Proseminar in Classical Pedagogy

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

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:
      • one short quiz just on vocabulary/principal parts [an example];
      • one more substantial test on material covered in class that week [an example] (both egs from Latin 2 class taught 2015).
    • 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:

5) brief overview of pedagogy bibliography/other resources:

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All Syllabuses

SPRING 2018

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FALL 2017

Write-up — Pedagogy of the Empowered: Teaching as an Act of Resistance in 2017 and Beyond

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.

Notes from the classroom: Cicero and the genre of biography

I have mixed feelings about the genre of biography. I read recently that as a boy Napoleon used to hide away in the library of the Royal Military school of Brienne-le-Château and read the ancient biographers (Roberts 2015:12). His favourites were Plutarch’s Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. This is not exactly a surprising thing to read about Napoleon – his early obssession with Caesar never left him. In March of 1790, for example, as Napoleon was writing his own history of Corsica, he spent his evenings rereading passages of Caesar’s Bellum Gallicum, and committing pages of it to memory (ibid: 31).

It is precisely the image of Napoleon obsessing over Caesar that makes me uncomfortable about biography. Biography seems to me to generate a feeling of either veneration or voyeurism in its readers, and I find it hard to reconcile this with a scholarly mindset. In certain places and times, the lives of famous men were written precisely to be emulated. But I want to believe that we’ve made it past the need to study “great men” precisely because of their “greatness”, which usually has more than something to do with imperialism, colonialism, or cultural chauvinism. But the fact is that these texts which we use were made by people with personalities and lives – and there’s something to be said for trying to find a satisfying way of discussing that fact without falling into fanaticism.

So when a colleague of mine asked if I would come and speak to her Ancient Lives class about Cicero, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to think through these ideas with her students. This particular class had been asked to read Plutarch’s Life of Cicero, specifically Rex Warner’s 1958 translation with Penguin, given notes and introduction by Robin Seager in 1972. As it happened, the students in this class had never really encountered Cicero before, and their first exposure to him was through Plutarch’s biography. The idea of encountering a figure like Cicero for the first time through an intermediary was interesting to me. We have so much extant Cicero that Cicero usually speaks for himself. When Shackleton-Bailey wrote his biography of Cicero in 1970, he chose essentially to allow Cicero to speak for himself by quoting huge swathes of text from Cicero’s letters, interspersing these translated passages with the biographical narrative. Since at least John Dugan’s Making a New Man (2005), Ciceronians and classicists generally have been pretty comfortable with the idea of rhetorical “self-fashioning” – that is to say, we know that Cicero was always reworking his image in his literary publications, and as a result we know that we have to be careful at taking certain things which Cicero says about himself at face value.

And so, given the size and complexity of the Ciceronian corpus, it’s interesting to have an ancient account that makes Cicero a singularity using the sources which we still have, as well as the ones which we will never even know we’ve lost. But although Plutarch puts Cicero in the state of being an object, objectivity is not really the aim of biography, nor is it the outcome. With Plutarch, we get an ancient opportunity to reflect on Cicero’s self-representation and how that representation was received by an audience which is already historically removed. We have something in common with Plutarch, in that he also only had Cicero in a textual form. I asked the students to consider Petrarch’s shock at uncovering Cicero’s letters in 1345 and his inability to reconcile the spirit of philosophy with the grimy reality of his being a human person. “It is true, Cicero,…that you did live as a man, you did speak as an orator, you did write as a philosopher. It was your life with which I found fault,” (De rebus familiaribus 24.4). This is a nice example of the disjuncture which biographical knowledge (if you can call it knowledge) introduces; that faith can be rescinded from an author whose text is venerated due to his biography begs for an assessment of what one should be doing with the text in the first place. I asked the students also to consider Theodor Mommsen’s 19th c. criticism of Cicero as cowardly and constitutionally indifferent for his execution of the Catilinarians. Both Petrarch and Mommsen were reacting against Cicero in worlds where the lives of the ancients were to be venerated and taught as examples – their disappointments and disgust in Cicero were still essentially rooted in a biographical view of this figure, even if that view was still developing.

Further reading: Ironically, my readings on Napoleon come from an (excellent) biography of Napoleon by Andrew Roberts. This irony accounts for my initial comment about having mixed feelings regarding biography. As for responses to Cicero in the Renaissance and the 19th c., there are good chapters by David Marsh and Nicholas Cole in the 2013 Cambridge Companion to Cicero.