Quality and Quantity, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs!  As I looked back over yesterday’s post, I realized I left out one very important distinction in my definitions of qualitative and quantitative approaches to teaching and learning.  Both can certainly use numbers, but a quantitative approach is all about manipulating those numbers – producing an average, for example – while a qualitative approach is more concerned with what the numbers represent.

Of course, as a teacher in an American public school, I find that I use elements of both approaches.  One important part of my job is to report an “overall grade” – a single number that somehow represents my students’ overall performance with five distinct curricular strands, work habits, “percentage of correct responses” (to quote part of a policy about grades that I read somewhere), and whatever other factors I, as the teacher, find important enough to include.  If you’re a long-time lēctor fidēlissimus, you know that I’m a bit skeptical of that single number, and you’ve probably read some of my prior posts about ways that I try to give Ownership of that number to my students.  I’m actually much more interested in the kinds of numbers that a qualitative approach can give:

  • My face-to-face Latin I students took a test yesterday, and many of them were struggling with singular and plural verb forms.  I’m curious to compare each student’s number of correct responses from that test with the number of correct responses on a quiz we took today … after we had some extra practice with the difficult verb forms.
  • At the start of each grading period, I try to give a diagnostic reading assessment.  There’s not a “grade” per se, but I want to know how many details my students can find in a Latin passage in a fairly short amount of time.  Then, as we continue to work on reading speed and fluency, I’m curious to see if that number increases over time.
  • My Latin I students also did a rather complicated, collaborative vocabulary review activity today.  I’ll be curious to see if they can match more verbs with their meanings when we do a similar activity next week.

I realize that all of these examples are focusing not on individual numbers, nor even on calculations involving those numbers, but on trends in those numbers over time.  Is that the biggest difference between a qualitative and a quantitative approach?  I’m not sure … I’ll have to ponder that myself!

One of the great benefits of an online learning environment like the Tres Columnae Project is that it can very easily automate the record-keeping needed for both qualitative and quantitative approaches.  As soon as a student completes an activity, his or her work can be scored immediately, and the system can capture all kinds of numeric data:

  • how long the student took to answer each question;
  • which questions were answered correctly;
  • what specific Knowledge, Skills, or Understandings were tested by each question;
  • how the student has progressed – or failed to progress – in Knowledge, Skill, and Understanding over time.

As I reflect on the kinds of data that teachers often receive about students – things like their “overall score” or “proficiency level” on a standardized test – it seems to me that more specific information is much more helpful.  Little Johnny or Suzie scored a “Level II” on the 8th grade Language Arts Exam … but what were the areas of strength and weakness?  And what progress has Johnny or Suzie made, or failed to make, in particular Language Arts skills over the past few years?  Score reports are often silent in these areas, but I think we need to break the silence if we really want to help Johnny or Suzie progress as a learner.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of the redefinition of qualitative and quantitative approaches in this post?
  • What types of information do you want to collect about your students?
  • What are some ways that we can take raw, unprocessed data and transform it into helpful information?
  • And how can we use such information – whether we get it from the Tres Columnae Project or from another source – to help our students grow in specific areas?

If all goes well, we’ll address these questions in our next post … and I sincerely hope that next post will happen tomorrow.  Unfortunately, this is the beginning of that crazy period I mentioned in yesterday’s post, so it may be Friday or even Saturday … and I apologize in advance.  If it does take a few days, I hope you lectōrēs fidēlissimī will continue the conversation, either by email or by comments here.

intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on October 6, 2010 at 10:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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Testing, Testing, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I hope I didn’t test your patience too much by stopping Saturday’s post where I did … right before describing an alternative to a traditional test that allows me (and my students, too) to observe students’ thought processes as well as the product of their thinking. In prior posts, I’ve described a strategy I call the Relaxed Rotating Review, in which my face-to-face students rotate, as groups of four or five, through a series of different stations in preparation for a “traditional” pen-and-paper test. They have one last opportunity to ask me questions about concepts that are difficult, and they also have one additional opportunity to watch their friends and classmates interact with the concepts. In a well-structured group, one where everyone has taken Ownership of his/her learning, the Rotating Review can be amazingly helpful. On lots of occasions, I’ve seen students suddenly grasp an idea, a strategy, or even a vocabulary item that had eluded them for days or weeks.

Of course, for students who haven’t yet taken Ownership of their learning – and for those who are convinced that they can’t succeed academically – the Rotating Review can be pretty frustrating. But it does give me – and their classmates who have taken Ownership of their own learning – another chance to show them that success is possible and that the risk of Ownership is worth the rewards. (When I stop and think about it, I find it amazing that our factory-model schools have managed to remove any idea of Ownership of learning in only nine or ten short years. I look at the four-year-olds through fourth-graders in the children’s Sunday School classes I work with each week, and I find that they all still have both Joy and Ownership in the learning we do together. I wonder how many of them will lose the Joy and the Ownership by the time they’re my “regular” students’ age … and what I, or anyone else, can do to prevent such a loss.)

Anyway, given the benefits of the Rotating Review for my students, I’ve experimented with small-group collaborative work on summative tasks, and the current experiment seems to have worked quite well. I told my students on Wednesday that, depending on how things went for the rest of the week, we could select among three different summative tasks on Friday (for the Latin I students) and Monday (for the Latin III’s):

  1. A “traditional,” individual cumulative examination;
  2. A paired activity in which they worked together to answer questions from a prior version of a cumulative exam; or
  3. A paired or small-group task in which they created and analyzed an original Latin story.

I was actually hoping that most groups would choose the third option, but they overwhelmingly voted for Option 2 – it had been a long, tiring week for them, and they all said they didn’t want to think as hard as they’d have to for the third option. So Option 2 it was.

At the beginning of class on Friday, my Latin I students received a self-assessment rubric for the task, which focused their attention on three critical factors:

  • Their level of engagement in each section of the task;
  • Their level of collaboration with their partner; and
  • Their own sense of the accuracy of their responses.

