assessment:

I also think it’s a tool that can easily be overused … or even used when it’s not the best tool for the job. Not even a Swiss Army knife is the perfect tool for every job; for example, it would be hard to use one to light up a darkened room! 🙂

My primary concern with over-using translation as an instructional tool is mainly that it keeps our language learners focused on their first language rather than on the language they’re learning. After all, if the only thing you do with a Latin passage is to translate it into, say, English, that would seem to imply a couple of things. First, it implies that English (or whichever language you’re translating into) is the “real” or “primary” language, while Latin is simply a complicated code from which you have to extract the “English meaning.” Second, and consequently, it implies that English (or whichever language you’re translating into) is superior and Latin is inferior. I’ve run into too many advanced Latin students (not mine, usually) who think the Romans actually thought in English but translated their thoughts into Latin! 😦 Of course, that’s a common belief among learners of any language, but it needs to be dispelled, not encouraged. My fear is that an over-use of translation in instruction actually confirms this belief, and my hope is that regular communicative interactions in the language (even the simple multiple-choice responses we’ve looked at in this series of posts) will help learners overcome this and other false preconceptions about the relationships between languages. In keeping with our tool metaphor, translation would be a useful but specialized tool for instruction – more like a set of metric sockets than a Swiss Army knife. (You don’t need them every day, but as I was reminded recently, when I had to replace the battery in a Volvo, when you need them, you really need them!)

So much for the overuse of translation in instruction. My larger concern is the overuse of translation in assessment, which is why I’ve taken such pains in this series of posts to demonstrate other ways (including a bunch of Latin-only ways) to assess both reading comprehension and grammatical analysis without using translation. My biggest concern with translation as an assessment tool – whether for comprehension or for analytical work with the grammar of the language – is that translation is too complicated a task to satisfy anyone’s criteria for validity or reliability. Specifically, I think there are too many variables, both in the learner’s task and in the assessor’s, and the criteria for an acceptable performance are often too vague. (I think of the plaintive questions about “how to grade translations” – usually asked after the translations have been assigned – on the Latinteach listserv over the years, and the perennial questions about “is this translation acceptable” on the AP-Latin listserv.)

For example, consider this sentence from the Tres Columnae story we’ve focused on since Friday:

haec tamen pauca tibi et sorōrī explicāre possum.

  • What criteria for accuracy of translation would you establish for this sentence?
  • How would you communicate them to a learner, in advance, without “giving away” the translation of the sentence to them?
  • What kinds of feedback would you give for “translation errors” produced by a student?

And how would you convert the student’s response into a numeric score?

In the context of Lectiō Octāva, the “new things” to be tested are the datives (tibi and sorōrī). The relatively new things that might still cause trouble for learners are the complementary infinitive explicāre and the meanings of the words haec and possibly possum. In the Tres Columnae system, we’d ask direct questions about these specific items, if they were what we wanted to measure. For example, to test grammatical analysis, we might ask:

  1. cuius modī est explicāre?
    1. indicātīvī
    2. coniunctīvī
    3. imperātīvī
    4. infinītīvī
  2. cuius cāsūs est sorōrī?
    1. nōminātīvī
    2. genitīvī
    3. datīvī
    4. accūsātīvī

To test comprehension, we might ask

  1. quid Impigra facere vult?
    1. rem nārrāre
    2. rem audīre
    3. līberōs laudāre
    4. līberōs pūnīre
  2. quis hanc periodum audit?
    1. Rapidus
    2. Rapida
    3. et Rapidus et Rapida
    4. nec Rapidus nec Rapida

Depending on the learner’s patterns of correct and incorrect responses (which would be tracked, of course, in the Tres Columnae Moodle course), it would be easy for the teacher – and the learner herself – to see patterns of errors and to determine the logical next area of focus for the learner.  It would also be fairly easy to assess the reliability and validity of any given question by comparing it with others that, ostensibly, measure the same skill.

