Virtual Seminars, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! This is the beginning of a series of posts about the Virtual Seminar side of the Tres Columnae project. If you’re a longtime reader of the blog, you may remember that we talked about them several months ago, but only in the abstract. Today we’ll get “up close and personal,” and a lot more concrete, as we imagine the participation of our fictional subscribers, homeschooled siblings John and Jane, in a Continuing Virtual Seminar at the end of Lectiō XVI. As usual, Jane will probably get there a week or so before John does; after all, she is the older sister! 🙂

In the fully-formed Tres Columnae project, we envision several different Virtual Seminar options occurring near the end of each Lectiō – sometimes different ones for different ITINERA through the material, and sometimes different topics that appeal to participants with different interests. For example, if you’re fascinated by characterization, there might be a strand of Virtual Seminars in which you can examine the development of various characters in the primary stories; if you’re more interested in sociology, you might choose a seminar that focuses on Roman practices and perspectives; or if you’re fascinated by architecture and art history, you might choose a seminar that focuses on relevant buildings or art work. For non-school-based learners, we certainly won’t mandate that you participate in virtual seminars at all, but we’ll invite you and encourage you … and we may possibly be in touch with you to find out why you haven’t been choosing to participate. School-based learners, of course, might be required to participate in virtual seminars, but that’s between them and their teachers. We’d encourage teachers to ask their students to explore at least one Virtual Seminar per Lectiō, but (other than the one response that’s required for entry), we’d discourage requirements like “you must make 3 postings in the seminar” or “you must respond to two different questions.” I think we’re all aware of the poor-quality responses that come when students are told “you must produce a certain quantity of work!”

Of course, all Tres Columnae participants will be able to develop a new Virtual Seminar if they find an interesting, fruitful topic; the submission requirements for those will be the same as for other forms of content, since they’ll probably require some editing … especially if it’s your first-ever seminar plan.

Anyway, let’s return to Jane, who has perused her available options for a Virtual Seminar in Lectiō XVI. There’s one about the animal fable tradition, one about Mount Vesuvius, and one about farming (and the treatment of agricultural slaves and farm animals), each of which has multiple entry points – that is, you could select it during Lectiō XVI, but you could also choose it at another time. Jane studies the descriptions and clicks a few links to text materials. At first she’s leaning toward the one about farming, but then she decides she’s not quite ready for that one. It includes a couple of brief translated excerpts from Vergil (one from the Eclogues and one from the Georgics) that she found quite difficult. She’s also bothered by the difference between the idealized pastoral world and the gritty reality of life for agricultural slaves, but she can’t quite articulate why. Noting that you can re-enter this Virtual Seminar at a later point, she decides to focus on animal fables.

Like many 21st-century American children, Jane has heard the term “Aesop’s fables,” and she may have had a children’s book of animal fables. But she doesn’t know a lot about the fable tradition or about folklore in general. She thought the story of Trux and Lupa was extremely funny, though, and she wonders whether the fable-tradition animals are equally entertaining. So Jane chooses this Virtual Seminar option and sees a set of pre-seminar directions something like this:

Before you enter the Virtual Seminar, you may want to re-read the stories Trux et LupaTrux pietatem ostendit, and somnium Trucis from Lectiō XVI. Feel free to have them open in separate windows in case you’d like to refer to them during the seminar.

Now please decide whether you’re more interested in dogs or wolves in the fable tradition at this point.

It’s a difficult choice for Jane, but she eventually decides on wolves. She follows a link to the Bestiaria Latina Zoo collection of wolf fables where, as the pre-seminar directions suggest, she explores 5 or 6 that sound interesting. She finds she can get the gist of the one about the wolves and sheep who sign a peace treaty even though there are a lot of verb forms she doesn’t recognize, but Osius’ fable about the goats, the sheep, and the wolf is a bit too hard for her. Eventually, after skimming over seven or eight fables, she has a pretty strong impression about wolves in the fable tradition: she summarizes them as mean, smart, and persistent, listing a few details that would support each of these descriptions. Depending on her learning preferences, Jane might have chosen to make her list in a word processor or even on paper, but she decided to use her “Learning Log” Tres Columnae blog, which she also opened in a separate window. (Jane’s mom happened to walk into the room at this point and tried to tell her a story about dial-up Internet service, to which Jane responded with the eye-rolling that every parent of a preteen has experienced :-), but that’s another story.)

