Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Latin Test via Twitter

As I'm writing this, my Latin II students are taking a pre-test translating sections of Book I of the Gallic Wars. I allow them to open the text on Latin Library, a tab of one or both of two solid online Latin dictionaries, and a tab of the hyperlinked-grammar version of the text in Perseus. For the test, they won't be able to use Perseus.

I also let them use Twitter to ask each other questions and give each other help. I follow the Tweets and can easily swing into action to help with a tricky verb form or a misconstrued phrase; in addition, during the pre-test sessions, the students themselves will often cite websites in their Tweets to be included in our ongoing hyperlinked bibliographies.

Last week, I gave my first Latin test using Twitter. My Latin III students had to translate the 'In Taberna' section of Carmina Burana. I allowed them to do it as a collaborative assessment and I gave a single score to the entire class so long as everyone contributed equally in the Tweet feed. Students had the text open in a Latin Library tab, had their online dictionaries open, had their blogs open in which to post their sections and organize their translations, and followed each other on Twitter. The trick was that although this was a collaborative assignment, the students -- under penalty of forfeiting the grade for the whole class -- were not allowed to talk.

All discussion had to take place on Twitter.

The results were extraordinary. I watched as they used Twitter to chunk the seven stanzas of the text and organize who would be available to help in different ways. Some students focused on looking up vocab and figuring out morphology while others construed the sections into a unified whole. A particularly interesting exchange occurred when three students realized that their chunks contained shared words that individually each had broad semantic ranges -- so they had to make compromise decisions on what definition to use for each.

I would not want anyone to think that this is the only way I assess the students. In fact, I'm a big supporter of using as many different sorts of assessments as possible -- after all, the students have to be ready for anything in the 'real world'. But, in terms of using Latin to teach 21st century networking and using 21st century networking to teach Latin, this experiment produced excellent results.

Here are portions of our feed with names changed (for chronology, read from bottom to top... it's a Twitter feed). BTW, for those of you who do not use Twitter (yet), this is going to look very strange to you. It may even look quite useless. But strange as this all may look, imagine: a class of Latin III students knocking out a strong translation of the entire 'In Taberna' from the original Medieval Latin by sight with the aid of only a dictionary in just over a half-hour's time. In addition, as opposed to traditional small group projects where one student might do the majority of the work and the others might slack, on Twitter you can see in real time the contributions of each student in the class. You can see precisely the types of mistakes they are making AS THEY ARE MAKING THEM. And a record is kept of that.

This is just a random sample; for those keeping score at home, we produced about 125 Tweets in less than 35 minutes.

Here is an example where I am watching the editing of several translation drafts at once and setting up student teams to organize sections into unified wholes. Students are directing each other to full versions of the sections I have looked over located on their own class blogs. Remember to read from the bottom of the selection.
54. MrW @gol You and Alesia need to compare because you have many of the same words. Decide which translations you want. 15 minutes ago from web in reply to gol
55. koko 2nd half of stanza 1: When in the tavern he is led by it, where coin is the barmaid, that is work, so he may grumble, but let me speak s ... 15 minutes ago from web
56. TAstu Stanza 6: http://musilatin.blo... 15 minutes ago from web
57. brandi http://romansp.blogspot... STANZA 4 is on my blog. first link 15 minutes ago from web
58. TAstu Stanza 6: Lines 1-3 The poor man drinks, the sick drink the outcasts drink, the strange drink the boys drink, the old drink 16 minutes ago from web
59. gol @MrW what do you mean? 16 minutes ago from web
60. MrW @TAstu Check with Austin. 16 minutes ago from web in reply to TAstu
61. gol posted on my blog, 24 minutes ago from web

