Longa et Brevia, Gravia et Levia I

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in: on September 15, 2010 at 10:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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New Beginnings, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, one possible use for the Tres Columnae Project materials is as a self-paced review for students returning to Latin. Of course, we’d be thrilled if you also decided to use the materials with your Latin I students, and we’d be ecstatic if you decided to use them in place of a traditional textbook. But for many teachers and students in Latin II and above, the beginning of the year seems to hold a special dread. You know you need to do some sort of review before jumping into new material, but what’s the best way?

  • Some teachers go through an undifferentiated and lengthy process of reteaching everything (or “everything important”) from Latin I. Depending on how you do this, and how much mastery of “old stuff” you want from your students, this can take weeks or months! Of course, by the end, many students will be utterly bored and others will still be completely lost … but you, the teacher, can pat yourself on the back because you “did a thorough review.” I have often been that teacher! 🙂
  • Other teachers attempt to diagnose their students’ areas of strength and weakness, then devise review activities that meet those needs. I’ve been that teacher as well! The problem, of course, is devising the activities and finding the materials. You don’t want to do exactly the same work that the students did in Latin I, but you may not have anything else to use. And you can’t very well re-issue the Latin I textbooks; after all, the current Latin I students are using those!
  • Still other teachers jump into new material right away and pause, as needed, to review things that turn out to be problematic for their students. I don’t think I’ve ever been that teacher :-), but I admire their bravery. The problem with this approach, for me at least, is that I don’t like unpleasant surprises. I would much rather find out in advance that 65% of my class need to review a particular grammatical feature; that way, I can plan ahead and provide them with what they need. An impromptu adjustment in midstream of a lesson can be exciting, but it can quickly deteriorate into “I shall lecture while you take notes, then yell at you because you can’t apply the information from the notes.” I prefer a world with less yelling; it’s much less stressful for everyone concerned! 🙂

In place of these common options, I think the Tres Columnae materials, especially the ones that we’ve made available for Lectiōnēs I-XX on the Version Alpha Wiki site, can provide a really positive alternative. Of course, we’d love for you to choose a paid subscription for your students (those will be available by the end of this month), but we think that even the free materials would provide your upper-level students with an enjoyable, engaging, and different approach to review. Here’s one possible pathway through the materials:

  1. Obviously, if they’ve retained any vocabulary or reading strategies, Latin II students would find the fabellae and fābulae of Lectiōnēs I-II supremely easy to read. That effortless direct comprehension is a big boost in confidence! If you want to check their comprehension, you might use some of the exercises in the Instructure Public Demo course; students can’t keep a permanent record of their scores in the demo, of course, but they can print out or save their results for you to look at.
  2. Depending on the textbook and pacing, your students might not have been exposed to the genitive case in Latin I, so they’d run into “something new” ­– but something easy to understand, and something that hooks a lot of other things together for them – early on. We’ll have a lot of genitive exercises (and even some, designed for my own students, that review other cases) as early as Lectiō II in the “real” exercises and quizzes. You might want to see about subscriptions for your classes, but you’re certainly welcome to make up your own “stuff” for use with your students.
  3. Lectiōnēs I-XX are, of course, written in the present tense. They introduce passive, deponent, and subjunctive forms along the way, so there might be something new for your students. If you want to review other tenses, you might ask your students to rewrite a story in the tense (or tenses) that made the most sense; they could even compare versions and discuss different choices they had made. We’d love for you to Submit these to the project, of course, but you could also keep them and use them just with your own classes if that made more sense to you.
  4. Once you finished the formal review process, you might have your students use the Tres Columnae stories for extensive-reading practice. We’ll provide comprehension exercises for our subscribers, of course, but you could certainly make up your own … or just have your students make summaries of your own design if you want an “accountability” check.
  5. Along the way, you might have students participate in a Virtual Seminar or two that seemed interesting. If you don’t want to subscribe, you might just share the opening question with them (those will be freely visible to everybody) and have them respond to you, or to each other, by email.

In any case, we think you’ll end up with a much more engaging, thoughtful, and enjoyable review for your upper-level Latin students, and with a lot less time, effort, and angst on your part.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What have you typically done for review with your Latin II students?
  • Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the results?
  • What do you think of this possible way to incorporate Tres Columnae materials in a review for upper-level students?
  • Can you see other, different, better ways to use Tres Columnae materials with an upper-level class?
  • We think it would be especially helpful to use these materials with a combined class; in fact, my fall-semester Latin II-and-III class last year was a big inspiration for me in that regard. What do you think about that?