But how, exactly, do you “test” these things with a translation? And how do you give useful feedback?

For example, suppose the student, assigned to translate this sentence, says or writes,

“These few things are possible to be explained to you and your sister.”

It’s a “wrong translation” because of how it handles explicāre and possum and how it doesn’t handle tamen. And yet the student apparently has grasped the function of the two datives; has some idea that explicāre is an infinitive; has correctly determined that haec and omnia go together; and has a general idea of what Impigra is saying to Rapidus and Rapida.

Even if the teacher used a rubric for grading translations – and if that rubric had been shared with the learners – scoring might be a bit problematic. But what if the teacher uses “points” or marks rather than a rubric? How would you convert those problems into a grade – or into meaningful feedback.

Some teachers might choose the “point per word” method. But does that give credit for haec … pauca (accusative in the original, but the subject of this sentence)? And what about explicāre, which is almost, but not quite, “to be explained”? Depending on the teacher, this sentence might end up with a score of 3 / 8 (for tibi et sorōrī), 4.5 / 8 (half credit for explicāre, haec, and omnia), or even 5 /8 (half credit for possum) .. or anywhere from 37.5% to 50% credit. That’s a big range of scores … and a very low set of scores, too, given that the learner did, in fact, understand what was going on with the sentence.

Other teachers might choose a segment-scored or chunk-scored method like the one used by the Advanced Placement Program. In that case, the segments would probably be

  1. haec pauca
  2. tamen
  3. tibi et sorōrī
  4. explicāre possum.

Again, the student gets credit for one segment (tibi et sorōrī), for a score of ¼, or 25%. Or, if the teacher is “kind” and gives partial credit for partly-correct segments, the score might be 1.5/4 (half credit for haec omnia) or even 2/4 (half credit for explicāre possum). A wide, but very different range of scores – and still quite low, given that the student did, in fact, understand the point of the sentence!

Unfortunately, when translation is used as the only assessment tool for comprehension and grammatical analysis, it’s very difficult for teachers (or other assessors) to be consistent in their scoring … and this tends to make test designers, who are worried about validity and reliability, very nervous. That’s one reason why so many test designers and publishers, especially in the current U.S. climate, use multiple-choice responses so heavily: they may not be perfect, but at least the machine scoring the responses will do so with consistency. Assessors can also be trained to apply a rubric pretty consistently – the fewer levels in the rubric, the more reliable it will be – but non-rubric-scored, non-forced-choice responses will always raise some validity or reliability concerns.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of my concerns about the validity and reliability of translation?
  • Or do they just make you angry because “we’ve always done it that way” and I seem to be upsetting the apple cart?
  • Do you see ways to make translation-type assessments more valid and more reliable?
  • What do you think of our alternatives to translation?
  • What concerns about validity or reliability do you have in their regard?

Tune in next time, when we’ll respond to your concerns, share some more questions, and preview the next series of posts. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Exercises for a Story, IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll look at several questions (more than the three I promised in yesterday’s post) about the relatively “new” grammatical elements in this story from the Tres Columnae project. Yesterday we focused on some higher-level reading comprehension tasks. As I mentioned last Friday, the “new” grammatical elements are dative-case nouns and first-person plural verbs, and the “relatively new” items include vocatives, imperatives (not too many in this story), and infinitives. I’ve designed some questions that measure recognition and analysis of these grammatical elements, and others that measure application and synthesis of them.

As usual, the lower-level questions will come first, and we’ll save the higher-level ones for when the learners feel comfortable … which will take different amounts of time for different learners. In a conventional classroom, particularly in a factory-model school, this individual variation can be a real problem; if the process and time are both fixed and invariable, what are we to do with “problematic” students who either need more time (or, worse yet, less time) than we anticipated? But in the Tres Columnae system, with its combination of self-pacing and personal Ownership, there’s no real issue: when the learner has demonstrated mastery of the “new thing” (to her own satisfaction, if she’s an independent learner, or to her teacher’s satisfaction, in a more “conventional” learning environment), she simply moves on to the “next new thing.” It’s OK if she doesn’t answer every question, and it’s OK if she’s working on different questions – or different skills – from the student sitting next to her.

