Longa et Brevia, Gravia et Levia I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs!  Today’s post will be a bit brief – hence our title – due to a pair of long days in my face-to-face world.  I left the house around 6:25 a.m. yesterday (I was fighting a cold, so decided to forego my normal morning workout at the local gym) and did not get home until 14 hours later … and most of that time I was constantly busy!  There were special events at school; typical Tuesday concerns; a district-wide meeting of world language teachers; seemingly endless PowerPoints; a church function in the early evening; and a quick trip to the grocery store just so the family and I could have food for the next few days.  Today looks to be more of the same, with a middle-school track meet thrown in for good measure.

I wonder, sometimes, if folks in the Roman world at the time of the Tres Columnae Project stories also felt that their world was too fast and too busy.  Is that a common human feeling, or just one that plagues post-industrial societies like ours?

Today is also the day that my Latin III students “officially” learn about longa et brevia, gravia et levia as we begin to work with the metrical patterns of Latin poetry.  It’s one of my favorite days – partly because it addresses the musical and rhythmic aspects of some students’ minds while speaking to the logical-mathematical aspects of others.  In a perfect world, the III’s would also work on correcting their most recent tests … and so would the 62 Latin I students who took their most recent test yesterday.  If all goes well, everyone will actually be able to do that – and in the interests of that, I should end this post in a bit.

As I think about the future, though, both for my face-to-face classroom and for the Tres Columnae Project, I certainly see the critical importance of the kinds of instantaneous feedback that Tres Columnae exercises and quizzes will provide for students and for their teachers.  Yes, it’s important to measure students’ progress, and to do so on a regular basis … it’s actually more important for the students, meā quidem sententiā, than it is for the teachers, since experienced teachers can usually tell how our students are doing with a given concept by observation and by informal measures.  But is it really a good use of teachers’ time and energy to have them constructing tests, making paper copies, distributing these, and then reading and marking each student’s answer to each question?  Having done so, one has a good sense of the class’s performance … but a self-correcting exercise would give the same (or better) information, probably in chart or graph form, and save countless hours that could better be spent on planning, working with struggling students, reflection, or even the creation of new, innovative instructional activities and materials.  That’s one reason we’re so committed to the exercise and quiz aspect of Tres Columnae Version Beta, which will be available before too long.

quid respondētis, amīcī?  What do you think about the possibilities – and the perils – of self-correcting online exercises and quizzes?

Tune in next time, when we’ll consider some other possible meanings of today’s title, focusing on the “gravia et levia” portion.  intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on September 15, 2010 at 10:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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So Many Stories!

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! After our long series of posts about the stories in Lectiō XIV, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of connected Latin that Tres Columnae participants are exposed to – especially if you come from a grammar-translation approach to language teaching. You may be wondering how a class – or an individual student – could possibly read so much Latin in the time available … especially if you recall that we claim that Lectiōnēs I – XXX might roughly correspond to a year of high-school Latin or a semester of college Latin. You may have done the math, dividing 180 instructional days by 30 to find an approximate pacing of 6 class periods per Lectiō – and if you did that, you probably thought it would be “impossible” to “cover” so much Latin in such a short time.  (Nine stories in six days!  What is he thinking?)

I can certainly understand the concern – but stop for a moment and think about the language in it. Class periods, instructional days, pacing, cover – this is the language of a system where time is constant but learning is variable. In other words, it’s the language of the factory – and not the enlightened factories where production workers pay attention to the quality of their products, either! If we can step outside of the factory model of “batch-processing” students with severely limited time, we can probably imagine lots of ways to overcome the “time for coverage” objection. For example,

