In July 2017 after the Pac Rim in San Diego, Dr Scott Lepisto (@scottlepisto) interviewed me for an episode of the #Itinera podcast, where Classicists discuss their research, teaching, and lives as scholars. Notable guests have been: Alex Purves, Helen Morales, and Amy Richlin. Listen to my interview here.
Note: Feel free to pick and choose from what follows; some things will appeal or seem helpful to you, others not so much. When it comes to teaching, given the personal nature of it, you yourself will develop best practices from your own readings, explorations, and experience. Long story short, what follows is not prescriptive.
1) introductory remarks re the ethos of teaching, emphasizing the role of the personal in the teaching persona
2) brief outline of responsibilities in student safety/wellbeing (title IX, immigrant students); be sensitive + mindful with your language
- for a student in crisis, send them (or walk them to) BU Student Health Services: SARP (Sexual Assault and Prevention Center) = 930 Commonwealth Avenue, 1st Floor, Boston, MA 02215; 9:00 am-5:00 pm, 24/7 on-call counselor: 617-353-7277
- resources: a number of very good articles on Eidolon, and everything on the Classics and Social Justice Blog (there will be a C&SJ Panel at the 2018 SCS)
3) a basic structure of a “lesson” plan; suggestions how to plan a lesson, how to create discussion; how teaching languages requires different kinds of planning and structure
- for language instruction:
- handouts for Wheelock: http://www.wheelockslatin.com/wheelocksteacherguide.html
- have specific daily lessons dictated by the textbook; e.g. one chapter of Wheelock a session is a good pace
- first part of class introduce new material, second part of class use practice sentences with students to solidify that material
- for language instruction testing is an important and useful way to make sure students commit to memorizing vocabulary/internalizing constructions; I usually do two a week:
- take at least one session a week to read a longer passage with your students so that they can get used to longer translation
- try to foster a good group dynamic with your Latin students; one idea is to make them a facebook group, so that they can arrange study sessions together (I did this and it was very successful)
- if you can, it can be nice to offer extra credit reading sessions outside of class, where students can come and sight read Latin together with you in an informal (but rewarded) setting
- here is the structure I use for beginning Latin language instruction (can be adapted for different schedule)
Monday: vocab quiz (10 mins) + go over homework (a longer passage from Wheelock, or from 38 Latin Stories)
Tuesday: chapter of Wheelock
Wednesday: chapter of Wheelock
Thursday: weekly test (15-20 mins) + read a longer passage from Wheelock
- for discussion section:
- set the tone for discussion sections by setting up rules and expectations up front (don’t take for granted that students know how to disagree respectfully!)
- structure the class around specific questions which have arisen out of the course lectures
but don’t be afraid to bring in external material from outside the classroom to generate discussion
try to engage all students by having a variety of possible formats (small group, pair, written)
ask individual questions, specifically varying Bloom’s taxonomy
offer support for developing paper assignment ideas
- have a handout/powerpoint with specific texts or images which you discuss together with your students; giving your students material to respond to which is immediately in front of them can help break the silence
- split your students into groups to discuss specific passages of text or images
- have your students submit questions to you ahead of time for discussion
- have your students use an online forum format to discuss the week’s material in advance (an example: Miranda Butler’s use of tumblr and blackboard)
- have your students do short (5 min) presentations on primary materials
- show your students excerpts of other media (audio, video) which relate to ancient material; can be helpful for helping imagination and creating inroads, e.g. this video taken by someone walking to the Purpose Built Lupanar in Pompeii demonstrates the narrowness of space; or this video of the Nikandre Kore demonstrates the surprising slimness of the statue, and what it looks like in its museum context
4) brief overview of digital tools/resources:
- Pleiades project: find ancient locations on a map (students often respond to maps + other visualisations)
- Wikimedia: for finding images of ancient objects etc. in the public domain/creative commons license (Flickr/youtube can also be helpful)
- draw on the work of public classicists like Mary Beard, Sarah Bond, Donna Zuckerberg; Eidolon
- Diotima has a very large breadth of resources for teaching gender/women in the ancient world; likewise VRoma
- University of Reading’s Virtual Rome project.
