Continuity and Change, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! During my hectic week, which I think I described pretty well in last week’s posts, and during the weekend, as I attempted to recover from the hectic week, I kept thinking about the interplay between Continuity and Change – not just in our little field of teaching and learning ancient languages, but more broadly in society at large. I started reading an amazing book, The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely, which examines what “everybody” knows (but what turns out not always to be true) about a wide range of supposedly rational human behavior … and attempts to isolate some of the factors other than “pure” rationality that actually motivate our seemingly-irrational behavior. I’ll have more to say about Professor Ariely’s book when I’ve finished it; at the moment, let’s just say that it’s well worth reading, and that even just the first few chapters, on the paradoxical consequences of excessively large incentives, may well make you look at everything from the financial crisis of 2008 to high-stakes testing in a whole new light.

It was interesting to juxtapose Professor Ariely’s book with this set of videos:

The Original “Did You Know” video

“Did You Know” 2.0

“Did You Know” 3.0

the very different “Did You Know” 4.0

I’ve been working with them for a school-wide activity later this week. What evidence of continuity and change – and of the mix between rationality and irrationality – did you see as you looked at them in sequence?

Tune in next time, when we’ll try to apply Professor Ariely’s thoughts and the messages in the video series to teaching and learning in general, and to the Tres Columnae Project in particular. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 20, 2010 at 10:07 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.

Floors and Ceilings, VI

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! If you’re reading this post “live,” I’m probably on a brief trip to the nearest Apple Store to see about a battery-charging issue with my favorite-and-only daughter’s iPod. As I made my appointment (so painlessly! so quickly!) online yesterday, I was reminded of a lot of things I’ve read recently about enduringly great companies and the unique ways they find to retain and energize their customers. Even if, by some chance, the repair is more expensive than the simple battery replacement we expect, I’ll probably leave the store impressed and pleased with the service and support. In the same way, I look forward to seeing the genuinely happy server at a local restaurant who always wishes me a blessed day. It’s so important for businesses – and all other organizations that deal with people, including schools – to make customers feel valued and appreciated.

And yet so many organizations don’t even bother! We recently had an issue with our Internet service; it suddenly disappeared one evening last week, and no amount of restarting the modem would help. Next morning, it equally mysteriously had reappeared, and everything was fine. During the outage, I tried to call the company and see what was going on; after 15-20 minutes on hold each time, I had to do other things. Evidently they knew about the problem and were working on it – but they never told me. Earlier this year, I’d gone through a similar issue involving bad service by a professional firm I had used for years; that one seems to have ended much more happily, but it required a direct appeal to one of the managing partners, an appeal that many people probably wouldn’t have bothered to make.

And speaking of value … check out this remarkable blog post at Education Week, by a master music teacher in Michigan! And check out this blog from Edutopia for some low-cost suggestions to add technology to your classroom. (In all fairness to her, I must say that my face-to-face school district is utterly opposed to using donated computers in class, for reasons of security, but they do a great job of distributing donated computers to students who need one, but don’t have one at home.)

As the Joyful Learning Community of the Tres Columnae Project continues to grow, I want to make sure that we preserve that feeling of community – that sense that each member is important, valuable, even precious. We’ve been thinking about ways to enhance our community, and someone suggested a more private online space where Tres Columnae subscribers and supporters could interact with each other. Suggestions included

  • a private Ning, now that affordable, ad-free ones are available;
  • a Yahoo! group like the one that hosts Latin-BestPractices;
  • a special forum on the Version Alpha Wiki site, which would migrate over to Version Beta when that’s ready in a few weeks.

What would work best for you?

As I was writing yesterday’s post, I re-read a number of things I’ve written, here and elsewhere, about the uses and abuses of translation in our field. That got me thinking about the different things that the word “translation” can mean. Perhaps some of the conflicts about the practice of translation are actually conflicts (or disagreements) about the semantics – different, but unresolved, definitions of what the word “translation” means. As I think of my own life as a learner and teacher of Latin, I realize it’s meant very different things at different times:

  1. When I was a beginning student, it meant “a hand-written assignment in which I am to restate a Latin passage in something that approximates English, with “more literal” approximations in parentheses.”
  2. When I was an undergraduate, it meant “an oral restatement in English, for which you prepare by repeated reading of the Latin and by writing down dictionary listings of unknown words.”
  3. When I started teaching, it meant “I will never, ever have my students think or do #1, but we might do something like #2 chorally or individually.”
  4. For TPRS teachers, as David noted in the Latin-BestPractices post I referred to yesterday, it means “single-word L1 definitions of new L2 terms” and “choral L1 restatements of L2 passages that have been repeatedly heard or read.”
  5. On the AP® Examinations, it means “a rather artificial and formulaic use of English words that attempts to restate not only the thoughts, but the actual syntax of a Latin passage, scored by phrase groupings, which is an excellent predictor of students’ overall success on the exam.”