As they worked through the old exam, which has five distinct sections, I asked them to pause at the end of each section and use the rubric to assess their own performance and that of their partner. I also reminded them that I, too, would be using the rubric to assess everyone’s performance, and that I’d be looking at the accuracy of the completed product (the questions from the old exam) as well.

The morning Latin I class did a fantastic job – they were all engaged in the process, did an excellent job with the product, and were thoughtful and accurate in their self-assessment … except for the one group that forgot to turn in their product! Fortunately for them, the reporting period doesn’t end until today, so by the time you read this, they will have found and turned in their product. The afternoon class, which has struggled a bit, got off to a slower start with the task, but they also did well overall. I was especially pleased with the level of meaningful self-assessment they displayed – a bit less pleased with their reading comprehension, but then it was Friday afternoon at the end of a long, exhausting week for them.

Over the weekend I had a wonderful email exchange with a colleague about tests and games. Her opinion is that games (well-designed ones) are “fun tests” – that is, they’re intrinsically engaging and motivating, but they also require you, the learner, to apply the Knowledge, Skills, and Understandings you’ve developed. I don’t think my little task was exactly a “fun test” as she’d define it, but it was a lot more fun both to take and to grade than a traditional test would have been. It also gave me a great opportunity to observe where my students were still struggling and where they were feeling comfortable – information that will be very helpful as we start the new grading period this week. I’m looking forward to a similarly enlightening experience with my Latin III class as they do theirs on Monday. I also look forward to the amazingly creative tasks that Tres Columnae Project subscribers and their teachers will develop in the next few years!

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • How do you feel about testing and assessment in your face-to-face teaching and learning situation?
  • How do you feel about observing process as well as product?
  • What alternative ways to observe process and product have you found?
  • And what about the idea of “games as fun tests?”

Tune in next time, when we’ll explore some other types of assessments I’ve been experimenting with in my face-to-face classes and see how they might be adapted to the Tres Columnae Project. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 27, 2010 at 8:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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Res Novae, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! This will be the third in our series of posts about Change as a theme in my face-to-face teaching world, in the preparation of the Tres Columnae Project, and in the Tres Columnae stories themselves. On Wednesday and Thursday, we looked mostly at Change in my face-to-face teaching world, a theme which continues to surprise and delight your formerly-inflexible auctor here. Not only have I become ever more willing to change and adapt long-settled lesson plans and sequences of instructional activities, but I also seem to be increasingly willing to change and adapt lessons themselves when it’s clear my students need something different from what I’d planned. If you looked at my carefully polished, beautifully honed plans for this week :-), you’d see that my Latin III class was scheduled to take their first “real test over new material” today … but I realized they weren’t quite ready for that, so we postponed the test until Friday. For the past several years, I’ve “always” had a small-group review activity at the beginning of a class on test days, then finished the class period with the test itself. But I realized that my III’s needed to end the day today with that small-group review and start the day tomorrow with their test … and I was not only willing, but actually eager to adapt my plans to their needs. I don’t think I was ever as inflexible and unchanging as some stereotypic teachers – the ones who say “But the test is scheduled for today, and you should be ready, so you’ll take it today, ready or not!” But still, it used to be a lot harder for me to let go and give Ownership of the process to my students … and that’s been getting easier and easier for me the more I work on Tres Columnae materials.

Another big Change in my face-to-face teaching world has been a return to lessons that focus in detail on vocabulary work. Now, to be fair, I have always stressed the importance of vocabulary work, and I’ve always included specific work on vocabulary in the early lessons of my Latin I classes. But for several years, I had moved away from vocabulary work in the latter parts of Latin I and in my upper-level classes, moved by the belief (true enough, but incomplete) that vocabulary is best learned in context rather than in isolation. That’s true enough for certain types of learners, and it’s probably even more true for adult, self-motivated learners … but I work with high-school students, and many of my students are part-to-whole learners who really need to focus on specific words at some point. As I was designing the vocabulary exercises you’ve seen in the Instructure Demo Course, I realized that my face-to-face students needed similar types of reinforcement … so I’ve returned to a favorite old vocabulary-flashcard game and a choral-response formative assessment. My Latin III’s were delighted – especially those who had Latin I in middle school and had never experienced the glory (such as it is) of “Chartula! Chartula!” If you’re interested, here are the utterly simple rules:

  1. Everyone makes flashcards or a word list for an established list of words. (If you have a textbook, these would obviously be the words at the end of the chapter by default, but you could certainly add or subtract as needed. My Latin IV students, who don’t have a textbook with word lists, choose their own lists of “problem” words, so everyone’s cards or lists are slightly different – even more fun, since you might be asking your partner about words that you know fairly well.)
  2. At the start of the game, you exchange your cards or list with a partner.
  3. During the game, you try to win the words back, one at a time. (At the beginning, we use English equivalents on one side of the card, and the Latin words on the other. Later on, you can move to pictures, symbols, or Latin definitions if you prefer.)
  4. In Round I of a beginning game, your partner shows (or says) a Latin word and you give its meaning. If you’re right, you get the card back – or your partner checks the word off on your list. If you’re not right, you don’t get the card or the check. Now you select one of your partner’s words and give it to him/her Latīnē. Continue to alternate until you’ve won all of your words back, thus finishing Round I.
  5. For Round II, you exchange cards or lists again. This time, your partner shows (or says) the L1 word and you provide the Latin to win it back.
  6. Round III is like Round I, but faster.
  7. Round IV is like Round II, but faster.

I adapted the game from a wonderful strategy by Spencer Kagan and his associates called “The Flashcard Game.” It’s obviously not a high-level activity, since it’s clearly focused on Knowledge rather than Skill or Understanding. But Knowledge is important, too! And “Chartula! Chartula!” works very well if your goal is automaticity or over-mastery … not always an appropriate goal, but often helpful for “basic” vocabulary. My III’s have added a wonderful variation in which they come up with their own creative, original mnemonic devices for problem words and share the best of these with each other at the end of the game – in short, they’ve added an element of Skill and Understanding to a Knowledge-level task. Best of all, they did it all by themselves … and I was proud indeed!

