Just Wondering, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! In the words of the holiday song, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” … but I’d like to take “wonderful” in a slightly different direction in today’s post. Once I’ve been away from the daily grind of the factory-model school for a few days, I often find that I have time to wonder about things that I normally take for granted. So, today, we’ll take a look at a few of those wonders, and we’ll continue tomorrow (if all goes well) and after the Christmas holiday weekend.

Returning for a moment to yesterday’s final questions, I wonder:

  • Why my students and I are so exhausted at this half-way point of the school year;
  • Why we, the teaching profession, so frequently fall back on the way we’ve always done things even when there are better, more effective, less difficult practices available – like the regular pattern of rehearsal that I mentioned in yesterday’s post; and
  • Why, in times of budgetary disasters, educators don’t tend to look for more cost-effective ways to do things.

I also wonder if these three wonders are somehow connected! And I think they are.

One common thread is that idea of the way we’ve always done things. If you’re a long-time lēctor fidēlissimus of this blog, you know that always is a problematic word for me. Latin teachers, for example, tend to believe that the language has always been taught with grammar-translation methodology, even though that system is, historically speaking, a very recent development. School people, in general, assume that schools have always looked and operated pretty much the way they do now – or at least the way they did when we ourselves were students. But factory-model schools are also a fairly recent innovation; even the idea of one teacher delivering information to a group of learners passively seated in rows dates only to the establishment of the Prussian system in the late eighteenth century, as a friend of mine reminded me in a recent email. Before that, the schools that existed – and the teaching and learning situations in which most people obtained the knowledge, skills, and understandings that would guide their work and daily life – were very different places.

As I was writing this post, an email from eSchool News arrived in my in-box that described this “flipped” model of science and engineering education, in which students “watch lectures at home and practice in class.” I’ve only had time to skim the article so far, but I’m intrigued … and I think this system is very much in line with the way that the Tres Columnae Project would be used in a “blended” learning environment. What do you think?

One of the wonders I’ve been grappling with over the past few days has to do with the ways that we train teachers and school administrators … and, in particular, with a significant difference between the professional induction of young teachers and that of young members of other professions. There are obvious differences like the length of the induction process, the degree of supervision and guidance that young professionals receive, and the level of mastery that’s expected – but I’ve addressed those in other blog posts, and they’ve certainly been at the forefront of the national conversation about education. What I’m wondering about today is different:

Say that you were a young doctor, lawyer, accountant, plumber, electrician, auto mechanic … you name it. At some point early in your training, you confront the critical issue of Where The Money Comes From. But young teachers usually don’t. Why? And how would the world be different if they did?

I’ll leave you to ponder that question, and we’ll pick up with more about it – and why I think it’s important – in tomorrow’s post. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus legentibus et respondentibus.

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Published in: on December 23, 2010 at 4:21 pm  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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Quartus infans and Differentiated Instruction, II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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

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

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

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

More about Casina, V

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Before we get to the next story about Casina ancilla and her morbus novissimus, I want to pause for a moment to think about some of the issues raised by yesterday’s featured story, which you can find here on the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site if you don’t want to do a lot of scrolling and clicking around the blog. You may have noticed that it falls into several natural sections:

  1. Casina, Valeria, and Caelia in the lectīca (and the crowds’ reactions – I was inspired by some “latest celebrity gossip” links that showed up on a website I was using for an entirely different purpose);
  2. Valerius and Lucius at Claudius Pulcher’s house (with a bit of Roman history and a few literary references thrown in for good measure);
  3. interactions between the women and the sacerdōs Bonae Deae (did you notice the rather ironic allusion to Catullus?); and
  4. the very short conclusion, where Casina consumes the herbās and everyone returns home.

As I wrote and edited the story, and much more as I re-read it while writing yesterday’s blog post, I noticed several interesting themes that one might pursue in conversations with a group of learners that focused on Understanding rather than just Knowledge or Skill. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • You may have noticed that I deliberately didn’t identify the gender of the sacerdōs Bonae Deae. How might our understanding of the story change if we knew for sure that the sacerdōs was a Roman man addressing a group of women? Or if we knew the sacerdōs was a non-Roman man? Or if we knew the sacerdōs was a woman, Roman or otherwise? Why do you suppose I kept you, the reader, in suspense about his/her gender (and, in fact, went back to edit the story to remove any gender references)?
  • Depending on your training and reading in Roman history and literature, you also may have noticed that this story “sneaks in” a number of references to “classical” Roman literature. Cicero and Catullus, in particular, play important parts – and so does the famous scandal of Clodius’ dressing up as a woman for the rites of Bona Dea at Julius Caesar’s house. If you recognized those references, did you find that they deepened your appreciation of the story, or that they annoyed you? For comparison, think of the “sneaky” references to pop culture that often appear in movies marketed for children, or the jokes for adult watchers that show up in Sesame Street segments from time to time. How do you feel about those? And if you respond differently in the two cases, why might that be?
  • What about the social-class dynamics, particularly the ways that the sacerdōs does – and does not – interact directly with Casina?
  • And what about Casina’s own emotional reactions, both to the sacerdōs him/herself and to the advice?

Many of these issues continue to be prominent in today’s story, now available from this link at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site. As poor, exhausted Casina is on the way home, she falls asleep and has another dream – but does it complicate or simplify our understanding of what’s “really” going on?

lectīcāriī lentē per viās urbis Rōmae prōgrediuntur. in lectīcā, quam lectīcāriī umerīs ferunt, Caelia et Valeria cum Casinā anxiae colloquuntur. “Casina mea,” inquit Caelia, “quid agis? utrum herbae remedium tibi ferunt annōn?” Casina paulīsper tacet, quod fessissima est. tandem “ō domina,” respondet, “nesciō. corpus meum nōn dolet; febrem nunc iam nōn habeō; sed fessissima sum. fortasse mē oportet in hāc lectīcā quiēscere.” Valeria et Caelia cum Casinā celeriter cōnsentiunt. mox ancilla oculōs clausit et somnō sē trādit. longum est iter, quod multitūdinēs maximae viās urbis complent. difficile igitur est lectīcāriīs per multitūdinēs prōgredī. perītī sunt lectīcāriī; iter tamen cum longum tum difficile est. saepe enim lectīcāriōs oportet cōnsistere, quod cīvēs servīque eīs obstant. Valeria et Caelia, quamquam fessae sunt, dormīre haud possunt; dormit tamen Casina.

