Rites of Passage, VII

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll wrap up our current series of posts with a couple of stories, and then on Saturday we’ll step back and take a more “big picture” look at the how and why of Tres Columnae Project stories. Next week we’ll pick up with my first impressions of the Instructure LMS software, and we should have some examples of exercises, quizzes, explanations, and Continuing Virtual Seminar prompts for the first few Lectiōnēs to share there … and to compare with the versions at the Tres Columnae Moodle site, in case you’re interested. I’d really love to know what you all think when you have a chance to make side-by-side comparisons between similar activities on the two platforms. After that, we’ll most likely look at the actual wedding stories from Lectiō XXIV, which haven’t yet appeared on the Version Alpha Wiki site.

Today, though, let’s finish – or almost finish – the sequence of stories about the engagement of Valeria and Vipsānius. When we left them yesterday, Valeria and her family had just arrived at the vīlla rūstica of the Vipsāniī, and poor, nervous, sweaty Vipsānius was trying to avoid greeting his future bride. If you’ve ever been, or known, a teenager, you probably smiled in sympathy as you read his feeble excuse! 🙂 Today’s story picks up just after their awkward meeting, as Quārtus Vipsānius the elder is showing everyone around his “little place in the country.” You’ll be able to find it at this link at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like.

Quārtus Vipsānius Valerium salūtat et “ēhem! libenter vōs in vīllā accipimus!” exclāmat. omnēs per iānuam vīllae prōgrediuntur et ātrium intrant. “nōnne magnificum est ātrium!” Lūcius Cāiō susurrat. “nōnne hoc ātrium māius est quam vīlla vestra?” respondet Cāius attonitus. “fortasse vīlla māior est quam urbs Herculāneum!” respondet Lūcius. “Vipsānius enim vir maximae pecūniae est, et senātor Rōmānus. utinam tālem vīllam habeam!” et Cāius, “utinam nē ex hāc vīlla discēdam! utinam nē ad cēnāculum parvum regrediar!”

omnēs per ātrium prōcedunt. servī et ancillae susurrant, “quaesō, dominī, nōbīscum venīte ad cubicula vestra.” et Quārtus Vipsānius, “valdē laetāmur,” exclāmat, “quod vōs in vīllā meā parvā hodiē accipiō. hodiē celebrātur et cēnātur; crās ad Circum ītur; tertiō diē negōtium agitur.” Valeria Vipsānium iuvenem cōnspicit et iterum ērubēscit. “nōnne benignus et cōmis est iuvenis?” sēcum putat. “nōnne lepidus et fortis! utinam nē innūpta ad Herculāneum regrediar!” Vipsānius quoque ērubēscit et, “dī immortālēs! quam pulchra et cōmis est Valeria!” sēcum putat. “utinam nē umquam discēdat!”

The next story in the sequence, of course, is the one we looked at back in February – the unfortunate events in the Circus. The good news, as we’ll see in this story from Lectiō XV, is that the drunken spectators do get what they deserve:

extrā Circum vigilēs Iulium et Clōdium vehementer vituperant. “vōbīs dīligenter audiendum est!” exclāmant īrātissimī. “nēminem decet in Circō ita pugnāre! nōnne rem intellegitis? tū enim, stultissime, senātōrī enim Rōmānō, virō maximae dignitātis, caput bōtulō percutīre audēs! et tū, asine, senātōrī Rōmānō ōs oculōsque vīnō foedāre audēs! nōnne in perīculō maximō estis, quod pietātem spernitis? nōnne vōs decet multōs annōs in carcere manēre?”

Iulius ēbrius et attonitus vigilēs invicem vituperat. “cūr ā servīs clāmātur? cūr ā gallīs vituperātur? ego enim et amīcus cīvēs sumus Rōmānī; vōs nec decet nōs tangere nec comprehendere! mihi ad Circum reveniendum est, vōbīs lacrimandum et flendum!”

Clōdius tamen, quod minus ēbrius est quam amīcus, sollicitus interpellat, “Iūlī! tē nōn decet vigilēs vituperāre! tibi tacendum est! nōnne vigilēs tē in carcere conicere possunt? nōnne vigilēs decet cīvēs turbulentōs comprehendere? tacē, stultissime – ad istum carcerem redīre haud volō!”

Iulius tamen verba Clōdiī neglegit. bracchium vigilī prēnsat et, “tibi audiendum est, serve! et tibi cavendum est quoque! nōnne–”

vigil tamen īrātus manūs Iuliō prēnsat et, “satis! satis! tacendum tibi est!” clāmat. vigil Iulium vehementer verberat et ad carcerem trahit. cēterī vigilēs Clōdium quoque prēnant et in carcerem coniciunt. spectātōrēs vigilibus plaudunt. “optimē facitis!” exclāmant. “nōnne bōtulum ēsse vultis?”

