4.09.2014

Thoughts on the ALIRA Exam

I just wanted to share my comments about the ALIRA Exam; we gave the exam to our Latin 1 and Latin 3 students today.

The exam is very short; the website says it has a 50 minute timer. Most of the Latin 1s were done in under 10 minutes, most of the Latin 3s were done in under 15. I'm a little concerned that there aren't enough tasks before it ends the exam in order to get a true sense of where the student is at. Most of my I2 and I3 scored students saw 12-14 questions, my I4 and 5s saw about 18. Those in the novice range saw fewer than 10.

The Latin sources used were indeed varied in context and in time. I do question the design choice to provide this weird papyrus background with a fake script font for the bulk of the passages. My students said it was distracting and I'd definitely agree. There's really no reason to create a faux-situated experience on an examination in that manner. You can see some examples of it here in the ALIRA sample test.

There was a big show-stopping bug which impacted a handful of students (I did email Language Testing International about it, hopefully I'll hear back soon) and invalidated their scores. I had a couple of solid Latin 3 students score N1 (and one even score BR - below the range). Interestingly enough, all four of them ended on the exact same question (about 13 questions in) and no one else saw that question in their rotation. I hope that the question can be fixed or removed as others take the exam.

In the end, many of my students walked away with a bolstered confidence level and affirmation that they were on the right track. My Latin 3s were, by in large, right where I thought they'd be knowing the students. Most were I2 and I3, a few I4 and 5.

The Latin 1s were the surprise of the bunch; except for 3 N1s (and I suspect a test error here, too), everyone was I1 or above with a large cluster at I3. In essence, ALIRA is telling me that our Latin 1 students are at the same place our Latin 3 students are in terms of ability to comprehend a text. I need some time to digest this data and think about how a few things may be impacting those scores; but my Latin 3s are really the last vestiges of my former life of reliance on a more grammar-translation-reading approach and the Latin 1s, in addition to having a lot more CI-type activities embedded in their daily instruction, also have the added benefit of 2 full years of refinement to Operation LAPIS aiding them as well.

Overall, though, I'm very pleased with the ALIRA exam, the time to administer it, and the information (if it is indeed accurate) that it provides. I'm not convinced it's a $10 test, however. That price needs to come down so that I (and others) can administer it program-wide each year.

In an effort for those of us using ALIRA to gauge where our students are at as a whole, I want to start compiling data for exams given this year. I created this Google Form for anyone who wants to contribute:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1sx87t04SkDYByBWXKghbmXJHm5iAq3Xjc7Nuf_uvSVo/viewform

Names and schools won't be published (included that space, though, to help ensure that we're not getting false data), only raw numbers for proficiency at each course level.

If you have had experience with ALIRA, it would be great to share your thoughts, so please do!

7.03.2013

An Example of the Classroom Flow of Operation LAPIS

I'm always asked what the flow of Operation LAPIS looks like in a typical classroom over a typical few days. Since I was adding a page for the equivalent of the teacher's guide, I figured that I would also post this here. Each episode has two parts (A and B), each mission has 3 episodes, and there are 28 missions across the entire curricula. LAPIS can be used as a stand-alone source or in conjunction with most popular textbook series. The generic example here is in a stand-alone setting.

