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.

Advertisements

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)  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Editing and Revision, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As promised, today we’ll take a look at the editing and revision process for the second story submitted by our contributor David H. First, though, let’s “close the loop” on the first story with my ratings in each category of our rubric. (Sorry about the glitch with the rubric’s appearance in that last post, too!)

  • Morphology and Syntax: Not Yet Acceptable, but quite close. We just need David to fix those adjective-agreement problems and the accusatives used where nominatives were needed.
  • Vocabulary: Acceptable. There are a few slightly obscure words, but the meaning is generally clear from context or from English derivatives.
  • Storyline: Acceptable. It’s an interesting story, with some nice links to other content on the site, but it stands nicely by itself as well. I think Ortellius is going to be a very interesting and continuing figure as we learn more about him. 🙂

Considering that David H has a highly demanding academic job (in a field only tangentially related to Latin) and hasn’t used the language actively in years, I am very impressed with his first effort! Each draft has become successively better, and that’s very promising, too. Spectātōrēs, plaudite! 🙂

And now let’s take a look at David’s second story, with more information about Ortellius. Here’s the current version, available at this link:

Quid agis? Si vales, deinde valeō sum. Quid nomen tibi est? Ortellium mē vocant. Unde venitis? Ubi habitas? Quam patriam habēs? Hibernicus sum. In Hiberniā habitō. Hibernia insula parva ac pulchra est, prope Britanniam. Dē vitā meā tibi narrare volō.

Rusticus summissus sum, atque senex macilentus et stomachosus. Nec fratres nec sorores habeō. Uxorem quoque nōn habeō. Baccalaureus sum. Quamquam multos amicos et multas amicas habeō, solitarius homo sum, et vītam quiētam ac simplicem vīvō. Hoc mihi placet.

Senex invenustus sum, nōn pulcher. Barbam longam et horridam habeō, sed caput meus calvus est. Ego quoque caecus in unō oculō sum. Genūs meae nōn bonae, sed malae sunt. Genūs meae semper tumident ac dolent. Praeterea claudus sum, ergō agilis non sum. Multis abhinc annis in lutō lapsavi et ad terram cēcidi, atque coxam meam frēgī. Paulisper ambulare nōn poteram. Iampridem iuvenis validus eram, atque currere celeriter poteram. Hodiē currere nōn possum. Difficilis est mihi ambulare, ergō baculō lentē ambulō. Claudicare mihi nōn placet.

Ō mē miserum! Tempus fugit atque senescere mihi quoque nōn placet. Quam molestus est! Interdum melancholicus et morosus sum. Quamquam senex sum et sine dubiō vita dura et onerosa est, nihilominus nōn desperō. Magnam pecuniam et dives nōn habeō, sed pauper non sum. Ut dixi, ego multos amicos et multas amicas habeō.

So, before I reveal my comments and ratings (which I’ll do in tomorrow’s post), quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • How would you rate this story in each of the three areas of the rubric, and why?
  • Are there specific grammatical areas you’d recommend that David concentrate on? If so, which ones and how?
  • What specific advice would you give David to strengthen his story? Are there vocabulary items, constructions, or other problematic features you’d want to point out specifically?
  • And what suggestions for practice would you offer him?

Tune in next time for my responses to these questions, as well as my overall ratings of this story on the rubric. Then, on Monday, we’ll begin to look at some more “core” Tres Columnae stories … ones with participles and infinitives, for example. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus! And please keep those comments and emails coming – and, if you’d like a Free Trial subscription, just let us know at this link; space is still available, and we’d love to welcome you to the Tres Columnae family!

Editing and Revision, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Welcome to a Joyful Latin Learning “first” – our first story that was actually contributed by a community member! We also want to celebrate our first Free Trial subscriber, Claire S, who will probably be introducing herself on the website in a bit. If you’ve been following developments at the website (www.TresColumnae.com/wiki), you know that our faithful readers Laura G and Ann M have made internal blogs at the site, and you also probably know that several of those blog posts have been in Latin. For example, here are Ann’s posts, and here is a great fable adapted by Laura. But David H, who is not a professional Classicist, is our first subscriber to submit a full-scale story; in fact, he’s submitted two to date and has graciously agreed to allow us to use them to show you a model of the Tres Columnae editing and revision process.

We think that editing and revision are very important for several reasons.

