Testing, Testing, I

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs. Y:  Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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

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

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Published in: on September 25, 2010 at 5:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Another New Story

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll look at another new story featuring the animal characters from the Tres Columnae project. It comes from Lectiō XVI, just about midway through Cursus Prīmus. We’ll be focusing on birth and infancy at that point, as both animal and human characters give birth over several Lectiōnēs, and we’ll try to incorporate some human Roman traditions (the diēs lūstricus, for example, and the giving of bullae) into the animals’ world.  We’ll look at several of these stories in posts over the next few days.

It’s an exciting time for the Tres Columnae Project, as we are really starting to feel that the project itself has been “born” and is starting to grow and flourish. So it seems like an appropriate time for stories of birth and new beginnings. Besides, June was the lucky month for weddings in the Roman world, so it’s a time when our characters’ attention would be focused on new life and new beginnings. And for many of our U.S. readers, school is just ending, or just ended, or just about to end – a time of new beginnings for our graduates, of course, but also for teachers as we reflect on the year that just ended and begin to think about “doing things differently” next year.

Speaking of June, I have some exciting news for our Free Trial subscribers to the Tres Columnae project.  As you may recall, the Free Trial period was originally scheduled to end on June 1 – yesterday, if you’re reading this post “live.”  But due to your requests and some logistical considerations, we’ve decided to extend the Free Trial period through June 15 for current Free Trial subscribers, and through June 30 for anyone who signs up after June 1.  Free Trial subscribers, please remember that you can submit all the stories, images, audio, video, and other “stuff” you’d like … and (other than granting us the right to publish and use it, and other subscribers some rights to use, adapt, and remix it) you still own and control what you’ve submitted to us.

In today’s story, Ferox and Medusa, canēs Valeriī, are preparing to welcome a litter of puppies into the world, and Ferox (like many proud fathers) gets just a bit flustered.  By the time you read this post, you’ll be able to find the story at this link, and it will also be featured in the Table of Contents for the project at the Version Alpha Wiki site.

per domum Valeriī festīnātur et lātrātur. Medūsa enim, canis Valeriī, catulōs partūrit. Ferōx, marītus Medūsae, “heus!” exclāmat, “nōnne mē decet adesse? fortasse obstētrīcem vocāre dēbeō! nōnne mē oportet auxilium tibi ferre?” Medūsa tamen, “Ferōx! tacē et abī!” respondet. “canēs enim oportet sōlās catulōs gignere! haud opus est obstētrīcis vel medicī, mī marīte!”

Ferōx igitur per tōtam domum festīnat et lātrat. Medūsa autem sub lectō sē cēlat et “heu! marītum stultissimum!” sēcum colloquitur. “num canis umquam obstētrīcem vocāre solet?”

brevī tempore Medūsa quīnque catulōs gignit. Valeria sonōs catulōrum audit et “māter! frāter! soror! venīte!” exclāmat. tōta familia Valeria cubiculum ingreditur et “heus! catulōs optimōs!” exclāmātur. Valerius ipse Ferōcem Medūsamque valdē laudat. Caeliōla “nōnne nōs decet bullās catulīs quaerere?” rogat, et Valerius, “fortasse, filia mea,” respondet.

tum omnēs hominēs ē cubiculō ēgrediuntur. Ferōx et Medūsa cum catulīs manent. Ferōx singillātim catulōs tollit et “ecce fīlius meus! ecce fīlia mea!” prōnuntiat.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • In general, we’ve tried to keep the animal and human worlds rather separate from each other – that is, the animals don’t talk to the people, and they don’t behave in people-like (or animal-fable-character-like) ways when the people are around. Does that make sense to you?
  • Do you think we’ve accomplished that in this story?
  • To what extent have we addressed the themes of pietās and familia that we explored in last week’s posts?
  • What other virtūtēs Rōmanae have we addressed – or, perhaps, failed to address?
  • And what new insights, if any, into our characters do you have as a result of this story?

Tune in next time, when we’ll feature another story from this sequence and explore some of its implications. Later this week, we’ll look at what we’ve accomplished so far with the Tres Columnae project, and we’ll also take a look at plans for the future. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

Building Understanding, VI: Housing, Families, and Pietas

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we continue our series on Understanding, shifting the focus from language elements (like nouns and verbs) and a Connection or Comparison task (like native-language derivatives from Latin) to focus on Roman Culture. As you may recall if you’ve read the stories in Lectiō Prīma on the Version Alpha Wiki site, our cultural goals for Lectiō Prīma include helping our learners to

compare housing and family structure in Roman world with our own housing and family structure

begin to understand, analyze, and explore the concept of pietās

Our faithful reader Laura G pointed out in this blog post that we’ve done a lot with housing and family structure, but not so much with pietās in the materials she’d seen. Today and tomorrow we’ll attempt to make the pietās connections clearer.

First, for our readers who may not be experts on Roman beliefs and values, I suppose we should try to define and translate pietās … except that it’s a completely untranslatable Roman concept! If you doubt my claim of untranslatability, just check out this lengthy definition for the adjective pius and this even longer definition for pietās itself and see if you can find a single-word equivalent in any language other than Latin! 🙂 In a nutshell, pietās is the way a Roman acts so that he (or she) is in the right relationship to everyone: family, friends, the state, the gods, nature, enemies … everyone and everything. It has a lot more to do with conduct than with inner attitudes or beliefs – which is perfectly natural for Roman culture but often leaves twentieth- and twenty-first-century Americans and Europeans scratching their heads in confusion.

That’s one reason why our goal is to begin to explore the concept; fully exploring it will be, in some senses, the work of the entire Tres Columnae project and possibly beyond. But of course, with any huge exploration, you do have to start somewhere. That’s why we chose to begin with housing and family structures. In any culture, the layout and design of people’s homes says a lot about what they value and what their culture as a whole values, and housing is closely related to family structure. For example, I’m writing this post in a “family room” which is designed to be the heart of the house, with a fireplace on one wall and the perfect-sized space for an “entertainment center” (big cabinet for TV and stereo) on another wall. The house was built in the early 1990’s, and it absolutely reflects a cultural view of what families “should” do (sit together in the evenings after dinner and watch TV) that was dominant in this part of the U.S. at that time. A different house, built at another time in another part of the world, would have a very different layout.

