Suetonius: Cautious optimism

My students are modernizing a public-domain translation of Suetonius downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

Yesterday, I was pretty excited.  It seemed like the students labled “disabled learners” were able to pull ahead rapidly due to computer use.  They completed their paragraphs in class, while most of the pen-and-paper learners spent an additional twenty minutes on the assignment in the evening.

Alas, not so fast, little teacher.  Today I got back the drafts of paragraphs, and the results are mildly disappointing.  First of all, the ‘better performing’ students are still making bad mistakes in their writing.  Yet the mistakes they made are aren’t about word choice; they’re about comprehension.  Their sentences get goofy at exactly the places where Suetonius is least clear and most obtuse — therefore, the student didn’t “get” how to read that sentence.

But the ‘less capable’ students left Suetonius’s sentence structures, and used their computer thesauruses to replace the more complex words with other words — maybe they got some vocabulary practice, but they didn’t learn what Suetonius meant. A simple cut-and-paste job is not the same as comprehending what was written.  The blank stares when I asked them today to talk about their paragraphs was a little disconcerting — they knew the vocabulary, but not what was being said.

Need to rethink this lesson a bit.

But on the other hand, I definitely feel like the ‘diagnostic’ portion of my school year is moving ahead much faster as a result of computer use.  My students know how to use computers to learn the meanings of words.  They can also find synonyms. That part is easy.  What they can’t do is write new sentences to show that they understand old sentences, and that’s a different skill.  So that’s what I need to work on in the next few days.

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