Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Summer Latin Institute - DAY 6

DAY 6 was yesterday, June 18, 2012.

It was the day of our first weekly exam, covering Units 1-4. Thus, a 3-hour test on the equivalent of one month of college Latin (arguably more) learned in one week.

The exam is a rigorous test of students' knowledge of morphology and syntax, including a synopsis, identification and transformation of isolated verb forms, Latin-to-English translation with syntax questions and transformation (five sentences), and two English-to-Latin sentences (Latin prose composition).

Exams are team-graded, in the same spirit that the entire program is team-taught. Each faculty member grades specific sections or questions on all papers, rather than grading the entire exam of a few students. At the end of the day, we add up each student's score, finalize the grades, and meet to discuss student progress.

There was of course a range of performance from nearly perfect to far from good. Some students may end up leaving the program if they do not improve by the next weekly exam next Monday. It is up to the faculty to recognize the achievement of the best students; encourage those in the middle to get over their hump; and work as hard as we can with those at the bottom to keep them in the program or help them make a realistic decision about leaving when the time comes. There is no point in a student's subjecting him- or herself to the intensity of this program if it is not working for them, if they are experiencing mostly failure and frustration rather than success and satisfaction, if they are not learning Latin.

After the exam, students have lunch, and at 1:00 PM, it's right back to the regular learning routine: another two-hour lecture on another unit with new morphology and syntax, a new list of vocabulary items, a new set of exercises to complete and perfect before the next morning's drills.

Yesterday afternoon, DAY 6, was Unit 5: participles, the active and passive periphrastic conjugations, dative of agent with the passive periphrastic, dative of the possessor, and the irregular verb possum.

I worked with some students in my office yesterday evening and on the phone last night. Once again, they feel overwhelmed. That's the thing about the Summer Latin Institute (and the Summer Greek Institute). I know; remember, I was a student in this program in 1982 (and Greek in 1983). You feel overwhelmed the whole time. In a continuous, progressive, repeated manner: I am overwhelmed, I am being overwhelmed, I keep on being overwhelmed (that's a verb aspect joke, haha). At your best, you feel both overwhelmed and extremely satisfied by all the progress you are making, all the Latin you are learning, how you are getting faster and more accurate at recognizing noun and verb forms, identifying them, translating them, identifying their syntax, and reading with comprehension. But the two feelings go hand in hand: the feeling of being overwhelmed, and the feeling of being extremely satisfied with the program, with yourself, with language in general and Latin in particular.

In my office yesterday, one of my students lamented, "OMG, if it's this bad when I'm doing sentences written by Floyd Moreland and Rita Fleischer, how bad is it going to be when I start reading Catullus?" To which I replied, "We'll find out on Thursday, when I'm teaching you guys Catullus 13 in the second hour of afternoon lecture." You should have seen the look of joy, surprise, anticipation on the face of that student! As if I had promised her a trip to Disneyworld or the Van Leeuwen ice cream shop in Cobble Hill. That's why these students are in the program—that love of literature and that joyous anticipation of being able to read Roman poetry and prose in the original Latin with comprehension. That's whey we are all here, sleep deprived, anxiety ridden, occasionally demoralized, often thrilled.

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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