  • First (as you know if you’ve ever read any writing by young people), it’s a much-needed and seldom-practiced skill, whether in your own language or in a language you’re learning.
  • Second, it can help to build Ownership of your writing (and of the thoughts in your writing) … especially if the editor engages in a dialogue with you rather than simply “fixing it for you.”
  • Third, and perhaps most important, the possibility of editing and revising (which makes it clear that the current version doesn’t have to be the final, perfect version) makes it safe and acceptable to take risks, to make mistakes, and to learn and grow from those mistakes. Too often, in the “school world,” mistakes are seen as the enemy rather than a critical part of learning!

In any case, David H’s stories are quite good, but (like any early draft) they’re not perfect yet. So, in the mature Tres Columnae project, they would not yet be linked to the “major” or “existing” stories – not until one of our editors had the chance to look at them, engage in a dialogue with him, and ultimately approve them. Eventually, we hope that a lot of participants will become interested in editing … and proficient enough with reading and writing Latin to become good editors. Of course, they’ll receive a discount on their subscriptions if they do! At the moment, though, there’s only one available editor, also serving as Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. 🙂

Today we’ll preview David H’s two stories, and tomorrow we’ll begin to look at the editing and revision process. With thanks again to our faithful reader, here is the story exactly as David H submitted it. You should be able to see it at this link as well if you’re interested.

Casa mea pura est, nec sordida nec mucida. In una situla scopae et peniculus sunt. Cotidie pavimentum lavo. Itaque neque muscas neque formicas in casa mea vivunt. Vespas et arenas non amo, et eas quoque in casa mea non vivunt.

Ego quoque matellam habeo. Non barbarus sum! Hahahae! Iocum facio.

And here is David H’s second story, available at this link:

Quid agis? Si vales, deinde valeō sum. Quid nomen tibi est? Ortellium mē vocant. Unde venitis? Ubi habitas? Quam patriam habēs? Hibernicus sum. In Hiberniā habitō. Hibernia insula parva ac pulchra est, prope Britanniam. Dē vitā meā tibi narrare volō.

Rusticus summissus sum, atque senex macilentus et stomachosus. Nec fratres nec sorores habeō. Uxorem quoque nōn habeō. Baccalaureus sum. Quamquam multos amicos et multas amicas habeō, solitarius homo sum, et vītam quiētam ac simplicem vīvō. Hoc mihi placet.

Senex invenustus sum, nōn pulcher. Barbam longam et horridam habeō, sed caput meus calvus est. Ego quoque caecus in unō oculō sum. Genūs meae nōn bonae, sed malae sunt. Genūs meae semper tumident ac dolent. Praeterea claudus sum, ergō agilis non sum. Multis abhinc annis in lutō lapsavi et ad terram cēcidi, atque coxam meam frēgī. Paulisper ambulare nōn poteram. Iampridem iuvenis validus eram, atque currere celeriter poteram. Hodiē currere nōn possum. Difficilis est mihi ambulare, ergō baculō lentē ambulō. Claudicare mihi nōn placet.

Ō mē miserum! Tempus fugit atque senescere mihi quoque nōn placet. Quam molestus est! Interdum melancholicus et morosus sum. Quamquam senex sum et sine dubiō vita dura et onerosa est, nihilominus nōn desperō. Magnam pecuniam et dives nōn habeō, sed pauper non sum. Ut dixi, ego multos amicos et multas amicas habeō.

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re an editor for the Tres Columnae project. Your goals are

  • to make sure that finalized versions of stories are “high quality” (I think that means they have good grammar, idiomatic vocabulary, and inherent interest that makes you, the reader, want to keep reading … and what other criteria would you employ?);
  • to help contributors improve their stories – and their command of the language;
  • to guide them to improve their stories, but not “do it for them” (especially in terms of grammatical or lexical problems); and
  • to avoid getting bogged down in endless “red pen” type comments, especially as the project grows and the number of submissions increases.