As I work on the Tres Columnae materials in preparation for the launch of Version Beta, I find that I’m ever more willing to be flexible in the types of exercises and quizzes we include there, too. I also find that I’m really going to need the help of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī in designing and creating such exercises. Exercises and quizzes have always been one of the options for Submissions, and I really want to encourage you – and your students, too – to think hard about the types of exercises and other practice activities you’d like to see as part of the Tres Columnae Project. If you want something, please design it … and if you design it, please submit it! Do you think we should have a lower editing fee for exercise-type Submissions, which would presumably require less editing on our part? Or should every Submission be a Submission, priced the same?

quid mihi suādētis? et quid respondētis?

On Monday, we’ll finally see that long-promised new story about a favorite Tres Columnae character who has to confront significant Changes in his – or her – life. (There will be a post on Saturday, but it’s primarily in honor of that day and the Changes it brought to our nation and our world.)  intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 10:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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Res Novae, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, our current series will focus on various kinds of Change, both in my face-to-face teaching world and in the stories of the Tres Columnae Project. We’ll get to the Tres Columnae Project stories about Change on Friday or Saturday, but today I want to focus on Change in my face-to-face teaching world.

The biggest Change there, of course, is that the design of the Tres Columnae Project has led me to rethink (and sometimes adapt or even abandon) strategies I’d used for years with my classes. In particular, I’ve become increasingly aware of how much students need to see connections between the activities we do in class and the learning goals of the lesson. I’ve always been a planner, a goal-oriented person, and a designer of activities that meet the goals I set for myself and my students, but I realized this summer that I haven’t always made the connections between the goals and the activities clear enough for my students. Just a few words can make a big difference: “Remember, the purpose of this activity is …” or “So we need to focus on ….”

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, revisiting those learning goals – and flat-out asking students if they feel we’ve met them – has been amazingly helpful for me as well as for my students. Apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks – perhaps even a dog as old and set in his ways as our friends Trux, Ferox, and Medusa in the Tres Columnae stories! (I’m not sure, though, whether it would ever be possible to persuade Rīdiculus mūs that he lives in cavō, nōn cēnāculō!)

Another exciting change has come in the response of my Latin III students to the “Big Three” reading-method textbook that’s still our primary learning resource. This is the textbook that they all (or almost all) loved as Latin I and II students … and they still like it, but they’ve begun to make comments to me about some of its shortcomings, and the comments sound oddly like my own feelings about the book. Of course, they all did experience at least the early Lectiōnēs of the Tres Columnae Project as part of their optional-but-encouraged summer review – but it’s amazing to hear some of the things they’ve said this week. Yesterday, for example, we officially learned about the supine, and today we did a brief review of deponent verbs. I had briefly mentioned (and a number of them remembered) that we introduce the supine much earlier in the Tres Columnae sequence, mainly because it’s so useful as a way to express purpose without “complicated” constructions like subjunctive clauses or gerundive phrases.

That class happens to be with me for an hour before lunch, break for lunch, and return for another half hour. As we were leaving for lunch, one of my extremely bright students mentioned that she really thought it would make more sense to learn the supine much earlier, and that Latin I would have been a good time to do it. I just smiled … and was glad to see that my students are approaching their learning materials in a more critical, thoughtful way. That’s a big, but very positive Change for them.

We didn’t directly address the introduction of deponent verbs in class today, but you long-time lectōrēs fidēlissimī probably recall my opinions from previous posts: in essence, I think we confuse students needlessly by introducing deponents after rather than before passives. In fact, the more I think about “hard” grammatical concepts, the more I question whether they’re actually “hard” at all. Sometimes the difficulty comes from our “traditional” approach to introducing the concept; sometimes the difficulty arises from our grammar-translation insistence on relating everything to “our” native language; and sometimes the difficulty stems from introducing the concept too soon … or too late, or in an order that’s “logical” (because it goes “down the chart” in a formal grammar book) but not natural or sensible (given the order in which linguistic features seem to have developed, or the order they’re best acquired by a language learner).

Of course, any alteration in the “traditional” or “expected” order is a Change, too, and Change, as we’ve noticed, can be scary.  It’s even scary for the agents who make change happen!  I’m not sure what’s most frightening, though: the Change itself, or the fear that no one else will Change with you.

That may be why I’ve been reading a lot about Change and Leadership in the last few months.  If you’re interested in some excellent current research about Change, I’d highly recommend a book by Chip and Dan Heath called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. I’ve also mentioned the Heath brothers’ book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die on several occasions. Both books are amazingly helpful – and well-written, and memorable too. But don’t take my word for it, and don’t depend on my poor summary; buy them! And read them! And see what you think!

I’m especially curious to know what you think of the Heaths’ metaphors of the Elephant and the Rider in Switch. It changed my views (or helped to solidify my new views) about a whole lot of things, including classroom management and student motivation. Another huge influence, of course, has been Ross Greene’s remarkable book Lost at School – I’d love to know what you think of his idea that chronic behavior problems, like chronic academic problems, are usually caused by skill deficits rather than “attitude problems” or “not knowing better.” (In terms that we often use to describe the Tres Columnae Project, Dr. Greene’s point is that it’s not a knowledge problem or an understanding problem when students repeatedly misbehave in a particular setting; it’s a skill problem. Skills can be taught, of course, but they’re not taught very well by punishments or negative reinforcements … and yet those are the very techniques that teachers and schools often resort to when faced with chronic misbehavior.)

Dr. Greene and the Heaths have led me to some significant Changes in the ways I approach “problem” behaviors with my students this year, and I’ve already started to see amazingly positive results. More on those, too, as our series about Change continues.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time, when we’ll look at some more Changes … probably including a Tres Columnae Project story in which at least one character must deal with a significant Change in his or her life. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 9, 2010 at 10:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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Best-Laid Plans, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs!  If you’re reading this post “live,” it’s the last day of August … one day before we had hoped to have Version Beta of the Tres Columnae Project ready for public consumption.  I’m afraid we were a bit ambitious with that date!  We’ve made great progress with Beta, and it should be ready quite soon … but not tomorrow!  For that, you may feel free to blame

  • me, for my over-ambitious scheduling plans;
  • my favorite computer, for its unplanned trip to the nearest Apple Service Center;
  • the weather in my face-to-face teaching world, for being so hot and miserable for the past several weeks; or
  • any combination of the above.