subitō tamen in somniīs Casina lemurem īnfantis cōnspicātur. lemur manūs Casinae prēnsat et, “ō māter, māter mea,” inquit, “tē haud decet dormīre! nōnne enim dormīre est paulātim morī? tibi surgendum est, māter mea!” Casina in somniīs, “ō mī īnfāns,” respondet, “tē valdē amō, tēcum esse valdē dēsīderō. nōnne mē quoque decet morī et tēcum semper esse?”

lemur tamen, “ō māter,” respondet, “mihi decōrum est quiēscere. nōnne ille Vergilius, poēta nōtissimus, hōs versūs rēctē scrībit:

vīxī et quem dederat cursum Fortūna perēgī,
et nunc magna meī sub terrās ībit imāgō.

tibi tamen multī annī, multa gaudia parāta nunc iam manent. nōlī mortem dēsīderāre! quī enim ante diem nec fātō nec meritā morte pereunt, deōs īrātōs reddunt! nōlī perīre, sed convālēsce!”

subitō lemur abest, et vir ingēns in somniīs adest. flagellum tenet et servum aegrum identidem verberat. servus perterritus lacrimat et “cūr vapulō, domine?” rogat. “vapulās, quod ignāvus morbum fingis et mortem igitur merēs!” respondet dominus īrātissimus. Casina perterrita exclāmat et clāmōribus suīs sē ē somniīs excitat. Casina valdē timet et somnium tōtum Valeriae Caeliaeque statim nārrat.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • My first thought – even as the writer of this piece – it that the lemur is one awfully well-read and articulate īnfāns mortuus! Of course, he’s been down there in the Underworld for some time … but do Roman ghosts age, or do they stay the age they were when they died?
  • My second thought was that this dream is very different in character from the others. Casina is not terrified of the lemur, but actually engages in a two-way conversation with him … and receives some very sensible advice. I wonder if perhaps the herbae and the contents of the pōculum contributed to the different feeling of this dream!
  • And then I wonder about the end of the dream … the part with the dominus and the servus perterritus. You may recall, if you’ve been a longtime lector fidēlissimus, that the sequence of stories with Casina’s morbus novissimus comes right after this story from Lectiō XVIII, in which Casina witnessed the near-death of a servus while she was (innocently enough) at the fullonica picking up Valerius’ clean laundry. Some details – that I myself didn’t notice at the time – might be intriguing now:
    • The servus looks like (but turns out not to be) Casina’s own frāter;
    • The servus genuinely is sick – from exposure to the fumes of the ūrīna;
    • The dominus refuses to acknowledge this illness, instead punishing and almost killing the servus in a truly horrible way;
    • The servus is – barely – rescued by the intervention of a most unlikely rescuer.
  • Casina says nothing about the situation to her dominus. Perhaps she’s afraid he won’t believe her, or perhaps she fears he will take the side of his cliēns (and tenant), even though she has had ample experience with Valerius as dominus benignus. (Of course, even if a dominus is benignus, he’s still dominus and still has manus over you – so how benignus can he actually be? Or do you want to find out when he kills you, beats you, or sells you because you’ve exceeded his limits? I don’t think we can forget about the horrible side of Roman slavery – of slavery wherever it’s practiced – even when we’re dealing with supposedly “kind” and “enlightened” masters who “treat their slaves well.”)
  • Could it be that Casina’s trauma causes the suppressed memory of her īnfāns mortuus to rise to the surface, and that this combination of psychological factors causes – or at least contributes to – the morbus novissimus and the visions?
  • Or is it even appropriate to apply our twenty-first-century diagnostic terms and understandings to Casina’s situation? Would we do so if she were a character in an “authentic” Roman text from the time period?

Tune in next time, when we’ll consider how questions like these are related to a Joyful Learning Community where Choice and Ownership are important. We’ll also find out how Valerius reacts to the news of Casina’s latest somnium. What are the limits of his benignitās? And how will he react to the details of the end of the dream? Will he see himself as the cruel dominus, and if so, how will he react to his ancilla aegra? You’ll have to wait till tomorrow to find out. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on July 16, 2010 at 9:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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More about Casina, IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! This is a big day for my favorite-and-only daughter, whom I’ve mentioned from time to time in previous posts. She turns 13 today, and I wish her safe and relatively happy passage through the minefields of the teenage years! She and I will save our just-Dad-and-daughter celebration for Saturday. Like most girls her age, she loves shoe-shopping, and like her dad, she enjoys bargain-hunting, so it will be a fun day for everyone … including her little brother, who gets a much-needed break from his “bossy” big sister!

Today is also a great day for the Tres Columnae Project! A lot of great things have been happening behind the scenes, as our community takes ever-greater Ownership of the learning materials themselves. I want to highlight a recent comment, by our relatively new community member Leslie P., who noticed – and quite reasonably questioned – part of this story. Her concern: Fabius the magister charges poor Lollius more than he charges wealthy Valerius, but in ancient Mediterranean cultures (and even in some cultures today where bargaining is expected) it is normal and customary for the wealthy to pay more. In my response, I noted that Valerius, too, is surprised, and that he plōrat et queritur Lollius, exclaiming tantam avāritiam! Of course, in the end, he also gets the price for Caius’ education down (to the same price he’s paying for Lucius to be educated, in fact, since he’s the one paying for both) … and Fabius remarks that he would, in fact, have taken less. And so we wonder:

  • Is it just that Lollius is bad at negotiation?
  • Is Fabius, who seems like a sympathetic character in later stories like this one, actually greedy?
  • Or is something else going on here?

Even the simplest-looking story can, on closer investigation, open a window into deeper Understanding as well as Knowledge and Skill! I’m so grateful to Leslie for raising the issue, and I invite all of our lectōrēs fidēlissimī to comment on – and question – any aspect of the Tres Columnae Project that leaves you wondering or scratching your head.

Sometimes, of course, our lectōrēs fidēlissimī find real errors that need to be corrected. For example, I need to express grātiās maximās to our friend Paul P, whose voice you can hear on the recorded version of this story, for pointing out (very kindly, too) that the -o- in Caeliola is short. vae mihi, et vae nōbīs! I think we’ve corrected all of the text by now, and our faithful collaborator Ann is almost done fixing the audio. But please let us know if you find any other vowel-quantity errors!