Here is a section where I am directing students to definitions live as they are sight reading. You will notice that our discussion evolves from my making a student explain herself in the use of a translated word; in a few Tweets, I manage to catch three different students who otherwise would have made translation errors and would have been thrown off later in their sections. Also, I pick up a mixed construction in the process. By nailing down these problems AS THE STUDENTS ARE TRANSLATING rather than waiting for them to finish and turn something in, we all wind up with a less frustrating and more accurate finished product. Read from the bottom.
62. MrW@gol 'wanderer's' 25 minutes ago from web in reply to gol
63. TAstu How about the 'wanderers' or 'outcasts' mr w? 25 minutes ago from web
64. koko 1st half of stanza 1 .... When we are in the tavern, do not care where the ground may be, but they do hurry to gamble, who always sweat. 25 minutes ago from web
65. MrW Everyone, please provide a link to your section. 25 minutes ago from web
66. Chel26 @MrW thank you 25 minutes ago from web in reply to MrW
70. MrW @Chel26 "who drink first is captured" Mixed COnstruction 26 minutes ago from web in reply to Chel26
77. MrW @Chel26 No. Libertine does not mean 'free men', it means basically 'partiers' 27 minutes ago from web in reply to Chel26
78. gol the master drinks, the mistress drinks, the soldier drinks, the clergy drinks, he drinks, she drinks, the maid serving drinks, some ... 27 minutes ago from web
79. brandi times for the learners, twelve times for those who repent, and thirteen times for those who journey. For the pope and king are al ... 27 minutes ago from web
80. Chel26 freed men. not libertines... 28 minutes ago from web
81. MrW @TAstu 'exiled' drink? 28 minutes ago from web in reply to TAstu
82. Chel26 http://latinmove.blo... this is my blog link and carmina burana stanza 3 is the top post 29 minutes ago from web
83. MrW @Chel26 What are 'libertines'? 29 minutes ago from web in reply to Chel26
84. MrW @brandi Not 'scattered'; look up that word. 30 minutes ago from web in reply to brandi
85. Chel26 heres stanza three completed i have to post it piece by piece! "First of all the wine maker is giving drinks to the libertines.. 30 minutes ago from web

This sample is from the end of the test. You can see that I am still helping individual students with grammar issues while other students are preparing the final copy for submittal. The final version -- comprised of the work of all of the students -- was then posted on a single blog that all of them subscribe to.
1. MrW Ok. That's time. Rachel agreed to post the final to her blog. I'll check it there at 12:45PM for group grade. Thank you! Great work. less than 10 seconds ago from web
2. Sbt @MrW will do 3 minutes ago from web
3. MrW @Sbt ...attention to who is teasing... rephrase / object problem 3 minutes ago from web in reply to Sbt
4. brandi. Alesia's 3 minutes ago from web
5. koko have it all on my blog 3 minutes ago from web
6. Sbt But according to Bacchi, they dismiss their fate. (end) 3 minutes ago from web
7. TAstu I'll do it 3 minutes ago from web
8. Sbt because they are able to dress oneself with someone's wallet. There no one fears death... 4 minutes ago from web
9. MrW Let's choose one person's blog to be the place where the final version gets published for the class grade. Ok, decide. 4 minutes ago from web

Now, as I'm following this Tweet feed, I'm also following each student individually on their own blogs where they are live-blogging their edits. Might sound complicated, but really just a matter of tabbed browsing. The end result of all of this is me -- the teacher -- having a much better feel for the formative aspects of the students' skills in translating and the students having an immediate feedback session where they are collaborating both with their teacher and with their peers.

Last year, when I started experimenting with this type of assessment, I did it live through a collaborative Google Doc. Twitter, however, now makes everything far more efficient -- and each student is left with their own copy/transcript of the entire event.

I would like to know how other teachers are using Twitter. I see it as one of the most powerful tools for education available in Web 2.0. One of the things I really like is the use of @Tweets. Students are able to directly address one another or directly address me and I am able to directly address that particular student in return; but because we do it via @Tweets, the exchange shows up in the transcript of each of the students' feeds. So, even if a student was not working on a particular part during the assignment, they now have a record of another student's questions and my responses to those other sections. In a way, the @Tweets make the Twitter feed a document far more complex than anything we could have created merely via a back-and-forth; for students, this is great because now in addition to having taken part in a collaborative assessment, they also have a complete transcript which can be used as a study guide for the final exam. In fact, I am thinking that I'm going to have the students go over the transcript and create hyperlinked annotations back to Perseus for all matters of vocab and grammar. Those documents will then be combined and shared via a Google Doc as a practice guide for the year end summative assessments.