Anyway, Jane skims over the pre-seminar directions and sets a goal for this session, which she also records in her Learning Log blog:

I will try to respond to at least two different Thematic Threads, and I’ll use quotes from the text more often.

She now clicks a link that brings up the Opening Question we saw in Saturday’s post:

As you consider the fables you just explored, what are some ways that Trux and the wolves’ words and behavior are similar to the fable tradition?

Jane pauses for a moment (or, if necessary, several moments) to look back at the Tres Columnae stories; in fact, she even listens to the audio for an especially exciting part. (We’re really looking forward to recording that audio, by the way! And we can hardly wait for someone to make a video of this sequence!) Eventually, she chooses a text response (she could also have chosen to make an audio clip) and writes this:

In the fable tradition, the wolves were mean, smart, and persistent. They were mean when they attacked the sheep just because the puppies were crying. They were smart in all the stories, and they were persistent in most of them. In this story, the wolves were also mean, smart, and persistent. They were mean to Trux when they tried to eat him. Their plan was pretty smart even though it didn’t work. They were persistent when they tried to get Trux to join them. But I think they were more tricky in these stories than they were in the fables. Most of the fable wolves just said a few words before they ate the sheep, goat, or whatever.

Jane reads her response one more time, then clicks the button to submit her response and enter the Virtual Seminar. We’ll follow her in Tuesday’s post.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • For those who are familiar with the seminar process, does this seem like a reasonable adaptation to the realities of an online, asynchronous environment?
  • For those who aren’t familiar with seminars, does it sound like something you’d like to explore?
  • For everyone, can you see how the pre-seminar and opening work has prepared Jane to think about some of the critical issues in the fable tradition?
  • We haven’t established Jane’s age exactly, but I envision her as an intelligent thirteen- or fourteen-year-old. Do you think she could handle a seminar about the fable tradition and the uses of folklore?
  • Our friends at Paideia have had great success with middle-school aged children (for you non-U.S. readers, that would be roughly ages 10-14) and have even had success with seminars for five- and six-year-olds. That may surprise you if you believe in an age-specific progression through the Trivium from Grammar to Logic to Rhetoric, as many people in the Classical homeschooling movement do … but it may not surprise you if you’ve ever had a thoughtful “why?” conversation with a young child. To what extent do you think we should have separate sections of the Virtual Seminar Room for participants of different ages?
  • And what kinds of questions, answers, or Thematic Threads might Jane find when she enters the seminar?

Tune in next time, when we’ll answer these questions and raise some others. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Another Animal Story, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll take a quick look back at the story of Trux et Lupa, which was featured in yesterday’s post. Part II of the story, Trux pietatem ostendit, can now be found at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha wiki site, and so can a possible Part III called somnium Trucis. Even before you click that link, I want to reassure you that the wolves did not, in fact, intend to eat Trux for dinner, though it might possibly have been Plan B or Plan C. Go ahead and click the link for Part II, if you’d like, to find out what they were planning to do! 🙂 Trux is a Molossian hound, after all; he’d be a pretty formidable foe, not to mention a very large dinner, even for a whole pack of wolves!

Now that you’ve read the story – and perhaps breathed a huge sigh of relief – here are a few comments from readers. Ann M pointed out the three typos, which I’ve corrected. (Sorry about that! Thursday was a long day, and my eyes weren’t very sharp on Friday morning!) She also had a couple of great questions:

My only other questions are on how accurate we’re being to animal behavior (not any TOO accurate, obviously) … e.g. a bull would have many “wives,” I would think, and a wolf would not really eat a dog, would she?

When I summarized the story for my favorite eight-year-old, he immediately suspected that Lupa was planning to eat Trux 🙂 … and he was glad to find out the actual ending of the story! As for the “wives” issue, we’ll develop that in another story; let’s just say that the relationship between Fortunata and Maximus is a bit like that between Jupiter and Juno, in that she’s convinced that he should be monogamous, while he’s convinced that he’s the monarch of all he surveys….