I’m happy to take full blame, or credit as the case may be.  On the other hand, with the Version Alpha Wiki site, you do already have a good sense of the Tres Columnae stories for the first twenty or so Lectiōnēs, and with the Instructure Demo Site, you have a good idea of what the exercises and quizzes will look like.  While the look and feel of Version Beta will be significantly improved, the content won’t change very much … except that there will be a much easier pathway from one story or activity to the next.

It’s almost inevitable that plans change, but the process of planning is incredibly useful.  I thought about that again today in my face-to-face teaching world.  We had a class assembly that took all tenth-graders out of my morning Latin I class for about a third of the period, while the afternoon class was undisturbed.  I knew about the assembly and had planned for it, but the timing was slightly different from what I’d hoped … and so I had to change a number of specific things about the plan.  And yet, if I hadn’t gone through the process of planning (including planning how to deal with the different available amounts of time in the two classes), what would have happened?  Fear and panic, perhaps?  Anger?  Despair?  I hope not :-), but I don’t really want to find out.  After almost two decades as a teacher, I’ve found that (at least for me) planning avoids many crises and emergencies, even if the plans themselves have to be adjusted to meet the real needs and circumstances of the actual rather than ideal students in my classes.

One goal for the Tres Columnae Project, of course, is to make that planning easier for new teachers.  I think of a young colleague who emailed me today and talked with me over the weekend: she’s struggling, as I think all teachers do, with that move from teaching about Latin or teaching pieces of Latin to letting her students use the language.  It’s so hard to make that move … rewarding, of course, and vital, meā quidem sententiā, but still hard!  It’s my hope that Tres Columnae can make that process easier for all teachers, but especially for new, overwhelmed ones.  I’ll never forget that awful first-year-teacher feeling, and I’d love to make it so that no one ever has to feel that way, ever again!

In this week’s posts, if all goes well, we’ll be focusing on plans and planning as they relate to the Tres Columnae Project and to teaching Latin more generally.  At least, that’s my plan!  But that plan may be disrupted by several factors:

  • I have an appointment this afternoon that may prevent me from writing a post for Wednesday … but it may not.
  • As I write, Hurricane Earl may or may not interfere with my face-to-face world.
  • Of course, my favorite computer is still being repaired … and who knows exactly when it will return?
  • Wednesday and Thursday afternoons include meetings (of unpredictable length) about a student and about the school-wide seminar program I coordinate.
  • Who knows what special plans my favorite children have developed for the Labor Day holiday weekend?

And so, just as my plans for my classes may not “survive contact with the students” as someone wise once said, my plans for this week’s posts may not survive contact with the realities of the week.  But by planning, we should be able to minimize the disruptions.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time (and I sincerely plan for that to be tomorrow!) when we’ll consider plans and planning in more depth.  intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Making Contributions, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! If you’re reading today’s post “live,” it’s the second day of school in my face-to-face teaching world. We’ve survived the excitement and jitters of the first day, including a first-day celebration that’s become a cherished tradition over the past few years. It was a particularly nice first day of school, too. For some reason, I always expect fog in the morning on that first day; I remember many first days of school with fog in my childhood, and I can’t remember the last time we did not have fog here on The Day. Today, though, there were a few morning showers and some clouds … but no fog! By the end of the day, it was a beautiful, sunny day, but not at all as hot as it’s been for the past few weeks. Even the weather cooperated to make an especially nice day.

Today, other than a briefly extended homeroom period (to collect all those required forms and go over a few procedural things), we’ll be on an almost-regular schedule. My Latin III students will be following a not-so-cherished tradition known as the “Cumulative Vocabulary Review Thing” – it’s a pre-assessment of vocabulary in isolation, followed by a Socratic Seminar about the idea of Knowing Vocabulary. We’ll consider such issues as

  • what knowing means, and how it’s connected with Skill and Understanding;
  • what vocabulary means, and whether the “Review Thing” really measures it or not;
  • what strategies have worked well for us as we attempt to Know Vocabulary in various disciplines, not just Latin; and
  • why one would even bother Knowing Vocabulary in an always-on world where a Latin dictionary is only a few keystrokes away … and where the Lewis & Short is an almost-free download for your iPhone or iPod Touch.

We may look at some early Tres Columnae Project stories after that, or we may save them for a day next week when we’ll review verbs. I think it might be fun for my students to transform a short Tres Columnae fābula from a historical present to a “typical” narrative with imperfect, perfect, and maybe even some pluperfect tense verbs. They can work together to decide which tense seems best for each verb in the story, and we can talk about the process and about the different choices that each group makes, especially with imperfects and perfects. There are twenty Latin III students and five student-use computers in the classroom, so we might rotate among different stations for this review process. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were a one-to-one computer school … or if students could use the technology they bring with them to school each day? Recently I was reminded once again that my (not very new) cell phone is much more powerful than the mainframe computer my mother programmed for years in the 1980’s and 1990’s. That filled a room, but the phone doesn’t even fill my whole pocket!

Of course, in my face-to-face teaching world, students aren’t allowed to use cell phones or other electronic devices that the school doesn’t provide – and I do understand the reasoning behind that policy, since I’ve dealt with my share of surreptitious (and not-so-surreptitious) texters and emailers over the years. For many teachers, especially new ones, tired ones, and impatient ones, making sure that technological tools are actually used for instructional purposes would be quite overwhelming! I’ve been all of those teachers myself, sometimes at the same time, so I have a lot of sympathy for them. Still, I remember the battles about calculators in math class 25 years ago, which have pretty much been settled; I don’t know very many math teachers who refuse to let their students use calculators these days! I also wonder (and this may be a bit cynical on my part) how long it will take cash-strapped school districts around the country to offload their technology budgets by embracing tools that students already have. In a world where some schools are asking students to bring toilet paper, it’s easy to imagine asking them to bring phones and computers before too long.