  1. Thanks for the post. Again I enjoy how you show that it's not about the technology for technology's sake, but about making your assessment faster, more accurate, and the collaboration of the students creating a better end product.

  2. I love how you have placed the responsibility for learning so clearly on your students. A common concern about using digital tools for classwork and assessments is that the students will be "cheating." This lesson demonstrates how the social tools facilitate every student's learning - and demands each student to contribute.

  3. This is an awesome idea to use twitter for collaborative language learning. I will try this with an English text for my EFL students! Did you make your students create a twitter account or did they already have one before?
    Thanks for the detailed description!

  4. I had them make a Twitter account specifically for school.

    It was funny: when we were getting everybody signed up in class, one student said her mom would be mad if she knew the daughter was going on Twitter; only that evening to find out that her mom had been on Twitter for months.

  5. Did you use hashtags as a way to distinguish the posts on these assignments from your and your students' other uses of Twitter? Would using a real-time feed from or another service (Twitscoop?) make following this type of conversation/collaborative work easier.

    Great idea! Thanks for sharing.

  6. @NSK Didn't have to use hashtags because we were doing this live in the classroom in realtime with the feed projected on the wall.

  7. I see. Pardon my ignorance, but I'm still having a bit of trouble visualizing precisely how you set this up. Specifically I'm confused as to whose feed you projected. Did you project your twitter page/tweetdeck application, which would have shown all the posts given that you of course follow all your students? By extension, could you have projected any of their twitter feeds given that they also were all interconnected with one another?

    I supposed tweetdeck could be particularly useful in this regard as I suppose it allows you to filter out the posts of other people you follow who are not directly related to the class.

    Again, thanks for the thought provoking blog posts and tweets (I'm a new follower--@nkogan.) Just this week I gave a presentation to my colleagues about Edmodo, and am getting more and more compelled by the potential for a paperless classroom, though we're not yet a laptop school, so that might be a ways off (though given how cheap netbooks are, I'd hope that it'll come sooner rather than later!) Plus, I'm sure the bottom-line interests of the administration would like the idea of saving all that money and being part of the "going green" vanguard.

  8. @NSK Yeah, visualization is tricky here. I'm thinking about Ustreaming my next Twitter-enhanced test.

    Basically, the kids are working on their laptops. They've got Firefox up with the text, their online dictionary, Twitter, and their own blog all open in tabs. I'm running on two computers, one projecting the feed onto the wall and one open to Cover it Live where I live-blog the feed (at least that's what I did a few days after this initial post when I live blogged a test).

  9. Do you monitor the student's laptop screens with an application like Altiris Vision to prevent students from using tools that are not allowed on the test? What prevented a student from finding a complete English translation of In Taberna on the web and then uploading bits of "translated" text to the twitter feed and ultimately the blog without ever doing any real translating at all?

  10. Paperless books to read in Latin:
    Latin Titles for Free at the Tar Heel Reader

    The following fully illustrated books in Latin for

    children, are available for free to read online or

    Ossium Corporis Humani Descriptio
    Feles in Puellam Mutata
    Major Londiniarum
    De Accidentibus rerum
    De Papilione
    De Bestiis Variis
    Haedus et Lupus
    Salutatio Matutina
    Qvam Utile sit Corpus Humanum.
    Canis Meus, Furcifer.
    Canis et Lupus.
    Arbores Magicae
    Examen Habebimus
    Le Lupo in Pelle Ovis
    Lusus Paginarum
    Herbarum Scientia
    Auceps, Palumbes, Anguis.
    Canis et Apis
    Milites Romani
    Bestiarium Latinum
    De Leone.

    Other useful titles:
    In Terra Sunt.
    Deluge of Datives
    Surgisne Bene Mane
    Habesne Mensam
    Salve, Amice
    Dominus et famulus
    Animalis Clamorem
    Inter Surgendeum
    Inter se contendentes
    Parvula Aranea
    Scisne bis bins qvot essent?
    Qvis ibi stat?
    Dum Iter Cubitum
    Salutatio Vespertina
    In Horto

  11. I just became a twitter user before 1 month. I am unknown about so much twitter application. Can any one tell me about retweet.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Need to learn use your twitter account as student my option is that twitter is a plat forum of the student.


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