Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cheating, Investment, and Technogogy

We are in the middle of a reassessment of our honor code and have been thinking about ways to make it more visible in our daily lives on campus.  With that in mind, I just read through this NYT article on cheating at Stuyvesant HS, and a few things struck me.  One of the students who admitted to cheating, blamed his academic dishonesty on his lack of respect for his French teacher; he asks, “When it came to French class, where the teacher had literally taught me nothing all year, and during the final the students around me were openly discussing the answers, should I not listen?”
I hate to admit this, but he has a point, at least in part.  This goes back to the issue of personal investment in an academic courses that I brought up a few days ago.  I think I undervalued the importance in student investment for preventing academic dishonesty:  to my mind, students are less likely to cheat in a course, if they have respect for the course, namely, for the instructor, the material, and especially their role as a student.  I can't help but think that if this student really enjoyed his French class and was personally interested in the material, he would have acted differently.  But I wonder if this is a naive view on my part, given the "make or break" attitudes toward college these days...?

Additionally, I found it stunning that the interim principal of Stuyvesant has banned the use of laptops and iPads on campus during the day, which goes directly against the "1:1" movement that many schools, including ours, are pushing.  I think I've undervalued the concern for cheating in pushing for more "technogogy" in schools and it's a concern I indeed want to address with faculty but I don't see how electronic prohibition will help to prevent cheating and facilitate us moving forward with technology.  Many of the methods outlined in the article had nothing to do with electronic devices, and students who are intent on cheating will always find a way.  So, the issue of academic dishonesty is something to keep an eye on, as we push forward with our 1:1 movement and curricula redesigns.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

QR Codes and Foreign Languge Projects

About a month ago a colleague brought to my attention Bryan Caplan's argument for the futility of foreign language instruction in this country.  I don't buy the argument, of course, but it's challenges like these that give us a chance to re-evaluate why we believe in what we do, if read constructively (cf. a similar argument against algebra).  To my mind, this article illuminated the glaring lack of publicity that our student work receives in a daily basis, especially in comparison to the emergent STEM movements, and I think that we foreign language teachers need to do a better job of making our courses relevant and personal to students.  We can do this, at least in part, by giving students more opportunities to show off their work publicly, just like we do for math, science, performing arts, etc.

With that in mind, I saw Peter Vogel's post on G+ yesterday on QR codes and began thinking about some ways we could use them.  It would be very easy to have students generate a QR code (e.g. with Google's URL shortener tool), linking to a document that could then be easily shared.  For example, I do a Greek vase project with my 8th graders, having them make a vase that depicts a myth of their own choosing (preferably myths they make up).  In the past, I've asked for a short write-up of the story, including a short "museum" discussion of the depicted image and its significance for the myth.  Now, though, I can ask them to write their discussions in a Google Doc and link it to the vase with a QR code that can be pasted directly on the vase.  No more need to give me a sheet of paper or write a name on the vase.

When we're done with that, we can show off our collective work in some of our school gallery space, I hope, as is typically done with artwork in the Visual Arts Dept.  We don't need QR codes, to be sure, but they could add a nice twist and even give our students a chance to share their work outside of the gallery space.  Anyone with a QR reader app could be taken directly to the Doc with more information about the vase.  And perhaps we could even give a prize to the best couple myths and/or vases.  An opportunity to show of their projects to all their peers may give students a chance both to take more pride in it and even to develop more of a personal investment in their foreign language study.  Right now, I'm thinking out loud, but I like the direction and am eager to give this a try.  Rome wasn't built in a day, after all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Little Latin Reader

Thanks to its recent BMCR review, I recently got word of English and Irby's new Latin reader, A Little Latin Reader (Oxford) and received my copy a few days ago.  I don't intend to fully review the book here, but I'll offer a few brief thoughts on it.  The reader is designed to give students an early introduction to real Latin (in opposition to "textbook" Latin) and is organized topically by points of grammar, e.g. the dative case, the perfect tense, indirect statements, cum-clauses, etc.  Each grammatical topic heading contains a few short passages with a brief self-contained vocabulary, giving the reader over 200 passages in total.  The authors have designed the book to be a versatile tool in accompanying grammar instruction, and in this respect, I think it's an excellent resource.
As Pollio notes in his BMCR review, the choice of passages and fullness in commentary could always be debated, and while I would have preferred to see more Imperial prose, I'm very happy with the selection.  In particular, I'm especially happy that the authors have included a number of epigraphical texts that are worth reading.  In fact, non-literary texts are receiving more attention than ever at the intermediate level, as is also the case with LaFleur's excellent Scribblers, Sculptors, and Scribes, and I hope that the trend continues.

It's certainly true that the minimalist commentary accompanying each text is little more than a plain vocabulary and as such won't help students with points of grammar, language, and style.  But while this fact will prevent the reader from becoming a primary textbook, it will also allow teachers to tailor the discussion to their own interests and force students to analyze the texts themselves.  A quick browse through the selections reveals an abundance of "nonstandard" forms that are ripe for all sorts of discussions, e.g. anc (34.4 and 38.1), cīves (43.1), deicō (15.1), līberum (27.3), negāstī (33.3), praetereis (45.2), sexs (34.3), etc., in addition to the usual points of literary interest.  In all of my classes I'm going to use the book exactly as the authors suggested, namely, as a springboard both for further discussion on selected topics and for sight-reading.  At $15.95 it's a bargain.