Meanwhile, if all goes as planned, my Latin I students will be reading and hearing some Tres Columnae Project stories from Lectiō Prīma in addition to the stories in their textbook that we’d usually read today. I think we’ll see and hear the first several fabellae, and we might even get to Prīma Fabella Longa if all goes well. If not today, then possibly tomorrow … though much of tomorrow will be devoted to a Connection and Comparison activity called vīlla Rōmāna et vīlla mea in which students create a floor plan of their “dream home” and try to label as many rooms as possible with “their Latin names.” Of course, we quickly discover that a lot of rooms – and their functions – don’t translate very well, and that leads to a seminar (or something like one; this is, after all, very early in the year for the “real thing”) about the idea of housing and homes, and about the difficulties involved in translation between different languages and cultures. As you know, Understandings are really important to me, and I want my students to grapple with important ideas like this from the beginning of their time with me. I also want to know how much work on seminar process we’ll need to do, and the best way to find out is by attempting a seminar and seeing what happens! I will, of course, make sure that my students know it’s OK not to be proficient the first time … that’s an important life lesson that schools often don’t have the time or resources to teach.

As I continue to work on Tres Columnae Project materials – and on the logistics for the project – I’m reminded again and again that it’s not only OK, but quite expectable, for versions Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and even Epsilon of anything to have some flaws. The great thing about the Tres Columnae Project, of course, is that the flaws are easy to fix … and the changes happen instantaneously! By contrast, there always seem to be a few typographical errors in even the best-proofread textbook, but just imagine the cost and difficulty of preparing corrections! Even if you send out a sheet of errata and corrigenda, as most publishers do, you can’t know for sure that every potential user will receive it … or that the corrections will be made. If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you know that’s one of the main reasons I embarked on the journey toward the Tres Columnae Project to begin with.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time, when we’ll continue to explore the theme of new beginnings, ways of knowing, and making contributions. It’s possible that there may not be a post tomorrow; my afternoon and evening are unexpectedly full today, so I may not have my normal writing time. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

More Renovations and Communications

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I do apologize that there wasn’t a post on Saturday. I had expected to be able to write one … and then life intervened with some sort of brief, but intensely exhausting illness Friday evening and early Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoon brought that long-awaited trip to the Apple Store that I mentioned earlier in the week. It turned out that the needed part hadn’t arrived, but they were miraculously able to resuscitate the iPod for a few days; it’s been working pretty well and we were able to perform a full backup. Everyone was also very apologetic about the confusion, and we got a further discount on the repair, and my favorite-and-only little boy got to spend some time at the brand-new Lego Store in the mall. So it was a good day, but a very full one … not one that could be spent writing blog posts!

Of course, since the themes of our recent stories have revolved around construction, I suppose that delays should probably be expected! Have you ever known of a construction project that was finished on time and on budget? 🙂

On Thursday and Friday, I had promised the next story in the sequence about the possible renovation of Caelius and Vipsania’s house. You may recall that we started out with this story, in which Frontō the architect was asked to prepare a plan for the renovations. Then we saw this story, in which he invites his brother the contractor to be involved with the project. Last Monday brought this story, in which Fronto’s brother was not exactly eager to be involved. Tuesday we saw this one, in which Fronto and his brother had a rather awkward conversation about the project. Then on Wednesday, we looked at this one, in which Caelius and Vipsania saw the plans for the first time – and did not react with the overwhelming approval Fronto had been hoping for, to put it mildly! In today’s featured story, which you can now find here on the Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like, we find out some of their objections:

Caelius Frontōnī “ō mī Frontō!” exclāmat, “sine dubiō iocus optimus est hic liber! ecce turrēs maximī! ecce fenestrae! ecce tria ātria et vīgintī cubicula! num urbs antīquissima Troia tanta et tam mīrābilis erat?”

Frontō attonitus, “mī domine,” respondet, “quid dīcis? nōnne parva et sordida est vīlla tua? nōnne antīquae et vīlēs pictūrae, quās pictor minimae artis ōlim in hīs mūrīs pīnxit? nōnne tē, senātōrem maximae dignitātis, decet in vīllā splendidā habitāre?”

tum Caelius, “heus!” exclāmat, “nōnne māior est vīlla splendida tua quam urbs Herculāneum tōtum?”

et Frontō, “fortasse, mī domine, sī–”

Caelius tamen haec interpellat: “haud mē decet vīllam māiōrem quam urbem aedificāre! num īnsānīs?mē decet pietātem et dignitātem, nōn īnsāniam praestāre!”

Frontō attonitus, “sed domine,” respondet, “quid dīcis? sine dubiō haec vīlla mea–”

Caelius tamen īrātus, “num Imperātor ipse tālem vīllam habet? haud mē decet vīllam māiōrem quam Imperātōris ipsīus exstruere! praetereā, sī quis tālem vīllam purgāre vult, nōnne mīlle servōrum, mīlle ancillārum opus est?”

Caelius paulīsper tacet, et “fortasse mīlle ancillārum pulchrārum?” sēcum susurrat. Vipsānia tamen haec addit: “mī architecte, fortasse verba marītī meī nōn intellegēbās. tē enim arcessīvit vīllam renovātum, nōn dēlētum. hanc vīllam reficere in animō habēbat; novam exstruere nōlēbat. paulō enim minor est vīlla; parva sunt cubicula; antīquae sunt pictūrae. nōn tamen opus est vīgintī cubiculōrum, vel trium ātriōrum, vel quattuor porticuum. ecce thermae quās pīnxistī! ecce hippodrōmē! et hoc quid est? num amphitheātrum? marītus enim meus senātor est, nōn Imperātor. nēmō, nē deus Iuppiter quidem, in tantā vīllā habitāre dēbet.”

