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Self-Paced Learning in Latin III and III Honors

By Jeanna Cook and Dr. Heather Harwood, Classics Faculty

Self- Paced Learning in Latin III and III Honors

The Classics Department is trying something new this year: self-paced learning. We kicked off this departmental goal almost accidentally as we planned for separate courses in separate places this past summer. Dr. Heather Harwood was working on revamping the Latin III Honors course to better support students who continue with the language in Advanced Latin Readings thereafter. Jeanna Cook was looking for a way to restructure the Latin III course to better serve incoming students who place into Latin III. In our first department meeting of the year, we realized that we were attempting to solve different problems, but that we had designed curricula that pulled from the same methodology. Self-paced learning, assisted by the module structure in our LMS, Canvas, offered a common means by which we hoped that we could achieve our individual course goals.

Problem #1

How might we structure an intermediate course that meets all students where they are, regardless of their varied mastery of language topics and reading skills?

The students of Latin III at St. Mark’s School are often of completely different language learning backgrounds. For some students, Latin III is the third course in the sequence that our department offers. These students have survived Pompeii with Quintus and the Cornelii family in the Cambridge Latin Series Unit I. From they explore the Roman Empire, traveling to Roman Britain and Alexandria in Units II & III. While reading the story of the Cornelii family, they encounter new noun and verb forms, vocabulary words, and grammatical structures along the way. By the end of Latin II, the students in this track have read some authentic Latin, most likely Caesar. When they reach Latin III, they are often joined by students from other programs who are just beginning their study of Latin at St. Mark’s. Some of these incoming students have used the Cambridge Latin Series, but many use more traditional grammar and translation texts. Some incoming students can recite all of their declensions and verb tenses, but have not yet read authentic Latin texts. Others have studied grammatical constructions and vocabulary, but might feel as though they know very little about Roman history and culture. Still others have read plenty of Latin and know their mythology, but have never had to think about how to learn a language like Latin. Variety is the spice of Latin III!

Problem # 2

How can we give students a better foundation in the history and culture of Rome in the Late Republic and Early Empire and give them a head start on their mastery of the AP curriculum?

In Latin III Honors students read a selection of Latin authors, both prose and poetry, as a way to prepare them for the more rigorous content and pace of Advanced Latin and for the possibility of taking the Advanced Placement test in their fourth year.  One of the things that has always been problematic about our Advanced Latin course is that students generally lacked a common historical and cultural context for understanding the texts we are reading. In addition, students who do want to take the AP are often faced with too much content to cover independently. The new Latin III Honors course was designed to remedy both of these problems by preparing students in their third year, offering an introduction to the history of Rome and Latin literature through a graduated series of texts that span the period from the founding of Rome to the beginning of its Empire.

Learning Strategy/Methods

In Latin III Honors students move through units that are  organized in modules according to author and topic. All of the texts and resources for each unit are online and students also have the option of printing the material. Formative quizzes comprise the bulk of the reading assessment for each unit, in addition to several “ polished” translations. At the conclusion of each unit students complete summative assessments in the form of a sight translation and a final culture project. In addition, students can work through Extended Readings or Grammar  Packets to hand in for completion points. The self-paced nature of the course allows students to move through the material at their own pace, working with others or alone. One day a week, during the 45 minute block, the teacher analyzes a piece of the text that the students are working on, modeling various diagramming and translation techniques. Students who score 80 or higher on quizzes are allowed to work in the library, but many choose to stay in the classroom in order to get help from the teacher or their peers.

Initial Outcomes

In Latin III, modules on Canvas organize three major grammar topics for each window. Students work through the components of each module in order, beginning with a diagnostic assessment, and then a lesson, followed by a check or small quiz and practice worksheets. The final task in each module is a summative assessment. Students must score a minimum of an 80% on this summative in order to complete work in the module and move into the next. This required mastery of the concept, set at 80%, ensures that students have demonstrated an understanding of the topic at hand before moving into new topics.

The students of Latin III were committed to a self-paced classroom environment for the first quarter of the school year. At the end of the first quarter, Ms. Cook surveyed the class to get a pulse on their experience with self-paced learning. The students reported their appreciation for a class that allowed them to work through grammar topics at their own pace. In comparison to their previous experience with language learning, students reported that they felt more successful in mastering the concept at hand when they could take their time. Some students completed multiple practice assignments before taking the summative, using feedback on each practice to improve upon the next. Others took the check or on Canvas multiple times for practice. Many asked for help in class when working on module tasks and received individual assistance on the task at hand. Still others chose to work more quickly, often putting in time outside of class to complete module tasks.

As far as required mastery was concerned, the students of Latin III reported that scoring at mastery level prevented one missed concept to “snowball” into the next grammatical concept. At the same time, students did notice that self-pacing requires discipline and focus to accomplish tasks on a consistent basis, rather than leaving too many module assignments until the end of the window. Required mastery took more time in some cases than students had allotted for each module when planning their work for the week.

With the blessing of the students of the course, Latin III continues to be self-paced in the second semester. At the end of the school year, Ms. Cook will survey students once again to check in on their both their individual and group experience with self-paced learning this year. She will also measure student learning outcomes with a final sight assessment and student reflection.

In Latin III Honors one challenge that arose early on was that some students found it difficult to motivate themselves to complete each module without a deadline. Dr. Harwood began giving them weekly pacing “guidelines” to help with this and it has seemed to work. One other problem is that the final project and sight translation were right before the close of the window. Dr. Harwood remedied this as well by giving students the option to do one or the other and push one grade into the next window.

Student Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive in Latin III Honors. Students like the fact that they can move through the material on their own and Dr. Harwood has observed that students who struggle in a more teacher-centered class environment, are finding better success overall.   At the mid-year point,she conferenced with each student and  got their reflections and input on how to make the class better and is working on implementing some changes. One feature Dr.  Harwood hopes to change is the role of extended readings. To date only two students have taken advantage of this module. To remedy this she talks about the benefits of extended reading a lot and reduced the amount of required reading in the third and fourth units. While she is hopeful that more students will engage in extended reading as a result of this,  she is considering making it required next year if this doesn’t change.

Next Steps

Presenting on our course designs in January to the faculty gave us the opportunity to begin to think about how we might scale this model to other courses in our discipline. One theory that motivated this innovation was that self-paced or self-regulated learning was a way to support and develop more student directed learning in our advanced level classes. Next year it will be interesting to see if this theory is in fact valid and to strategize about how we might scaffold this throughout the whole department, introducing self-paced units or projects in the first and second level classes by way of developing self-regulating skills from the start.

Jeanna Cook is the Classics Department Head and coaches soccer and lacrosse at St. Mark’s. She lives in Maple & Elm House and is co-head of Burnett House. She earned her B.A. in Classics at Davidson College and  completed her M Ed. at Boston University.

Dr. Heather Harwood received her B.A. in Classics from Bryn Mawr College and her Ph.D. from Yale University. Dr. Harwood  teaches Ashtanga Yoga and lives in the north end of campus.


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