And the really good news is that, even despite the assaults of spectators Clōdius and Iūlius, Valerius and Vipsānius do successfully make the arrangements, with the wedding is scheduled for the following June. Check out this story:

intereā familia Valeria ē Circō exit et per viās urbis prōcēdit. familia Caelia quoque ad domum Vipsāniī regreditur. Quārtus Vipsānius ipse rīdet et “heus!” exclāmat, “spectātōrēs īnsolentissimōs! nōnne istīs ēbriīs necesse est poenās scelerum dare? rīdeō tamen, quod spectāculum novissimum nōbīs hodiē, multās pecūniās in tempore futūrō praestāre possunt illī. nōnne mē oportet istōs ad basilicam quaerere?”

Valerius quoque rīdet et, “mī Vipsānī,” vōce blandā inquit, “nōnne nōs decet dē dōte colloquium habēre?” “dē dōte?” respondet Vipsānius. “num quis fīliam meam in matrimōnium dūcere vult? Vipsānilla enim puella sex annōrum haud est.” tum Vipsānius rīdet et, “nōnne iocus optimus?” exclāmat. “nōs sānē decet dē dōte et dē matrimōniō ipsō colloquī. fīlius enim meus cotīdiē ad mē venit nūptiās Valeriae tuae quaesītum. cotīdiē mē ōrat, cotīdiē deōs precātur.” Vipsānius et Valerius tablīnum ingrediuntur pecūniam commemorātum.

Vipsānius iuvenis ērubēscit et ad iānuam currit vīllam intrātum. “valēte vōs omnēs!” susurrat. Valeria cum mātre stat et “ēhem! iuvenem pulchrum et benignum!” sēcum putat. Caelia rīdet et, “Valeria mea, num istum iuvenem dīligere audēs?” rogat. Valeria attonita rīsūs matris cōnspicit et quoque rīdet. “iuvenis sānē tam celer quam pulcher est!” respondet et cachinnīs sē trādit.

Lūcius attonitus “vah! mē taedet fēminārum!” exclāmat. “māter mea, nōnne Cāiō et mihi ad forum festīnandum est? nōnne per viās currendum est? nōs enim maximē taedet dōtis et matrimōniī!”

Caelia rīdet et, “festīnāte, puerī, sed dīligentiam maximam praestāte!” respondet. “et vōbīscum veniendum est consōbrīnō tuō!” Cnaeus “vae! heu! mē taedet viārum, et pedēs mihi maximē dolent!” respondet. Caelia tamen, “abī pestis!” exclāmat. Caelia et Valeria garrītum vīllam ingrediuntur; puerōs in viā relinquunt.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • First, what do you think of Vipsānius’ and Valeria’s response to each other?
  • What do you think of the rather relaxed, jocular relationship between Valerius and the elder Vipsānius?
  • How about Lucius’ and Caius’ response?
  • What other big issues – of characterization or of culture – do you want to talk about after reading these stories?

Tune in next time for the “big picture” questions … and your questions and answers, if you’re willing to share them. Then, on Monday or Tuesday, we should be able to start looking in detail at Instructure. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Rites of Passage, VI

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Coming up early next week, once I’ve had a chance to work with its features, will be a much fuller review of the Instructure course-management system I mentioned in yesterday’s post. It’s a remarkable piece of software … and, best of all, it’s free for individual teachers to use, and it “plays nicely” (as its founders said) with other online tools that we – and our students – might already be using anyway. Check it out and see what you think – and compare it with some of the other course-management systems out there. And please let me know what you think! It seems like a great tool for what we’re doing with the exercises, quizzes, and Continuing Virtual Seminars of the Tres Columnae project, but I suppose it might not be right for what you need such a system to do.  Anyway, I’ll let you know – and make some publicly available samples – when I’ve had a chance to explore it in greater detail.

Today, though, we’ll continue our series of posts about Valerius and Vipsania’s wedding. (I’ve also been busy writing some stories for Lectiō XIX, which – as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve looked at the Tres Columnae Table of Contents – is a bit short at the moment. It turns out that poor Casina ancilla – but I don’t want to give too much away! 🙂 You’ll have to wait until next week for that set of stories!)

Anyway, today we’ll look at this story, in which the Valeriī and Caeliī have finally arrived in Milan after Cnaeus’ unfortunate incident with the horse. It turns out that both Valeria and young Vipsānius are a bit nervous about their meeting (apparently it’s not their first-ever meeting, since Valeria had a positive response to him when her dad mentioned his name in this story … but still! It would certainly be different to know that you were about to be married to this person!)