Tune in next time, when we’ll explore your responses and look at ways to use the Tres Columnae materials with a beginning class. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 5, 2010 at 1:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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quo contendimus? V

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I hope yesterday’s post wasn’t too repetitive for you all! In looking over it, I was afraid I’d simply rehashed what I said on Tuesday and Wednesday; if so, I hope you’ll forgive me. We’ll definitely try to break some new ground today as we consider this critical point about the exercises and quizzes for Lectiō Secunda:

But we think there might be some steps we skipped. We’d really like to know what you think, too.

If you think back to last week’s posts, especially this one and this one about Differentiated Instruction, you probably realize what I think is missing. There seems to be an assumption that everyone will need to do all parts of every exercise – in other words, that everyone is starting at the same point (knowing nothing about the nominative-genitive distinction) and will need to travel the same route (all the exercises) at more or less the same pace in order to reach the goal. Of course, that’s probably not true.

  • Some learners may come to us with prior experience, either with Latin or with another language (German, Russian, Polish, Greek, …) with noun inflections.
  • Some may be “quick learners” who grasp everything almost instantaneously, needing little practice.
  • Some may struggle with the concept and need some additional practice.

So how does the Tres Columnae Project accommodate different types of learners? Of course, if you’re using the project materials in a “regular” classroom, the teacher can obviously decide which exercises – or how much of a given exercise – to assign. In doing so, the teacher will most likely consider the needs of the learner … although, of course, it’s not necessary for the teacher to do so. Some teachers might well ask all their students to proceed through the materials in lockstep and according to a fixed, unalterable plan developed by the teacher. (We hope none of you will choose to do that, but we do have to admit it’s possible.)

For our homeschooled learners, a parent could obviously play the deciding role if necessary. Of course, many homeschooling families choose that option because they want their children to develop autonomy and ownership of their learning. So in many cases the learners themselves could fill the regulating, differentiating function. But what about learners who don’t have much self-confidence? And what if there was a school, or a homeschooling cooperative, or a group of adult learners using the Tres Columnae Project materials without a trained teacher? In other words, is it possible to differentiate instruction effectively in the absence of an instructor?

We certainly don’t think that such a situation is ideal, but we recognize the possibility. We also recognize that, over time, some young or inexperienced teachers might want a helping hand as they work to devise the right learning paths for their students. So, while the Tres Columnae Project can’t do all the work of matching the task to the learner, it can do quite a bit to help teachers and learners choose appropriate tasks, levels of difficulty, and amounts of work. Here are some ways that can happen even as early as Lectiō Secunda.

If you think back to Wednesday’s list of the existing instructional activities for Lectiō Secunda, you’ll probably remember that we begin with

Fabella Prīma, which contains sentences that introduce genitive case forms in a simple, highly comprehensible way

and we continue with

Quid Novī? I, which helps learners make a comparison between the genitive endings and English possessive markers.

At the end of the quid novī? we can easily invite our learners to rank their comfort with the idea of genitive-case nouns on a scale from 1-5, where 1 is something like “I really have no idea what you just said” and 5 means “I grasp the concept and can recognize the forms easily.” Then it’s just a matter of developing suggested ITINERA (small ones, in this case) for the different levels of self-rating. For example,

  • If you chose 1 or 2, we might provide some more examples of English possessives and Latin genitives, then an exercise where our learners choose the right Latin form (nominative or genitive) to complete a Latin sentence … possibly even with an English version provided. For example, given Lūcius fīlius _____ est (Lucius is Valerius’ son), the learner would choose between Valerius and Valeriī. In previous posts like this one, we’ve considered the types of feedback such an exercise can provide for right and wrong answers. It’s possible to set up exercises like this such that they automatically end themselves after a learner has a certain number of consecutive right answers; we might do that, or we might count on the learners themselves to decide when they are ready to move on.
  • If you chose 3 or 4, your ITER would skip over the examples and proceed directly to the exercise … or perhaps a similar one without an English prompt. (We’d probably include sentences without English prompts later in the “1 or 2” exercise in any case.) Again, the exercise might end itself after the learner had a certain number of answers correct in a row, or might leave the learners themselves in charge.
  • For a 5, the ITER would lead directly to a self-checking quiz similar in structure to the last sentences in the exercise for the “3 or 4” ITER. If you, the learner, did not demonstrate proficiency on the quiz, its feedback would suggest that you go back to one of the other ITINERA … again, depending on your overall score.