So, after they read stories set in a domus and an īnsula, our participants will have the opportunity to explore lots of freely available online images of domūs and īnsulae. (Over time, we hope that lots of them will go to Roman sites, including Herculaneum, and contribute their own photos and other images of what they see, too!) We’ll also provide some links to a range of different perspectives about Roman family structure, probably with a few annotations about the perspective or “slant” of the authors if that’s important for our readers. We’ll then offer a Continuing Virtual Seminar in which participants can explore issues about housing, family, or both, depending on their particular interests and goals.

After that, though, we’ll begin to address the issue of pietās more formally with a sequence like this:

quid novī?

If you think back to our five goals for Lectiō Prīma, you may remember that the fifth goal was

begin to understand, analyze, and explore the concept of pietās

We haven’t used the word very much … mostly because it’s very difficult to represent in English. Check out this Wikipedia article, this definition of the adjective pius, and this definition of pietās itself, and you’ll see what we mean! You’ll also, notice, though, that pietās is closely connected with familia. Pietās is much broader and deeper than just “devotion to your family,” but “devotion to your family” is a big part of it.

What evidence of devotion – and concern for right relationships and proper conduct – among familia members have you seen in the stories in Lectiō Prīma? Please take a moment or two to record them in your Tres Columnae learning blog. You may even want to begin to compare pietās with your own ideas about duty, respect, and devotion to family – especially if your ideas are very similar to pietās or very different from it! Then, if you’d like, please feel free to join the Continuing Virtual Seminar about pietās and share your thoughts with others.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • If you’re familiar with pietās, like many readers of the blog, do you agree with our (very inadequate) attempt at a definition? If not, we’d really like to hear from you, because we’re quite dissatisfied with it ourselves!
  • What do you think about the sequence of tasks? They’re a bit more free-form than the ones about grammar and etymology, but we think that’s appropriate under the circumstances. On the other hand, we may well be wrong … and if so, we’d really like for you to tell us!
  • What do you think about pietās (and the other principal virtūtēs) as an organizing principle for the Tres Columnae storyline? If you’ve explored the stories beyond Lectiō I, can you see how we’ll continue to play with pietās, dignitās, gravitās, and the other big –tās words as we consider our characters’ motivations, behaviors, thoughts, and words?
  • Have you seen any characters who seem utterly un-Roman in their conduct or attitudes?
  • And what about our “naughty” characters like young Cnaeus Caelius? His parents frequently complain that he impiē sē gerit … and what conclusions should we draw from that? Is he behaving in an un-Roman way, or just a bad Roman way? And is there a difference?

Tune in next time when we’ll try to have some answers to some of these questions. Due to the Memorial Day holiday in the U.S., we’ll be taking a break from posting on Saturday and Monday – and I hope our Roman characters would agree, as we’ll take some time to honor those who have sacrificed much for our freedom and security. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Making a Contribution, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! This was supposed to be Thursday’s post, but somehow, when you don’t press that “Publish” button, it doesn’t automatically publish itself.  The “future” story to which I refer at the end is, of course, the one that you read today(vae! heu!) 🙂 ….

Today we continue with our look into the future of the Tres Columnae project, imagining a world where the “fully formed” project has many subscribers who have begun to create and upload their own content. In Clayton Christensen‘s language from yesterday’s post, we have begun to become a facilitated user network as well as a Joyful Learning Community.

We’ll continue with the adventures of Jane and John, our fictional sister and brother participants in the project. Delighted by the response to her audio clips and his silly videos, they’ve now decided to create some exercises and quizzes to go along with their previous submissions. Here’s what that process will probably look like.

  1. John and Jane are working with Lectiōnēs XV and XVI of Cursus Prīmus, where the grammatical focus is on consolidating and becoming more comfortable with “what we already know” before we meet the non-present-tense verbs in Lectiō XX. There’s also a lot of new cultural content as we consider marriage, childbirth, and related issues.
  2. John has been struggling a bit with the optātīvus, which was introduced in Lectiō XIV. He decides to create an English-to-Latin exercise where you choose the right verb form (indicative or subjunctive) depending on the sentence. (We’ll be featuring Latin-to-Latin exercises, but we don’t have any objection to translation, as you know, especially when it helps our participants.) Meanwhile, Jane is fascinated by the different types of Roman marriage and especially by the cum manū / sine manū distinction. She decides to create a simple quiz with multiple-choice and true-false questions about the various types of marriage.
  3. Since John and Jane are Tres Columnae subscribers (and yes, their family gets a small discount for those two subscriptions!), they have access to a portion of the site – which will be ready very soon – called Create an Exercise or Quiz. They log on, read the directions, and each one downloads a copy of the spreadsheet that will make their task easier.
  4. They notice that the spreadsheet contains columns called Question, Correct Answer, CAFeedback, Wrong Answer 1, W1Feedback, and so forth.
  5. They both have a lot of fun making up wrong answers and feedback … some of which is not very nice!
  6. They eagerly upload their spreadsheets and wait for a response from Tres Columnae.
  7. “Somebody at Tres Columnae” (who, who could it be?) likes the overall idea, but makes some specific suggestions for corrections – num mentem habēs? nōnne arbor mortua es? is clever and funny, but it’s not very helpful feedback for a wrong answer, for example. “Somebody” also checks carefully to make sure that all the correct answers are, in fact, correct, and that all the wrong answers are, in fact, wrong.
  8. John and Jane add some helpful feedback, and each has one or two questions where the answer needs to be edited or the question needs to be reworded.
  9. They resubmit their spreadsheets and “somebody” approves them.
  10. Busy, busy “somebody” goes through a fairly simple process (but you probably don’t want to know the details) that converts the spreadsheet into a form that can be imported into the Moodle system, and soon there are new exercises and quizzes featured on the New Contributions page.
  11. A very “tradition-minded” Latin teacher is creating a “grammar-focused” Pathway through the Tres Columnae materials for his students. He’s delighted to find John’s exercise and Jane’s quiz – in fact, he says something about how much better they are than “all that new-fangled Latin-only stuff” – and decides to feature both of them in his Pathway. John and Jane, in turn, are happy with the royalty. Should we tell our friend the “traditionalist” that both authors are younger than his high-school students? 🙂

And now a few words about Pathways or Itinera. At the moment, you won’t find any of these, largely because our collection of stories, explanations, audio, and video is still small enough that one person could reasonably use all of it. But as our numbers of participants grow, we expect that will change – imagine trying to watch all the videos on YouTube, or even just all the ones tagged with a single phrase like “silly cat.” (For the record, as of mid-April 2010, there were about 9,130 videos so tagged, and no, I did not watch any of them!) So we assume that our participants will want some help as they navigate through all the material. In part, we’ll depend on the participants themselves to check out – and rate, and comment on – new submissions, which we’ll feature on our New Submissions page. We’ll also invite our participants to categorize their submissions, though we’re not exactly sure what the categories will be in the end.