Here we go:

post longum iter Valerius et Caelius cum familiīs urbī Mediolānō tandem appropinquant. prope urbem Valerius, “nōs oportet sistere!” exclāmat. Valerius Milphiōnem arcessit et, “Milphiō, nōnne vīllam rūsticam Vipsāniī memōriā tenēs?” rogat. Milphiō, “mī domine, nōnne ibi nātus sum? nōnne verna Vipsāniī sum?” respondet. et Valerius, “festīnā igitur ad vīllam et adventum nostrum Vipsāniō nūntiā.” Milphiō celeriter ad vīllam proficīscitur.

tum Valerius, “nōs decet ex equīs et carpentīs dēscendere dum reditum Milphiōnis exspectāmus.” Valerius igitur ex equō suō dēscendit. Lūcius Cāiusque et Caelius quoque dēscendunt. fēminae et puellae dē carpentīs dēscendunt et fessae per agrōs ambulant.

Cnaeus tamen īnsolēns in carpentō manet. “vae! heu! mē taedet itinerum!” clāmat. “crūra mihi, caput mihi, bracchia mihi maximē dolent. quam miser sum, quod iste equus est impius et neglegēns!” Prīma et Secunda rīsūs cēlāre haud cōnantur, sed magnā vōce Cnaeum dērīdent. “nōn equus, sed tū impius et neglegēns es!” clāmat Prīma. “fortasse melius est tibi iter per bovem quam per equum facere!” clāmat Prīma. Prīma Secundaque rīsibus et cachinnīs sē trādunt. Lūcius Cāiusque quoque rīdent. etiam Vipsānia et Caelius clam rīdent.

Cnaeus tamen, “vae! heu! mē taedet rīsuum et cachinnōrum! cūr mē dērīdētis? utinam nēmō mē dērīdeat!” clāmat. Cnaeus in carpentō manet et lacrimīs sē trādit.

Milphiō iam cum servō Vipsāniī revenit et, “domine, nūntium optimum tibi ferō!” exclāmat. “Vipsānius enim ipse nōs exspectat, et brevissimum est iter.” omnēs carpenta et equōs cōnscendunt et celeriter ad vīllam rūsticam Vipsāniī progrediuntur.

in āreā vīllae Quārtus Vipsānius cum fīliō adventum Valeriōrum Caeliōrumque exspectat. Valeria per rīmam carpentī Vipsānium iuvenem cōnspicit et ērubēscit. iuvenis quoque ērubēscit et, “pater, mī pater,” susurrat, “nōnne mē decet servōs arcessere? utinam nē Valeriam iam salūtem, quod valdē sūdō!”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Did you find some “universal teenager” issues in this story? If so, I’m not surprised – and do remember that a large number of our subscribers will be teenagers of various ages.
  • Did you find Valeria’s and Vipsānius’ responses convincing and authentic?
  • And what about the parents, siblings, and other relatives?

Tune in next time, when the story continues at the “vīlla parva” of the Vipsāniī – which, as you can imagine, is hardly parva. If you’re a longtime reader of the blog, you’ve already seen one episode (the unfortunate incident in the Circus, when Vipsānius’ poor father is attacked by two drunk race fans) in this blog post from February, but we don’t yet know what happened right before that … or right after. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Making a Contribution, III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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

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

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

Making a Contribution, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll continue our look into the not-so-distant future, when the Tres Columnae Joyful Learning Community is really established and participants have begun creating and submitting all kinds of content. Yesterday we imagined the contributions of a (so far fictional) participant named Jane, who wanted audio versions of the quid novī explanations. As an auditory-kinesthetic learner myself, I would have found Jane’s request quite compelling and would have wondered why I hadn’t thought of it myself! 🙂 But for the past several years, I’ve had overwhelming numbers of visual and kinesthetic learners in my face-to-face classes, so I’ve been focusing a lot of attention on the the elements that they need.

Anyway, today we’ll imagine the sequence that Jane’s brother John, also a Tres Columnae community member, might go through as he develops a kinesthetic explanation for the distinction between nominative and accusative case nouns in Latin. John would probably enjoy the hand signals that I use for the cases in my face-to-face classes (they’re far from original to me!), and if there’s interest, we might well incorporate video clips of those in the project. But for purposes of today’s post, we’ll imagine that John was struggling with the concept because we only had the existing linguistic explanation in Lectiō Quārta, which you can read here if you’re interested. (Of course, there are also further explanations about how accusatives are formed, and exercises to practice making and using them. But let’s say that John is struggling with the why rather than the how or the what.)