Ann’s question, though, is a great lead into one of the Continuing Virtual Seminar options for this Lectiō, which we’ll be exploring in this post and the one on Monday. As you may recall, if you’re a longtime reader of the blog, the Continuing Virtual Seminar is our attempt to adapt the Paideia Seminar (and its close cousins the Socratic Seminar and the Touchstones Discussion Project) to an asynchronous online environment. Our friends at Paideia define a seminar as a “collaborative intellectual dialogue … about a text,” and that’s what we’re aiming for with the Continuing Virtual Seminar. We’ll consider the questions and structure of a seminar today, and we’ll take a closer look at the logistics (with another visit to our friends Jane and John) on Monday and Tuesday.

In a face-to-face teaching environment, a Paideia-style “seminar cycle” consists of three parts:

  1. the “pre-seminar” activities, which focus learners’ attention on some of the important ideas in the text and on some important skills or process elements;
  2. the seminar itself, in which participants talk about the text, evaluate it, and make connections to their lives; and
  3. the “post-seminar” activities, in which learners reflect on their participation and make further connections to the important ideas in the text.

The seminar itself is further divided into three sections:

  1. the Opening, a big, open-ended question to which all participants normally respond;
  2. the Core, in which participants are guided to explore the important ideas in the text, to respond to each other, to synthesize and compare each other’s ideas, and to evaluate the quality of their own responses; and
  3. the Closure, a big, open-ended question that helps participants tie up their thoughts and make personal connections.

If you really want to know more about the Paideia system, I’d highly recommend their book called Active Thinking Through Dialogue, which you can order directly from them in a not-very-Web-2.0-friendly way.  You can also find a fairly simple summary of the process (apparently an internal document from a middle school that uses seminars regularly) here, a more in-depth summary here, and a real, live seminar on video here.

Anyway, the Continuing Virtual Seminar incorporates most elements of the Paideia format, but we’ve had to make some adaptations, mostly because our participants will be engaging in seminars asynchronously rather than synchronously. We hope to be able to provide Continuing Virtual Seminars to our free subscribers as well as our annual and monthly participants; after all, they won’t exactly require editing, and we think the community will be able to handle any rudeness or unpleasantness for the most part. But we’ll still be monitoring the Virtual Seminars, participating occasionally, and helping to direct the conversation if necessary.

So, imagine that you’ve decided to participate in the Continuing Virtual Seminar that follows the stories of Trux and Lupa. We’ll ask you to review the text, at least by listening to it one more time, and then we’ll provide you with some fables about trickster wolves from Laura G’s amazing collection. Reading those and thinking about common features of the wolves in them is our pre-seminar content activity; setting a personal goal for your participation in the seminar is our pre-seminar process activity. We expect that our participants will record these in their Tres Columnae blogs (we may even have multiple blogs for different purposes for each learner!) before they enter the virtual seminar room.

To enter, a participant must compose and post a response to our Opening question … and each participant does this before she can see anyone else’s responses. The Internet is a big place :-), and (as you probably know, if you’re in the majority of readers of this blog) it’s easy to read without commenting. That’s perfectly OK most of the time (though I must say we’d appreciate it if you do want to comment about anything!), but in our Joyful Learning Community, we really want all voices to feel free to be heard.

Anyway, here’s the Opening question:

As you consider the fables you just explored, what are some ways that Trux and the wolves’ words and behavior are similar to the fable tradition?

Once you answer, you can now see all the responses of everyone who’s ever participated in the seminar … or at least those who haven’t asked to have their responses archived or deleted! You’ll be able to respond to their comments, and you’ll also be able to make your own … or to reply to some “existing” questions that Somebody at Tres Columnae provided for you. More about those questions, and the process of developing them, on Monday!

Anyway, you’ll participate in the seminar for as long as you want … and I mean this both in terms of the individual day on which you first join it and also in terms of the months and years you might choose to spend returning to it. So there’s no requirement to participate in the Closure question … but you’re welcome to do so, more than once if you’d like, each time you’re ready to leave the virtual seminar room. Each time you leave, you’ll have the opportunity to assess your participation (with a short little survey) and to respond privately to a post-seminar reflection prompt, if you want, in your internal Tres Columnae blog.