But we also know that different participants will have different needs and different preferences. For example, some may love the animal stories, while others may prefer stories about the human characters. Some may want an inductive approach to new grammatical concepts, while others may want a deductive approach. Some may be fascinated by Roman culture or history, while others may only be interested in the linguistic elements of Tres Columnae. Over time, as our collection of materials grows, we’ll encourage participants to make their own collections of the material they find most helpful, and we’ll give them a way to share their collections with each other. (It may well be as simple as a collection of Delicious tags, or it may be something that hasn’t even been invented yet!)

Anyway, as time goes by, we expect that teachers, groups of teachers, homeschooling groups, and other organizations of our users will probably want to create their own pathways or Itinera through the ever-larger collections of materials, and we’ll encourage them to do so. If you create a public Iter that’s open to everyone, there’s no fee; after all, it doesn’t require any editing by us, and you’re not doing anything special with anyone’s contributions. But if you decide to create a private Iter, you’ll pay royalties to the creators of any materials you choose to include, much as you would if you bought a DVD with their video clips, an audio CD with their recordings of stories, or even a custom-printed book with their stories or illustrations. (Over time, we expect that people will want to buy those things, and we’ll make it happen if they do; it’s a win-win situation for us, for the creators, and for the purchasers!)

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Do you see the potential for rapid growth that we’re starting to see? Or do you think that Tres Columnae will remain small and won’t need some of the additional navigation features we’ve discussed?
  • How do you feel about the editing process as we’ve described it? Does it sound like too much – or not enough? And how would you go about improving it?
  • As the project grows, we’ve been thinking about how to handle editing. One logical way would be to invite community members to become part-time editors. Would it make sense to compensate them by giving a discount on their own subscriptions in exchange? Or should we pay them a per-item editing fee?
  • How do you feel about the idea of Itinera?
  • And, if you like the idea in general, what about the idea of an exclusive Iter which would prevent its users from seeing “stuff” that wasn’t on the Iter, rather than just recommend certain “stuff” to them?
  • For example, imagine that a Classical Christian school has purchased subscriptions for its students. They don’t have any objections to teaching about Greco-Roman mythology, which is an important part of their curriculum, but for religious reasons, they would prefer not to include any stories where characters actually pray to Greco-Roman divinities. Should we let them construct such an Iter for their students? Or should we insist that “everybody can see everything” even if some of that “everything” is objectionable to them?
  • What do you think about royalties for “private” use of the materials? And what do you think would be a reasonable royalty? Or should it depend on the type of content … or on the popularity of the item … or on some other factors we haven’t thought of?

When you set out to build a Joyful Learning Community, and when Ownership is a core value, some decisions are a lot simpler, but others are a lot more complicated. And some decisions are just complicated by their very nature. We don’t intend to “punt” those decisions to the community, but we do want to know how you feel about the underlying issues. And as issues come up, both now and in the future, we’ll be bringing them to our subscribers for their input, and sometimes even a formal survey or possibly a vote. I’ve noticed, over the years, that my face-to-face students are often happy for me to make the decisions (after all, that is why I get those big bucks as a public-school teacher!) as long as they know I’ve heard their concerns. It will be fascinating to see whether you, the Tres Columnae community, feel the same way!

Tune in next time when we’ll feature a story from around the point where John and Jane created their materials. It raises interesting issues of identity and community, as well as friendship and loyalty, and it even touches on that quintessentially Roman concept of pietās. And yet most of the characters aren’t human! 🙂 After we explore it, we’ll take a look at the Continuing Virtual Seminar for which it might serve as a text. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus! Please keep those comments and emails coming … and there’s still time to register for one of the few remaining Free Trial subscriptions. Remember, even after the Free Trial period expires, you’ll still be able to read and comment for free, so please spread the word about Tres Columnae to your family and friends.

Assessment and Testing Redux, Part I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! If you’re reading this “live” – and if you’re located in the midwestern or southern parts of the United States – you’re probably grateful to have escaped the worst of the winter storm. For those in other parts of the world, and for those who will read this post in future years, I expect you have your own reasons to be grateful. In any case, I’m glad you’re continuing to read, to think, to comment, and to participate in our Joyful Learning Community.

In the next few days after I write this post, you should be able to see a complete Lectiō from Cursus Primus of the Tres Columnae project, and possibly as many as five. More Lectiōnēs will be coming soon, too. As you look at them – especially if you’ve had any experience at all with traditional schools and textbooks – you may have a number of questions! One that a lot of readers will have is, “Where are the tests?” Or perhaps, “what kind of test do you give for something like this?” Or even, perhaps, “How would you keep students from cheating on a test if they’re taking it online, without your direct supervision?” They’re all important questions, especially if you come from the perspective of school-based learning. And we’ll address them … but not in this post! 🙂

My goal today is to consider a hugely important distinction: the one between assessment and testing. Just this morning, on the Latinteach listserv, our colleague “obliquelywadling” made a really good point about what’s required, in a perfect world, for a test to be valid (that is, to measure what it says it’s going to measure) and reliable (that is, to give consistent results:

I once read that for a test to be valid and reliable, it must at the least not have its contents announced in advanced, or its date, and there can be no consequences attached to the tests, which of course must themselves be nameless. If these conditions are met, it is easier to say with a straight face what it is that students have learned or not. When I have tried this, it was very humbling! Otherwise, one may be measuring the effects of wealth, private tutoring, test prep classes, panic, the Pygmalion effect etc.

Of course, obliquelywadling’s points are about tests, rather than assessment in general. What’s the difference? We’ll explore that today, but we might start by saying that all tests are (or at least should be) assessments, but not all assessments are tests. There are lots of other ways to assess besides a formal, pen-and-paper (or computer-administered) test.

And, of course, it’s possible to use a formal test for purposes other than assessment, or measuring learning. Some teachers, for example, use them to fill time on Fridays; others use them to punish students for “being bad” or “not listening to me” or “playing around and wasting our time yesterday.” And, of course, it’s possible to use a test for multiple purposes – for example, as a teacher, you may genuinely want to fill that hour on Friday, or for that matter, you may genuinely want to punish those naughty children for not paying attention! 🙂 But, at the same time, you may also genuinely want to know how your students are doing with the material you’ve been teaching recently.