Anyway, John turns to his sister Jane, whom we met yesterday, and she explains the difference in a way that he understands easily. To prove that he does understand, John does a little demonstration with some household objects (remember, he’s a highly kinesthetic learner). Jane suggests that he should film it and submit it to the Tres Columnae project, since it would probably help a lot of other community members. (Or possibly, since he is her little brother, she just tells him he’s stupid! 🙂 But then he decides he’ll submit it anyway, especially since she just submited something!) Anyway, here’s what John’s process might look like:

  1. John makes the first version of his video, in which a carōta, a stilus, and a mūs (a puppet, not a live one!) do various comic things to each other. (He is a 10-year-old boy after all!)
  2. He uploads the video (following a procedure that will soon be in place) and sends a message with the link to us at Tres Columnae.
  3. “Somebody” looks at the video, thinks it looks promising, but notices a few spelling mistakes in the captions. (John really didn’t mean to say “mūs carōta est;” according to the picture, he actually meant to say mūrem carōta ēst! Hey, he is a ten-year-old boy; carnivorous carrots are funny to them!)
  4. “Somebody” sends John some feedback.
  5. John corrects the mistakes and uploads a new version of the video.
  6. “Somebody” finds one minor mistake in the new version, which John corrects when it’s pointed out to him.
  7. “Somebody” has really earned his editing fee 🙂 after watching the video multiple times.
  8. The video is now approved, so a link to it appears on the New Contributions page.
  9. Other participants watch the video and comment on it. As you can imagine, the boys think it’s great (mouse-eating carrots! pencils that chase vegetables!) and some of the girls think it’s stupid … especially if they’ve become friends with Jane and realize it was made by her little brother! 🙂
  10. A teacher-subscriber, who works at an all-boys’ school hundreds of miles from John and Jane’s house, loves the video and wants to use it with his face-to-face students. In fact, he wants a DVD, since the school’s rather elderly technology infrastructure doesn’t do well with streaming video. John’s video is one of 10 that the teacher wants to include on his custom DVD.
  11. Your friends at Tres Columnae might possibly make the DVDs ourselves if the numbers involved are small. If there’s a lot of demand for them, we’ll partner with a company that specializes in such things. Either way, the DVD is produced.
  12. The teacher purchases the DVD, and it’s shipped to him.
  13. John happily discovers the royalty credit in his account, as do the creators of the other nine videos the teacher included.
  14. The teacher’s students love the DVD, and they’re inspired to create equally silly videos for other grammatical concepts.
  15. Some of these, in turn, earn royalties for their creators.

In his book Disrupting Class, to which I’ve referred in several previous posts, Clayton Christensen describes this model as a “facilitated user network” – a system in which somebody creates a place or system where other people exchange products, services, or information. He distinguishes these networks from two other organizational models that he calls solution shops and value chains. In a solution shop, according to Christensen, a group of highly-skilled, well-trained professionals create customized, individualized solutions for each customer or client who comes to them – picture a law firm, a medical specialist, or a custom tailor. Great quality, but corresponding expense! In a value chain, a large organization develops to create a cheaper, but more standardized product – picture most large manufacturing companies and most factory-model schools. The quality is less, and there are only a few options for you as a consumer, but the price is significantly better. Of course, some people will still use the solution shops (if they can afford them), and others will be dissatisfied with the available options from the value chains.

According to Christensen, if it’s possible to develop tiny, interchangeable modules that people can put together for themselves, a user network will develop as people start creating and sharing these modules with each other … especially if they can get either monetary value or recognition or some other form of reward that’s meaningful to them from their contributions. At Tres Columnae, we hope to provide all of these things, and we hope our Joyful Learning Community will quickly develop into such a network. If all goes well, we may even be able to invite some regular contributors to become part-time editors as our numbers grow.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • If anyone would like to make John’s video – or something like it – please feel free!
  • We’re certainly giving a lot of Ownership to participants here. They get to assess their own learning needs, find materials that meet those needs, and even create materials for themselves and for each other. Does that excite you, or does it scare you a little … or both?
  • When learners have so much Ownership of their learning, that obviously changes the role of the teacher. Instead of being the source of all knowledge or the provider of all learning experiences, you become … something else, and it may not be entirely clear what that something else is! Does that excite you, or does it scare you a little … or a lot?
  • What do you think of Christensen’s three systems for organization and production? Where do you think your school – or your classroom – fits in his system? And does that excite you, or does it scare you a little … or even make you sad?
  • And if you’re scared or sad – or perhaps even a bit mad – are you just going to sit there and feel those feelings? 🙂 Or are you going to do something about it? And if so, what are you going to do?