  • Students might well be encouraged to proceed through the material at their own pace. Some would finish the 30 Lectiōnēs in 30 days; some in 60; some in 180; and some in a longer period of time. But all would proceed at the right pace to achieve mastery for themselves.
  • Even if time is held constant, it’s not necessary for everyone to read every story with equal care. What’s the goal of the process? Is it for everyone to do the same activities, or for everyone to master the same knowledge, skills, and understandings? If the former, I can see that we might have a problem; but if the latter, there’s really not an issue. For example, say that the goal for a particular Lectiō is for learners to demonstrate that they understand, analyze, and productively use a particular set of vocabulary and grammatical structures. Assessment opportunities can be built in at the end of each task, whether it’s a story, an explanation, or an interactive exercise of some kind. As soon as you, the learner, demonstrate an acceptable level of proficiency with the material, you can be excused from the remaining “stuff” that’s just designed to practice those concepts. (For example, you could be asked to skim over those stories that are critical to the rest of the plot, or just to listen to the audio and look at the illustrations.) Once we stop looking at classrooms as assembly lines and start seeing them as learning communities, the possibilities and opportunities are endless!

Even so, you might have wondered about the sheer quantity of stories in the Tres Columnae Project. Even by comparison with a typical reading-method textbook, there’s a lot more Latin per Lectiō. (As I think about the “Big Three,” one usually has a single long story per chapter; another has 3-6, on average, per Stage; and the third falls somewhere in between. “Number four,” which is really a direct-method approach, is entirely in Latin, but even it often has fewer lines of reading per Capitulum than Tres Columnae has per Lectiō.)

The biggest difference between “us” and “them” is that “they” provide intensive reading, while we aim for a blend of intensive and extensive, with an emphasis on extensive. If you’re not familiar with the terminology, reading experts usually say that intensive reading is slower, more careful, and more deliberate, and the reading passages are more difficult for the reader – they’re at the learner’s instructional reading level, where he or she really needs some support and guidance from a teacher to make sense of the material. (If you’ve studied Latin formally in a classroom setting, you probably experienced nothing but intensive reading!) With extensive reading, by contrast, the goal is to read quickly, fluently, and without support from a teacher, so the passages should be at the learner’s independent reading level. According to first-language reading research, independent reading requires that you, the reader, be familiar with 95-99% of the words in the passage. Hence the very slow introduction of new vocabulary in Tres Columnae, and the constant repetition of vocabulary items.A

And of course we do know that old saying, repetitio mater memoriae. We’re strongly committed to the principle that the most efficient way to remember new words is not through lists and “memorization” but through repeated use. Of course, if lists help you (and they do help certain learning and thinking styles … a lot!), we’ll also provide lists – and we’ll highlight the words on those lists that are included in “standard” vocabulary for exams like the UK’s GCSE.

Speaking of vocabulary, here’s a brief rant: Wouldn’t it make sense for test publishers in the US to publish equivalent lists – maybe not the NLE Committee, but the College Board? Especially with the current revisions planned for the AP Latin Examination! A bit of work up-front, perhaps, but a big payoff later: no more agonizing decisions about which words to gloss! Much greater ease in choosing translation passages! No more complaints from customers about vocabulary issues? Well, that might be too much to ask!) I’m done with my rant now! 🙂

Another good reason for so many stories, as far as we’re concerned, is that our subscribers can pick and choose which ones they read carefully – they don’t have to read, or even hear, every sentence of every story. In keeping with what the iGeneration likes, we’ll probably split up some of the longer stories into paragraph-length pages, each with audio and images … then you, the learner, can decide if you want to continue with this story; just read it; just listen to it; or whatever seems best to you.

One of our models is the “fan fiction” communities that grow up around popular stories, movies, TV shows, etc. To encourage our participants to join the community, we want to have lots of existing stories … but lots of loose ends for them to “tie up” if they’d like – and even for different users to “tie up” differently, with various “branch” options. We have one example already in Lectiō 12, where you, the reader, can choose to have Vipsānia either believe Caelia or insist that there must be a potion that’s making Lucius be good.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of our commitment to extensive reading?
  • What about our commitment to learners’ choice … and to learning differences?
  • And what do you think of the idea of combining stories, audio, and image?

Tune in again on Monday, when we’ll begin to look at the Instructure platform and compare similar exercises there and on the Tres Columnae Moodle site. I’ll really be looking for comments from you as we look at these exercises side-by-side! Then, later in the week, we’ll find out what happens when Valeria and Vipsānius are actually married. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.