And, of course, if a test is designed to be an assessment, it clearly needs to be valid (that is, to measure what it says it is measuring) and reliable (that is, to give similar results for different learners, and at different times that it’s given). Any assessment would need to meet these criteria if its results are to be useful! But both validity and reliability are big issues in the testing industry … and so is the bigger question of usefulness! Usefulness … for whom? In other words, who is the primary customer of test results, or of any other assessment data?

Let’s return for a moment to obliquelywadling’s valid and reliable test, which

  • is not announced to the learner in advance;
  • is not described to the learner in advance; and
  • has no consequences for the learner.

If you designed and gave such a test, would you even share the results with the learners? Or would such sharing invalidate future results, or make a future administration unreliable? Even if you did share the results, such a test is clearly not designed for the learner … though it will have an indirect benefit as the teacher uses its results to modify or confirm his or her teaching.

Just a brief rant here: What does it say about the “high-stakes” testing movement that its goals are so diametrically opposed to this definition of validity? And in a quest for reliability, experts in the field of test design often include “equating” questions, repeated from year to year or from one test to another. Of course, if the tests are publicly released (as teachers, parents, administrators, and legislators understandably desire – and sometimes insist in a high-stakes world), reliability can be called into question because the equating questions no longer equate! OK, I’m done with my rant now. 🙂

But for assessments that aren’t tests, and especially for assessments that help learners measure their own progress, it’s possible to maintain both validity and reliability without secrecy. For example, in the world of Tres Columnae, a learner might choose to demonstrate proficiency with a particular set of vocabulary and morphological items by constructing a story. There are other, similar stories out there, and there’s a rubric that was used to assess them. The learner is welcome, even encouraged, to consult the other stories and the rubric. After all, even if you look at these, you’ll still have to make your own story … you’ll just have a better idea of what to do. If you copy an existing story verbatim, we’ll know. After all, we will have a catalog of them … and as I remind my face-to-face students, if you can Google it, I can Google it too! 🙂 But if you have ownership of your learning – and if you want to take ownership of the assessment process, too – you’re quite unlikely to copy someone else’s story in the first place.

quid respondētis, amīcissimī?

  • Who is the primary customer for assessment (and testing) results in your world?
  • Is that who you think should be the primary customer?
  • If not, what changes in assessment practices would need to happen so that your preferred primary customer did have primary ownership?
  • And how does your ideal assessment system compare with what we’re proposing for Tres Columnae?

I don’t want to dismiss testing completely … I’ve given tests for years to my face-to-face students, and I find the results helpful, both for me and for them. We’ll explore one critical purpose of testing (and, to a lesser degree, of all forms of assessment) in our next post. But I do want to find at least one Via Media, at least one “Third Alternative,” between a “high-stakes” approach that’s neither valid nor reliable, on the one hand, and a “touchy-feely” result that’s equally invalid and unreliable, on the other. Tune in next time for more about that, and about an overlooked purpose of testing that, in the beginning, was the reason for external assessments!

Examining the Story: Connections and Comparisons, III

salvēte, sodālēs! In this rather brief post, we’ll look at ways that learners might demonstrate the Connections they’ve made between elements of a story (like the one we’ve been playing with for the last week) and elements of other academic disciplines. Last time, we made a pretty long list of possible Connections, such as

  • Roman slavery with American slavery (or slavery in other societies);
  • Roman gender attitudes with those of the United States today, or of some other period in American history, or some other culture with which the learner is familiar;
  • Latin words used in the story with English derivatives or cognates, or with derivatives in the Romance languages (a number of community members are suspicious of excessively emphasizing derivatives and cognates as a language or vocabulary activity, but when the learner notices one, I think it’s obviously a Connection that might be explored);
  • Latin syntactic or morphological elements with their English equivalents;
  • Roman ideas about pets and pests with the ideas of other cultures;
  • the “typical” Roman diet of different social classes, with the “typical” diet in other cultures, including perhaps the learner’s own culture; or
  • “typical” Roman housing for various social classes with “typical” housing in other cultures.

Of course, a given learner might be interested in a Connection I never thought of: Roman tableware with its contemporary equivalents? Roman tableware manufacturing with its modern equivalents? The mining operations that produced the metal for the tableware with mining operations today? The possibilities are as endless as the interests of the learners.

But once a learner has become interested in a particular Connection, what then? How might he or she explore the Connection further, and how might he or she share the results of this exploration with the community? For starters, it would obviously be easy to adapt the kinds of presentations that teachers have always assigned to their students. For example, learners might:

  • collect background links (or even conduct research in – gasp! – a physical library, if one is geographically accessible), perhaps tagging them with a site like Del.icio.us as our faithful reader Laura G suggested in a recent comment;
  • create self-checking comprehension quizzes about these links, perhaps using a free Javascript quiz creator like Hot Potatoes, or perhaps an online quiz-creation site;
  • condense the information (and the connections they made) into an illustrated presentation, perhaps using Google Docs or a slide-sharing site like () so that the presentation would “always” be available to future learners;
  • create a story or non-fiction Latin piece exploring the connections;
  • blog about the connections, and share a link to their blogs; or
  • participate in a threaded discussion – perhaps hosted by a site like Yahoo! Groups, or perhaps actually hosted by us at the Tres Columnae site. I’ll have more to say about this notion on Saturday, when we examine the logistics of the Continuing Virtual Seminar.

In the end, though, Tres Columnae participants will pursue Connections (and Comparisons, and all other aspects of language learning) from a perspective of Ownership. If you’re interested in a particular Connection, you can explore it as much as you’d like; if you’re not interested in another, you need not pursue it. Such accommodation of individual learning preferences is very difficult for a factory-model school (after all, that production line is supposed to produce a standardized product, not an individualized one), but it’s natural – and, I think, unavoidable – in the Joyful Learning Community that we’re aiming to build with Tres Columnae.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • How do you feel about the possible Connections themselves – and about the possible products?
  • What about assessment? We’ll have more to say about that tomorrow, but what do you think now? How on earth could anyone assess so many different products – and who should do the assessing, anyway?
  • How do these Connections relate to the more personal Comparisons that learners will also be encouraged to make?

Tune in next time for more about Connections, about assessment of Connections, and about Comparisons. Then we’ll look more closely at the Continuing Virtual Seminar, the natural home for Connections and Comparisons in the Tres Columnae system. What will these things look like, and how will they actually work? We’ll find out soon.