We envision that the Tres Columnae Virtual Seminar Room is primarily a “place” of written text, but we’ll also welcome audio clips if you prefer to respond that way. We thought briefly about allowing video responses, but decided against it for several reasons:

  1. Bandwidth and hosting costs would probably mean we’d have to limit video responses to paid subscribers, and we really don’t want a two-class distinction in the Virtual Seminar Room;
  2. For participants using older, slower computers (or computers behind a school district’s firewall), text and audio are a lot easier to access than video; and
  3. To protect our subscribers’ privacy, especially those who are young teenagers, we just really don’t want them posting identifiable video of themselves! So we won’t be accepting any types of video where young participants’ faces can be clearly seen. That’s why we’ll be making puppet templates available for those who want to film the stories, and it’s also why we won’t be allowing video posts in the Virtual Seminars.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of the idea of the Continuing Virtual Seminar?
  • What big issues would you want to talk about after reading this sequence of stories?
  • What lessons or connections would you want your students to take away with them?
  • If you’ve ever participated in such a dialogue face to face, how did you feel about the process?
  • If you’ve ever participated in a virtual seminar, especially an asynchronous one like ours, we’d love to know what “back-end” software was used!
  • What possible pitfalls for a Continuing Virtual Seminar can you foresee, and how might we avoid them? For example, we know that some of our participants will be quite young, while others will be more “seasoned,” as a friend of mine likes to say. Should there be separate “virtual seminar rooms” for different age groups?
  • To what extent should “somebody at Tres Columnae” take on an active role as facilitator of the conversation? Or should we wait and see how the conversation develops before we make that decision?

Tune in next time, when we’ll take a closer look at seminar questions and at the logistics of Continuing Virtual Seminars through the eyes of our fictional subscribers John and Jane. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!  I really look forward to your comments and emails, so please keep them coming! 🙂

Another Animal Story

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Yesterday, I promised you a story that

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! 🙂

You may have been wondering how that could happen! This is actually the first in a pair of stories; you’ll soon find its sequel available at if you’re interested in finding out how it ends. It comes from Lectiō XVI of Cursus Primus of the Tres Columnae project, a point when we have “paused,” so to speak, to consolidate a bunch of relatively new grammatical concepts, especially the following:

  • what Romans called the optātīvus – the present subjunctive used in what many current Latin teachers would call a “volitive” construction;
  • dative nouns, including what’s sometimes called the “double dative;” and
  • what the Romans called the inpersōnālis, which many current Latin teachers would call the “impersonal passive.”

We’re also pausing to focus on Roman practices of marriage and childbirth, and on the underlying perspectives that are revealed by these practices and their associated products. And our participants should be ready for a really deep, meaningful Virtual Seminar on these topics. We’ll look at the way this psssage might relate to the Virtual Seminar in the next few days; today, by contrast, I mainly wanted to share it with you and give you the chance to start thinking about it.

So here we go:

Trux est canis fortissimus quī vīllam fundumque Caeliō custōdit. Caelius Trucī cibum aquamque cotīdiē dat. Trux tamen trīstis est, quod sōlus agrōs custōdit. “heu! vae!” sēcum putat, “utinam coniugem habeam! quam misera est vīta mea! nēmō enim mē amat, nēmō mē cūrat. nam Caelius mē semper iubet pecus custōdīre, Vipsānia ē vīllā exīre. Prīma et Secunda aliquandō mihi pilam iactant, saepe tamen mē neglegunt. et iste Cnaeus semper mē vexat. vae! heu! mē taedet officiōrum meōrum et familiae meae! utinam ex hāc vīllā effugiam! utinam nē reveniam!”

