Monday, April 03, 2006

I'll Do It Tomorrow...

The poet Martial writes in Epigram V.58:

Cras te victurum, cras dicis, Postume, semper:
dic mihi, cras istud, Postume, quando venit?
Quam longe cras istud! ubi est? aut unde petendum?
Numquid apud Parthos Armeniosque latet?
Iam cras istud habet Priami vel Nestoris annos.
Cras istud quanti, dic mihi, possit emi?
Cras vives? Hodie iam vivere, Postume, serum est:
ille sapit quisquis, Postume, vixit heri.
And I offer this translation:

You always say that you will live tomorrow, Postumus, tomorrow!
Tell me, that tomorrow of yours, Postumus, when does it come?
How far away that tomorrow is! Where is it? Where must we look for it?
Does it hide out among the Parthians and Armenians?
That tomorrow of yours is already as old as Priam or Nestor.
Tell me, how much will that tomorrow of yours cost?
Will you live tomorrow? Postumus, it is already too late to live today:
He is wise whoever lived yesterday, Postumus!

This poem has come up in class at a very interesting time. It is the end of the marking period and I have just spent a very unpleasant weekend grading papers, tests, essays, and make-up work. When I say that I spent the weekend, I mean, literally, the whole weekend.

The first part of the problem comes from my own procrastination. I let the papers pile up and then they become a chore. When they become a chore, they are avoided. When they are avoided, they hang over my head and make me more anxious than any sword of Damocles.

The second part of the problem I attribute to overextending myself and saying "yes" to far too many things when I am already taxed. We moved to block scheduling this year and that means three 90-minute shows a day, each show different, interesting, and, I hope, productive.

Finally, I am beginning to realize that the third part of the problem is that I am requiring too much graded work from my students. There are quizzes on vocabulary, grammar, syntax, translations, culture, history, mythology, and then tests, benchmark tests, and exams. I also require prepared translations and exercises and even the occasional poster or project. Those who are marginal students are quickly overwhelmed and become discouraged. In frustration they come to hate the study of Latin, regret their decision of taking it, and refuse to go on.

My realization, some twenty years after I started teaching: not everything requires work, not all work requires a grade, and not every grade needs to be recorded. As a young teacher fresh out of college I would have considered this blasphemy. Now, as an experienced teacher in the middle of my career, I realize that this is the approach that will allow me to see the wisdom of Martial's words.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you that not everything needs to be graded/recorded. My kids often ask for some things to be for grades and sometimes i will oblige them. And other times i randomly take up the work and do it for completion-- i often still go back and check it but its not as much pressure to get it done right away then. I've started having my kids correct each others work-- its made it easier for me, as well. Whether they get it will show up when you asses them.

Antoninus Pius said...

Here in Scotland, we are in the middle of a debate about the benefits of "formative assessment" (= informally checking knowledge and understanding as you go along) as opposed to "summative assessment" (= what you just spent your week-end doing).
Also, your anonymous correspondent's point about peer-assessment ("having the kids correct each other's work") is a valuable one. And then ask the whole class to contribute any interesting points that arose while they were reading their classmates' work.