I don’t want to specify a timeline for the next few posts, as there’s a major winter storm headed towards my face-to-face world as I write this.  No power,  no Joyful Latin Learning Posts! 🙂   In the meantime, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus! And please keep those comments and emails coming. 🙂

Examining the Story: culture and Culture, I

salvēte, sodālēs! Today, as promised, we’ll look back at the story we created over the weekend from the perspective of culture and Culture. Specifically, in terms of culture, we’ll look at

  • your comments and emails from yesterday and today, which have raised some interesting points;
  • the characters (male, female, citizen, slave, human, and non-human) and the ways they relate to each other;
  • food and eating habits;
  • geographic issues; and
  • anything else you all want to talk about. 🙂

In terms of Culture, we’ll consider

  • how the characters compare with equivalent characters in Roman literature and (in the case of the animals) in the fable and folktale tradition;
  • whether the relationships among social classes are depicted “accurately” (and what “accurately” means in this context);
  • how the characters exemplify untranslatable core Roman values like pietās and dignitās; and, again,
  • anything else you all want to talk about.

Please keep those comments and emails coming today! If you don’t, today’s second post may be a bit brief 🙂 … for two reasons:

  • We’ve already addressed these issues a bit when we looked at characters, plot, and setting on Sunday.
  • This is the first day of a new semester in my face-to-face teaching world, so I’ll be a bit tired this afternoon! 🙂 If you don’t have much to say, I probably won’t, either. 😦

Tune in this afternoon for more about culture and Culture in our most recent story – which still needs a title! Any suggestions?

Examining the Story, Part II

salvēte iterum, amīcī. As promised, in this post we’ll examine the whole story we’ve created together, focusing specifically on plot, characters, and settings. Then, on Monday, we’ll look at vocabulary and grammar; Tuesday we’ll focus on culture and Culture; and Wednesday we’ll look at Connections and Comparisons. In the meantime, please keep those comments and emails coming!

In devising the plot, I really wanted to invert the “typical” focus on men. Of course, I am a man, so I don’t want to eliminate the male voice completely – besides, that would probably be impossible in a 1st-century-C.E. Roman setting even if I did want to do so. But on behalf of the important women and girls in my life, I do want to shine the spotlight on them from time to time – especially since their Roman counterparts are so often excluded from consideration, both by Roman men and by the (mostly male) Classical scholars over the years who have studied the Romans.

So in this story, many of the important plot elements revolve around women:

  • In a sense, Sabina mustēla causes the whole story. But, unlike some female characters in the “Big Three” reading-method textbooks, she’s still a sympathetic character – unless you really love mice! 🙂 Though, in one sense, she causes the whole mess, in another sense it’s not really her fault. Had Milphio looked, he never would have tripped. And had Ridiculus waited for night-time, as any prudent mouse would do, she never would have been in position to trip Milphio anyway.
  • Ausonia’s innovative behavior (how dare she recline! with her husband!) shocks Maccia and Caelia, but it also makes them think about their own situations.
  • Ausonia looks like a stereotypical “frightened woman” at one point, but she quickly puts her husband in his place when he wrongly blames the children – for trying to save him! And succeeding! He’s clearly a foolish figure, even though he is related to the Emperor (or possibly to a lībertus Augustī).
  • In turn, Maccia and Caelia re-examine their own relationships with their husbands. Evidently Maccia sees all kinds of possibilities in a world where women recline next to their husbands!
  • Valeria and Caeliola clearly are the primary heroes/heroines. Lucius does save Ausonia’s eyesight, but he doesn’t have to stand up to Flavius Caeso in the process, nor does he get threatened with being sold into slavery.
  • And of course Impigra puts Ridiculus in his place … as she should. What was he thinking? 🙂

As a result, the strongest and most positive characters are female. On the flip-side, many of the male characters end up looking pretty foolish:

  • Milphio trips and causes a huge mess. Wonder who will have to clean that up? 🙂 And besides, what are the odds that you would fall right on the table? (Of course, if you’re a servus, and you hate your status, and you hate the Romans who made you a servus, and you do accidentally trip, you might think the beating would be worth the pain and discomfort you caused … so you might actually aim for the table. But we’ll think more about that on Tuesday.)
  • Flavius Caeso really looks like an idiot. Even a Roman man shouldn’t scream at the person who saved his life – let alone tell her that her father ought to sell her into slavery for … entering the dining room during dinner?! What’s wrong with him, anyway?
  • Valerius seems rather weak. All he can say is “mī Flavī” when Flavius is threatening his daughter. What’s up with that?
  • What is Gallicus, the coquus, doing anyway? He’s apparently still there (or, at least, I didn’t mention him leaving), but he does nothing amidst all the flying food and cutlery. Or is it that he, too, hates his status as servus and is relishing the chance to watch his owners get hurt or embarrassed? (For that matter, how are we to know what he did – or didn’t – put in those lentēs Aegyptiae?)
  • Other than Lucius, none of the (human) males acquits himself well at all in the crisis. And even Lucius seems to let his sisters do the real work! Given a choice between catching a pointy spoon, catching two heavy objects (tabletop and serving vessel), or catching an angry, biting weasel, which one seems least heroic?
  • As for Ridiculus, he lives up to his name as Impigra points out to him. How many sensible mice would venture out, in the midst of a crowded room, to pick up a piece of bread?

My goal was to create a complex, ambiguous situation, with lots of intriguing characters and plot elements. How did I do with that goal?

And, of course, a related goal is to create many jumping-off points for participants who want to create related stories.  For example, a participant might decide to

  • retell the story from the perspective of one of the peripheral characters – Milphio, perhaps, or Ausonia? Or even Impigra?  or Ferox the canis, who oddly failed to notice a weasel … in his house!  (His counterpart in vīllā meā, canis meus amātissimus, notices – and responds to – leaves and squirrels half a mile away, so what’s up with Ferox?)
  • tell what happened next – perhaps at Flavius Caeso’s house!  Or perhaps the next evening at Lollius’ and Maccia’s cēnāculum – did she join him on the dining couch?
  • describe the responses of a non-human character – perhaps the Lār, or one of the Penātēs, or the umbra of one of Valerius’ ancestors.

