I haven’t given midterms in years. Back when I did, though, it was a self-assessed analysis of fluency writes (I no longer do any sort of timed write, either, but that’s another story). Now, aside from the infuriating last-minute “all courses must have a midterm” decision we got hit with coming back from holiday break, I had a major discovery when giving the [ungraded] midterm this year.
Perhaps serendipitously, I had already planned to have students do a one-page front/back “test of understanding” as learning evidence to kick off Semester 2. It featured seven paragraphs of Latin from selected texts we read the first half of the year, each with three English comprehension questions (responses in English, too). No points. The students were just going to reflect, leaving a comment a) describing how well they understood the Latin, b) explaining how their performance on the test was a reflection of their Process of learning Latin, and c) what they planned to do this next quarter to learn Latin based on the test. I ended up using this as the first half of the midterm, which took students no more than 30 minutes, and required merely a quick glance on my part. Remember, I wasn’t scoring or anything for this learning evidence. I was reading the student comments about this test, and marking “checked” in the gradebook. For the remaining hour, it was BYOM (Bring Your Own Midterm). I got this absolutely brilliant idea from an ungrading FB group!
To set up the BYOM, we had a brainstorm session the class beforehand. Some ideas were pretty good. Some weren’t. I had to steer students away from vocab/phrase-level ideas (e.g., “Can we make a Quizlet?”), and towards more sentence/paragraph-level stuff. I had to encourage students to do something that wouldn’t just take an hour, like some elaborate illustration or PPT having done not much with any Latin to create it. So, I relayed the guidelines that midterms should show learning from the whole semester. Many students chose to read & translate selections of every book we’ve read. Nothing creative. Simple and effective. Some students wanted to write their own Latin, but I encouraged them to do something with Latin that was already written instead, knowing how little Latin I’d get from them, even in an hour. Besides, I didn’t want to deal with Google Translate nonsense. So, I suggested that if students wanted to write, it would be better off in English. After all, they could express so much more in English, especially if done in a way that showed they understood the Latin.
Interverbal Fan Fic
One student’s idea was really cool. It wasn’t just a first-person perspective change. It wasn’t just writing a new scene or alternate ending. It was creating their own related narrative (fan fiction) by adding things into the text, between words (inter+ verba). For example, “Poenica multās togās purpurat” could be used to write something like “Poenica works really hard every day. She dyes many togas purple each week. You’ll find them in her showroom.” It’s not a translation, and it’s also not an entire new scene/ending. It’s elaboration. What’s the difference between this and other second language class writing prompts? Students use a language they can actually express complex ideas in, and it doesn’t take anything away from reading. In fact, what students write in English would not be possible without understanding the original text. N.B. this is not unlike Turn & Talk that’s been working out well for years, or Mike Peto’s “harnessing a running horse,” allowing students to interact in a language they won’t struggle to find words for, which adds far more depth to class than what’s possible in the target language early on. Check out the result:
I really like the “even though Poenica knows she is a good purple-dyer that was never her real passion.” It acts as a summary of the Latin, while also providing more to the backstory (e.g., this wasn’t just a recent interest. Poenica fell into the family business but has always wanted to…”).
How To Use?
This kind of writing will replace fluency writes I’ve done in the past. Those were typed up, edited, and read together as a class. We can do the same thing here using exactly what the students create while it being more interesting, generally speaking, with a known language at their disposal. I also like how there’s new content generated beyond rereading known content.
Another use could be an FVR (free voluntary reading) follow-up. After reading for ~10 minutes, students spend another 15 or so writing some fan fiction using the book they were reading. Or not, and they grab a different book to do interverbal fan fic. N.B. when we’ve done the Game of Quotes follow-up, I’ve seen students swap out a book for one they’re more familiar with, and/or like better. Since there’s no accountability with FVR (vs. some kind of independent reading system that does ask students to keep logs, or do work while reading), neither Game of Quotes nor Interverbal Fan Fic require students to use the exact book they read, and the products certainly aren’t graded.