While we assume that most learners know themselves well and would tend to rate themselves accurately over time, we also recognize that there are a lot of not-so-confident learners out there – not to mention a lot of formerly-confident learners who have been led to take a passive stance by poor school experiences. Like a released prisoner adjusting to freedom, such learners may need a “halfway house” with a bit more structure for a while … and the Tres Columnae Project can provide it for them. After a while, though, we think our learners will be more than capable of managing their own learning and assessing their own progress. But we certainly encourage all of our teachers and learners to use the structures and supports for as long as necessary, and we definitely want teacher-subscribers to play an active role in guiding, assessing, and encouraging the learners in their classes.

quid respondētis, amicī?

  • What do you think of our model for differentiating instruction in pursuit of our common goal for all learners?
  • What do you think of the goal itself?
  • Do you get the picture, or would you like some more specific examples of how the  Tres Columnae Project can use differentiated assignments in the context of a Joyful Learning Community?

Tune in on Monday, when we’ll respond to your comments, wrap up this thread, and preview the next few topics for blog posts. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on July 31, 2010 at 12:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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quo contendimus? IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I’m very sorry there wasn’t a post here yesterday! Both Wednesday and Thursday were busy days for the family, with many demands both on my time and on everybody’s favorite computer. I was also both physically and emotionally drained, and it seems I was fighting off a summer cold or some other minor health issue. Anyway, things are a bit calmer today, so I hope to be able to catch up a bit.

I’m excited to see, from a recent thread on the Latinteach listserv, that so many people are interested in teaching Latin to upper-elementary and middle-school aged children. While there are all kinds of great materials out there already, I hope that some of these learners – and their teachers – will be interested in exploring the Tres Columnae Project. I think we can provide a really exciting, engaging alternative, especially if

  • the learners are meeting after school and don’t want a “traditional” textbook;
  • the teacher or facilitator doesn’t want to deal with a lot of paperwork;
  • there isn’t a lot of money available to buy books, packets, photocopies, or other materials; and
  • the learners would like to make and share beautiful things as part of the learning process.

If you know anyone who would like to start such a program – or if you’ve been thinking about such a thing yourself – I hope you’ll take a look at Tres Columnae and tell us what you think. We’d be happy to help you build an ITER through the materials that would meet your needs and those of your favorite young learners.

Of course, we firmly believe that the Tres Columnae materials are for people of every age. We certainly don’t claim to be in the timeless league of fairy tales, folktales, and fables, but we do aim to have universal appeal on many different levels. We’d love to know what you think, both of our goal and of how well we’ve reached it so far.

Anyway, at the end of Wednesday’s post, after I listed the instructional materials that we’ve already developed for Lectiō Secunda of the Tres Columnae project, I asked us all to think about these questions and issues:

  • I hope you like what you see so far … but if you don’t, please let me know.
  • There are obviously some missing steps – or at least I think there are some missing steps.
  • Before I tell you what else we’re planning, though, I’d love to hear from you. What other steps in the instructional sequence do you think there need to be for learners who use the Tres Columnae materials as a supplement, or even a primary text, in classroom-based instruction?
  • Are there any additional (or different) steps that might be needed for a learner who is using the Tres Columnae materials in a homeschool or self-study environment without a trained Latin teacher?

I want to deal with the “missing step” and “other step” issues today. First, though, let’s step back and consider the goals of Lectiō Secunda as I listed them on the relevant page on the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site, and in earlier posts this week:

  1. directly comprehend a Latin sentence;
  2. distinguish Latin nominative and genitive case nouns;
  3. continue to recognize and explore English derivatives of Latin words;
  4. continue to compare housing and family structure in Roman world with our own housing and family structure; and
  5. continue to understand, analyze, and explore the concept of pietās.

The exercises and quizzes I listed on Wednesday are all about Goal 2, distinguishing and using Latin nominative and genitive case nouns. We think this large goal needs to be broken down into a number of simpler steps:

  • First, we need some examples of sentences with genitives – sentences that our learners can comprehend directly without explicit knowledge of the genitive forms.
  • Then, after a bit, we need to point out the new words to them.
  • We’d like the learners, rather than “us,” to be the ones who discover the genitive endings.
  • Then we think our learners will need to practice distinguishing nominatives and accusatives with several different kinds of exercises.
  • Since distinguishing the forms is not an end in itself, but a tool to greater Skill and Understanding, we want to practice nominatives and genitives in the context of reading comprehension exercises.
  • Then we want our learners to be able to create sentences and stories that use the nominative and genitive forms.
  • Along the way, we believe our learners will also develop some deeper Understandings about the structure of Latin, and perhaps even about languages in general.