An overarching goal of mine for the whole Tres Columnae project is that, as much as possible, our participants can feel like they’re present in the situations, with the characters. I want the settings, plots, and characters to “feel real,” and I want them, as much as possible, to feel authentic – as though a real Roman, in that situation, would behave in a similar way. And so

  • I set the stories in a real Roman town, at a more-or-less identifiable time;
  • I tried to create characters who “feel real” and “feel authentic” to the reader, or at least to me;
  • I tried to have them behave as actual Romans might behave – hence the rather passive servants, the astonished Caelia and Maccia, the blustering Flavius Caeso, and Valerius fairly impotent in the presence of the much richer, more powerful Flavius; and
  • I wanted to create three-dimensional Roman women who were both authentically Roman and also authentically strong and courageous.

After all this is the culture that venerates Lucretia – and it took a lot of courage for her to tell her husband what had happened to her, despite her attacker’s threats, and then to avenge her dishonor. It’s also the culture that produced Agrippina the Younger – not at all an exemplum pietātis like Lucretia, but still a strong and powerful woman. In contrast to these, the “Big Three” reading-method textbooks present a lot of flat, insipid female characters. I want better for my own daughter and for the hundreds, even thousands, of other strong, capable young women who have learned, or will learn, Latin from me, either face to face or through Tres Columnae. And I also want better for my son, and for the equally large numbers of boys who have learned or will learn Latin with my help. I want to help them see – and build – an authentically complex model of the Roman world.

quid respondētis, amīcissimī?

  • To what extent has this story created interesting, well-rounded characters for you?
  • To what extent was the plot compelling and engaging?
  • To what extent did the setting seem, or feel, authentically Roman to you?
  • In so far as we fell short – and I’m sure we did 🙂 – what suggestions for improvements do you have?

Later today I’ll have a brief post about some of the compelling fictional worlds that have inspired me; I’d encourage you to think of your favorite fictional worlds and share them, too.  Then, tomorrow, we’ll take another look at this story from the perspectives of grammar and vocabulary.  Tune in next time for more!

Examining the Story, Part I

salvēte, sodālēs. As promised, today we’ll take a look at the whole story whose construction we watched over the last four posts. We’ll examine my specific goals for the story and how well I met them. Of course, in the complete Tres Columnae system, this story doesn’t stand by itself.

  • It follows some “pre-stories” and grammatical exercises about first- and second-person plural verbs.
  • It follows at least one other “real” story, in which Lucius, Caius, and Cnaeus get in trouble – and get teased by their sisters.
  • It precedes some other stories.  And, of course,
  • It’s accompanied by illustrations (per paragraph), audio (eventually, several different versions), and (if participants like it and want to make them) video versions.

Even by itself, though, the story was an attempt to meet these goals:

  • a funny plot with at least one unexpected twist
  • stronger female characters (both in comparison with “Big Three,” and in comparison with the more male-focused stories we’d seen earlier)
  • opportunities for insight into cultural elements (the roles of women, food, social class, and role of children, to name a few)
  • some uses of the “new” grammar (1st / 2nd plural verbs; nōs; vōs)
  • more uses of recent” grammar (pronouns, adjectives, plurals)
  • lots of old” grammar (feel free to refer to the list of “what they already know” in a previous post)
  • some new vocabulary
  • a lot of familiar vocabulary; and
  • good” vocabulary choices, from the perspective of those purists who only want to use Latin words from the “major” authors.  (That’s why I included my thought processes with Lewis & Short on so many occasions.)

Before we analyze how well we met these goals, though, let’s take a look at the whole story:

prope culīnam est cēnāculum minimum, ubi Rīdiculus mūs cum familiā habitat. Rīdiculus est mūs maximae calliditātis. cotīdiē ē cēnāculō suō audāx ambulat; cotīdiē cibum quaerit et invenit; cotīdiē incolumis revenit. Ferōx enim, canis Valeriī, est amīcus Rīdiculī; Ferōx Rīdiculum capere nōn vult.

in vīllā tamen proximā, ubit Flavius Caesō habitat, quoque habitat Sabīna mustēla. Sabīna Rīdiculum capere et ēsse valde vult. cotīdiē, ubi Rīdiculus cibum ad cēnāculum suum refert, Sabīna īrātissima susurrat, “istum mūrem necāre volō! istum mūrem caedere volō! istum mūrem cōnsūmere volō! istīus mūris ossa exspuere volō! nōnne hic est diēs optimus? nam dominus meus, ille Flavius Caesō, ipse in domō Valeriī hodiē cēnat. nōnne iste mūs cibum capere vult? et nōnne ego quoque cēnāre possum?”

Sabīna igitur ē peristyliō exit. Sabīna per postīcum ambulat et angiportum intrat. mustēla per angiportum ad domum Valeriī rēpit. Sabīna callida domum clam intrat et ad triclīnium tacitē rēpit.

intereā Valerius et Flavius triclinium intrant. Lollius et aliī clientēs quoque intrant. omnēs in lectō recumbunt et cēnam exspectant.

Caelia, uxor Valeriī, et Maccia, uxor Lolliī, cum Ausōniā, Flaviī uxōre, quoque triclinium intrant. Caelia in sellā sedet. Maccia in sellā sedet. Ausōnia tamen iuxtā marītum recumbit. “heus!” susurrat Maccia. “quid facit ista fēmina?” “nōlī tē vexāre, mea Maccia,” respondet Caelia. “nam in urbe Romā fēminae iuxtā marītōs in lectīs recumbere solent.”

“fortasse tālēs rēs in urbe Romā accidunt,” respondit Maccia attonita, “sed in hāc urbe nōn decet –”

subitō Gallicus, coquus Valeriī, per iānum intrat. Milphiō quoque intrat. Milphiō gustātiōnem in mēnsā pōnit. in gustātiōne sunt multae olīvae et lentēs in catīnō argenteō.  in gustātiōne sunt cocleae et carōtae et bulbī condītī. “nōnne gustātiō optima est?” omnēs hospitēs exclāmant. Valerius Gallicum valdē laudat. omnēs hospitēs plaudunt.

Flavius Caesō mēnsam īnspicit. “nōnne lentēs Aegyptiae sunt? heus! mē valdē dēlectant lentēs!”

Flavius Caesō panem sumit. “ecce puls optima!” inquit.

Flavius tamen panem in pavīmentō forte dēmittit. “heus! quam neglegēns sum!” inquit. “heus, puer, fer plūs panis!” Milphiō ē triclīnliō exit et panem in culīnā quaerit.

subitō Rīdiculus panem in pavīmentō cōnspicit. “heus! mē valdē dēlectat panis!” mūs susurrat. Rīdiculus per triclinium currit. mūs panem in pavīmentō petit.