- online version of Allen + Greenough Latin Grammar via Dickinson College Commentaries
- create a course blog (e.g. womeninantiquity.com) and/or twitter hashtag (#CL206)
- podcasts: I like BBC In Our Time, e.g. episodes on Sappho ( with Edith Hall, Margaret Reynolds, Dirk Obbink) and the Etruscans (Phil Perkins, David Ridgway, Corinna Riva)
- use + browse the #teachancient hashtag (used to collect, curate, and generate on twitter materials for teaching the ancient world), e.g.:
- apps/website for Latin or Greek drills for beginning students
5) brief overview of pedagogy bibliography/other resources:
- When Dead Tongues Speak, John Gruber-Miller — this is specifically written for classicists teaching languages
- From Abortion to Pederasty,
- Creating Significant Learning Experiences, L. Dee FInk
- Engaging Ideas, John Bean
- Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks
- What the Best College Teachers Do, Ken Bain
- How Learning Works, Susan Ambrose
- Itinera podcast by Scott Lepisto, in which he interviews classicists on their teaching and research; guests to date include: Alex Purves, Ellen Finkelpearl, Alexis Whalen (on living Latin), Helen Morales, Christelle Fischer-Bovet
- also an excellent piece in Eidolon by Lisl Walsh on feminist pedagogy, and the fact that being a woman in the classroom will make it harder for students to assign authority to you: https://eidolon.pub/giving-it-up-in-the-classroom-14c1afcfd69.
- and some good articles in the Chronicle:
Student Commentaries (#CL351) on Cicero De Natura Deorum or De Divinatione
You must include the following elements:
- Choose a passage of at least 350 words; you may copy + paste the text from thelatinlibrary.com, but note that there may be textual differences, so make sure to check against the text
- Write an introduction to the passage that contains information about the author’s life and work, the genre of the selection, and an overview or outline of the work from which the passage is taken
- Write a reflection, based on research (use bibliography on syllabus), about the broader significance of the content of the passage, and how it relates to the rest of the work
- Write a translation of the Latin passage in your own words
- Give a bibliography of print and internet sources consulted
- [optional: A print-out of images that illustrate the text, with references]
- Comments to the text arising from student reading, such as:
- complete dictionary entries for less-common words with the recommended translation for the word, as it is used in the immediate context, placed first, followed by a range of possible meanings
- explication of grammatical forms, syntax, word order, rhetorical devices
- identification of people, places, events, references
- interpretation of ideas in the text and meaning that is not readily apparent
Students of the current CL 351 produced the following (partial) commentary with me on ND 1.3ff., Tuesday 12th October. Asterisks denote passages which will need to be filled in by further reference and research. What is nice about this, the product of a very short workshop, is how many ideas can be generated from even a little piece of text. And the asterisks are an index of initial thoughts which can be developed with further investigation.
Classroom test case:
De Natura Deorum 1.3-7
 Sunt enim philosophi et fuerunt, qui omnino nullam habere censerent rerum humanarum procurationem deos. Quorum si vera sententia est, quae potest esse pietas, quae sanctitas, quae religio? Haec enim omnia pure atque caste tribuenda deorum numini ita sunt, si animadvertuntur ab iis et si est aliquid a deis inmortalibus hominum generi tributum; sin autem dei neque possunt nos iuvare nec volunt nec omnino curant nec, quid agamus, animadvertunt nec est, quod ab is ad hominum vitam permanare possit, quid est, quod ullos deis inmortalibus cultus, honores, preces adhibeamus? In specie autem fictae simulationis sicut reliquae virtutes item pietas inesse non potest; cum qua simul sanctitatem et religionem tolli necesse est, quibus sublatis perturbatio vitae sequitur et magna confusio;  atque haut scio, an pietate adversus deos sublata fides etiam et societas generis humani et una excellentissuma virtus iustitia tollatur. Sunt autem alii philosophi, et hi quidem magni atque nobiles, qui deorum mente atque ratione omnem mundum administrari et regi censeant, neque vero id solum, sed etiam ab isdem hominum vitae consuli et provideri; nam et fruges et reliqua, quae terra pariat, et tempestates ac temporum varietates caelique mutationes, quibus omnia, quae terra gignat, maturata pubescant, a dis inmortalibus tribui generi humano putant, multaque, quae dicentur, in his libris colligunt, quae talia sunt, ut ea ipsa dei inmortales ad usum hominum fabricati paene videantur. Contra quos Carneades ita multa disseruit, ut excitaret homines non socordes ad veri investigandi cupiditatem.  Res enim nulla est, de qua tantopere non solum indocti, sed etiam docti dissentiant; quorum opiniones cum tam variae sint tamque inter se dissidentes, alterum fieri profecto potest, ut earum nulla, alterum certe non potest, ut plus una vera sit. Qua quidem in causa et benivolos obiurgatores placare et invidos vituperatores confutare possumus, ut alteros reprehendisse paeniteat, alteri didicisse se gaudeant; nam qui admonent amice, docendi sunt, qui inimice insectantur, repellendi.  Multum autem fluxisse video de libris nostris, quos compluris brevi tempore edidimus, variumque sermonem partim admirantium, unde hoc philosophandi nobis subito studium extitisset, partim, quid quaque de re certi haberemus, scire cupientium; multis etiam sensi mirabile videri eam nobis potissimum probatam esse philosophiam, quae lucem eriperet et quasi noctem quandam rebus offunderet, desertaeque disciplinae et iam pridem relictae patrocinium necopinatum a nobis esse susceptum.