But we think there might be some steps we skipped. We’d really like to know what you think, too.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in tomorrow for a few of the missing steps we’ve already identified. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on July 30, 2010 at 4:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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quo contendimus? III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today, as promised, we’ll look at how a sequence of exercises, quizzes, and explanations in the Tres Columnae Project can be designed to fulfill the second of the important goals for Lectiō Secunda. As a reminder, the goals are that the learners will:

  1. directly comprehend a Latin sentence;
  2. distinguish Latin nominative and genitive case nouns;
  3. continue to recognize and explore English derivatives of Latin words;
  4. continue to compare housing and family structure in Roman world with our own housing and family structure; and
  5. continue to understand, analyze, and explore the concept of pietās.

We’ll look more closely at our approach to Goals 3, 4, and 5 in posts later this week.

As you know if you’ve taken a close look at the Version Alpha Wiki site, the sample materials available for Lectiō Secunda are

  1. Fabella Prīma, which contains sentences that introduce genitive case forms in a simple, highly comprehensible way;
  2. Quid Novī? I, which helps learners make a comparison between the genitive endings and English possessive markers;
  3. Fabella Secunda, which has a lot more examples of genitives in context;
  4. some sample Quaestiōnēs in draft form, including a draft self-assessment;
  5. quid novī about the question words quis and cuius;
  6. this quid novī explanation and this one about declension patterns;
  7. an exercise that practices the application of nominative and genitive forms; and
  8. a fābula longa that practices the new forms extensively.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • I hope you like what you see so far … but if you don’t, please let me know.
  • There are obviously some missing steps – or at least I think there are some missing steps.
  • Before I tell you what else we’re planning, though, I’d love to hear from you. What other steps in the instructional sequence do you think there need to be for learners who use the Tres Columnae materials as a supplement, or even a primary text, in classroom-based instruction?
  • Are there any additional (or different) steps that might be needed for a learner who is using the Tres Columnae materials in a homeschool or self-study environment without a trained Latin teacher?

Tune in next time, when we’ll look at your suggestions and our ideas. We’ll also take a closer look at the process of actually creating exercises, quizzes, and such. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on July 28, 2010 at 4:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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quo contendimus? II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! At the end of yesterday’s post, I listed some possible directions we could go this week:

  • We could certainly look at some more sample stories if you’d like.
  • We could consider some more specific examples of differentiated lessons, both with and without the Tres Columnae materials.
  • We could consider the things you like and don’t like about the Version Alpha Wiki site, with a view to planning the “look and feel” and the features of Version Beta.
  • We could consider ways that you might use the Tres Columnae materials in a “real” school or classroom setting, especially if you have limited access to computer technology.
  • We could look at the Tres Columnae exercises and quizzes from the perspective of differentiated instruction.

Apparently many lectōrēs fidēlissimī are busy – or busy relaxing, which is important in the summer, too 🙂 – and don’t have a lot of suggestions. So I think we’ll start with the last item on the list and look for ways to incorporate the others. That’s important because I need to do some significant work on the exercises and quizzes for the first few Lectiōnēs anyway … especially since our pilot school in England will be using those materials before too long!

For those of us who subscribe to the Latinteach listserv, there’s been a very interesting thread recently about “checking homework” that has also addressed the purposes and goals of homework assignments, and of the assignments we teachers give our students in general. In my own case (and this may not be true for everyone), I don’t think it’s possible for me to make good decisions about specific assignments or strategies unless I have a clear sense of the overall goal. Different goals can lead to radically different needs and approaches!

With my face-to-face students, I want them all to experience real success as readers of Latin and to develop a deep Understanding of the language and culture, so I prioritize reading tasks and an inductive-to-deductive approach to grammatical elements as I’ve described in posts like this one. I don’t think culture and history can be separated from the language, so I prefer to have my students think about cultural and historical issues in the context of their reading; we do, of course, read and talk about cultural background information that’s provided in our textbook, but I don’t give “culture lectures” or “history lectures” very often. Hands-on, creative work is important to me, and so are opportunities for students to share their work (especially stories they’ve written) with each other. In a perfect world, with 100% efficiency in class time, I probably would not assign much outside homework; in the world as it stands, I do have students practice choosing, and sometimes making, appropriate grammatical forms in context, and they also do some vocabulary work outside of class.

