The First Days of Operation LAPIS, part 3

Continued from Part 2

As I noted at the end of the last entry, we had a rather large gap between meetings after the first two classes.  A total of six days had passed by before I saw them again.  My biggest fear was that all of the momentum we had from the first week would be lost after such a long layoff.  I worried that they would have forgotten all about the mechanics we talked about in week one and I would have to spend much of the coming week reintroducing everything rather than moving forward.  Another rather large concern of mine was taking a step back with regards to the atmosphere in the classroom.  Anyone who has ever taught a level one language or a group of predominately freshman, especially in a school as large as ours, knows that getting the students to participate and readily volunteer in the first few weeks is always a very difficult task.  They often don’t know very many other students in the class and they are extremely shy and reserved lest they make a mistake in front of twenty new faces.  Would we suffer a setback there as well?

One of the really great things about the way my schedule is set up for this year is where my two Latin I sections fall during the school day.  Our schedule changes every day, but these classes are always back-to-back and so I have an immediate comparison between the LAPIS section and the non-LAPIS section.  When we came back on that Wednesay after a six day layoff, it was a full six days for both sections.  They both sat through the whole period, mostly non-responsive despite my best attempts at the whole dog and pony show.  The LAPIS students did need time looking back at things we discussed in the previous week.  They needed a refresher on things like the TSTT Forums, the HUD, etc.  Many of them had not checked their email and so they did not know who was on their team nor did they visit the forums at all.  I had mostly expected this and, while disappointed, nevertheless we went through all of those topics again and by the end of the class they started to come back around a bit.  Their task for Wednesday evening was the log in and post in their newly assigned Team Forum and just say “hi” to their new teammates.  The main goal was the ensure that they all could post in the forums and reinforce how to navigate around.

I made myself available via Google Chat and email for most of the evening and quite a few of the students took advantage of that in order to figure out how to do everything.  They received a new CARD for doing so; Mons Vesuvius (and of course the LPs that go with it).  In the end, 21* out of 22 accomplished the task and started engaging in conversation with their teammates.  I was unprepared, I think, for the effect that this would have on the classroom dynamic the next day.

I saw the non-LAPIS class first and it was a fairly standard experience: they file in and sit in silence before the class starts, it is still a struggle to get them to open up to myself, to their classmates, to volunteer, to answer questions or contribute.  Nothing new or nothing surprising there.  Usually by the third week they start to come around and by the end of September we’re really in full stride with the atmosphere that carries through the rest of the year.  The LAPIS class, on the other hand, which came in directly after the non-LAPIS was an entirely different story.  They came in chatting to one another and immediately started talking with their teammates.  The dynamics for the rest of the class stayed at that elevated level.  While doing activities, a far greater number of hands shot up to volunteer, they more readily engaged in discussion back and forth about topics.  They responded to comments made by fellow classmates.  They more actively engaged with me.  To say there was a stark difference between the two classes after just one day would be a gross understatement.  There is absolutely no question in my mind that this came as a direct result of the relationships that they began to forge online the night before in the Team Forums.  You want a sure fire way to increase student engagement in the classroom?  Find a way to increase student engagement with each other outside of the classroom.

With the energy and enthusiasm firing on all cylinders, the Operatives were ready to head off Thursday night to do their first TSTT immersion prompt: Episode 1.1.a, The Boy in the Tree.  I had no idea when I left school on Thursday that what would unfold Thursday evening would exceed even my wildest expectations.  I’ll discuss what happened in my next entry.

*The 22nd student was the same student from the previous entry that was unable to accomplish the task.  He voluntarily approached me before class and asked if he could stay after school with me on Thursday to go through how to access the forums and go over, one on one, how to post, reply, etc.

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