Frontō attonitus, “mea domina Vipsānia,” incipit. Caelius tamen haec interpellat: “mī Frontō, quaesō, ignōsce mihi – sine dubiō et ego et tū in hāc rē errāvimus. hoc tamen certum est: tālem vīllam exstruere nec volō nec possum. tē igitur decet librōs tuōs tollere et ēgredī. fortasse vel Imperātorī ipsī vel dīs omnibus vīlla tālis placet; mihi tamen valdē displicet. tē igitur librōs tuōs tollere et ēgredī iubeō.”

Frontō cum frātre tacitus ē vīllā Caeliī ēgreditur. in viā Marcus Iūlius Frontō librum prēnsat et frātrem suum identidem verberat. “siste! siste!” clāmat architectus, “siste, mī frāter! cūr librō meō vapulō?”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • I hope you’ve come to expect some unexpected twists in Tres Columnae Project stories by now … and I hope you enjoyed this one!
  • Wouldn’t you love to see Fronto’s drawings?!
  • Which of the many over-the-top details is your favorite?
  • And what do you think of Fronto’s brother’s response at the end?

Tune in next time, when we’ll go in a somewhat different direction and look at other aspects of the Tres Columnae Project. School, in my face-to-face teaching world, starts on Wednesday, so our next few posts may be a bit short and sketchy. If all goes well, though, I hope to have some significant good news about the progress of Version Beta in the next couple of weeks.

intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 23, 2010 at 9:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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Floors and Ceilings, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I’d like to share a couple of interesting, possibly disconnected things before we get to today’s main topic. First, thanks to our friends at Accomplished Teacher by SmartBrief, I ran into this article in the Harvard Education Letter about the use of cell phones as learning tools. It’s obvious that one could use smartphones for all kinds of purposes in a class setting; after all, they’re rather more powerful computers than the one that sat on my desk 10-15 years ago. But I really hadn’t thought of using plain-old cell phones as a tool for formative assessment! The article describes a simple, free way to do that – and it also describes ways that teachers have managed the potential for distraction and disengagement. In a time of budget crisis, it certainly makes sense to use technology that students already own rather than running out and spending money on other tools … especially when, as the article points out, students are actually asking for this tool rather than another. Of course, there’s a lot of understandable fear that needs to be overcome, and a lot of schools’ and districts’ technology-use policies would have to be revised. But isn’t it great when a “tool for evil” (as so many teachers see students’ cell phones) can be reconfigured into a “tool for good”?

Second, there’s been an interesting thread on the Latinteach listserv about the use of rewards and incentives, especially for whole groups of students. Depending on your philosophy of teaching, that might get you really excited, or it might repel you completely. But, just as a student’s cell phone doesn’t have to be a “tool for evil” all the time, extrinsic motivators are neither the ultimate solution to every classroom problem nor the single factor that destroys teaching and learning. In his recent book Drive, Daniel Pink talks about the complicated interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. He points out the depressing research about how extrinsic rewards can actually lead to a decrease in intrinsic motivation for a task – research that every teacher and curriculum designer ought to take to heart! But he also notes that unexpected rewards don’t seem to have this effect, and that the effect doesn’t apply to tasks that aren’t intrinsically rewarding. Lots of food for thought! I’m still grappling with the implications after reading the book twice this summer.

Unexpected technology use and possibly harmful rewards: is there a common thread? And how do these topics relate to our main topic of the day? According to yesterday’s post,

we’ll look at some specific examples of Tres Columnae Project materials that support big-picture goals.

I think the common thread is that idea of goals vs. by-products that I’ve mentioned several times in this week’s posts. A cell phone, a computer, a potential reward for students – all of them are tools or instruments that one might use, or not use, to reach a particular goal. But many organizations (not just in education, but across the spectrum of human organizations) tend to confuse the goals with the tools. For example, schools often install interactive whiteboards or other forms of technology “to increase student achievement,” but they don’t train their teachers in ways to use the new tools constructively. (An example of this just reached my email in-box as I was writing this post: a colleague and Free Trial subscriber says her school has purchased several interactive whiteboards but “we are supposed to figure them out on our own.”) Churches and other religious organizations sometimes build new buildings “to attract members,” and businesses reorganizes themselves or pursue new initiatives seemingly for their own sake. There’s nothing wrong with the tools per se. But you have to know how, when, and why to use a particular tool effectively; otherwise, you may make the situation worse. I think of a slightly dripping faucet in my own house – it might be tempting to use a hammer on it, but that wouldn’t fix the leak, would it? 🙂

In the same way, the individual tools (stories, exercises, quizzes, etc.) in the Tres Columnae Project are designed and deployed to help learners achieve particular goals. If you’re not interested in a given goal, or if you’ve already achieved it, that’s fine – but then you probably don’t need or want to use the tools that are designed around that goal. Consider, for a moment, the goals for Lectiō Tertia, which haven’t appeared on the Version Alpha wiki site until now:

  1. Distinguish nominative, genitive, and ablative noun forms
  2. Distinguish and classify nouns by declension pattern
  3. Continue to build Latin vocabulary and make connections with words in other languages
  4. Understand and create Latin stories that use nominative, genitive, and ablative case nouns
  5. Continue to explore the concept of pietās
  6. Understand Roman views of family relationships (especially patruus, amita, avunculus, matertera)
  7. Compare and contrast Roman family relationships with those in participants’ own culture(s)

If you’re starting from scratch with all of these goals, you’d probably want to try all the available activities in Lectiō Tertia. But if you’re already good at #1 and #2, you could easily skip over things like

  • the first quid novī? explanation, which points out the “new” ablative case forms;
  • the exercise called cuius cāsūs est nōmen? (available for subscribers only) which asks learners to distinguish nominative, genitive, and ablative forms of familiar nouns from Lectiōnēs Prīma and Secunda;
  • the second quid novī? explanation, which introduces the idea of declension patterns; and
  • the exercise called cuius cāsūs? cuius dēclinātiōnis? which allows subscribers to classify nouns by case and declension pattern.