When I first envisioned the Tres Columnae Project, I was looking for a way to make this work easier and more satisfying for my students and to give them a safe, self-paced way to do extensive reading outside of regular class hours. I also wanted to save precious in-class time and energy by automating the process of checking homework; with self-correcting exercises, students know right away how they’ve done, and I can easily check to see who is having difficulty with any given concept. Having spent a number of years developing and polishing written versions of assignments like these, I had a pretty good idea of what I want the “TC” exercises to look like. But it’s still a challenge to figure out the details … especially since we want to make sure our learners have Ownership of the whole process.

As you know if you’re a long-time reader, you can see some sample exercises and quizzes for Lectiō Prīma at our Instructure Public Demo course. I’ve talked about Instructure, and their Canvas learning management system, in this post and this one. Today I want to start walking through the steps I use to create a learning pathway for material like Lectiō Secunda of the project. If you see an easier, better, or different way to do anything I describe, please tell me! This is important work for the future of the project, but it can also be exhausting – especially with the extreme heat in my face-to-face world, and with the cold (or whatever it is!) that’s been slowing me down for the past few days.

As you know if you’ve looked at the relevant page on the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site, the goals for Lectiō Secunda are that the learner will

  1. directly comprehend a Latin sentence;
  2. distinguish Latin nominative and genitive case nouns;
  3. continue to recognize and explore English derivatives of Latin words;
  4. continue to compare housing and family structure in Roman world with our own housing and family structure; and
  5. continue to understand, analyze, and explore the concept of pietās.

Since the fabellae and fābulae of Lectiō Secunda are obviously designed to work on Goal 1, it’s possible that some learners won’t need any extra practice. Others, though, might want to check – or at least self-assess – their comprehension of the stories. So we’ll need at least one self-assessment opportunity (probably one per story) and some comprehension questions. These questions, in turn, need to address a variety of learning and processing styles: at a minimum, we need some that are verbally oriented and some that are visual. Given backend software that incorporates question banks, it will be fairly easy to rearrange these questions into different exercises and quizzes. For example, we might have an ITER that features visually-oriented material and one that features word-based questions, followed by a common assessment that includes both types of prompts.

Goal 2 will obviously involve a sequence of quid novī? explanations, guided practice, independent practice, and assessment (including a self-correcting quiz and a self-assessment prompt). We’ll look at those in more detail in tomorrow’s post.

Goal 3 will be similar in form to the equivalent exercise in Lectiō Prīma, but it will involve the core vocabulary for Lectiō Secunda. So we need to establish exactly which words are “core” and give our participants an opportunity to think about how well they know and can use them.

Goals 4 and 5 will be addressed in the Virtual Seminar, which isn’t exactly an exercise. On the other hand, if we send our learners out to read difficult background material (or material with an obvious slant or bias) on the Web or in print, we should probably give them a safe, private, and self-correcting way to check their understanding.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • When I was a new teacher, my longterm goal was “finishing the textbook” and my shorter-term goals were things like “find something interesting for the students in X period class to do today.” It’s taken me quite a while to get to this “backward design” approach. Where are you in your planning, and what do you think of this approach?
  • What types of self-correcting exercises would you want to see as a learner at this point in the Tres Columnae Project? Are there any types you would not want to see?
  • What exactly do you think students should be able to do to demonstrate that they have met Goals 1 and 2 for the Lectiō? In other words, how would you measure their achievement of the goals?
  • Are there other important goals that should be – but aren’t – included here?

Since this post is getting a bit long, I’ll stop here. Tune in next time for your responses and for my first attempts at Goals 1 and 2. We’ll probably have more to say about Goal 2 on Thursday, and we’ll save Goal 3 for Friday. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

quo contendimus?

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! et grātiās maximās omnibus lectōribus fidēlissimīs! I really enjoyed our conversation last week about differentiated instruction in the pursuit of a common curriculum or set of learning goals. It was great to hear (or at least read) so many of your voices, both in comments here and on the CambridgeLatin and Latin-BestPractices listservs. It was also really interesting to see how much we, the broader community of Latin teachers, seem to agree on:

  • we obviously want our students to learn Latin, and to enjoy learning;
  • we know that different students learn differently;
  • we recognize that learners will have different levels of mastery of any given skill, and that they’ll come to us with different amounts and types of background knowledge; and
  • we’re struggling, like teachers in many other areas, with bridging the gap between what we want for our students and what we’ve “traditionally” done to reach them.