If you haven’t seen it yet, Part 2 of Ann’s students’ video version of the story of Cnaeus and the horse is now available from this link at Vimeo. Lots of characters make mistakes in this story! And you may find a few imperfections in the video itself; at least, they’d be imperfections in a professional video shoot. We’re all curious to know what you think.

In all these cases, mistakes and imperfections – and the process of correcting them – played an important part. Mistakes, both real and apparent, can be a wonderful teachable moment … especially in learning a language! There’s no need to fear them, especially when they can be corrected easily. I am actually a big proponent of mistakes, for several reasons:

  • They’re going to happen anyway – everyone makes them. So why pretend to be perfect when you’re not?
  • If I as teacher make a mistake, it normalizes mistake-making and reduces learners’ anxiety – especially if those learners are perfectionists like me! 🙂
  • When I encourage you, the learner, to look for mistakes I make, it builds community between us; we’re all aiming to improve our skills, and it’s OK for all of us to offer corrections or suggestions to each other.
  • It also reduces the “power gap” that can appear when the teacher is seen as the Source of All Wisdom and the learner is seen as the Empty Vessel To Be Filled Up with Knowledge.
  • And, of course, when students have the power to find and correct mistakes, they naturally have a lot more Ownership in the learning process.

As I think about mistakes, I realize they are also an important theme in our current set of stories. Is it a mistake, for example, for Valerius to spend so much time and trouble on a cure for Casina’s morbus novissimus? Is he mistaken, for that matter, in believing that she really is sick? Is she mistakenly attempting to take advantage of his generosity? We don’t yet know, and we may not find out for a while. But we should also remember that life, by its very nature, involves a lot of situations where we don’t know the “right” answer but still have to take action. What do you think: is it better to act, and possibly make a mistake, or to be paralyzed and do nothing?

Anyway, in today’s story from our continuing sequence about Casina and the attempts to cure her morbus novissimus (and, of course, to placate the potentially angry lemur or umbra of her īnfāns mortuus), we find Casina, along with her domina Caelia and her future domina Valeria, on the way to the temple of Bona Dea. You can also find it at this link at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like.

per omnēs urbis Rōmae viās continuō festīnātur et clāmātur. plūrimī enim cīvēs per viās contendunt negōtium āctum. plūrimī servī per viās festīnant mandāta dominōrum effectum. senātōrēs quoque et fēminae Rōmānae per viās prōgrediuntur. aliquandō multī servī agmen dūcunt; aliquandō vel quattuor vel octō servī lectīcam umerīs ferunt. turbae cīvium servōrumque lectīcās avidī spectant. “quis in istā lectīcā nunc sedet?” rogant et respondent.

Caelia et Valeria quoque cum Casinā ancillā per viās ad templum Bonae Deae lectīcā Claudiī feruntur. “nōnne lectīcam servōsque Claudiī Pulchrī cōnspiciō?” exclāmant nōnnullī. servī tamen tacitī nihil respondent. per viās urbis ad templum Bonae Deae lentē prōgrediuntur. multitūdō enim dēnsa viās complet et lectīcāriīs obstat.

dum Caelia Valeriaque ad templum Bonae Deae cum Casinā prōgrediuntur, Valerius et Lūcius domī Claudiī Pulchrī manent. “virōs enim puerōsque haud decet templō Bonae Deae appropinquāre,” inquit Valerius. “Bonae Deae mulierēs, nōn virī sunt cordī. virōs haud licet mystēria Bonae Deae spectāre – ego igitur templum quoque vītō, quod vīta sālūsque mihi sunt cordī. nōnne multōs abhinc annōs ille Publius Clōdius, vestibus fēmineīs indūtus, mystēria Bonae Deae vidēre temptābat? nōnne comprehēnsus et accūsātus, vix poenās ultimās vītāre poterat? atavus enim tuus, ille Sextus Valerius, iūdex erat. ōrātiōnēs Cicerōnis per tōtam vītam memoriā tenēbat.”

dum Valerius rem tōtam nārrat et Lūcius avidus audit, Caelia et Valeria cum Casinā tandem ad templum Bonae Deae perveniunt. lectīcāriī fessī lectīcam dēpōnunt. fēminae sollicitae dē lectīcā dēscendunt et templum Bonae Deae ingrediuntur. sacrificia sollemnia cum vōtīs precibusque in ārā Bonae Deae offerunt. tum sacerdōtēs illās in hortum templī dūcunt, ubi multōs flōrēs multāsque herbās cōnspicantur. deinde sacerdōs Caeliam adloquitur et, “ō mulier,” inquit, “quid morbōrum tē afflīgit? quid auxiliī ā Bonā Deā petis?” Caelia “ō sacerdōs,” respondet, “nōn mihi, sed huic ancillae auxilium deae quaerō. “multōs enim diēs somnia novissima cum febribus hanc ancillam afflīgunt.”

sacerdōs vōce serēnā, “mē decet,” inquit, “cum ancillā ipsā colloquī. puella, dīc mihi: quālia somnia tē afflīgunt? quid in somniīs appāret?”

Casina perterrita paulīsper tacet. tandem, “ō sacerdōs,” respondet, “cotīdiē in somniīs appāret lemur īnfantis, quī vultū verbīsque mē terret. aliquandō somnia mē immōtam reddunt; aliquandō dominum familiamque agnōscere haud possum. quaesō, amābō tē, ō sacerdōs, mē adiuvā!”

sacerdōs attonitus tacet. tum “puella,” Casinam rogat, “quid verbōrum audīs? quid vultūs vidēs?” et Casina, “lemur īnfantis mē adloquitur et, “venī ad mē,” ait. vultum pallidum gerit, et valdē timeō!” tum sacerdōs, “num,” respondet, “est tibi īnfāns lemurī similis?” Casina lacrimīs et ululātibus sē trādit et tandem, “īnfāns meus nōn vīvit, sed in urbe Pompēiīs hōs decem annōs insepultus et mortuus iacet,” susurrat.