“ēheu! mūs est in triclīniō!” exclāmat Ausōnia. “euge! istum mūrem capere possum!” inquit Sabīna. mustēla quoque per triclīnium currit. mustēla mūrem in pavīmentō petit.  “heus! quid accidit?” omnēs hospitēs exclāmant perterritī.  “quid accidit?” Milphiō in līmine rogat.

ēheu! Milphiō mustēlam nōn videt. pedēs Milphiōnis nōn iam sunt in pavīmentō! Milphiō supplantat et in mēnsā cadit. mēnsa per āera volat! panis per āera volat! olīvae et lentēs per āera volant! catīnus ad caput Flaviī, cochlear ad oculum Ausōniae volat.

“ēheu!” exclāmat Flavius. “quid facere possum?” Valēria tamen per iānuam celeriter currit. Caeliōla et Lūcius quoque celeriter intrant. Valēria catīnum et mēnsam in āere captat. Caeliōla mustēlam capessat. mustēla īrāta puellam mordēre temptat. Caeliōla Sabīnam īrāta verberat. Lūcius cochlear in āere comprehendit. Rapidus panem comprehendit et ad cēnāculum suum celeriter currit.

“līberōs īnsolentissimōs!” exclāmat Flavius Caesō. “num triclīnium intrāre audētis? num mustēlam meam verberāre audēs? ō puellās impiās! nōnne vehementer vapulāre dēbētis?”

“mī Flāvī,” respondet Valēria attonita, “cūr nōs pūnīre vīs? nōnne tē et uxōrem servāre temptāmus?”

Caesō tamen īrātus, “tacē, puella īnsolēns!” exclāmat. “nōnne pater tuus tē in servitūtem vēndere dēbet? et servum ignāvum! ubi est panis? et cūr supplantās? nōnne maximē vapulāre dēbēs? nōnne in metalla vēnīre dēbēs?”

Valērius attonitus surgit. “mī Flavī –” Ausōnia quoque surgit et marītum vituperat.

“tacē, marīte stultissime,” interpellat Ausōnia īrāta. “num nihil vidēs? num nihil intellegis? hae puellae piissimae vītam tuam servant. hic puer fortissimus vītam meam servat. nōnne istam mustēlam tuam pūnīre dēbēs? nam propter mustēlam ille servus supplantat et haec omnia per āera volant. propter līberōs tamen catīnus tē, cochlear mē nōn percutit. fortasse tū puellās et puerum castīgās, ego tamen valdē laudō quod mē servant.”

Flavius Caesō attonitus nihil respondet. “fortasse,” Maccia susurrat, “ego quoque iuxtā marītum recumbere dēbeō.” Caelia rīdet sed nihil dīcit. cēterī hospitēs Valēriam et Lūcium et Caeliōlam valdē laudant.

intereā Rapidus panem per iānuam suam trahit. “mea Impigra, mea uxor,” exclāmat. “nōnne cēnam optimam tibi ferō?”

“ō marītum stultissimum!” respondet Impigra īrāta. “nōnne tē cum familiā tuā necāre temptās? sī panis in pavīmentō cadit, nōnne in pavīmentō per tōtam cēnam manet? nonne post cēnam triclīnium est vacuum? nōnne mediā nocte panem petere potes?”

“rēctē dīcis, mea uxor,” susurrat Rīdiculus. “nōnne nōmen aptissimum habeō?”

Today we’ll look at the goals regarding plot, character, and setting. Tomorrow we’ll look at vocabulary and grammar elements. Tuesday we’ll look at culture and Culture. And on Wednesday we’ll begin a series on Connections and Comparisons, showing how these strands of the National Standards can be developed with a story like this one.

Of course, I really want to hear what you think, but in our second post today I’ll share my preliminary thoughts about plot, character, and setting. Tune in shortly for more.

Building a Story, Part IV

salvēte iterum, sodālēs! In this post, we’ll finally reach the climax of the story we’ve been building. Just to recap what we have so far:

prope culīnam est cēnāculum minimum, ubi Rīdiculus mūs cum familiā habitat. Rīdiculus est mūs maximae calliditātis. cotīdiē ē cēnāculō suō audāx ambulat; cotīdiē cibum quaerit et invenit; cotīdiē incolumis revenit. Ferōx enim, canis Valeriī, est amīcus Rīdiculī; Ferōx Rīdiculum capere nōn vult.

in vīllā tamen proximā, ubit Flavius Caesō habitat, quoque habitat Sabīna mustēla. Sabīna Rīdiculum capere et ēsse valde vult. cotīdiē, ubi Rīdiculus cibum ad cēnāculum suum refert, Sabīna īrātissima susurrat, “istum mūrem necāre volō! istum mūrem caedere volō! istum mūrem cōnsūmere volō! istīus mūris ossa exspuere volō! nōnne hic est diēs optimus? nam dominus meus, ille Flavius Caesō, ipse in domō Valeriī hodiē cēnat. nōnne iste mūs cibum capere vult? et nōnne ego quoque cēnāre possum?”

Sabīna igitur ē peristyliō exit. Sabīna per postīcum ambulat et angiportum intrat. mustēla per angiportum ad domum Valeriī rēpit. Sabīna callida domum clam intrat et ad triclīnium tacitē rēpit.

intereā Valerius et Flavius triclinium intrant. Lollius et aliī clientēs quoque intrant. omnēs in lectō recumbunt et cēnam exspectant.

Caelia, uxor Valeriī, et Maccia, uxor Lolliī, cum Ausōniā, Flaviī uxōre, quoque triclinium intrant. Caelia in sellā sedet. Maccia in sellā sedet. Ausōnia tamen iuxtā marītum recumbit. “heus!” susurrat Maccia. “quid facit ista fēmina?” “nōlī tē vexāre, mea Maccia,” respondet Caelia. “nam in urbe Romā fēminae iuxtā marītōs in lectīs recumbere solent.”