Trux trīstis et īrātus per agrōs ambulat. nihil audit Trux, quod tam trīstis et īrātus est. Fortūnāta bōs Trucem cōnspicit et, “salvē, mī amīce,” mūgit. Trux tamen nihil audit, nihil respondet. “num quis mē salūtāre solet?” sēcum putat. Maximus taurus, marītus Fortūnātae, quoque Trucem salūtat et “quid agis, mī dulcissime?” mūgit. Trux tamen trīstis et īrātus nihil audit, nihil respondet.

ovēs in prātō pascuntur et “heus! Trux noster!” bālant. “laetissimī tē salūtāmus quod nōs dīligenter custōdīre solēs!” Trux tamen īrātus et trīstis nihil audit, nihil respondet. “num omnēs amīcī mē neglegunt?” sēcum putat. “fortasse mē decet in silvā sōlum perīre, quod nēminī cordī sum!”

iam Trux per agrōs in clīvō montis Vesuviī currit. “vae! heu!” sēcum identidem susurrat. “nēmō mē amat, nēmō mē cūrat.” subitō tamen vōcem suāvem audit et attonitus cōnsistit. aliquis enim ē silvā proximā “salvē, lupe fortissime, quid agis?” vōce suāvissimā et blandissimā susurrat.

Trux “heus! quis mē appellat?” attonitus rogat et ad silvam contendit. in silvā stat lupa formōsa et pulchra. Trux “au! au!” lātrat, “abī, lupa! nōnne lupī odiō dominō meō sunt? tē nōn oportet fīnēs meōs aggredī!”

Lupa tamen vōce blandissimā, “mī amīce,” respondet, “quid dīcis? fīnēs tuōs haud aggredior. haud inimīca, haud hostis tibi sum. nōmen enim mihi Lupa est – et nōnne tū es lupus fortissimus? sōla sum, ut vidēs, et marītum fortissimum quaerō. nōnne tū es lupus fortissimus et optimus? nōnne mihi marītō optimō esse vīs?”

Trux attonitus, “ēhem!” sēcum susurrat, “utrum canis sum, an lupus fortissimus? istī hominēs, quī mē neglegere solent, semper mē canem appellant. pecus quoque mē canem appellat. ego tamen sānē haud cordī hominibus, haud cordī pecorī sum.”

Trux Lupae appropinquat et “Lupa mea,” susurrat, “laetissimus tē salūtō. fortasse lupus sum fortissimus; istī autem hominēs mē canem Molossicum appellāre solent. mē fallit, et condiciōnem vēram maximē dubitō.”

Lupa vōce blandissimā “mendācissimī igitur sunt istī hominēs!” exclāmat. “certē lupus optimus et fortissimus es! nōnne tē taedet istōrum hominum? nōnne tē taedet boum et ovum? nōnne līber esse quam servus māvīs? et nōnne mē uxōrem dūcere cupis?”

Trux avidus, “hercle!” lātrat, “vērum dīcis!” et per silvam cum Lupā celeriter currit. Lupa tamen clam rīdet et, “canem stultissimum, sed cēnam aptissimum!” sibi susurrat!

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • First, I suppose I should ask how we did with incorporating the “newer” grammatical forms and concepts I listed above. Is there too much, not enough, or just the right amount of “newer” stuff?
  • Then I’m wondering what you think of Trux as a character. He’s deliberately ambiguous, so it’s OK if you can’t make up your mind! 🙂
  • I also wonder what you think of the minor animal characters – Fortunata, Maximus, and the sheep in particular. They’re all important in other Tres Columnae stories (especially Fortunata, as you may recall if you’ve been reading this blog for a while – and if you haven’t, you may want to check out this story at the Tres Columnae project, in which Fortunata plays a most important role).
  • Of course, I’m very interested to know what you think of Lupa … especially at the end of the story! Are she and her fellow wolves really planning to eat Trux for dinner? Or do they have a more elaborate plan? You’ll find out in the next day or so when the sequel appears on the Tres Columnae website, but feel free to speculate in the meantime.
  • If you’re familiar with the animal fable tradition, you may see some echoes of it – and some interesting inversions as well. If you’re not familiar with fables, or if you think they’re “only for children,” please take a look at our friend Laura G’s Bestiaria Latina Zoo, an amazingly comprehensive collection of Latin animal fables – and even some descriptions of animals. Either way, what do you think of the ways we’ve employed the animal fable tradition in this story?
  • If you’ve read our previous posts about Virtual Seminars, you might even have some ideas about questions we might ask to get the conversation going. (One strand, of course, might be the relationships between our characters and the animal fable tradition.) Please feel free to share them! 🙂
  • Do you think that our animal stories are only “for” a certain age group, or are they “for” everybody? Or do they perhaps have different purposes for different audiences?

