All the Verbs’ Tenses: Success with Synopses

by Fred Harrison, Latin Teacher
As someone who learned Latin back in the ’50’s of the last century, it was and is my opinion that recognizing verb tenses on sight is a master key to unlocking the meaning of a sentence as one reads it in Latin. Therefore I insisted to my students that they learn to conjugate verbs as soon as they had enough of “personae” to distinguish agnosco from agnoscimus. Since many of the students in Latin II were going on to read Latin in their 3rd and 4th years, I thought they would find the skill useful, as well.
So the first year I taught Latin II using the Ecce Romani syllabus, we had learned enough verb tenses by the mid-year exam in January to introduce a more complete synopsis form to fill in. The students had learned all the infinitives and participles, as well as present and perfect active and passive systems of the indicative; they had just been introduced to the imperfect and pluperfect active and passive tenses of the subjunctive. I advised them that I was quite desirous of them knowing how to fill in a synopsis form and that there would probably be more than one synopsis in the mid-year exam (a two-hour written ordeal).
We had practiced filling out the forms in class and for homework, and I stressed to the students how to look for the patterns in completing the verb conjugations, and how simple the completion of the syllabus could be.  I was extremely distressed when correcting the exams to find that only ten or so students out of 55 (there were 2 sections) could successfully complete a synopsis form.    When I reviewed the exam with the students I pointed out their failure to master the simplicity of creating a synopsis and told them that they would fail Latin II if they did not master the skill.
And so a new regime was established:  Each Monday morning there was a list of “the verb of the day,” for seven days of that week, person, gender, and number specified for each verb. Incomplete or missing syllabi were marked accordingly. You can imagine the groans and whines. I was pitiless. Every Friday, in addition, they would have a synopsis to fill out and on which they were graded. Those students who had correctly completed the synopsis on the mid-year exam were exempt from the homework requirement, but they still had to take the weekly quiz. When a student achieved 100% on two successive quizzes she also became exempt from the daily synopsis. This turned out to be the best incentive
As I had a SmartBoard in the classroom, each day the synopsis of the day was displayed when the students entered. They self-corrected their homework and then brought it to me for checking. The synopsis checking took between 6 to 7 minutes of class time.  After the third week’s test only 5 additional students were exempt and it was time for mid-quarter warnings to go out to students in danger of failing that quarter. I sent out 40 warnings. Parents and guidance counselors were asking what had happened to their wonderful students. Those guardians were informed of the regimen. The next week 13 more students, in addition to the first 15 completed the requirement of two successive scores of 100%.
By the 8th week (end of March) every student could complete a synopsis successfully. The verb of the day went away, although the weekly synopsis quiz did not.  I think that out of the 55 students, 30 were 12th graders. Of the remaining 25, 20 went on to further their Latin studies. Their teacher the next year was full of praise for the students abilities in recognizing all the verbs’ tenses.

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