Tune in next time when we’ll look at the logistical process that John, Jane, and others might go through if they decide to create exercises or quizzes to accompany the material they’ve created. Then, on Friday, we’ll start looking at a new “core” Tres Columnae story in which Trux, the dog who belongs to familia Caelia, learns a valuable lesson about true friendship. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Making a Contribution, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I’m writing this post in beautiful New Bern, North Carolina, where last night an old friend of mine was ordained as an Episcopal priest. It’s just over a 2-hour drive for me, so I’m enjoying a most unusual day away from my face-to-face students … in the middle of the week, no less!  New Bern is one of the oldest cities in North Carolina and has some lovely Colonial-era architecture, as well as a beautiful view of the Neuse and Trent rivers. As I write this, I’m looking out a hotel window at a beautiful river scene, and I’m very grateful for such a lovely day and such a beautiful setting. But I’ll also be glad to be home this afternoon, and I’ll be glad to see my students again tomorrow.

  • Today we begin a series of posts about the future – the “fully formed” Tres Columnae project. We’ll be imagining several things:
  • The “bones” of the project are in place, including the basic storyline, the “core” stories for each Lectiō, the initial versions of the grammatical explanations, some exercises, and the Continuing Virtual Seminar prompts.
  • There are several hundred subscribers, maybe more, who are regularly using the materials.
  • Subscribers have also started uploading their own content, much as our friends Ann M and David H are doing during the free trial period.
  • So far, most of the contributed content has been images, audio files, and videos, though a few participants have also been writing stories.
  • Joe and Jane, brother and sister in a Classical homeschooling family, are subscribers.
  • For different reasons, they’re both dissatisfied with the existing grammatical explanations for the distinction between nominative and accusative case nouns.
  • John is a kinesthetic learner, so verbal explanations (like ours) don’t work very well for him.
  • Jane is an auditory learner and would like to hear the explanation, as well as see it.

In a typical classroom, or with a typical textbook, that would just be too bad for John and Jane. In a homeschool setting, they’re more likely to get personal attention – after all, the need for personal attention is one of the primary reasons homeschoolers give when asked about their decision to teach their children at home. Even so, if John and Jane’s parents used traditional textbooks, they’d have to supplement the books heavily to meet their children’s learning needs … and they might not know how to do so effectively. And even if they created great material to help their children learn, who would ever see it? Certainly not the other users of the textbook series they chose; after all, the publisher is quite unlikely to market some parent’s (or child’s) supplementary resources for their “perfect” book, especially if the parent or child (quite reasonably) asked for a share of the revenue.

By contrast, the Tres Columnae project expects our participants to create more “stuff” for the project – that’s the core of our Joyful Learning Community model! And in the “fully formed” model, we’ll have a royalty system in place for community members who are interested … and whose contributions are seen as valuable by other community members. With our core value of Ownership, we’ll encourage our learners to find a better way, share it, and see what happens.

So, in that world (and we hope that world will be in place in the next few months!), it will be very natural for John and Jane to go through a process like this:

  1. Jane uses a link called “propose something new” (which will appear on every page of the “fully formed” Tres Columnae project) and suggests audio recordings of the quid novī grammatical explanations.
  2. “Somebody at Tres Columnae” (initially, I am that Somebody, but over time, I expect we’ll grow and add additional Somebodies) reads her suggestion and says, “Yeah! Why haven’t we done that already?”
  3. Somebody sends a message back to Jane telling her to make a sample recording for the quid novī of her choice.
  4. Jane uses Audacity (or her favorite audio recording software) to make a recording of the quid novī for nominative vs. accusative nouns and uploads it, using our standard system for uploading audio. She’s a Monthly subscriber, so she’s entitled to make a certain number of submissions each month without any editing charges.
  5. Somebody reviews her audio and notes two minor mispronunciations. We let Jane know about them.
  6. Jane fixes the minor pronunciation problems.
  7. We review the audio again, just to make sure everything is OK.
  8. We create a link to it and publicize it in the (soon to appear!) New Contributions section of the Tres Columnae website.
  9. Other participants check it out and comment on it. Comments are very favorable.
  10. Every time someone uses Jane’s audio clip, she earns credit toward royalties for her contribution. It’s not a lot of money, but still! It helps to pay for her subscription, and her friends and family think it’s great that something she created is earning money for her.
  11. Her brother John is impressed! He creates a kinesthetic demonstration of the differences between nominative and accusative nouns, makes a video of it, and goes through the same process.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Obviously we haven’t worked out all the details, but does this sound like a workable model to you in theory?
  • What practical objections do you see?
  • What do you think would be a reasonable per-use or per-click royalty for participants whose work is included in the project?
  • We’ll obviously need to have consent from our participants – and the parents of our younger participants – to use materials in this way, and we’ll have to spell out their rights, and ours, quite clearly. What specific rights do you think we should mention?
  • Do you have any other suggestions or concerns about user-contributed materials … especially explanations, quizzes, and exercises?