I put “traditionally” in quotation marks because tradition is a long and diverse thing. I would think that, if we could call up a Roman grammaticus or rhetor and have a conversation about pedagogy, he (sorry, but it would most likely be he, especially if it’s a grammaticus or rhetor) would be astounded by a lot of our Industrial-Age assumptions about teaching. If you work with students one-on-one or in a small group, as Roman teachers did, and if you work with them over a period of years, it’s hard to blame “the system” or “those parents” for gaps in your students’ knowledge! It also wouldn’t make very much sense to forge blindly ahead, introducing new knowledge and skills, when your learners hadn’t yet grasped the foundational, prerequisite knowledge. Most likely even a nineteenth-century American teacher (especially one who worked in a multi-age one-room schoolhouse) would be amazed by our systemic lack of flexibility and attention to individual students.

I can see several possible directions to take this week’s posts, but I’d like a bit of advice from you, the Tres Columnae community. What would you like to talk and think about next?

  • We could certainly look at some more sample stories if you’d like.
  • We could consider some more specific examples of differentiated lessons, both with and without the Tres Columnae materials.
  • We could consider the things you like and don’t like about the Version Alpha Wiki site, with a view to planning the “look and feel” and the features of Version Beta.
  • We could consider ways that you might use the Tres Columnae materials in a “real” school or classroom setting, especially if you have limited access to computer technology.
  • We could look at the Tres Columnae exercises and quizzes from the perspective of differentiated instruction.

If I don’t hear from you, I’ll probably do the last of these – largely because I need to do some significant work on the exercises and quizzes for those first few Lectiōnēs anyway! But if you do want to talk about any of the other issues at any point, just let me know. I’d love to know what would be most interesting and helpful for you right now, that odd period of time when some teachers are imminently preparing to return to school and others may have a month or more of “freedom” left.

Tune in next time for more. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus. Thanks again for all the great comments and conversations!

Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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.

Instructure: A Review, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I hope you all had a peaceful and happy weekend and, for those who celebrate it, a very happy Father’s Day! (Mine was wonderful … and you probably noticed the father-and-children themes in last week’s post, which were not accidental in their timing.) Today we’ll begin to take a look at Instructure, the new online learning management system that our friend and collaborator Laura G recommended I take a look at. You can see her review here if you’d like, and a bit about the history of the company here. I was really impressed by the way the founders designed the features of the site – they actually asked potential users what features they would want first, and only then (after they knew what their customers wanted) did they start building the system. And they continue to be very responsive and open to suggestions from users and potential users.

I actually had a two-hour live demo from one of the company’s founders last Tuesday afternoon, and since then I’ve been working to create what Instructure calls a “public” course (that is, one that anyone can look at) for things other than stories in Lectiō Prīma of the Tres Columnae Project. Check it out at this link and see what you think of the first version. I’ll be adding the Quaestiōnēs (#14) and the Fabella Scrībenda (#12) … and a few other things … in the next day or so, but I ddn’t want to keep you waiting any longer!

Here are my first impressions after a few hours with Instructure:

It’s very easy and straightforward to sign up for a free account. You can either click a link from their home page to “Try It Out” (if you’d like a formal demo) or just “Log In” here and “Click to register” for a new account. If you choose the second option, which I did, there’s a very short information screen that you fill out, and then you get an automated email with a link to click to complete the process. In less than 5 minutes, you’re ready to start.

Once you do have an account, it’s extremely easy to create and set up a course, too. It’s also easy to go back and modify the setup if you decide you need to do that.

When you’re ready to enroll students in a course, that’s also easy. If you have students’ email addresses, you can just type or paste them into a box on the “enroll students” page. Instructure automatically generates usernames and passwords for them and sends invitation emails.

Instructure is hosted, which means that the company takes care of security, backups, and site administration … so teachers, schools, and colleges have one less thing to worry about. During the live demo, everyone I talked to stressed the security measures they take with students’ and teachers’ data. Still, if you want absolute control of student data, that may be a concern for you.

It’s also very easy to create Assignments, Pages, and Discussions. I really like the Discussions feature, which incorporates everything I had hoped for the Continuing Virtual Seminar – including the ability to respond not just in writing, but with audio or video. And you don’t have to use an external audio or video program; audio and video support is built right into the system. You just use your microphone and/or webcam, and Instructure does the rest.

Any time you’re working with text, Instructure uses the same, very simple editing screen. If you can use any word processor, you won’t need any explanation at all.