Anyway, as I considered the first few paragraphs of the story, I started out with questions like these:

  1. “mī Magne,” inquit, “tibi necesse est ad patrem et mātrem ambulāre.”  quid est nōmen cāsūs vocātīvī?
    1. Magne
    2. tibi
    3. patrem
    4. mātrem
  2. “ ego enim cibum Rapidō et Rapidae iam parō.” cuius cāsūs sunt Rapidō et Rapidae?
    1. nōminātīvī
    2. genitīvī
    3. datīvī
    4. accūsātīvī

These are obviously testing recognition or comprehension of the new (or newish) forms, in the first case, and the ability to distinguish or analyze the new (or newish) forms, in the second case. You can probably imagine the feedback for incorrect answers; if you can’t, just check out the “Semi-Public Sample” course at www.TresColumnae.com/moodle this weekend, and you’ll be able to see the complete activity, with lots more of each type of question.

Now we move on to slightly higher-level questions. For example, there are application-level questions in which the learner uses oldish and newish grammatical elements to make (or choose) a good paraphrase, like this one:

  1. “necesse est Rapidō et Rapidae cēnam ēsse.” cui periodō eadem significātiō est?
    1. Rapidus et Rapida cēnam cōnsūmunt.
    2. Rapidum et Rapidam cēnam cōnsūmere decet.
    3. Rapide et Rapida, cēnam cōnsūmite.
    4. Rapidō et Rapidae cēna parāta est.

What I love about a question like this is that it really encourages a “focus on form” in the context of communication, rather than on “grammar for grammar’s sake.” So often, when grammar lessons are divorced from communication – that is, when we “do the grammar” for a while, then “do some reading” with the new grammatical elements – students fail to realize that there’s a connection between the two parts of the lesson! (Or maybe it’s just my students who do this! 🙂 Maybe yours always make the connections perfectly!) A question like this brings the “doing grammar” and “doing reading” strands together.

So let’s consider the feedback that might accompany the wrong answers, and let’s see if it, too, can be tantum Latīnē.

  • “Rapidus et Rapida cēnam cōnsūmunt.” – heu! falsum est hoc, quod Rapidus et Rapida cēnam nōn iam cōnsumunt. quid significat necesse?
  • “Rapidum et Rapidam cēnam cōnsūmere decet.” – heu! vērum est hoc. verbum tamen nōn est oportet, sed decet. nōnne decet “decōrum est,” nōn “necesse est” significat?
  • “Rapidō et Rapidae cēna parāta est.” – heu! vērum est hoc, sed quid significat necesse? nōnne Rapidum et Rapidam oportet cēnam ēsse?

Since our learners have worked with decet and oportet for several Lectiōnēs, I think they’ll understand the feedback quite well even though it is in Latin. Of course, there will also be an option for English feedback if you, the learner, need it.

Or, for a slightly simpler example, and one focusing directly on datives, how about this one:

  1. “in cavō Impigra mūribus caseum et panem offert.” quis panem accipit?
    1. Rapidus et Rapida
    2. cavus
    3. Impigra
    4. caseus

To answer this question, the learner must do more than just say “dative nouns are translated as ‘to’ or ‘for’ someone or something” or even “mūribus est nōmen cāsūs datīvī.” Instead, he must think through the relationships involved in the sentence (and in the rest of the story), using the dative and other noun endings as tools rather than as an end in themselves. You can probably imagine the feedback for the incorrect answers, especially caseus! 🙂  If you’ve read the stories from Lectiō Octāva and Lectiō Nōna, you might imagine that even Fabius, the magister novissimus, might say “vapulāre dēbēs!”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Even if you don’t use these tools yourself (and I have to say, I don’t use them as much as I might with my own face-to-face students), can you see how they do, in fact, test both comprehension and grammar?
  • Does it make sense to you to try to do more comprehension and grammar work in Latin rather than in translation?
  • Can you see how someone might argue that Latin-to-Latin work actually is more precise or more directly targeted than translation work, especially for comprehension, application, and analysis-level tasks?