Tune in next time, when we’ll take a closer look at the material that Jane’s brother John might choose to submit … and at the exercises and quizzes they’d both create to follow up on what they’d already submitted. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

All Kinds of Contributions

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I’d like to apologize for the absence of a post on Saturday. It had been a busy and crazy week for the whole family, and we ended up with a quiet, peaceful day at home … and one where my multi-tasking children were very reluctant to relinquish the computer to Dad! 🙂 So, if you were hoping for a full-length Saturday post (or any post at all yesterday), I do apologize. I’ll try to make up for it today.

Some of you may have been wondering about this sentence from Friday’s post:

In the next week or so, we’ll be adding some more stories, too, and we’ll also be looking at more exercises and quizzes … and thinking about ways to make it easy for non-tech-savvy participants to submit exercises and quizzes.

What types of participants might be submitting exercises and quizzes to the Tres Columnae project? Obviously, some teachers may want to contribute … especially if they get a small royalty, as we’re planning, when other teachers create a “custom sequence” through the Tres Columnae materials for their students. Some adult learners might also contribute exercises and quizzes, especially if they’re adult re-learners who have studied Latin in the past. In each of those cases, you can probably see that the content knowledge is greater than the technological know-how, and rightfully so! We certainly don’t want anyone to have to learn the intricacies of the GIFT file format – or any of the other file import formats that Moodle recognizes – in order to contribute. Our goal is a spreadsheet that you fill in and upload. We edit it, let you know if there are any issues with it, and then do the conversion painlessly, without your having to worry about such things.

But what about students? First of all, would they be able to submit exercises and quizzes? And if so, surely they’re so technologically skilled that we need not worry about them? Short answers: yes, we’ll encourage students to create their own exercises and quizzes as well as other forms of content, and yes, we actually are a bit concerned about certain types of technological skills. Let’s take the two points in order.

To begin with, why on earth would we encourage learners to create exercises and quizzes as well as stories and other content?

  • First, because of the old concept of discere docendō … if you can explain something else (or, even better, develop a way to measure it accurately), that’s a sign that you understand it deeply. After all, you’re working at the level of Synthesis or Creation in Bloom’s taxonomy, and at the level of Understanding in the Paideia framework.
  • We also want to provide as many different pathways as possible for our participants to contribute. (connect with learning styles and intelligences – but there’s not much for the analytical or logical-mathematical learner in stories, images, audio, or video.)
  • We also believe strongly that the more different kinds of contributions we receive, the more types of learners we’ll be able to benefit. As Clayton Christensen notes in his amazing book Disrupting Class, the realities of the educational marketplace are such that teachers and curriculum developers in any given field of study tend to have similar learning styles and intelligence profiles. In math, for example, they tend to be logical-mathematical thinkers, and in our own field, most teachers are highly verbal and, given the prevalence of the grammar-translation approach, quite analytical in their approach to language. As a result, we tend to design learning materials that teach the way we learn, and so we perpetuate a cycle in which certain types of learners (the ones like us!) are more likely to be successful. By opening up the creation of exercises, quizzes, and grammatical explanations to our learners, and by encouraging them to come up with different and unconventional approaches, we can provide more opportunities for more kinds of learners. Plus, if we incorporate someone’s exercise or quiz in the “core” pathway through Tres Columnae, they’ll also receive a royalty from us!
  • Even more important than the small amount of money is the real sense of contribution and community, especially for learners who have struggled. Imagine how great it feels when you, a formerly struggling learner, have created something that will significantly help others, probably for years to come.

In Disrupting Class, Clayton Christensen envisions a future educational marketplace in which all sorts of teachers and learners contribute “stuff,” which is then available either for free or at a small cost per user, depending on the license and business model of the site where the “stuff” is hosted. Of course you know that the three columns that inspired the Tres Columnae project are found in the Forum of Herculaneum, and a Forum is, among other things, a central marketplace. We don’t know if that means we’ll be a one-stop shop for learning Latin online, but we do want to provide lots of choices; an ability to customize your learning experience; and, with our Ownership model, some kind of compensation for those whose contributions (including exercises and quizzes) are popular with the community.