If you absolutely know that you’ve mastered goals 1 and 2, you could skip these items completely. If you’re pretty sure, you might try the diagnostic assignment called quid est nōmen rēctum? which asks subscribers to choose the right noun form to complete a sentences and to classify some nouns by case and declension. In the same way, if you think you’ve already mastered the important new words in Lectiō Tertia, we’ll have a diagnostic exercise you can use. I’ve listed the goals such that the latter ones require mastery of the former ones. As an independent learner, you can, of course, choose the goal that’s most significant to you; as a teacher, you can choose for your students, but I hope you’ll choose #6 or #7. That way, even if your students fall a bit short of the insights you’d hoped for, they’ll still leave Lectiō Tertia with

  • knowledge of nominative, genitive, and ablative singular case endings;
  • knowledge of more Latin vocabulary;
  • skill at reading and comprehending connected stories featuring these three cases;
  • skill at connecting Latin words to words in other languages;
  • skill at using details from a story to develop understandings;
  • deeper understanding of how the Latin case system works; and even some
  • deeper understanding of Roman family structure

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Can you see how the “lower” goals are subsumed in the “higher” ones?
  • Does it make sense that if you aim high, but fall a bit short, you can still reach most of the “lower” goals?
  • Are there some even “higher” goals we should be striving to reach at this early point in the Tres Columnae Project?

Tune in next time for more on this theme, including some stories and other Tres Columnae Project tasks that haven’t been publicly revealed until now. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 11, 2010 at 11:38 am  Comments (2)  
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Floors and Ceilings, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! If you’re not a subscriber to the Latinteach listserv, you may not know about the passionate and highly encouraging discussion over there about the idea of “Latin as foreign language” vs. “Latin as philology” or, as one of my colleagues and friends said, Latin as “deliberate reading.” I really don’t see a conflict between the two! After all, how can you possibly do deliberate, careful reading of a text if you don’t have a good command of the language in which it’s written? To take an extreme example, I don’t think I could say anything intelligent about a Russian text, even though I “know the alphabet” (or did twenty years ago) and could probably manage to look up several of the words in a dictionary if I had enough time. But I obviously don’t have any sense of the connotations of those words – why the author chose one word rather than a synonym, or what suggestions a particular phrase would raise in the mind of a native speaker. I could, of course, read a translation of the work if one happened to be available, and then I could probably say something sensible about the plot and characterization – but I certainly wouldn’t be doing philology, in any meaningful sense of the term, with the actual Russian text. Too often, I’m afraid, Latinists of the past century-and-a-half have tried to short-circuit their way to “deliberate reading” without actually developing proficiency at reading itself!

I’ve been re-reading a remarkable book by Dr. John Townsend called Leadership Beyond Reason, which is about integrating the emotional and intuitive sides of ourselves along with the logical and rational sides in our dealings with others – and especially with those, like our students, for whom we function as leaders. Dr. Townsend reminds his readers of a really important point: Happiness, he says, is a wonderful by-product of the things we do in life, but if we set up happiness as a goal or outcome for ourselves, we’re likely to be miserable! Stop and let that sink in for a moment.

In a comment I made yesterday at Fireside Learning, I mentioned this idea and related it to the ongoing discussion over there about creativity and academic standards. I wonder if knowledge and skill, which we so often set up as goals for instruction, should really be seen as by-products of a quest for understanding? After all, if my goal (the ceiling, in our continuing metaphor) as a teacher is to impart a list of knowledge and skills, I may well fall short and some of my students probably will. But if our goal or ceiling is to develop understandings that are based on a given set of knowledge and skills, those become the floor on which we build the understandings rather than the ceiling toward which we reach in vain. We may well still have some construction to do to make sure that everybody’s floor is stable and level, but the work will be much more satisfying – and a lot more of our learners will probably end up mastering that set of knowledge and skills!

So how does this floor-vs-ceiling paradigm work in an actual class? And how does it work with materials like the Tres Columnae Project stories, exercises, quizzes, and virtual seminars? It’s not so much the activities themselves that change as the attitude and sense of purpose. (Michael Gerber, the famous writer about entrepreneurship and small business, makes an oddly similar point in his description of “the business plan that always works” in one of his books. The document, he says, looks similar to any other business plan, but the process used is utterly different.)

First let’s consider a quick physical-class illustration – one that many teachers are already facing, or soon will, as the school year begins with their Latin II students. Most likely, the teacher feels a need – or the students have made it quite clear that they need – to review the noun cases, verb tenses, and other grammatical concepts learned in Latin I. But what are some possible purposes or goals for this activity?

  1. You might want your students to be able to identify ancillam as an accusative singular first-declension noun and quaeram as a first-person-singular future indicative active verb. That’s a recognition or knowledge-level goal.
  2. You might want your students to be able to make the forms of ancilla or quaerere – to decline and conjugate. Those are application or skill-level goals, but on a fairly low level.
  3. You might want your students to be able to use the forms to understand a passage that they’re reading – perhaps you want them to translate the passage once they understand it, or to answer questions about it, or to illustrate it, or to do something else with it. These goals involve some skill (application and analysis) and some understanding (evaluation and synthesis or creation).
  4. You might want students to emerge with a deeper, more coherent sense of how Latin morphology conveys meaning – definitely an understanding-level goal.

Of course, you probably want your students to be able to do all of these things! But which goal is most likely to help them get there? The way I’ve ordered the list, each new goal encompasses the essential learnings of those before it. If I aim for #4 (and I have to confess I don’t always do this, but I should!), my students will probably be pretty good at #1, #2, and #3 by the end of the process even if they don’t entirely master #4. (And how exactly would I measure #4 anyway?) But if I just aim for #1 or #2, my students probably won’t all get there – and even if they do, will their efforts necessarily bring them any closer to #3 or #4?