It’s remarkably easy to create links … not just to other Assignments or Pages within your course, but to external websites. For example, on this page, there’s a link to Fabella Prīma of Cursus Prīmus … and it took no time or effort to create.  It’s also very easy to upload files and images, and to work with them once you’ve uploaded them.

You can also link to external images … for example, in this quiz, the images are the ones you see in Cursus Prīmus and (since we purchased the right to use them for Tres Columnae) it was simple to make links to them as well. In one case, the image link didn’t seem to want to be pasted in the normal way, but it was easy to click the “switch views” link and just paste the link into the HTML code. (That may have been a server issue on Instructure’s end, or it may have been due to an internet connection glitch I was having that day; in any case, it only happened once or twice.)

Instructure has a beautiful rubric generator, and it’s quite simple to re-use and tweak rubrics that you’ve created. You can have students use the rubrics for self-assessment, and you can even have students assess each other’s work on an Assignment or a Discussion if you want.

Instructure’s built-in Gradebook has a lot of options for sorting and reporting, and you can even download and upload grades.

I haven’t had the chance to look at them yet, but there’s a nice-looking Chat feature for real-time discussion, and the Conferences feature is designed for synchronous work like online lectures, screen sharing, or “virtual office hours” (according to the Conferences tab). For what we’ll be doing with Tres Columnae, it probably isn’t that useful, but for a more conventional course, it would be extremely helpful.

The weakest part of Instructure at the moment is its Quizzes function. The Quiz editor works like all other text-editing functions of Instructure, so it’s simple and flexible, and you can create groups of questions from which the program will automatically choose – so that each student gets a slightly different quiz. But there’s no way to bank and reuse questions. If you want, for example, a practice quiz and a graded quiz with similar questions, you have to create both quizzes from scratch and re-enter the questions. Instructure does have an Import function, but it’s really designed to import whole courses that were created in a system like Blackboard or WebCT. I’m told that the Quiz features will be significantly improved when the next update to the program comes out later this summer. (Given the download / upload features already in place, that shouldn’t be too difficult for them to add.)

Overall, I was very impressed with Instructure and look forward to using it for the “non-public” aspects of the Tres Columnae Project as well as for the public demo. I’m particularly interested in using it for

  • self-correcting exercises and quizzes (which will be even better when they improve that module)
  • the Continuing Virtual Seminar (I haven’t found anything, anywhere, that works as well for this), and even
  • the creation, editing, and approval of participant-generated content.

If any of you do decide to try out Instructure, just let the folks there know how you heard about them. They seem to think the Tres Columnae Project is cool and interesting – and of course I agree, but I might just be a bit biased! 🙂 And they’re very committed to improving their product.

Tune in next time, when we’ll take a brief look at some other Instructure features I didn’t have time or space to mention today. Then we’ll start looking at another series of stories – the actual wedding of Vipsānius and Valeria from Lectiō XXIV. That will probably take us through the rest of the week. I’ll be at the American Classical League Institute in Winston-Salem, NC, from Saturday through Monday, and I’ll be making a presentation about Tres Columnae at one of the Saturday sessions. Depending on how things go, that may mean that our posts later this week are a bit shorter than usual. Also, there may or may not be a post on Monday or Tuesday next week – but I’ll try to make sure that there’s something, even if it’s just a sentence or two. And I’ll try to have a full report about ACL once I’ve returned home and recovered a bit!

Published in: on June 21, 2010 at 12:10 pm  Comments (1)  
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So Many Stories!

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! After our long series of posts about the stories in Lectiō XIV, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of connected Latin that Tres Columnae participants are exposed to – especially if you come from a grammar-translation approach to language teaching. You may be wondering how a class – or an individual student – could possibly read so much Latin in the time available … especially if you recall that we claim that Lectiōnēs I – XXX might roughly correspond to a year of high-school Latin or a semester of college Latin. You may have done the math, dividing 180 instructional days by 30 to find an approximate pacing of 6 class periods per Lectiō – and if you did that, you probably thought it would be “impossible” to “cover” so much Latin in such a short time.  (Nine stories in six days!  What is he thinking?)

