Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Summer Latin Institute - Day 1 minus 7

I meant to write this post yesterday, but in the evening I was just EXHAUSTED...hopefully from the megadose of azithromycin I took for an eye infection I finally saw a doctor for, and not from the wear and tear of the Latin Institute, because frankly, except for some prep at home with my textbook, pad, and paper, all I did was fake-teach a 40-minute morning drill on Unit 8. If yesterday is any indication of my real level of stamina, I'm in B-I-G trouble this summer. I'm pretty sure this was an aberration and I'll be fine. I've hewed to busy schedules before. I'm old...but I'm not that old.

Fake-teaching is going better. My colleagues had mostly positive things to say. Still not perfect by any means, but getting better. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have transitioned from working with my colleague's notes on homework sentences to making my own notes, sometimes asking different questions in different ways or in a different order than the traditional faculty notes suggest. That's been working for me. Now, however, my colleagues say my notes are slowing me down. I cannot disagree; I do spend some awkward seconds consulting my notes before moving on to the next morphology or syntax question or moving on to the next sentence. My colleagues say it is time to make another transition, this time to using no notes at all, just working from my text with key words in each sentence underlined and perhaps a few other marginal notes to remind me when I want to put something on the board, etc.

I really have changed. I always find change amazing: wow, we change. But I mean, back when this whole thing started, I resented the highly prescriptive list of questions contained in that sheaf of faculty notes. My attitude was, I have been teaching Latin with Institute-inspired methods for years. I emphasize syntax, give daily quizzes, assign verb synopses: why can't I just go through the sentences in my own way, as I would in a traditional (non-Institute) classroom?

Now that I've gone from resenting the notes, to making my own notes, to moving towards just a few notes jotted in my text, I find that I am asking the questions that I was supposed to be asking all along. Yes, I have taught Latin using Institute-inspired methods for years. But I was not doing it precisely the way Institute faculty do it during the summer. Now I am starting to. And it makes sense. I feel like I have learned and grown. I'll admit, I still chafe a bit at the idea that the experience has changed me; that my colleagues might have been right about something to which I was so resistant. But that's how change is sometimes.

I'll give you one quick example that might occur early in the summer. Say my students were looking at the sentence, Fēminae in viā clāmābant (the women in the street were shouting). I might have asked my students at the University of South Carolina to "identify" fēminae. To identify a noun means to tell me the gender, case, and number. My students would have said "Feminine, nominative, plural." I would have said, "Good!" and might have moved on to ask "What's its function in this sentence?" Now, there's nothing wrong with those questions, and I might ask them at the Institute as well. But at the institute, at least early on DAY 2, I will ask a student to "Give me the dictionary entry" for fēminae. The student will be expected to say "fēmina, fēminae, feminine" (that last word being the gender of the noun, not its meaning). My follow up should be: "Good! What declension?" To which the response should be "First." My next follow up should be" "Good! Let me hear those first declension endings...in the singular (question posed to student number 1)? Good! In the plural (question posed to student number 2)? Good!

See what I mean? It's nothing radical by any means, and it gets at the same information that I habitually have gotten my students to focus on. But triggers like "dictionary entry," "declension," "endings," "singular," and "plural" are part of the Latin Institute tradition. As I've said in previous posts,  there is an automatic, robotic quality to all of this that is not inhuman, but rather methodical. I like to think I have always been methodical in my Latin teaching. But I have to admit, I have always been methodical and also somewhat casual, perhaps intentionally, to try to foster the impression that nobody should stress out too much about any of this stuff. The Institute is a little different. In fact, we are trying to foster a bit of productive stress: to be supportive and nurturing of our students, but also to keep them on a little bit of a tight wire all summer, to keep them on their toes.

Now that I'm getting more comfortable with it, I think I may, just may, be beginning to enjoy it.

More soon... 

Note: The opinions expressed in this blog entry are those of the blogger, and do not represent the opinions of the CUNY Latin/Greek Institute, its students, faculty, or administration.

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