sacerdōs perterritus, “heu!” clāmat, “lemur ā tē abestō! lemurēs ab omnibus abestōte!” templum celeriter ingreditur precātum et sacrificātum. tandem ēgreditur sacerdōs et, “puella,” inquit, “sine dubiō somnia tua sunt ōmina maximī mōmentī.” Caeliam adloquitur et, “rēctē, ō mulier,” inquit, “hanc ancillam hūc dūcis, quod ōmina tālia fāta dīra tōtī familiae significant. nōnne necesse est ancillae tuae herbās flōrēsque hīc ēsse? fortasse tamen Nemesis ipsa, vēmēns dea, haec ōmina ancillae tuae mittit. sī Nemesis somnia mittit, ancillam quoque oportet templum Aesculapiī vīsitāre. nōnne enim Aesculapius deus, quī remedia in somniīs mittit, somnia tālia cūrāre potest? hodiē ancillam decet herbās nostrās ēsse, nocte proximā in īnsulā Aesculapiī prope templum dormīre.”

tum sacerdōs templum iterum ingreditur herbās flōrēsque quaesītum. mox regreditur et, “puella,” inquit, “tē decet haec ēsse et hoc pōculum haurīre.” Casina perterrita sacerdōtī pāret; herbās celeriter ēst et pōculum haurit. tum Casina cum Caeliā Valeriāque iterum iterumque Bonam Deam precātur. tandem, trēs post hōrās, Caelia et Valeria Casinam ex hortō templī dūcunt et lectīcam iterum cōnscendunt. lectīcāriī pedēs lectīcae umerīs tollunt, et per viās urbis ad domum Claudiī Pulchrī lentē regrediuntur.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

To keep from overwhelming you, I think I want to deal with the implications of this story in tomorrow’s post – so please feel free to let me know what issues you think we should explore, either with a comment here or with a private email. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Casina ancilla, V

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! And thank you for the huge spike in blog traffic on Thursday! I’m not sure exactly what caused that, but I’m very grateful … and I’m also very grateful for all the visitors to the Version Alpha Wiki of the Tres Columnae Project, and for you new subscribers … and for you long-term lectōrēs fidēlissimī, too! If you haven’t looked at the first few Fabellae of Lectiō Prīma in a while, you may not have seen the new, full-color illustrations from our amazing illustrator Lucy M. Please check them out! And if you need an illustrator for an upcoming project, let me know and I can put you in touch with her.

We had an exciting email request this week … I don’t want to give too many details at this early point, but if it works out, it could lead to significant exposure for Tres Columnae among prospective Latin teachers. I’ll let you know when I can say more.

I do have one quick request, especially for my readers in the United States. I’d really like to hear from you if you work in a middle school (or even an elementary school) that uses a Pyramid of Intervention model for unsuccessful students – or if you live or work in a school district that uses that model – especially if the district doesn’t offer Latin classes at the middle-school level. (Actually, I’d love to know about districts like this that don’t offer Latin classes at all, too!) I’m particularly interested in schools that have a remediation/enrichment period built into the school day. I know that schools in this situation often struggle with what to do for the constantly-changing enrichment groups – the students who have mastered the skills or objectives that the remediation groups are working on – and I think we might be able to help.

If you have no idea what the last paragraph was about, please don’t worry! 🙂

Like the members of familia Valeria, I feel as though I’m at a crossroads as I write this post. There are all kinds of amazing opportunities out there, both for me personally and for the Tres Columnae Projec, but it’s hard to know which way to go, or which direction to turn first. I feel a bit like Valerius, I suppose: a perfectly ordinary, predictable life, with settled routines and comfortable expectations, suddenly turns upside down. Of course, in Valerius’ case, it’s all caused by a thing that seems pretty terrible – the mysterious illness of a faithful servant. In my case, the cause is much more positive – all the interest and excitement you’ve shown about Tres Columnae. What began life as a “small” collaborative space where my face-to-face students could create and share stories with each other has caused quite a stir and commotion. It’s very exciting for me, and very enjoyable, too, but it does upset the predictable routines of summer, just as Casina’s morbus novissimus upset the routine of an ordinary day for Valerius, Caelia, Milphio, Gallicus, and the children … not to mention poor Casina herself!

If you haven’t been following this story-line from Lectiō XIX of the Tres Columnae Project, you probably ought to know that

  • Casina, Valerius’ and Caelia’s sometimes-impatient ancilla, surprises her fellow-servants by not appearing at the crack of dawn in this story.
  • When Milphio and Gallicus investigate in this story, they find that Casina is afflicted by something that causes her not to recognize them, though she does see visions of Someone Else.
  • Valerius and Caelia are understandably concerned when they hear the (exaggerated) news from Gallicus in this story, and when they see for themselves in this one.
  • Valerius unsuccessfully seeks help from the religious authorities of Herculaneum (For some reason, he doesn’t call a doctor! I don’t know why, either), and finally, his daughter Valeria suggests some possible avenues for a cure in this story, and the whole familia sets out for Rome in today’s story.

Valerius is clearly a dominus pius et benignus in several senses of the word pius. Yes, he’s concerned about Casina’s welfare, but he’s also concerned about possible supernatural consequences for his family from an angry umbra or lemur. As I was reminded by the Google Books preview of Buckland’s The Roman Law of Slavery, a debt payable from a slave’s peculium legally survives the death of a previous owner, or other transfers of ownership. So, if ultiō owed to a lemur transfers like other debts, Valerius has some sound legal reasons to be afraid of the lemur – and besides, Roman ghosts probably aren’t very concerned with legal niceties! Even if the lemur has taken vengeance already, it might still be thirsty for more blood.

In any case, Valerius has decided to take Casina to Rome to seek a cure. (Maybe he’s thinking, as well, of the law, mentioned by Buckland, that grants freedom to sick slaves who are exposed by their masters on the island of Aesculapius, but survive. Perhaps he’s hoping that the lemur would respect manūmissiō?) It’s an interesting journey, to say the least, as we discover in today’s story, now available here at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site if you’re interested:

hodiē māne per tōtam domum Valeriī festīnātur et clāmātur. Valerius enim cum uxōre līberīsque Rōmam proficīscī parat. Casina ancilla, quae quattuor diēs aegrōtat, in sellā iam anxia et fessa sedet. cotīdiē enim in somniīs Casina imāginem īnfantis mortuī videt, vōcem audit, manūs tangit. cotīdiē febrēs ancillam afflīgunt; cotīdiē surgere et labōrāre cōnātur, sed frūstrā. Valerius Casinae trīstī haec verba dīcit: “Casina mea, nōnne dominus tibi sum benignus? nōnne remedia morbōrum praebēre volō? nōs igitur tēcum Rōmam iter facimus. Rōmae enim est templum deī Aesculāpiī, ubi aegrōtī saepe remedia morbōrum accipiunt. Rōmae quoque est templum Bonae Deae, ubi aegrōtī herbās ēsse solent. Rōmae sunt medicī perītissimī. et Rōmae remedium morbōrum tuōrum invenīre possumus.”