I’ll have more to say about this critical issue of the imprecision of translation in tomorrow’ s post. Again, let me say I don’t have any philosophical objections to translation, and I do use it as a tool with my face-to-face students. But I think most readers of this blog know how translation works, and I also think it’s a tool that can easily be overused … or even used when it’s not the best tool for the job. Not even a Swiss Army knife is the perfect tool for every job; for example, it would be hard to use one to light up a darkened room or to jump-start a car! 🙂

Tune in next time for more … and you can tell me whether the Swiss Army knife analogy is profound or ridiculous! et grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Exercises for a Story, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Since some of you have been a bit reticent :-), I’ll go ahead and share a few more of the questions I developed to go along with this story from the Tres Columnae project. If you’ve visited the “Semi-Public Sample” course at www.TresColumnae.com/moodle, you’ve seen five comprehension questions about the first paragraph and three questions that test the recognition or analysis of familiar grammatical forms. Today we’ll look at the draft versions of five more comprehension questions; tomorrow, we’ll look at three (or more) that test the recognition, analysis, and application of some of the newer grammatical elements, as well as some “higher-order” questions that can’t be answered with a multiple-choice response.

First, though, let me quote the first few paragraphs of the story, just so you don’t have to click on a lot of links:

in domō Valeriī, Rapidus et Rapida mūrēs prope līmen cavī lūdunt. Rapidus est fīlius Rīdiculī et Impigrae, et Rapida est fīlia Rīdiculī et Impigrae. prope Rapidum et Rapidam est Magnus catus. Magnus est fīlius Ferōcis et Medūsae. Magnus est amīcus Rapidī et Rapidae.

Impigra in cavō cibum parat. Impigra ad līmen prōgreditur et līberōs vocat. “mī Magne,” inquit, “tibi necesse est ad patrem et mātrem ambulāre. ego enim cibum Rapidō et Rapidae iam parō. necesse est Rapidō et Rapidae cēnam ēsse.”

Magnus trīstis amīcīs valedīcit et ad peristylium regreditur. Rapidus et Rapida quoque Magnō valedīcunt et cavum ingrediuntur. in cavō Impigra mūribus caseum et panem offert. mūrēs mātrī grātiās agunt et celeriter cibum cōnsūmunt.

tum Rapidus, “cūr, mea māter,” rogat, “omnēs hominēs tam mātūrē ē vīllā exīre parant? cūr ille Lūcius nōn in peristyliō hodiē lūdit?” et Impigra, “ō, mī fīlī,” Rapidō respondet, “nōnne ille puer octō annōs nātus est? necesse est puerīs hūmānīs ad lūdī magistrum ambulāre.”

Now here are some questions … a bit different from the previous set, as I think you’ll agree:

  1. “Impigra in cavō cibum parat.” quid facit Impigra?
    1. coquit
    2. ēst
    3. dormit
    4. lānam facit
  2. “Impigra ad līmen prōgreditur et līberōs vocat.” quid facit Impigra?
    1. ambulat
    2. fīlium et fīliam arcessit
    3. et ambulat et arcessit
    4. nec ambulat nec arcessit
  3. “mī Magne,” inquit, “tibi necesse est ad patrem et mātrem ambulāre.” quid Magnum oportet facere?
    1. cavum intrāre
    2. amīcīs vale dīcere
    3. cum amīcīs cēnāre
    4. pārentibus pārēre
  4. “Magnus trīstis amīcīs valedīcit et ad peristylium regreditur..” utrum Magnus Impigrae pāret annōn?
    1. pāret
    2. nōn pāret
    3. incertum est.
  5. “Rapidus et Rapida quoque Magnō valedīcunt et cavum ingrediuntur.” mūrēs ubi sunt?
    1. in peristyliō
    2. in cēnāculō Rīdiculī
    3. in īnsulā Valeriī
    4. incertum est

