Latin I: Elementary Latin

2016-17: Bruce A. McMenomy, Ph.D. (supervising)
Susan Dennis for Scholars Online

Section I (Susan Dennis): Mondays and Wednesdays, 9:00 AM to 10:30 AM Eastern Time
Section II (Susan Dennis): Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:30 AM to 12:00 PM Eastern Time

Overview    Materials    Schedule



General course overview and outline of expectations

This course is designed to introduce students to the rudiments of Latin grammar and idiom through reading, recitation, and formal study, using Wheelock’s venerable textbook as recently revised by Prof. Rick LaFleur.

The course presupposes no previous acquaintance with Latin or any other foreign language, but it is rigorous and will require regular application and study of the forms and the nuances of the language. Students need to expect to attend class regularly, be prepared with the assigned material, and be ready to ask questions about anything they do not understand.

About the final exam for this class

Like Latin II and Greek I and II, this class has a rather unusual final exam, and it seems appropriate to explain it here to forestall ambiguities or confusions about how it works, and why we’re doing it this way. It is not an accident or a mistake. At the core of it is the fact that we are aiming to achieve and measure mastery of the material — all of it, by all the students — rather than merely measuring once the student’s ability to hit a somewhat unspecified target, as many exams do. Most exams measure a student’s achievement by assay — that is, by a representative sampling of the material, the way one would evaluate the metal content of a carload of ore. The assay method has its advantages: it’s efficient, and generally reliable in arriving at an assessment in the space of an hour or two. But it also has its disadvantages: it’s a snapshot of a student’s ability at one point. The student may never have been able to assess his or her own ability in such a mode before, but now that it’s finished, there’s no going back on it. It’s therefore an exhaustible resource. It also relies on security and secrecy. If one knows ahead of time what particular question will be asked, there’s little or no motivation for learning the rest, at least for a student who is motivated by grades.

By contrast, this final exam effectively contains all the distinct material of the class. No student has a special advantage in knowing what’s going to be on the exam: the answer is "everything". As an immediate consequence, of course, it’s unreasonably large, and it would certainly be impossible for a student to take it in an hour or two at the end of the year. It will assuredly take more time. On the other hand, most students can be guaranteed a nearly perfect score — one that they’ve earned. Here’s how it works: the exam is made up of a number of self-scoring quizzes. They are mounted now, at the beginning of the year, on the Moodle metacourse called "Elementary Latin" in which all Latin I-IV students are automatically included. Each of those quizzes can be taken any number of times. They may be taken open-book, open-notes, and with the free consultation of other students, the teacher, or any other appropriate oracular person. Students may start practicing them as soon as they like. The only restriction is this: the last version of each section must be taken after the last class of the year under exam conditions (closed-book, closed-notes, and without access to any other outside sources of information), properly proctored by an adult. If they don’t like how that comes out, they can take it again. Whatever is in fact the last properly monitored score is the one that will count for the student’s grade. To make achieving this easier, we have extended the time over which the test can be taken through the summer.

Please note that the summer-long exam is not some kind of compromise or failure of planning; we’ve been doing it this way for years and we have talked about it in a number of places. We have come to the conclusion that giving students a stretch of time in which no new material is being assimilated is the best way to let them cement what has already been learned. Nor are we dumbing anything down for the students: we expect phenomenally high scores, and we get them. The students who achieve them actually have learned the material, and if that’s what we’re aiming to measure, it seems only fair to reward it. If everyone finishes the class with an A, we’re not going to feel cheated, as long as they’ve learned the material that the A represents. Typically students have come back to classes in the fall with their skills at levels I’ve not seen even in undergraduate students in college. Yes, I understand that under some circumstances it’s impractical to extend the time out so far. Seniors need to get scores turned in to their colleges. Some homeschooling umbrella organizations demand scores earlier than the fall. That expectation can be met, if the student prepares for it. There is nothing in the terms of the exam to prevent it from being completed by the end of the first week of June. That’s up to the student. Those who have the time to polish their scores throughout the summer, however, will typically achieve a level of mastery that will put them far ahead, not of each other, but of most of the other Latin or Greek students in the country. I think those results speak for themselves.

© Copyright 2013 by Bruce A. McMenomy. Permission to download or print this material is granted to members of Scholars Online for personal study. All other use or redistribution constitutes violation of copyright.