Casina aegra et languida, “mī domine,” respondet, “tibi crēdere volō, sed difficile est. nam per tōtam noctem imāginem īnfantis mortuī videō, vōcem audiō, manūs tangō … et imāgō nōn crūdēlis, sed benigna esse vidētur. fortasse dī mē ad Tartarum nunc arcessunt – num dīs impedīre vīs? nōnne melius est omnibus domī manēre et mortem meam exspectāre?”

Valerius paulīsper tacet. nam in somniīs suīs quoque appāret imāgō īnfantis Casinae. aliquandō imāgō benignē sē gerit; per viās urbis Rōmae ambulat, manūs extendit, et remedia morbōrum Casinae offert. aliquandō tamen in somniīs imāgō cubiculum Valeriī ingreditur et “hīc manē, asine!” clāmat. tum imāgō manūs extendit Valerium verberātum et necātum; “tē petō pūnītum” vōce dīrā exclāmat. Valerius igitur maximē dubitat. “quid facere dēbeō?” identidem tacitus rogat. nihil tamen dē somniīs, nihil dē pavōre suō familiae patefacit, quod paterfamiliās pius est.

tandem Valerius, “Casina mea, nōnne dominus sum tuus?” rogat. Casina statim cōnsentit. “nōlī,” inquit Valerius, “tālia verba dīcere! nōnne tē decet mandātīs dominī pārēre?” Casina statim cōnsentit. “et tibi hoc māndō,” addit Valerius, “tē oportet remedia morbōrum Rōmae petere. surge nunc, et hoc carpentum intrā!” Casina fessa lentē surgit et in carpentum ascendit.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of Casina’s suggestion to Valerius? Is it the response that pietās, or any of the other Roman virtūtēs, would dictate for a person in her situation?
  • Or, for that matter, would Casina even think in such terms? Did the Romans bother to inculcate an idea of the virtūtēs in their slaves, or did they just manage them with fear and intimidation?
  • What about Valerius’ dreams? From our twenty-first-century perspective, it’s easy to understand why Valerius is having dreams about the imāgō, isn’t it? Even if you’re not a psychologist, you probably can come up with some good psychological-sounding terms. But put those aside for a moment, and imagine you live in Valerius’ world. What possible explanations could he have for such dreams?
  • Why do you suppose Valerius has said nothing about his dreams? And why did I put in that little clause quod paterfamiliās pius est as an explanation for his silence? Does pietās really dictate that the paterfamiliās hide his own fears? I’m thinking of a passage in Book I of the Aeneid here, one that many lectōrēs fidēlissimī have probably already thought of, too.
  • And what about Valerius’ decision to go to Rome? Do you suppose he’s trying to escape the lemur? Or does he believe the first set of dreams, in which the imāgō seems to be inviting him to go to Rome?
  • And since Romans did believe so strongly in dreams and visions, how do you suppose they reconciled conflicting ones like these?

Tune in next time, when we’ll observe familia Valeria on their journey to Rome and attempt to answer some of these questions. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus. I especially look forward to hearing from folks who know anything about “Pyramid of Interventions” schools!

Casina ancilla, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Before we continue with the story of Casina’s morbus novissimus, I want to share some good news. As of yesterday, the Tres Columnae Project has received our first request for a full-school subscription, to start in the fall. (With well over 50 students involved, they’ll be paying US $7.50 per Basic subscription per year, or 75 cents a month. We think that’s a pretty good deal, since the students will

  • have access to Tres Columnae materials (stories, images, audio, video, explanations, exercises, quizzes, and the Virtual Seminar) from home, school, or anywhere, without having to carry any heavy textbooks;
  • get immediate feedback on their responses to exercises and reading-comprehension questions; and even
  • periodically make Single Submissions of stories, images, audio, and video to the project.

We challenge you to find a textbook that can do all of that … especially for $7.50 per user per year! 🙂

After talking with the teacher, I think they’ll save even more money by having students do joint submissions and split the editing fee several ways – and I’d encourage you to consider that approach, especially if budgets are a concern for you. Even with a Standard subscription, groups of 4 could make 4 submissions each month without overwhelming themselves or the Tres Columnae Project.

To celebrate – and to prepare for what lies ahead as our subscriptions grow – we’ll probably be migrating from the Version Alpha Wiki to a different software system. The Version Alpha will still be there, but we’ll also offer a link from it to the “production” version of the site when it’s ready. We’re still thinking about the best “backend” software to use, since we want something that

  • makes various levels of subscriptions, and Single Submission purchases, trouble-free for you, the community, to purchase;
  • allows for different types of access for different levels of subscribers, without requiring complicated log-in procedures;
  • makes it easy and painless to upload multimedia submissions – and to edit, approve, and publish them; and
  • doesn’t require a lot of complicated maintenance or programmer time to keep going.

If any of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī have good suggestions about CMS packages – or wiki engines, or anything else – that could serve as the backbone of Version Beta of Tres Columnae, please let me know! Or, for that matter, if you have any horror stories, please let us know about that, too. (The top contenders, if you’re fascinated by that sort of thing, are Drupal, Joomla, and MediaWiki (in no particular order), but we’re open to other suggestions, too. Feel free to gloss over that sentence if it’s meaningless to you!)

Regardless of our final decision about backend software, we have a lot of work to do between now and the Fall. But it’s really exciting to know that folks do want to be involved in the project on that type of scale. If you’re interested in a school-wide subscription, or know someone who might be, please let us know!

As we face important decisions about The Future, I’m glad I’ve chosen to feature the sequence of stories about Casina’s morbus this week. After all, everyone involved with Casina’s life has some decisions to make … especially Valerius, her dominus. I was interested to find, here at Google Books, an extensive preview of W.W. Buckland’s The Roman Law of Slavery; it seems that even as early as the reign of Claudius, slaves who were not treated for illness, but left to die on the island of Aesculapius, were automatically freed if they recovered … and that a master who did seek treatment for a sick slave could deduct the medical expenses from the slave’s peculium. In later stories, we’ll see how these factors and others affect Valerius’ and Caelia’s response to Casina’s sickness.