— Pease commentary [available online thro’ Haithi]; this is at the more dense end of the spectrum
— Dyck commentary [Mugar: PA6296 .D4 2003]
— P. G. Walsh commentary [Mugar: PA6308.D4 W35 1997]
— phi latin corpus < use this to find how other authors use words or phrases
— Brill New Pauly < use this to look up unknown names
— Logeion < use this to look up words in Lewis & Short
— Allen & Greenough online < use this to look up and reference grammar/syntax
— jstor.org < use this to look up scholarly articles
*NB this assignment is modelled on the Companion Text-Commentary exercise.
I’m teaching two undergraduate classes this Fall: Women in Antiquity (#CL206), a class which is crosslisted with gender studies; and a Latin Seminar on Cicero’s De Natura Deorum and De Divinatione, “Gods and the Universe” (#CL351). Both of the syllabuses are online (see below). I’m keen to have a public element to these classes, so I’ll be tweeting about them using the hashtags #CL206 and #CL351. Students, or anyone, can join me on twitter in discussing these topics. The Women in Antiquity class will have a stronger social media component, with weekly blog posts from me to develop a set of questions for the week’s readings, to generate IDs, and to dialogue with in-class discussion.
As part of our recent event at the University of Southern California, sponsored by the USC Classics department, the Levan Institute, and the USC Society of Fellows, I gave a short presentation on the ethical value of scholars being part of the project of the internet, using the tools of social media. See below a link to the slides from my presentation. We’ll be posting a piece on the Classics and Social Justice blog soon with a summary and reflection of the two day event.
On April 6th 2017, the University of Southern California’s Center for Excellence in Teaching held an event entitled “Pedagogy of the Empowered”. Four Teaching Assistant Fellows — Leslie Bernsten, Mary Donhoffner, Rima Basu, and Lizette Solórzano — spoke individually about how to be inclusive in classroom dialogues on political or difficult topics, providing us with strategies and practical advice on how to deal sensitively with specific scenarios that can and do happen. This is exactly the kind of event that is essential in the current political climate, and I left the session feeling that everyone who is teaching right now should attend an event like this at least once. I was grateful to be able to attend.
Leslie Bernsten opened the session by saying that teaching is a caring profession; research supports that the best teaching is that which is above and beyond the call of duty. She mentioned the anxiety that some may have of being a teacher at an R1 university, where you might not be expected to make teaching a priority, and perhaps will receive less support from the institutional framework around you. But she affirmed something that I have always felt — that the best teaching happens when human beings treat others as human beings. Here are some tools and strategies which I took away from this event:
- If you want to respond to a recent political moment in the classroom, be clear with yourself and your students on why you are doing so. The classroom is not the right place to rant about how you feel about what’s going on in politics. If you want to talk about something that is happening, make sure you tie it in to part of the curriculum, and take the time to present it in a way that does not simply reflect your own political beliefs, but allows students — who have many different beliefs and experiences — to be able to engage with it.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. If you want to talk about a politically charged issue, prepare as much as you can in advance.
- Create a classroom contract. How do you set up your classroom so that serious conflicts do not occur? How can you make sure that everyone feels fairly treated, and that the class discussion is productive for everyone? One way to prepare is to be clear from the first day what your students can expect from you, and what you expect from them. Guide them through the syllabus to show your expectations. How will late work be dealt with? How will grading work? How will conflict in the classroom be handled? An effective strategy is to have the students workshop community guidelines: have your students work together to write a charter which describes how they will behave towards each other. And always explain to your students why you’re having them complete a task; doing this can help avoid a sense of being infantilized.