Operation LAPIS

Day 1 - Start of a new Mission
  • Post the new episode (part A) to the TSTT Interface
  • Teams collaboratively read through the new immersion
    • Students utilize VERBA and GRAMMATICA sections for new words and constructions
    • Monitor the teams as they work their way through
  • Review the immersion as a group, reviewing any new or unfamiliar constructions
    • If necessary, a small amount of direct instruction based on the content GRAMMATICA section
  • Hypothesize about potential cultural and historical information needed for the immersion
  • Teams read the CULTURALIA section of the CODEX and use the comprehension questions in the ATTUNEMENT section as scaffolding for the immersion response
    • Monitor the teams as they read and work on the comprehension questions
Day 1 - Outside of Class
  • Teams collaborate on a response by their character in their team-specific areas
    • Monitor discussions and intervene as necessary
  • Lead Operative posts their character's action in the main TSTT thread
  • Respond in-character as other NPCs, or continue telling the story as linking narrative
    • Award denariī (if after Mission 3.3)
Day 2 - In class
  • Read the in-character responses of each team as a group
  • Make minor corrections to Latin that are common mistakes with the intention to not "over do" the correction. Instead of emphatically correcting every small bit, continually model correct usage in order to not interfere or impact the willingness to compose in the target language.
    • Excellent opportunity to utilize circling techniques to ask questions about each character's actions in the TL
  • KEY-TEXT reading:
  • Project the KEY-TEXT on a whiteboard, play accompanying audio file and ask students to listen and follow along
    • Each team collaboratively reads the KEY-TEXT for meaning
      • Utilize roll-over tooltips and visual walkthrough if needed for new vocabulary or constructions
    • Monitor the teams as they read
  • Each team then collaboratively responds to the reading comprehension questions in the ATTUNEMENT section
    • Monitor the teams as they respond in the TL
  • Come back together as a group, review comprehension questions
    • Another excellent opportunity for circling techniques to ask additional questions in the TL
  • Post the new episode (part B) to the TSTT Interface
  • Teams collaboratively read through the new immersion
Day 2 - Outside of Class
  • Teams collaborate on a response by their character in their team-specific areas
    • Monitor discussions and intervene as necessary
  • Lead Operative posts their character's action in the main TSTT thread
  • Respond in-character as other NPCs, or continue telling the story as linking narrative to next Episode
    • Award denariī (if after Mission 3.3)
Day 3 - In class
  • Read the in-character responses of each team as a group
  • Make minor corrections to Latin that are common mistakes with the intention to not "over do" the correction. Instead of emphatically correcting every small bit, continually model correct usage in order to not interfere or impact the willingness to compose in the target language.
    • Excellent opportunity to utilize circling techniques to ask questions about each character's actions in the TL
  • Teams collaboratively work on remaining ATTUNEMENT exercises
    • Monitor teams as they work through the exercises
  • Teams collaborate on the memoratio for the episode in the TL
    • Using memoratio questions in the ATTUNEMENT if needed
    • Acts a closure activity for the episode

As you can see, there are plenty of opportunities for composition, speaking, listening, and reading in the target language. Because all of the content is situated inside of the narrative, it also affords a level of cultural competency that tends not to be seen in a traditional textbook driven classroom.

6.23.2013

Operation LAPIS: Virtue Trait System

What better way to kick off summer than by sharing a brand new trait system for the Recentiī player-characters in Operation LAPIS? As a little bit of a background, one common suggestion from students was that the player characters didn't quite feel like they were truly in an RPG. We solved this to a small degree last year with the introduction of the denarii rewards and gear system.
Points, traits, and levels are key components of most RPGs -- whether it be a pen and paper table-top game or a popular video game. However, given our insistence that learning objectives map onto play objectives, grafting on a superficial system of strength or charisma points just wouldn't be acceptable. I also wanted to find a way to bring the core Roman values into play in a meaningful way. 

Virtūtēs

Each character now has six different virtues that will not only shape their character in a more dynamic way, but also scaffold additional elements to the role-playing. These virtues will also help scaffold responses on the part of the Agent of the Demiurge (the instructor) when interacting with their students inside of the immersive world of the TSTT. 
Progress bars and rank increases should make the character feel more playful
There are a couple of neat technical features built into the character sheet. First, the progress bars, cost to next rank, and ability bonus based on the current level are all automatically awarded as the trait increases.

Each virtue, if the operatives choose to specialize, has a capstone ability and subsequently grants an additional agnomen to the character. For example, upon reaching rank 10 in 'auctōritās', the character is automatically granted the agnomen 'Aquilīnus', or 'Eagle-like'. From this point forward, he would be known as Gaius Recentius Bellator Aquilinus.


In addition, there is a dropdown menu selector that further describes what the Romans thought about each of these traits. Our hope is that the way the abilities are described, and the added description box, the students will understand that the Roman virtues were primarily based on how others perceived you (which, I think, is a bit different than traits and stats in most modern RPGs).

Puncta Virtūtis

So how do operatives gain points with which to advance their character's traits? This is where a new self-reporting system of 'Virtue Points' comes into play. In order to make a system where choice has meaning, the point system has to be balanced so that it would be incredibly difficult to max out everything. As a result, puncta virtūtis are tied to the entire team's participation in the discussion for each immersion.