At the moment, though, we’ll pick up with this story, in which Valerius and Caelia have only just learned about Casina’s sickness … and they’re about to discover some other things they didn’t know about their favorite ancilla:

Valerius et Caelia ad cubiculum Casinae contendunt, ubi Milphiō pius et sollicitus nunc iam deōs precātur et ancillae vīnum offert. Casina tamen Milphiōnem haud agnōscit. iterum iterumque surgit et manūs extendit. iterum iterumque “ō mī infāns, nōnne mē quaeris?” rogat. iterum iterumque fessa et aegra in lectō resīdet vel ad pavīmentum lābitur. Valerius et Caelia extrā cubiculum haesitant et rem tōtam tacitī spectant. tandem Valerius “quid hoc est?” rogat. “num Casinae nostrae est īnfāns?” et Milphiō, “ō domine, īnfāns Casinae nōn vīvit, sed in urbe Pompēiīs insepultus nunc iam iacet, ā vēnālīciō necātus et disiectus. nōnne Casina ipsa mihi rem tōtam nārrāre solet ubi diēs Lemurālia adsunt?”

tum Caelia, “heus! rem intellegō!” exclāmat. “nōnne Casina saepe ē domō festīnat flētum, ubi līberī nostrī diēs nātālēs celebrant? et nōnne urbem Pompēiōs plōrāre solet? vae Casinae! et vae īnfantī sepultō! et vae nōbīs!”

et Valerius attonitus et territus, “edepol! ecastor! dī omnēs!” respondet, “fortasse Casina aegrotat, quod umbra īnfantis insepultī iniūriās suās ulcīscī vult! sine dubiō iste vēnālīcius impius nunc iam poenās scelerum luit! etiamsī dominus sum pius, fortasse lemur advenit nōs pūnītum! vae! heu! nōs oportet multa sacrificia offerre!”

subitō Casina oculōs aperit et “heus! quis clāmat?” fessa et languida rogat. omnēs ad lectum festīnant et “Casina? an nōs iam agnōscis?” sollicitī rogant. illa attonita, “domine! domina! Milphiō mī amīce!” respondet, “cūr hoc mē rogātis? nōnne semper vōs agnōscō?”

Milphiō attonitus Casinae rem tōtam nārrat. et Casina, “vae! heu!” ululat. “nōs haud decet rēs tālēs memoriā tenēre. mē oportet surgere et aquam trahere!” ancilla surgere cōnātur, sed frustrā! membra sua movēre haud potest!

Valerius, “Casina mea,” inquit, “tibi in hōc lectō manendum est! perīculōsum enim est nōbīs talia ōmina contemnere! mihi nunc ē domō exeundum est, quod mē decet augurem vel haruspicem quaerere.”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • As I mentioned above, I’d really love your feedback if you have experience, good or bad, with any of the software we’re considering for Version Beta.
  • Were you surprised by anything you learned about Roman laws regarding slavery?
  • What about Valerius’ and Caelia’s rections to Casina’s morbus?
  • And what about Casina’s own reaction? Why do you suppose she tries to minimize what’s happening to her?

Tune in next time, when we’ll address these questions and others … and when we’ll find out whether Valerius was successful in his quest for an augur or a haruspex. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

Next Steps?

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I’m afraid this post will be a bit disjointed, with two minor elements and one bigger one. We’ll start our next round of Tres Columnae Project stories tomorrow – which I know may disappoint some of you who like your daily dose of the adventures of Lucius, Valeria, Lollia, Caius, Prima, Secunda, Cnaeus, etc.

But instead of focusing on “core” stories today, I want to share some amazing work from our piloting subscribers, Ann M’s students at The Marist School in England. Prepare to be amazed and impressed by the multimedia stories they’ve created about Rīdiculus mūs through the Tar Heel Reader project. The direct link is http://tarheelreader.org/tag/trescolumnae/ – I’d love to know which one is your favorite before I tell you mine.

If you’ve been interested in Instructure, the company that developed the learning-management platform we’ve used for the Tres Columnae Lectio Prima Demo course, you might be interested in this very positive review by Michael Feldstein, a well-known name in the e-learning world. One quick quote from Feldstein’s piece:

If I had to summarize Instructure’s strategy in one sentence, it would be “They use the lessons learned by consumer web companies to clear the clutter out of LMS software design and business model.” They’re not focusing particularly on open education or analytics or any other hot topics in online education, although they are aware of these and do pay some attention to them. Rather, they are looking at core use cases and trying to make them as simple as possible, throwing out some outdated LMS design assumptions in the process.

As you know, I’ve become a big fan of Instructure myself … and I’ll be an even bigger fan once they figure out how to implement their Quizzes and “branching” lessons more fully.

Finally, as July begins, and with it the second half of this calendar year, I’ve been in a reflective mood about the past, the present, and the future. So I took some time yesterday to think about what I would want for the Tres Columnae Project, and for myself, in a “perfect” world in the next several months. Actually, I realized I wasn’t describing a “perfect” world – I was actually describing a vision that, meā quidem sententiā, is very achievable in our actual world.

