The nominally ‘better prepared’ group used printed dictionary books, pen and paper, as well as a photocopy of the relevant paragraphs to do their work. They were divided into pairs, and took most of the class period to write out their transcriptions. There was little innovation, using only a few narrow word choices to translate the paragraphs, and very little variation from Suetonius’s translator’s tortuous grammar.
The ‘more LD’ group had computers. They took to the digital dictionary that comes standard on most Macs right away, and used the thesaurus as well to find relevant words. Once they learned about the ability to command-click on a Mac to see definitions, they moved even faster. They finished their paragraphs before the bell rang for the next period; I could have easily had time to lounge by assigning them a second paragraph for the time they had left, and a third for homework tonight.
The second group, the ‘less capable’ learners, in fact learn just fine. They have difficulty with fine motor control, perhaps, related to wielding a pen. Their spelling is not up to par. But they are certainly capable of reading and understanding a century-old translation of a work first written in another language, and modernizing the language for their classmates. Lo and behold, they’re even good at it. A good spell-check feature on a good word processor digitizes and forgives much of these two weaknesses.
I had worried that the ‘lesser’ group was going to fall behind on this assignment, so I doubled them up with the first group. Now I don’t have that fear. The ‘lesser’ group feels more empowered by tech, and so I’m going to play to their strength… which is what I should have been doing for years as a teacher. And both groups need to get access to computers now, so that I can have everyone working on producing a readable copy of Suetonius as quickly as possible.
As well, a colleague of mine asked me what I was trying to teach them, in terms of an essential question this afternoon. Finally I have my answer, after thinking all evening. “What are the real differences between a good government and a bad one, and between a government that’s growing in power and one that’s declining?” If that’s not an essential historical question, I don’t know what is.