If all members of a team contribute in some meaningful way on an episode, the character receives 3 puncta virtūtis. If the lead-operative fulfills his or her duty and posts the response of the character, the team receives an additional bonus of 2 puncta virtūtis. The intention here is to encourage full participation each immersion since so much of the student's success is driven by their engagement with the material. This incentive system, since it is tied in no way to evaluation or assessment, encourages and rewards engagement in an innocuous way. You'll also notice that the character level (gradus) also increases automatically as the trait levels are increased. Again, this is to make the character system feel a bit more playful without compromising the core values of practomimetic learning. 

Like the denarii system, self-reporting and management on the part of the operatives is also a very important aspect of this system since it encourages the type of responsibility for self that we'd like to see in all of our students.

If you'd like to play around with the sheet for Gaius Recentius Bellator, feel free to access a publicly viewable sheet here and make your own copy. However, there are still a few things to clean up and to add before all eight Recentii characters are updated to the new system and ready for the fall. 

Hope you enjoy the new trait system and it makes the characters feel more playful!

2.04.2013

Simple PBL

PBL (problem or project) based-learning doesn't have to be a huge formal assignment. It is more of a state-of-mind than anything else. I just wanted to share a small example of this that spontaneously happened during class last week.

One of the Recentius teams in Operation LAPIS, while working on a particular collaborative task, strayed a bit off topic -- discussing giraffes of all things. They came to the decision that they wanted to buy a giraffe to keep as a pet (ignoring the logistics of such a thing, we'll just let it slide for now) and subsequently asked me how much denarii (a type of Roman currency) they would need in order to buy a giraffe. I haven't ever read an ancient source that listed a specific price for a giraffe (although we know they were sold and displayed around the empire), and so that would pose a problem to arbitrarily assign a price.

According to Dio, Caesar brought a giraffe with him back from Alexandria
Instead of declaring "No, you cannot buy a giraffe.", I explained to them how I set the price for some of the gear (see the post linked above), and then asked them how they could estimate what a giraffe might have cost a Roman in the time period of our adventure.

In a few minutes of discussion and problem solving, they decided that if the average salary of a Roman soldier was 225 denarii, and then they estimated the salary of a current soldier of around $35,000, they could use that ratio of denarii to dollars in order to estimate the cost of a giraffe. After some research, they discovered that (apparently) a giraffe costs around $30,000 on the open market and so if they saved up about 200 denarii, they could have their own virtual giraffe pet. (I suppose I'll have to let them know what the upkeep is after the initial purchase.)

There it is right there -- problem-based learning, not as a huge elaborate thing, but as an approach to how and why you learn new information. While there are obvious problems with the accuracy of the price that they figured out, nevertheless we have the ability to foster this kind of inquisitive knowledge on a daily basis. We should routinely embrace, not squash, these opportunities to model authentic exploration.

1.05.2013

On Narrative, Collection, and Re-engagement

Traditionally, this a tough time of year for a certain cross section of my Latin I classes.

Traditionally, this is the point where the complexity of the Latin advances to the point where those skating by, not really understanding what a direct object is, or why it has a different set of endings than a subject, are now underwater.

Traditionally, this is where the extra noun declension sheets, or verb conjugation sheets, run hot off the copier and into their hands in a frantic attempt to prepare for the midterm exam.

Traditionally, this is a point when a small portion, no matter what kind of interventions are in place, fall off completely and check out for the rest of the year.

Tradition isn’t tradition any longer.

One of the powerful affordances of a continuous narrative -- a narrative in which the students have an active role in shaping on a daily basis -- is the opportunity to re-engage at almost every moment. They aren’t reading about some figures whom they have no attachment to but rather they are playing their own characters, characters whom they have a genuine investment in and ones that they genuinely care about.

One of the powerful affordances of working in a permanent social collaborative unit is that on any given night their team is ready to help them get back into the fold and contribute in a meaningful way -- even if they haven’t contributed for the last two weeks. Rather than competing against their classmates, in its place there is a common sense of camaraderie and companionship on their journey of learning Latin and subsequently saving civilization.

One of the powerful affordance of the collection mechanic is that it provides a simple, effective, and straightforward way to focus on small bits of grammar at a time in a way where progress is marked visually not just in their lists but also in their acclimation of Latinity Points for taking part in the grind.

One of the powerful affordances of an easy re-entry is that the student who may have been struggling now has a reason and a way to get back into the game and, more importantly, a way to demonstrate learning and growth that’s real and tangible to them because they can see the immediate effects of their renewed participation and engagement.

One of the powerful affordances of tossing out the old traditions is that you get to rewrite the rules.

Consider the rules rewritten.