  • For the project itself, I see a “finished” version of Cursus Primus – but I need to define “finished,” since in one way, TC won’t ever be finished as long as contributors continue to add new content to it. By “finished,” I think I mean that
    • the core stories are all posted for Lectiōnēs I-XXX;
    • comprehension exercises for all of them are in place;
    • quid novī explanations are in place for all major grammatical concepts;
    • at least 1-2 forms practice exercises and/or quizzes are in place for each Quid Novī;
    • we’ve finished and posted the correlation of our “core” vocabulary to other “core” vocabulary lists, such as those for the GCSE, O-levels, and A-levels in the British national system; and
    • we’ve contributed to a conversation among American Latinists that will, sooner than later, lead to an agreement on a “core” vocabulary list. (It’s shocking and scandalous to me that we send thousands of children every year to take high-stakes examinations like the Advanced Placement Exam, but there’s no way to know what vocabulary items will or won’t be glossed for them! I commend the AP® Test Development Committee for the work it’s currently doing to develop common standards for other facets of that examination, but it does seem odd to me that, while they’re working hard on a “common language” for rhetorical and grammatical terms, no one has apparently even raised the more basic “common language” issue of core vocabulary.)
  • There are well over 1000 paid subscribers – including a large core of Standard and Premium subscribers who contribute regularly. Even the Basic subscribers are frequently choosing to make contributions, and some of them are choosing to upgrade their subscriptions so that it’s more convenient for them to contribute. We’ve begun to achieve viral growth, since (meā quidem sententiā) the Tres Columnae Project should generate some network effects – the more who participate, the more engaging and attractive the experience should be for others. (My favorite illustration of network effects is to imagine a world where one person has a fax machine. Not much incentive there – after all, whom could you send faxes to? Or receive them from?)
  • We’ve successfully convinced large numbers of homeschooling families to join TC. No longer do they need to purchase printed material of dubious quality, and no longer is there a need for parents (who don’t know any Latin themselves) to worry or hesitate if their children express an interest in Latin.
  • We’ve also convinced a large number of teachers and schools to provide subscriptions for their students (or to encourage their students to subscribe). In particular, we’ve been able to offer some relief for young teachers, for teachers with very diverse classes, for teachers with multiple-level classes, and for students who need some extra help and support with reading Latin.
  • We’ve helped to change the conversations among Latin teachers. No more “my method is the only way” or “your method is wrong” – instead, people talk to each other, listen to each other, and seek the good in each other’s approaches. (Yes, I know this is a dream! But bear with me!)
  • The first wave of TC subscribers will soon overwhelm, in a good way, college and university Classics departments. Professors, surprised and delighted by the presence of so many well-prepared students who read Latin fluently and can play the “grammar game” well (and, in fact, can play it Latīnē as well as Anglicē), will be compelled to use more oral Latin and more hands-on, collaborative activities in their classes. But those who prefer the “hard-core” Classical authors are surprised and pleased to discover a group of learners who are well-prepared, both in reading skills and in cultural background, to read and engage with those authors – and to do so in a way that hasn’t happened within the living memory of the profession.
  • We’ve been able to implement our planned royalty system, and some of our subscribers are receiving enough revenue from products based on their “stuff” to cover – or more than cover – their subscription costs. And I hope we’re able to make significant contributions to the profession – and the study – of Classics around the world, and to other important causes.
  • We’ve provided a model for thoughtful teachers and learners in other academic areas, inspiring them, as well, to escape from the “factory model” school and to develop interesting alternatives.
  • In our success, we’ve held on to our core valuea and have truly built a Joyful Learning Community.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of these goals? Realistic, or utterly wishful? Worthy, or unworthy? I’d really love to know how the community feels about the project before we go too much farther with it.
  • What are your goals for the upcoming school year? To what extent does Tres Columnae fit into your goals?
  • And what do you think of Ann’s students’ stories? Personally, I love the Tar Heel Reader project, and I think there are all kinds of fruitful connections and collaborations that we can develop between “them” and “us.” But I’d really like to know what you think.

Tune in next time, when we’ll begin a new series of posts about a set of stories we haven’t yet featured … and a character who may have been feeling a bit overlooked. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on July 1, 2010 at 2:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Live from ACL, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As you read this post, I’m on my way home from the 2010 American Classical League Institute. I’ll have a longer report about the Monday sessions another time; at the moment, I’m eager to get home. So let me just say that the typical comment at closing banquets – that the Institute feels like a family reunion every year – has always been true for me. What a great way to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, all the while knowing that those friends share your passionate commitment to teaching, and to the languages, cultures, and enduring legacy of the Greco-Roman world. It’s easy to lose sight of that, at times, when one is arguing over methodology!

For those lectōrēs cārissimī who are also traveling today, I wish you safe travels and a happy return home, and I hope to see all of you (and many more) at next year’s Institute in Minneapolis.

Speaking of families, we’ll continue our wedding-themed stories today with this one, in which young Lūcius is sad about Lollia’s wedding.  It, and its sequel below, will soon be available at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site, but at the moment I’m eager to get home, so I beg your forbearance for a few hours.  I’ll get those links updated and include them in tomorrow’s post!  Meanwhile, here we go:

Lūcius Valerius tamen, postquam Marcus Vipsānius Lolliam uxōrem dūxit, trīstis per viās urbis Herculāneī errāre solēbat, quod Lollia sibi magnō cordī erat. nōnnūllōs post diēs Fabiō magistrō in viā ambulantī forte occurrit et, “salvē, mī magister veterrime,” inquit. Fabius, quī rēs maximī mōmentī in animō volvēbat, “heus!” exclāmāvit, “quis mē appellat?” mox tamen Lūcium agnōvit et “mī discipule, mī Lūcī, quid agis?” laetus rogāvit.

postquam Lūcius cūrās suās Fabiō explicāvit, ille subrīdēns, “heus!” respondit, “iuvenēs saepe sē propter amōrem ita vexant! tē tamen haud decēbat illam Lolliam dūcere. nōnne enim cliēns patris tuī est Lollius, et vir pauperrimus? tē tamen haud decēbat illam concūbīnam habēre, quod cīvis est, et quod atāvus erat poēta et comoedus nōtissimus. fortasse ancillam illī puellae similem emere poteris? nōnne cum ancillā sīcut puellā lūdere et cūrās tuās sīc levāre poteris, ut āit ille poēta Catullus?”

Lūcius tamen, “num tū discipulōs versūs Catullī legere nunc iam sinis?” attonitus rogāvit. Fabius rīdēns, “haudquāquam sinō!” respondit, “tū tamen, quod iuvenis iam es, sine dubiō Catullum legis!” Lūcius cōnsēnsit sed “num pater meus pecūniam in hoc dabit?” rogāvit. “fortasse, sī ancilla tōtam domum ūnā hōrā purgāre poterit!” inquit Fabius rīdēns, “nōnne rēctē dīcis?” respondit Lūcius. “pater enim meus cum assēs tum līberōs dīligenter custōdit!” tum Lūcius et Fabius cachinnīs sē trādunt. tandem Fabius, “praetereā, mī Lūcī, cum iuvenēs dolent, fābulae multō meliōrēs sunt quam ancillae. nōnne ōlim, cum discipulus meus erās, fābulam leōnis, quī mūrem dūcere volēbat, tibi nārrāvī?”