If my goal really is #4, I suppose it could be measured in several ways:

  • Students might participate in a Socratic Seminar on the topic of Endings and Meanings.
  • They might write about their understanding of Latin cases or tenses and how that understanding has deepened.
  • They might create an original product (an illustration or model, for example) that shows the relationships between different cases or tenses. I once had a Latin III student who built such a model because she felt confused about Latin verb tenses and moods and wanted to be able to see and feel the relationships. Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for her), I let her keep it! 🙂

So, if that Understanding is the ultimate goal, we obviously need to make sure that students have the knowledge of noun and verb formation and the skills of identifying and analyzing inflected forms – not to mention the skills of using inflections to comprehend a connected passage. There will obviously be assessments along the way that measure the knowledge and skills – and those assessments may, in the end, weigh more heavily in the students’ grade than the culminating assessment does. But by seeing students knowledge and skills as sign-posts rather than the ultimate goal – as floor (or maybe walls or support beams) rather than ceiling – I’ve changed the focus of the class completely. If I’ve done my job well, students can clearly see how this knowledge, this skill, this exercise or other activity is connected to the bigger goal – and they can also chart their progress toward attaining that goal. Motivation and focus increase, and complaints about “why are we doing this?” tend to decrease.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Is this an excessively rosy picture? Or have you found that students do, in fact, get caught up in bigger goals and find their achievement increasing?
  • Can you see how differentiated activities are not only necessary, but much easier to plan with a big-picture goal in mind?
  • And can you see how materials like the Tres Columnae Project can make it easier to support students in their quest for big-picture goals?

Tune in next time, when we’ll look at some specific examples of Tres Columnae Project materials that support big-picture goals. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 10, 2010 at 11:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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Floors and Ceilings, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As I mentioned on Saturday, we’ll be thinking more about how to use the Tres Columnae materials with a “real” Latin I class in this week’s posts. Some of us, who have already returned to school or are just about to do so, may want to look away 🙂 and preserve the illusion of the endless summer. For me, though, that last “week of freedom” is an important time to think about the big picture of what I’ll be doing in my face-to-face classes … and about what I still need to do with the Tres Columnae Project materials to make that happen.

If you’re not a member of the Fireside Learning Ning, you may not have seen this Newsweek article about an apparent decline in American children’s creativity over the past twenty years. The discussion at Fireside Learning has been very interesting, too! (If you’re not a member, and if you’re interested in getting to know a really thoughtful, committed group of teachers and learners from all around the world, I’d recommend it highly!) I’m not entirely sure that creativity has declined – I think it may just be expressed differently, as I mentioned in a comment I made over there. I’m really curious to know what you all think: do you find that your students today are less creative, more creative, or differently creative from those a decade or more ago? My sense is “differently creative” – especially when I think about all the new forms of online creativity (fan fiction, various kinds of contributions to social-networking sites, construction of virtual worlds, just to name a few) that my students are involved in. At the same time, a lot of my students are very shy about sharing what they’ve created, especially with adults … but that’s not exactly new, is it? I don’t think I ever shared my not-so-wonderful adolescent poetry with any of my teachers, for example.

But I do fear that schools have become less supportive of divergent thinking – and of the kind of divergent-to-convergent thinking described in the later parts of the article. Sadly, in a world of standards, the predictable response by schools and teachers is to see those standards as the “ceiling” or aspirational goal of instruction, and then to devise curricula that approach the standards in a mechanical way. But I don’t think that’s inevitable, and I certainly don’t think it’s the best approach.

In my own classes, and in designing the Tres Columnae Project, I prefer to see standards as the “floor” on which the curriculum and learning activities will be built, not as the “ceiling” to which some of us might ultimately arrive. Of course, there will always be a few students who need a boost up onto that floor – that’s part of my job as a teacher. But the vast majority of students are already capable of reaching, and indeed surpassing, any curriculum standard you care to name. Another big part of my job is to help students see that – and, of course, to develop (or help them develop) learning activities and structures that will help them far exceed these standards.

As I think about floors and ceilings – and as I look around my own two-story house – I realize that the ceiling of one level is, of course, the floor of the next one. I also realize that you need stairs, or possibly an escalator or elevator, to get from one level to the next. If you’re not familiar with the work of Dr. Art Costa, you might not know about a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes about one-story, two-story, and three-story thinkers – Dr. Costa and his colleagues have developed a wonderful metaphor called the three-story intellect, which you can read about here if you’re interested. It corresponds, to a degree, with our threefold distinction among Knowledge, Skill, and Understanding … but like all of Costa’s work, it’s utterly profound! See what you think when you’ve had a chance to read about it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about floor-vs-ceiling approaches recently as I prepare for a new school year, and as I read and participate in some of the recent discussions on the major email lists for Latin teachers. There was one on the Latinteach list about preparing students for the Advanced Placement Examination – I didn’t participate in that one, but I was interested to see what some of my colleagues are doing. In many cases, they seemed to be focused on the first goal of the AP® curriculum (that the student will be able to create a literal translation of a passage on the syllabus) to the exclusion of all the other goals. Now, if you’ve been among our lectōrēs fidēlissimī for any length of time, you know that “literal” translation isn’t my favorite form of assessment – and I certainly don’t think it should be the primary way to interact with a new text, or to try to develop an understanding of a text. But you probably also know that I’m pragmatic about translation; I do ask students to develop translations sometimes in my face-to-face classes, and I do ask my AP® students to work on their “literal” translation skills and to understand the “segment scoring” approach that used to assess translations on the exam. But I certainly don’t ask my students to “translate everything” – instead, I’d much rather have them read and understand everything … and think deeply about the critical issues that are raised by the portions of the Aeneid that they read. We certainly work on translation – and on the other subskills, like scansion and the identification of prescribed figures of speech, that are tested on the exam – but our perspective is different. Instead of viewing the exam and the reading list as an insurmountable hurdle, we try to see it as an engaging but achievable challenge. I think that makes all the difference for my students’ attitudes – and it certainly makes a big difference for mine!

quid respondētis, amīcī?

In this week’s posts, we’ll think about ways that the Tres Columnae Project materials can help all of our students – but especially those who are struggling, or who need a little extra boost – see the curriculum standards they’re asked to meet as an engaging challenge rather than an impossible burden. Whether you end up subscribing to the project, looking in occasionally, or just thinking about us from time to time, I hope this idea of floors and ceilings will be helpful to you. Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll develop the metaphor a bit further and look at specific stories and activities that can change a ceiling into a floor. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 9, 2010 at 10:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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