I can certainly understand the concern – but stop for a moment and think about the language in it. Class periods, instructional days, pacing, cover – this is the language of a system where time is constant but learning is variable. In other words, it’s the language of the factory – and not the enlightened factories where production workers pay attention to the quality of their products, either! If we can step outside of the factory model of “batch-processing” students with severely limited time, we can probably imagine lots of ways to overcome the “time for coverage” objection. For example,

  • Students might well be encouraged to proceed through the material at their own pace. Some would finish the 30 Lectiōnēs in 30 days; some in 60; some in 180; and some in a longer period of time. But all would proceed at the right pace to achieve mastery for themselves.
  • Even if time is held constant, it’s not necessary for everyone to read every story with equal care. What’s the goal of the process? Is it for everyone to do the same activities, or for everyone to master the same knowledge, skills, and understandings? If the former, I can see that we might have a problem; but if the latter, there’s really not an issue. For example, say that the goal for a particular Lectiō is for learners to demonstrate that they understand, analyze, and productively use a particular set of vocabulary and grammatical structures. Assessment opportunities can be built in at the end of each task, whether it’s a story, an explanation, or an interactive exercise of some kind. As soon as you, the learner, demonstrate an acceptable level of proficiency with the material, you can be excused from the remaining “stuff” that’s just designed to practice those concepts. (For example, you could be asked to skim over those stories that are critical to the rest of the plot, or just to listen to the audio and look at the illustrations.) Once we stop looking at classrooms as assembly lines and start seeing them as learning communities, the possibilities and opportunities are endless!

Even so, you might have wondered about the sheer quantity of stories in the Tres Columnae Project. Even by comparison with a typical reading-method textbook, there’s a lot more Latin per Lectiō. (As I think about the “Big Three,” one usually has a single long story per chapter; another has 3-6, on average, per Stage; and the third falls somewhere in between. “Number four,” which is really a direct-method approach, is entirely in Latin, but even it often has fewer lines of reading per Capitulum than Tres Columnae has per Lectiō.)

The biggest difference between “us” and “them” is that “they” provide intensive reading, while we aim for a blend of intensive and extensive, with an emphasis on extensive. If you’re not familiar with the terminology, reading experts usually say that intensive reading is slower, more careful, and more deliberate, and the reading passages are more difficult for the reader – they’re at the learner’s instructional reading level, where he or she really needs some support and guidance from a teacher to make sense of the material. (If you’ve studied Latin formally in a classroom setting, you probably experienced nothing but intensive reading!) With extensive reading, by contrast, the goal is to read quickly, fluently, and without support from a teacher, so the passages should be at the learner’s independent reading level. According to first-language reading research, independent reading requires that you, the reader, be familiar with 95-99% of the words in the passage. Hence the very slow introduction of new vocabulary in Tres Columnae, and the constant repetition of vocabulary items.A

And of course we do know that old saying, repetitio mater memoriae. We’re strongly committed to the principle that the most efficient way to remember new words is not through lists and “memorization” but through repeated use. Of course, if lists help you (and they do help certain learning and thinking styles … a lot!), we’ll also provide lists – and we’ll highlight the words on those lists that are included in “standard” vocabulary for exams like the UK’s GCSE.

Speaking of vocabulary, here’s a brief rant: Wouldn’t it make sense for test publishers in the US to publish equivalent lists – maybe not the NLE Committee, but the College Board? Especially with the current revisions planned for the AP Latin Examination! A bit of work up-front, perhaps, but a big payoff later: no more agonizing decisions about which words to gloss! Much greater ease in choosing translation passages! No more complaints from customers about vocabulary issues? Well, that might be too much to ask!) I’m done with my rant now! 🙂

Another good reason for so many stories, as far as we’re concerned, is that our subscribers can pick and choose which ones they read carefully – they don’t have to read, or even hear, every sentence of every story. In keeping with what the iGeneration likes, we’ll probably split up some of the longer stories into paragraph-length pages, each with audio and images … then you, the learner, can decide if you want to continue with this story; just read it; just listen to it; or whatever seems best to you.

One of our models is the “fan fiction” communities that grow up around popular stories, movies, TV shows, etc. To encourage our participants to join the community, we want to have lots of existing stories … but lots of loose ends for them to “tie up” if they’d like – and even for different users to “tie up” differently, with various “branch” options. We have one example already in Lectiō 12, where you, the reader, can choose to have Vipsānia either believe Caelia or insist that there must be a potion that’s making Lucius be good.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of our commitment to extensive reading?
  • What about our commitment to learners’ choice … and to learning differences?
  • And what do you think of the idea of combining stories, audio, and image?

Tune in again on Monday, when we’ll begin to look at the Instructure platform and compare similar exercises there and on the Tres Columnae Moodle site. I’ll really be looking for comments from you as we look at these exercises side-by-side! Then, later in the week, we’ll find out what happens when Valeria and Vipsānius are actually married. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.