And then, of course, here’s the story that Fabius tells to cheer his young friend up (grātiās maximās to our friend and collaborator Laura G, who suggested the underlying fable):

“ōlim,” inquit Fabius, “leō, per silvās ambulās, forte laqueō captus, auxilium magnā vōce quaerēbat. cui appropinquāvit mūs minimus et ‘mī leō,’ attonitus rogāvit, ‘cūr tē ita vexās? cūr vehementer fremis?’ leō trīstis et īrātus laqueum dēmōnstrāvit et, ‘mī mūs,’ supplex rogāvit, ‘nōnne mē adiuvāre potes? tū enim, quī minimus es, dentibus laqueum abrōdere potes. sī mē in hōc tantō discrīmine adiuveris, beneficiōrum tuōrum semper meminerō! semper tibi beneficia libēns reddam, mē sī līberāveris!’ mūs libenter cōnsēnsit et mox rem cōnfēcit. tum ‘mī leō,’ inquit, ‘nōnne mē adiuvāre nunc iam potes? mihi enim est puella pulcherrima sed innūpta, quam nūllī mūrēs dūcere volunt, quod nihil dōtis praebēre possum. nōnne tū fīliam meam dūcere potes?’ leō attonitus, postquam rem cōgitāvit, ‘certē, mī amīce,’ respondit. ‘caelebs enim sum, et leaenam dignam haud invenīre possum. praetereā, haud opus dōtis mihi est, quod leō sum! quid mihi dōtis? libenter igitur fīliam tuam dūcam.’

“diēs tamen nūptiārum cum advēnit, rēs dīra accidit. leō enim, ad lectum nūptiālem prōgressus, uxōrem suam vidēre nōn poterat, quod tam parva erat. eam pede suō forte pressit et contrīvit! lūgēbant omnēs, sed frūstrā, quod nūpta erat mortua!”

haec verba locūtus Fabius tacēbat. Lūcius tamen, “hercle!” respondit, “rēctē dīcis, mī Fabī! etiamsī Lolliam dīligō – et proptereā quod Lolliam dīligō – mē haud decet nūptiās Lolliae cupere! tibi grātiās maximās agō, quod semper mihi optimē suādēs!”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of the interactions of Lucius and Fabius?
  • What do you think of the fable itself?
  • And, perhaps more important, if you are involved in the wider profession of Classics and/or language teaching, what lessons might we draw from the fable? Are there ways it might guide us to avoid some of our more petty disagreements, while reaching a creative synthesis on the really important ones?

Tune in next time for more thoughts about the Institute, and a story in which members of the mouse-family talk about weddings in their world. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Instructure: A Review, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Just a few more notes about Instructure today before we move on to something different.

The more I use the rubric generator, the more I like it. I created a V-E-R-Y simple rubric for written OR multimedia responses to questions, which I originally was only going to use for blog-post response to assignments like this one. But I realized that the rubric – or a better one – would work equally well for Virtual Seminar responses and even for reflective pieces like this one about English derivatives. Net time involved: almost none. In Instructure, once you’ve made a rubric, you can “search for a rubric” to find the ones you’ve made, select one, and either use as-is or adapt it. What a fantastic feature!

In case you’re wondering, the reason why all the quizzes and surveys in the demo course are “practice” rather than “graded” is because only enrolled students in a course can take “graded” quizzes. There are some good and obvious reasons for that, aren’t there? But since the demo course doesn’t have any real students – and since I wanted you all to be able to see what the quizzes looked like – it made sense to me to set things up so that you could all see and experience the quizzes easily. In the “real” Tres Columnae materials, we’ll obviously have graded quizzes for the most part. For “quizzes” that are really practice exercises, participants will be able to retake them unlimited times; for those that genuinely are diagnostic, I’ll set a limit on retakes … but I’ll also plan to use Instructure’s “question groups” feature so that you, the learner, get similar-but-different questions if you do a retake. (And I’m hoping a question bank or quiz-copy feature will be in place sooner rather than later!)

It’s also almost effortless to upload a file like the family tree of Familia Lollia on this page, and to include it – or an external image like the one of Lollius, Maccia, and their children on that same page – in a Page or Assignment. It’s a bit less obvious how to do this in a Quiz question, but if you switch views to see the HTML, you can copy and paste the relevant code pretty easily. (And yes, the problem I mentioned yesterday with embedding multiple images in the same Page or Assignment seems to be continuing, but the workaround still works just fine. Still, I’ll mention it to the folks at Instructure and see if it’s a known issue, or if it might possibly be a browser-and-hardware configuration problem.)

I realize I didn’t mention Instructure’s powerful and flexible Modules feature yesterday … largely because I haven’t had the opportunity to use it yet. After all, Lectiō Prīma is fairly small; it doesn’t really need to be subdivided into smaller segments. But if you do use Modules to organize a course, Instructure lets you set up what it calls “criteria and prerequisites” for accessing a Module. If you think back to blog posts like this one, in which I’ve talked about the idea of different paces or pathways through the material for different learners, you can probably see the utility of this feature. For example, after a Quid Novī explanation, we can offer learners a link to attempt to bypass the rest of the module if they truly grasp the material. That way, if you already understand, for example, the nōmen / verbum distinction, there’s no need for you to work through the rest of the material in that sequence; you can simply take the relevant quiz and, if you pass, unlock the the next module and move on. Simple, effective differentiation … and without any pain at all for the teacher in the classroom.

Instructure also has the ability to create Sections of a larger course, which I think we could use for school-based groups to work together with their own teacher. And it’s possible to copy a whole Course, and to make changes to the copy … so the dream of customized Itinera through the material won’t have to stay a dream for much longer.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • If you’ve had a chance to play around with the Tres Columnae Demo course on Instructure, what did you think?
  • For those of you who’ve signed up for an Instructure account of your own and started playing with that, what did you think?
  • Whether you’ve seen Instructure “live” or not, what do you think of my descriptions of its features?
  • What features did you find especially interesting or helpful?
  • Were there any that left you scratching your head and wondering why?
  • And are there questions about Instructure you’d like to ask me, as an external fan, rather than asking someone inside the company? If so, I’d be glad to try to answer them.

Tune in next time, when we’ll return our focus to the Tres Columnae storyline, and to the long-promised wedding of Valeria and Vipsānius. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.