What about Vocabulary? V

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Yesterday I mentioned this story from central California, about a very well-meaning retired teacher who hopes to help motivate some low-performing local students by paying them – out of his own pocket – for straight-A report cards. I really don’t want to discount what Mr. Warren, the teacher, is doing here! He sees a problem (and it’s a big one), and he’s taking specific, concrete steps to try to make it better. Unfortunately, all the research about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation “proves,” as much as research can prove anything, that his efforts probably won’t be successful and might, in fact, lead to a decrease in the students’ intrinsic motivation over time. But at least he’s doing something about a terrible problem! And in some ways, it’s not that different from what we propose to do with the Ownership aspects of the Tres Columnae system.

In other ways, though, what we’re doing is very different, and I think and hope it avoids the pitfalls of “typical” systems of rewards and incentives in schools. Of course, I could be entirely wrong … and if I am, please tell me. Here’s what I see as the basis of “typical” reward systems, including variations like what Mr. Warren is doing:

  1. An outside authority figure is “in charge.”
  2. Payment (or other reward) is “automatically” associated with certain things (in this case, $100 for every straight-A report card).
  3. Payment comes quickly – as soon as you get the report card, you’ll probably be on your way to see Mr. Warren … just in case he happens to run out of money!
  4. Payment is designed to cause students to do things they normally wouldn’t do (do well academically across the board, in a very low-performing and disadvantaged school).
  5. Payment, in the end, seems to cause students to lose interest in the rewarded behavior, at least according to a lot of research. Researchers think this is because you, the learner, focus so much on the reward (which is quite desirable) that the intervening behavior comes to seem tedious and unpleasant.

But here’s how the Tres Columnae system works.

  1. The community is in charge. If someone decides to use your material, you (eventually) will get a small royalty; if not, you won’t.
  2. Payment is based on the judgment of the community, not of an external authority.
  3. Payment, if any, is significantly delayed. You get to experience the intrinsic reward (of creating something worthwhile and of having it accepted as part of the TC materials) long before anyone thinks about receiving royalties.
  4. The Tres Columnae system encourages you, the subscriber, to focus on the quality of the work itself, and on the depth of learning. If, in quest for royalties, you submit 10 or 15 poor-quality exercises or stories, you’ve just spent a lot of money on editing fees (I hope you chose the Unlimited subscription!) and created a lot of extra work for yourself. If your attention is on quality and learning, where we believe it should be, some monetary rewards down the line (which will probably be in the form of credit toward your next subscription or towards a T-shirt, button, or other product we might be able to offer some day) will seem much more like a lagniappe than a goal!
  5. We think our system is a lot more like the way commercial transactions really work. I wrote the first draft of this post on a weekend evening at a local Starbuck’s, where I obviously was involved in a commercial transaction. They had a product I wanted (a White Chocolate Mocha – I was a naughty boy indeed! :-), so I paid them for it. The barista happened to be a former student of mine (fellow magistrī magistraeque, have you noticed how you can’t go anywhere without running into former students?), and so are several other employees … but I don’t get a discount “for being a wonderful teacher,” and before they graduated, they didn’t get extra credit “for working at Starbuck’s.” Instead, they got my money because they offered a product I wanted to buy. In so far as we’ll facilitate such payments down the road, that’s the approach we want to take.

Or at least that’s what we think. quid respondētis, amīcī?

As I promised, our next post will take things in a different direction, as we return to very early Lectiōnēs in the Tres Columnae system and begin to consider how the stories and other materials will help our participants understand some of the critical, core Roman values like pietās and dignitās. In the introduction to Lectiō Prīma, I boldly claim that we’re going to begin to understand the concept of pietās in Lectiō Prīma … but how? And why? And why, and how, is our approach different from what a “typical” Latin textbook does?

Tune in next time for more … and for some more stories. I think next time will be tomorrow (Friday the 21st), but life in the form of an 18-hour day may possibly intervene. If so, we’ll pick up this topic on Saturday and return to it on Monday. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

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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.