Tune in next time for your responses, our comments, and a quick look at the Virtual Seminar that might accompany this story in the “fully formed” version of the Tres Columnae project. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

A Complete Lectio, VI

salvēte, amīcissimī! As promised, today we’ll consider Continuing Virtual Seminar questions that might relate to Lectiō Secunda. In a face-to-face teaching environment, the Paideia model proposes that about 20% of instructional time should be devoted to these “collaborative, intellectual dialogues about a text” – which, in my face-to-face context, would translate into one full class period per week. As a friend of mine says, with a rueful smile, “I’m good, but I ain’t that good!” I certainly try to engage my students in collaborative intellectual dialogues every day – and frequently we do engage in formal seminars or the “mini-mini” ones I’ve described in a previous post. But the pressures of time and “coverage” keep me from using seminars as regularly as I’d like to.

Of course, in the Tres Columnae system, there’s no pressure for time or coverage. Learners can take as much time as they’d like, and they can progress at the proper rate for them rather than a standardized, factory-model “pacing” that’s too fast for some and too slow for others. In that context, the Continuing Virtual Seminar is an opportunity to stop and reflect, whenever you’d like, on what you’ve been learning. You might go back to a previous Lectiō with a new insight; you might look forward to a future Lectiō whose subject matter fascinates you; you might have a lot to say, or you might have very little to say. And, of course, no one will make you participate at all!

So I envision at least two Continuing Virtual Seminar opportunities in each Lectiō, maybe more. One will be primarily concerned with Language features, while the other is more concerned with Story or Culture. And, of course, participants can start their own new Continuing Virtual Seminar if they want; all they have to do is post an internal blog, or a comment on a story, and see what happens.

In the case of Lectiō Secunda, the Language seminar will focus on our big new concept: that Latin words have different forms to show their different functions in a sentence. We might start out with something like this:

As you reflect on your own native language – and other languages you know – what are some similarities to the Latin system of cāsūs? What are some differences?

Our Story and Culture seminar (or seminars) might focus on the characters:

From what you have seen and learned about Roman gender roles, to what extent do Ridiculus and Impigra seem to embody a “typical” Roman marriage relationship?

Or on their attitudes:

From what you know of Roman social class attitudes, how do you suppose a Roman might respond to Ridiculus’ insistence that it’s a cēnāculum, not a cavus?

Or on “material culture”:

Using your favorite search engine, look for images of houses in Herculaneum and, if you’d like, in Pompeii, Stabiae, and Oplontis. What are some of the thoughts and feelings you had when you looked at these?

“We” (that royal or Imperial we for the moment) will be reading participants’ responses … and responding to them, as needed, to help them connect and deepen their ideas. Sometimes “we” will ask additional questions, but sometimes other participants will do that for us. And, of course, there’s no formal Closure or Post-Seminar step with a Continuing Virtual Seminar since, by their nature, they continue! 🙂

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Do these seem like reasonable topics for a Continuing Virtual Seminar for Lectiō Secunda?
  • What are some other good topics?
  • What responses might participants make … to any or all of them?
  • And how would you respond to these if you were “we”?

Tune in next time for a Big Question of a different sort … a Big Question about verbs. In some ways, Tres Columnae has chosen a very “traditional” order of introduction of grammatical concepts: we start with nominative and genitive case nouns so that you, the learner, can use a standard Latin dictionary. Of course, in other ways, we’re rather “untraditional”: you learn about all 5 declensions from the beginning, and you use your knowledge of nouns to create stories, not to fill out declension charts. But we’re contemplating something very untraditional when it comes to verbs, and I’d really like to know what you think!

Tune in next time for the question, and after that for some answers. And please keep those comments and emails coming!