Whereas my previous set of questions were strictly about comprehension of the passage – at what the QAR or “Question-Answer-Relationships” system would call a “right there” level – these are more at the QAR level of “think and search.” They require you, the reader, to make connections between familiar words (what’s the closest synonym for parat?), to delve into relationships implied in the story (is Magnus Impigra’s child?), and even to make connections to previous stories we’ve read (what does Rīdiculus call his home, since he hates to refer to it as a hole?).

In case you aren’t familiar with the QAR system, it includes two higher-order levels of questions called “Author and You” and “In My Head,” which we’ll look at in more detail tomorrow or the next day. I must admit that I tend to forget about QAR for months at a time, then find myself reminded … I don’t necessarily use the terminology with my “sophisticated” high-school students, but I do think it’s helpful for them (and for us) to think about the different thought processes that are involved in answering – or, in our case, even in asking – different types of questions. But I realize I need to spend more time with QAR with my current Latin II students, who need some significant work with question-answering strategies. I’ll let you know how that goes….

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Do you find the QAR model helpful, or does its rather simplistic terminology make it unattractive to you?
  • Do you agree with my placement of these questions on the QAR matrix?
  • Can you think of some other questions in each of the QAR categories that might be asked about this story … in your native language or in Latin?
  • And what about grammatical-analysis questions? Can they involve different QAR levels, or must they always be “right there” in the text?

Tune in next time for more. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus legentibus et respondentibus.

Questions about a Story, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Since I know that many of you have personal lives :-), I thought it might be nice to give you a bit more time to devise questions about the story we looked at yesterday. Just as a reminder, here’s a link to the story at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site.

And here’s our challenge – we’re trying to develop at least 10 questions that measure a reader’s skills of reading comprehension, and at least 5 that measure his/her skills at distinguishing and analyzing the “new things” (especially dative nouns and 1st-person plural verbs) in the story. If you’d like, you can see my questions about the first paragraph of the story … just follow these simple steps:

  1. Visit www.TresColumnae.com/moodle and choose the “Tres Columnae Semi-Public Sample” course.
  2. Choose to “Login as a Guest” and use the “enrolment key” of Caeliola79.
  3. Scroll down to week 2, Lectiō Octāva, and choose the quiz called “Rapidus et Rapida ludum cupiunt Comprehension and Forms Analysis.”
  4. Since you’re not a student, you’ll need to Preview the quiz.  You can see the questions and the feedback, but your score won’t be recorded.

A few words of warning:

  • There are only 5 comprehension questions, and 3 grammatical ones. After all, I confined myself to only one paragraph of the story.
  • I deliberately was mean to you 🙂 by not writing grammar questions about those “new things” I mentioned above.  But I did write some about the “old familiar” things.
  • Questions and answers are all in Latin this time. We want to show you how questions, answers, and even feedback in Latin can help to build the learner’s reading proficiency.

I actually don’t have any philosophical objection to English comprehension questions; in fact, I think they can be very helpful, especially with a text that’s at near the outer end of the learner’s instructional reading level. But this text comes near the end of its Lectiō and is designed to be at an independent reading level, or close to it.  So I think Latin questions, Latin responses, and Latin feedback are quite reasonable here, even if you normally ask English questions about a harder story.

quid tamen respondētis?

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the questions,and I hope they give you some good ideas. We’ll save yours … and the rest of mine … for Monday and beyond! 🙂

Wishing everyone a happy, peaceful, and very enjoyable weekend! grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!