- Be aware of how you can help marginalized students. Many students have had experiences which leave them emotionally and legally vulnerable. Recent studies show that at certain universities up to 30% of female students are survivors of sexual violence. That means that you need to keep in mind that there is a very high probability that several of your students (male and female) have had this experience. If a student confides in you that they have been sexually assaulted, you are legally obligated to report this to the Title IX officer at your university. Many of your students may also be undocumented, or their family members may be undocumented. These students are living with a very real threat of deportation. If a student confides in you that they are undocumented, you must not tell this to anyone else. This is an example in which maintaining confidentiality is crucial. Teachers at the university level are not necessarily (and perhaps even usually) trained to be able to give students the support which they need; instead, we have to know where to send them when they need help. So we should know what the counseling services are, and whether our university has an immigration clinic. In these cases, we must send our students to trained professionals who can help them emotionally and legally.
Question — what Latin dictionary do you have your students use? I grew up with Langenscheidt but I don’t think it’s widely available anymore pic.twitter.com/SO0R5ZClE4
— Dr. Čulík-Baird (@opietasanimi) March 27, 2017
Poll — Do you encourage your students in Latin/Greek language classes to use online dictionary tools?
— Dr. Čulík-Baird (@opietasanimi) March 27, 2017
My next question (via a twitter poll) was whether Latin instructors encourage their students to use online dictionary tools. My assumption, just based on casual discussions or passing comments with colleagues IRL, is that many would be against it just in principle. But perhaps asking Latin instructors on twitter is not the venue for cynicism about digital tools. As I write the poll isn’t closed yet, but the majority of respondents use digital tools in some form. Cillian O’Hogan (@CillianOHogan) replied that he had that day taught his students how to use Logeion’s online version of Lewis & Short; he also mentioned that he gives lessons in how to use physical dictionaries, including a demonstration of their shortcomings. The important thing here, whether you have your students use physical or digital dictionaries, is to dedicate time to demonstrate how to use them. It’s not degrading to anyone to take the time to meditate on issues or forms which seem self-evident — in fact, it can be quite a profound experience.
I recently read a discussion by Geoffrey Nunberg of the limits of the physical editions of the Oxford English Dictionary that have been overcome in its online edition:
The advent of online historical corpora has also altered the lexicographer’s method. Word sleuthery has become a game that anyone with access to a search engine can play. It’s not hard to find examples that antedate the OED’s earliest citations for words, particularly in the modern period. The first use of Ms. listed in the second edition was from 1949; the Wall Street Journal’s language columnist Ben Zimmer tracked it back to 1901.
The issue with online Latin dictionaries is probably not so much about the quality of its contents as much as the question of whether use of a digital dictionary is detrimental to the student’s progress in language acquisition. Anecdotally, we classicists as a group seem to think that using a physical dictionary leads to better vocabulary retention. After I posted the twitter poll, Clara Shaw Hardy (@ShawHardy) responded with a blog piece in which she described her own experiments with students, who tried both physical and digital dictionaries and reported their experiences; Hardy also cites an article in Teaching Classical Languages by Jacqueline Carlon arguing that students retain vocabulary that they learn “the hard way.” Hardy also put forward the suggestion that online dictionaries develop a means of quizzing students on the words which they have looked up in a given session. Patrick Burns responded to this with a blog piece of his own, which is a tutorial on how to use Learning with Texts (LWT) to learn vocabulary in context.
All in all, I’m encouraged by the fact that many classicists are not ideologically opposed to using digital dictionaries. Although there is evidence that doing things the old fashioned way has better results, in a world where students are more naturally inclined to turn to the internet as a source of knowledge, I think that there is something to be said for using rigorous, philological online lexical tools like Logeion. Whether physical or digital, dictionaries are a technology that need to be explained, explored, and contextualized. I feel that a lot of the resistance to digital forms probably comes from an inherent conservatism within classics that says more about the discipline than it does about the functionality or pedagogical outcomes that result from use of digital dictionaries. The important thing is to explore different avenues with an open mind, rather than allowing cynicism to hold you back from new teaching opportunities.