You can see why people fight about “translation!” There’s an obvious common core (restating things from one language in another language), but beyond that, the term can have vastly different meanings. When we don’t take time to clarify – or to try to understand how others are using the term – we open ourselves up to all kinds of unnecessary conflicts.

Speaking of unnecessary conflicts, poor Caelius and Vipsania will end up in an unfortunate one with Frontō, the architectus they’ve hired to design and supervise the renovation of their vīlla in Lectiō XXI. You probably saw that coming in yesterday’s featured story! For one thing, Caelius and Vipsania have agreed (or at least he’s decided to accept her complaints) about certain features of the house:

nōnne vīlis et parva est ista vīlla? nōnne pauca cubicula? nōnne antīquae turpēsque pictūrae, quās pictor patrī meō in mūrīs multōs ante annōs pīnxit?

But they haven’t necessarily agreed on how to correct the problem features. How pretiōsa et magna does the house need to be? quanta cubicula would be enough? Obviously they want novae et pulchrae pictūrae, and novae won’t be hard, but what exactly constitutes pulchrae in this context? Given their rather unsuccessful child-rearing and their disagreements about servī et ancillae, Caelius and Vipsania aren’t very likely to take the time and effort to communicate successfully with Frontō … and, as we’ll see, he might not be all that eager to listen in any case. See what you think of today’s featured story, which you can now find here on the Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like:

Caelius cum architectō Frontōne per tōtam vīllam ambulat. ātrium, cubicula, tablīnum, triclīnium architectō ostendit. Frontō attonitus vīllam īnspicit. “sine dubiō,” sēcum colloquitur, “iste Caelius avārissimus est! quis enim vīllam tam sordidam, tam parvam, tam antīquam tenēre vult? sine dubiō istae pictūrae sunt centum annōrum!” Frontō manūs Caeliō prēnsat et, “mī domine, mī amīce,” inquit, “quam fortūnātus es, quod mē nunc iam vocās! sine dubiō vīlla tua nōn modo sordida et parva, sed perīculōsa est! nōnne enim rīma per tōtum mūrum prōcēdit? nōnne, cum pluit, aqua per tegulās usque ad pavimentum cadit? nōnne tōta vīlla in cumulum dēcidere potest?”

Caelius attonitus et perterritus, “heus!” exclāmat, “sine dubiō vīlla antīqua est … sed perīculōsa? nōnne iussū avī meī servī hanc vīllam exstrūxērunt. perīculōsa? in cumulum lāpsūra? heu! quid facere dēbeō?”

Frontō sēcum rīdet. tandem “mī Caelī,” respondet, “cōnfīde mihi! vīllam tuam renovāre et reficere possum. dea Fortūna tibi favet, quod redēmptōrem perītissimum, quī vīllās tālēs saepe reficit, bene nōvī. ille redēmptor, M. Iūlius Frontō nōmine, frāter meus ipse est! tibi vīllam reficere perītissimē et celerrimē potest. nōlī tē vexāre; mihi ad urbem reveniendum est frātrem meum cōnsultum. paucīs diēbus reventum nostrum exspectā!”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • If you’ve ever embarked on a home-renovation project, you know how important it is to choose a good, ethical contractor. What do you think about Fronto? Would you hire him?
  • Whether you’d hire Fronto or not, what do you think of Caelius’ response? After all, he has been living in the house for quite some time; you’d think he would have noticed serious structural flaws if they were really there!
  • What do you think of Fronto’s, um, “unbiased” recommendation of his frāter the redēmptor?
  • And on another level, what do you think of the use of various verb tenses in this story?

Tune in on Monday, when we’ll meet Fronto’s frāter and discover a few things about the relationship between these two. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on August 14, 2010 at 11:08 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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