“fortasse tālēs rēs in urbe Romā accidunt,” respondit Maccia attonita, “sed in hāc urbe nōn decet –”

And that’s where we left off earlier. And now to continue:

subitō Gallicus, coquus Valeriī, per iānum intrat. Milphiō quoque intrat. Milphiō gustātiōnem in mēnsā pōnit. in gustātiōne sunt multae olīvae, multae …

(I’m reminded by the Wikipedia article that Romans loved pickled leeks, carrots, parsnips, and cauliflower, and that upper-class Romans preferred pureed lentils to the fava beans and chickpeas that were normally eaten by the poor. Not sure how much single-use vocabulary I really want to include here! But in the course of writing this post, I’ve been in touch with our potential illustrator, who wanted some guidance for a particular scene. Now I know that the pureed lentils, the bread, and the snails – along with the little pointy spoon called cochlear that Romans ate snails with – will be important plot elements.)

in gustātiōne sunt multae olīvae et lentēs in …

(which word for bowl? Lewis & Short suggest catīnus, used by both Varro and Horace for a food-serving vessel)

in gustātiōne sunt multae olīvae et lentēs in catīnō argenteō. in gustātiōne sunt …

(what do they call snails again? Oh, that’s right, coclea, which is why the spoon is cochlear)

in gustātiōne sunt cocleae et carōtae et …

(Onion? bulbus.  And what’s that word for pickling that Ovid uses? condiō.)

… et bulbī condītī. “nōnne gustātiō optima est?” omnēs hospitēs exclāmant. Valerius Gallicum valdē laudat. omnēs hospitēs plaudunt.

Flavius Caesō mēnsam īnspicit. “nōnne lentēs Aegyptiae sunt? heus! mē valdē dēlectant lentēs!” Flavius Caesō panem …

(I want to say, “dips it,” but he’ll drop it first, by accident. So…)

Flavius Caesō panem sumit. “ecce puls optima!” inquit.  Flavius tamen panem forte in pavīmentō …

(drops! Of all the words not to remember! Lewis & Short suggests dēmittere. And besides, forte is so adverbial that it should go next to the verb anyway, isn’t it?)

Flavius tamen panem in pavīmentō forte dēmittit. “heus! quam …

(clumsy! Lewis & Short suggests crassus, but … I know! neglegēns!  Flavius would never call himself crassus!)

“heus! quam neglegēns sum!” inquit. “heus, puer, fer plūs panis!” Milphiō ē triclīnliō exit et panem in culīnā quaerit.

subitō Rīdiculus panem in pavīmentō cōnspicit. “heus! mē valdē dēlectat panis!” mūs susurrat. Rīdiculus per triclinium currit. mūs panem in pavīmentō petit.

“ēheu! mūs est in triclīniō!” exclāmat Ausōnia. “euge! istum mūrem capere possum!” inquit Sabīna. mustēla quoque per triclīnium currit. mustēla mūrem in pavīmentō petit.  “heus! quid accidit?” omnēs hospitēs exclāmant perterritī.  “quid accidit?” Milphiō in līmine rogat.

ēheu! Milphiō mustēlam nōn videt. servus ….

(trips! Of all the words to forget! L&S suggests supplantō)

pedēs nōn iam sunt in pavīmentō! Milphiō supplantat

(or is it sē supplantat? is it transitive or instransitive?)

et in mēnsā cadit. mēnsa per āera volat! panis per āera volat! olīvae et lentēs per āera volant! catīnus ad caput Flaviī , cochlear ad oculum Ausōniae volat!  “ēheu!  moritūrī estis vōs!” exclāmant hospitēs perterritī.

“ēheu!” exclāmat Flavius. “quid facere possum?”  Valēria tamen per iānuam celeriter currit. Caeliōla et Lūcius quoque celeriter intrant. Valēria …

(which words to use for catching, here? L&S suggest several, with slightly different shades of meaning. So let’s use them, and then let’s explore those shades of meaning after we read!)

Valēria catīnum et mēnsam ex āere captat. Caeliōla mustēlam capessat. mustēla īrāta puellam mordēre temptat. Caeliōla Sabīnam īrāta verberat. Lūcius cochlear ex āere comprehendit. Rapidus panem comprehendit et ad cēnāculum suum celeriter currit.

“līberōs īnsolentissimōs!” exclāmat Flavius Caesō. “num triclīnium in mediā cēnā intrāre audētis? num mustēlam meam tangere audēs? ō puellās impiās! nōnne vehementer vapulāre dēbētis?”

“mī Flāvī,” respondet Valēria attonita, “cūr nōs pūnīre vīs? nōnne tē et uxōrem servāre temptāmus?”

Caesō tamen īrātus, “tacē, puella īnsolēns!” exclāmat. “nōnne pater tuus tē in servitūtem vēndere dēbet?  et servum ignāvum! ubi est panis? et cūr supplantās? nōnne maximē vapulāre dēbēs? nōnne in …

(what’s that word for salt mines? Or mines in general?)

nōnne in metalla vēnīre dēbēs?”

Valērius attonitus surgit. “mī Flavī –” Ausōnia autem quoque surgit et marītum vituperat.

“tacē, marīte stultissime,” interpellat Ausōnia īrāta. “num nihil vidēs? num nihil intellegis? hae puellae piissimae vītam tuam servant. hic puer fortissimus vītam meam servat. nōnne istam mustēlam tuam pūnīre dēbēs? nam propter mustēlam ille servus supplantat et haec omnia per āera volant. propter līberōs tamen catīnus tē, cochlear mē nōn percutiunt. fortasse tū puellās et puerum castīgās, ego tamen valdē laudō quod mē servant.”

Flavius Caesō attonitus nihil respondet. “fortasse,” Maccia susurrat, “ego quoque iuxtā marītum recumbere dēbeō.” Caelia rīdet sed nihil dīcit. cēterī hospitēs Valēriam et Lūcium et Caeliōlam valdē laudant.

intereā Rapidus panem per iānuam suam trahit. “mea Impigra, mea uxor,” exclāmat. “nōnne cēnam optimam tibi ferō?”

“ō marītum stultissimum!” respondet Impigra īrāta. “nōnne tē cum familiā tuā necāre temptās? sī panis in pavīmentō cadit, nōnne in pavīmentō per tōtam cēnam manet? nonne post cēnam triclīnium est vacuum? nōnne mediā nocte panem petere potes?”

“rēctē dīcis, mea uxor,” susurrat Rīdiculus. “nōnne nōmen aptissimum habeō?”

quid respondētis, amīcissimī? Of course, this is an early draft, and the story could easily be improved with some careful editing. But what do you think of

  • the overall plot?
  • the characters?
  • the situation?
  • the use of old, familiar vocabulary?
  • the introduction of new vocabulary?
  • the cultural elements (food, gender roles, and of course the roles of children)?
  • the Cultural elements of social class, dignitās, and pietās, and the literary allusions in the names of Sabina and Ridiculus?

What, if anything, would you suggest that we change or improve about the story? And what do you think about the process as I modeled it for you?  Could your students follow a similar process?  Or could you, if you’re a Latin learner yourself?

Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll start taking the story apart to examine these elements more closely.