But why would we need to provide for “non-tech-savvy participants” who are students? Surely the Net Generation is so technologically skilled that it needs no assistance with such things? If you say that, you probably haven’t paid that much attention to the interesting combination of technological skill and ignorance that characterizes a lot of members of that generation. Yes, they are very skillful with technology that they know and regularly use, and yes, they’re very good at troubleshooting technology issues. But the kinds of work they typically do online (game play, for example, and instant messaging, and social networking, and even blogging and vlogging) are rather different from the detail-oriented, programming-like process of creating an import file full of questions and answers. Just as most drivers, even skillful ones, are unlikely to rebuild their own cars’ engines in the garage, most tech-savvy teenagers aren’t familiar with highly detailed and complicated file formatting … and why should they be? If you want to contribute an exercise to Tres Columnae, you should be able to devote your attention to the content of the exercise, not the format of the text file. In the same way, when driving, you should be able to pay attention to the road (and please don’t text!!), not the fuel pump.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of participant-created exercises and quizzes coming from students as well as teachers? Does it scare you or excite you … or are you already consistently doing this sort of work with your own students?
  • How do you respond to the idea of royalties for such submissions?  Does it appeal to you, or do you feel like teaching is a sacred calling that should be unsullied by commerce?  Tres Columnae is for you, our lectōrēs fidēlissimī, and for the community as a whole … so if you don’t like the idea of royalties, we can certainly remove them from the model!
  • What do you think of my characterization of young people’s technological skills – on target or not? And, if I am on target, what if anything should we at Tres Columnae try to do to improve those skills?
  • Finally, what do you think about making the process of submitting exercises and quizzes simple and transparent? And do you have any really good suggestions for doing so?

Tune in next time, when we’ll flash forward – and backwards, too – to imagine how a participant might go about contributing “stuff” to the mature version of the Tres Columnae project. Then we’ll look at some more sample exercises and quizzes, and we’ll finish the week with another story. It’s faintly possible that there may not be a post on Tuesday; I’ll be briefly out of town for a milestone event in the life of an old friend. But if all goes well, I should be able to make the post before I return home on Tuesday.

intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus. Please keep those comments and emails coming!

Taking Precise Measurements, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As promised, today we’ll take a look at some recent comments from readers about the issue of assessment. Our faithful reader and collaborator Ann M noted yesterday that

I agree that translation is terribly hard to mark, and when I use it for targeted checkups, I sometimes say that I will grade ONLY the part I am testing at the moment, e.g. whether they correctly show the subject and direct object by their translation or whether they correctly distinguish singulars from plurals. I may also tell them I am limiting the vocabulary they have to be able to recognize. I love other approaches to assessment, to the degree that assessment is necessary. (I think we probably assess students way too much! Just think if WE got assessed as often and for as many things as our students do.)

I like the idea of the “targeted checkup,” whether one uses translation or some other type of measurement. I also thought Ann’s point about the amount of assessment that teachers tend to do is quite interesting and important. One of my many “hats” in my face-to-face teaching world is to support teachers in their use of an online student records management system; if they have problems with grades or calculations, the phone rings (usually in the middle of class) or the email box fills up. What amazes me isn’t necessarily the number of assessments, but the amount of time that some colleagues wait before “grading the test” and “putting in the grades.” It seems to me that, if the purpose of “giving the test” was to measure students’ learning of the new concepts you’d taught them during a unit, you’d want to know (as quickly as possible!) whether they did, in fact, learn those new concepts. After all, if they did, you could move on to the next new concept; if not, you’d know you needed to do some more work with it.  So, in a logical world, wouldn’t you want to “grade the test” and “put in the grades” right away?

It must not be a logical world! 🙂  Or else I am the greatest hypocrite in it! 🙂  For I, too, have been guilty of  “giving the test” and not looking at it for a few days.  Actually I’m more likely to do that with “the quiz” (which we’ve scored together in class) than “the test” (which I almost always have graded and returned by the next day).  With “the quiz,” I’ve heard students’ responses and we’ve discussed each answer, so I already have a sense of the problem areas, and so do my students.  But with “the test,” they need that feedback as soon as possible.

Anyway, this practice of “giving the test” and “waiting to grade it” seems to be endemic in the culture of teachers! But then I ask myself, “what was the purpose of the test? And is it still fulfilling that purpose if I wait three days to look at it?”

meā quidem sententiā, the problem is less with the amount of assessment than with assessment for assessment’s sake. Too often, I’m afraid, we give tests and quizzes because … we give tests and quizzes! You’ve probably noticed that the Tres Columnae system doesn’t feature “large” tests (we can add some if people really want them, but we think they’re somewhat imprecise measures, especially if there’s a single reported score that covers multiple objectives … or multiple types of objectives, or multiple curricular strands). You’ve also probably noticed that “exercises and quizzes” have a good deal of overlap. As learners are practicing a new concept or skill, we want them to know how they’re doing, so we want immediate feedback for them. And if we have that immediate feedback, there may not be a need for a more formal assessment. After all, both the teacher and the student can see at a glance how well the student has grasped the new concept or skill … and isn’t that the purpose of giving the test or quiz anyway? 🙂

We had another great comment from our faithful reader Elizabeth, who says this:

I rarely give translation assignments as a grade, but often verbally translate exercises with students, either with or without directed questions. The larger issue, for me, is how to read without mentally translating — it’s not easy to read the Latin as Latin and not mentally use English thought words to make sense of it.