You may recall this post from early February, in which I shared a draft of the rather simple rubric we’re planning to use when editing stories. If you don’t, I’ll repeat the essence of the rubric here:

Acceptable Not Yet Acceptable
Morphology and Syntax Errors, if any, are typographical and require minimal editing. Constructions are familiar to the learner. No new / unfamiliar forms are used or, if they are, they’re clear from context. Errors of morphology and syntax are present. More than typographical correction is needed. New/unfamiliar forms are used without clarification, or forms are used incorrectly.
Vocabulary All important words are previously learned (on the master vocabulary list) or clear from context/derivatives. Words are used correctly and idiomatically, or there are only minor errors, easily corrected. New words are included without attention to vocabulary development. There may be evidence of “random dictionary diving.” Some words are used incorrectly or in unidiomatic ways; errors require more than minimal editing to correct.
Storyline Characters’ behavior and motivation is consistent with previous stories. Setting, tone, and other features “make sense” with what has gone before. Characters’ behavior and motivation is inconsistent with previous stories, or with “what a Roman would do” (for Roman characters). Setting, tone, and/or other features “don’t make sense” with what has gone before.

So how would you rate David H’s stories in regard to each of these elements? And what advice would you give him (keeping in mind that he’s an adult re-learner of Latin, not a professional Latinist) to improve any elements of either story?

Tune in next time, when we’ll begin with the first story; then, on Friday, we’ll look at the second. Next week we’ll return to our theme of infinitives, with some more stories about the destruction of Herculaneum and its sister cities. And then we’ll look at some stories with participles. In the meantime, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus! 🙂

A Complete Lectio, V

salvēte iterum, amīcī et sodālēs! As promised, today we’ll look at a possible rubric for scoring the participant-created writing.  Next time,we’ll also consider possible Continuing Virtual Seminar topics. And then I’ll have a hugely important question about Verbs! We’ll probably take a look at some stories from Lectiōnēs Tertia et Quārta later this week, as well.

If you’re just joining us, I’d like to remind you (or possibly even tell you for the first time) that the official Tres Columnae website is now up and running at http://www.trescolumnae.com/wiki/tiki-index.php if you’d like to see “the whole thing” – or at least an early version of the whole thing! You can register for a free subscription there, if you’d like, or you can explore the site without registering if you’d prefer.

By registering, though, you do get the opportunity to create your own, internal Tres Columnae blog – or several blogs, if you’d like – where you can comment on the stories and other aspects of the project. You can also make comments on individual wiki pages if you’re a subscriber. In a few weeks, when we have some multimedia content ready, we’ll also be offering the opportunity to become a basic or standard subscriber if you’re interested.

  • Basic subscriptions will cost about $10 per year, and will give you the ability to take the interactive quizzes and record your scores.
  • Standard subscriptions will have a monthly cost (we’re still working out the details, but we’ll let you know as soon as we know!) and will give you the ability to create and upload your own stories, images, audio, and video. We hate to have to charge people for this! But, unfortunately, someone will need to screen our user-created content. We have to make sure that
    • It’s not from a spammer who’s cleverly included an ad for … whatever! … in a story, an image, an audio file, or a video;
    • The Latin is grammatically correct and idiomatic;
    • The participant has made provisions for “new stuff” (vocabulary or grammatical forms) that participants wouldn’t have learned by the Lectiō for which their creation is designed; and
    • The storyline is “appropriate” – not too racy or terrifying for our school-aged participants, for example.

(If we get a lot of adult learners who want to explore “adult” stuff, I’m not sure how to handle that. quid mihi suādētis, amīcī? I’d thought about just telling them “no,” especially for “stuff” with what’s euphemistically called “mature content” by some people. But there might possibly be some “stuff” that adult learners could handle, but which would disturb younger learners. For example, when our characters are stationed in Germania and Iudaea during Cursus Secundus, they might witness something that wouldn’t bother an adult, but would give a 14-year-old nightmares. How should we handle those issues?)

Anyway, when participants do submit content, we’ll ask them to do a self-rating, using the same scale that “we” (OK, “I” – but as the project grows, “I” will presumably become “we” over time) will use to rate their content. In my face-to-face teaching life, I’ve discovered that self-rating has an amazingly positive effect on the quality of students’ work, especially when they know the criteria in advance. I’m sure I had “known” this as a beginning teacher, but I actually learned it (or at least owned my learning) when I first began to work with the College Board’s Advanced Placement program.