In fact, her second point is so important … and so closely related to our next series of posts … that I want to save it for Monday. As for her use of translation, and the way she models the skills involved for her students, I think that’s an excellent example of using a tool (which translation is) for an appropriate and reasonable purpose. She’s clearly given the matter a lot of thought, such that translation is a conscious choice rather than a default approach.

In my face-to-face teaching world, I sometimes use an assignment called a “Guided Translation” which is essentially a cloze activity – I’ve prepared an English translation of a passage with some blanks, one per Latin word, which students work together to complete after reading the passage out loud, Latīnē, a few times. What my students don’t realize at first – but quickly discover – is that, over time, I’ll provide “blanks” that are unfillable; that is, I deliberately choose sentences or structures where a supposedly “literal” translation is difficult or unclear, and they ask me if they can modify the blank structure to make a more meaningful, understandable, or idiomatically English product. That’s actually the main purpose of the assignment: I want them to see that “translation” means many different things, and that one type of “translation” (what we often call a “literal” one) can, at times, be impossible. That leads to some fascinating and very productive dialogues with my students at the Understanding level in the Paideia framework.

If you haven’t visited the Version Alpha Wiki site in a while, or even if you have, I want to put in a plug for our faithful subscriber David H and his new story about his friend Ortellius’ garden. David tells me that when things get stressful in his day-to-day life (he’s a college professor in a field other than Classics, at a school that doesn’t currently offer Latin), he relaxes and de-stresses by visiting Tres Columnae and reading or writing. I’m so glad we can help him! David promises me that a new story, about the kitchen where Ortellius cooks his delectable produce, is coming soon! 🙂 In the next week or so, we’ll be adding some more stories, too, and we’ll also be looking at more exercises and quizzes … and thinking about ways to make it easy for non-tech-savvy participants to submit exercises and quizzes.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • In your experience, what’s the purpose of “big” or formal assessments like tests or quizzes?
  • Do they happen “just because,” or are they helpful as a real measure of student learning? Or is it (as it is in my case) a complicated picture?
  • What about assessment results? Do you “record and move on,” or can you actually use the results to shape your instruction in the days after the quiz or test?
  • What do you think of the blend of instruction and assessment in the Tres Columnae system?
  • And finally, what do you think of the idea of a “self-defeating” assignment like my supposedly “Guided” translations that really are designed to help students become skeptical about the idea of translation?

Tune in next time, when we’ll consider these ideas from another angle and preview our posts for next week. If all goes well, we’ll also have another new story to share. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus. Please keep those comments and emails coming!

Taking Precise Measurements

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

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

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

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

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

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

haec tamen pauca tibi et sorōrī explicāre possum.

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

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

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

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

To test comprehension, we might ask

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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

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

Exercises for a Story, IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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

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

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

Questions about a Story, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! This is another fairly short post, just to give you one more day, if you’d like, to try to create your own questions about the story I shared in Friday’s post. Again, our goal is to create (and share, if you’d like) questions that test reading comprehension of this story from the Tres Columnae project.  If you’d like to see mine, remember that you can follow these simple steps:

  1. Visit www.TresColumnae.com/moodle and choose the “Tres Columnae Semi-Public Sample” course.
  2. Choose to “Login as a Guest” and use the “enrolment key” Caeliola79.
  3. Scroll down to Week 2, where you’ll find only one quiz … the one with my sample questions.
  4. Remember, as a guest, you’ll need to Preview the quiz, not actually take it.

Again, my questions are all in Latin, including both questions and answers, but yours can certainly be in English if you’d like (or in your native language, if that’s neither Latin nor English). We’re also trying to develop some grammatical questions about the relatively “new” things in this story: first-person plural verbs and dative nouns. If you all are well-behaved :-), I’ll share some more questions tomorrow, and we’ll look at the process I went through to develop and upload the questions. Then, on Wednesday, we’ll begin another series of posts about designing exercises, lessons, and quizzes. This one begins with a focus on Lectiō Tertia, where we’ll work on distinguishing and using nominative, genitive, and ablative case nouns, but it will move on to some other features before we’re done.

grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus! And please keep those comments, emails, and Trial Subscription requests coming.