Though Latin teachers may well disagree about the aims of the AP ® Latin program, one great thing that the College Board does – and has consistently done for over 30 years – is to publish the free-response section of every AP ® Latin Examination, along with the scoring system and even some sample student responses.  For many years, these reports were published by the Chief Reader in a journal like Classical Outlook or Classical World, but in recent years they’ve also been available on the College Board’s website. As a result, any AP ® teacher – or student – can see actual questions, actual answers, and actual rubrics. So, for more than 15 years, my AP ® students have followed a process where

  • They receive a sample prompt, with or without the rubric;
  • They talk about how they might respond to the prompt;
  • They actually write a response (or, sometimes, just outline what they’d say and how they’d support their argument);
  • They rate their response against the rubric;
  • They read and rate sample responses;
  • They compare their ratings with the “official” ratings; and
  • They discuss what they might need to do to improve – or, more often, how surprised they are by the “low” quality of responses that got high marks. (I teach a lot of perfectionists, and they tend to forget how little time is available for AP ® students to write their responses.)

Inspired by the success of this process, I gradually “worked down” self-assessment, first to my Latin III students, and then quickly to my II’s and I’s as well. In each case, I found that as the criteria were made clear, and as students knew they’d be rating their own work (and sometimes each other’s work too), the quality increased exponentially. So, having seen the process work face-to-face, I’m confident that it will also work in the Tres Columnae environment.

Here’s my preliminary thought about the rubric we’ll use for text submissions (obviously we’ll need appropriate ones for audio, for video, for illustrations, for collections of links, and for exercises/quizzes as well). If you’re not familiar with the language of rubrics, they’re usually classified as either analytic (if there are multiple criteria on which the product is rated) or holistic (if there’s a single, global rating). For video and illustrations, I expect a holistic rubric would work best, but for text, we probably want to assess multiple factors. So I envision something like this:

Acceptable Not Yet Acceptable
Morphology and Syntax Errors, if any, are typographical and require minimal editing. Constructions are familiar to the learner. No new / unfamiliar forms are used or, if they are, they’re clear from context. Errors of morphology and syntax are present. More than typographical correction is needed. New/unfamiliar forms are used without clarification, or forms are used incorrectly.
Vocabulary All important words are previously learned (on the master vocabulary list) or clear from context/derivatives. Words are used correctly and idiomatically, or there are only minor errors, easily corrected. New words are included without attention to vocabulary development. There may be evidence of “random dictionary diving.” Some words are used incorrectly or in unidiomatic ways; errors require more than minimal editing to correct.
Storyline Characters’ behavior and motivation is consistent with previous stories. Setting, tone, and other features “make sense” with what has gone before. Characters’ behavior and motivation is inconsistent with previous stories, or with “what a Roman would do” (for Roman characters). Setting, tone, and/or other features “don’t make sense” with what has gone before.

I originally had an additional column called “More than Acceptable,” but it didn’t want to display correctly! 🙂  And the more I think about it, the more I like this very simple rubric.  Factory model schools tend to breed an invidious perfectionism in learners: you strive for that “A” in everything, even if your work is already extremely good.  I think of my former student who burst into tears because she’d received a 108% score on a test … she wanted a 110! 😦

Since we’re not attempting to grade Tres Columnae participants, we don’t need a precision instrument for assessing the work! Either it’s really good, quite good, or … not good enough yet. And if it’s not good enough yet, we’ll work with you, the participant, until it is good enough! We’ll give you detailed feedback, if you’d like, or suggest particular pieces of Lectiōnēs, or send you to particular outside resources. Or, if you’d prefer, we’ll make your work available as a CORRIGENDVM – a story with promise, but some problems, that others can edit and improve if they’d like to.

quid putātis, amīcī?

  • How do you feel about “imprecise” assessment like this? Are you crying out for a 5- or 6-point rubric? And if so, is it because you like the A-through-F implications of such a measure?
  • Do you think a learner would find this rubric helpful? Or should we be more specific in each Lectiō? For example, in Lectiō Secunda, might it make sense to say “the only forms used are nominative singular nouns, genitive singular nouns, and familiar verbs and prepositional phrases?”
  • What do you think of our process for “not acceptable yet” work? Do you find it encouraging or discouraging?
  • And what about the idea of a CORRIGENDVM?

Tune in next time, when we’ll look at some of your answers to these questions and explore Continuing Virtual Seminar prompts that might relate to Lectio Secunda. Then, after that, we’ll ask a Big Question about the introduction of Verbs. In the meantime, thanks again for reading, and please keep those comments and emails coming.