Classically Inclined

September 11, 2013

Syllabi-wrangling at Royal Holloway

I haven’t talked about what I am going to be teaching at Royal Holloway yet, and now seems as good a time as any to do so. The biggest difference in my teaching load will be that most of my courses this year are language-based. I will be taking Intermediate Latin, Latin Language and Reading (essentially upper intermediate Latin, or the A-level group), and Greek Author (or advanced Greek, for which I have chosen Euripides). In the spring, I’ll be offering a first year lecture course option on the literature of the early Roman empire, which basically means I get to teach my favourite boys with all the gory bits, but that’s not my current priority.

Having three language courses means I actually need to think a bit about my language teaching pedagogy. My teaching of language at Birmingham was not where I worked on my innovation – that happened in other courses, and language was about getting on with it effectively and efficiently. However, having this much language teaching means I can pay some attention to what I’m doing and why I’m doing it a little bit more. It also means that some of the techniques I’ve used before will have to go on hold – I don’t think the CIQ is appropriate for anything I’m teaching this year, for example, although if the registration for the lecture course ends up being about 20 students I’ll reconsider. One minute papers are definitely making an appearance for the two Latin classes; although this will be first time I’ve used them systematically in a language context, they should help in identifying points of grammar which need more attention. Learning logs and blog posts are, sadly, going on hold because they don’t really have a role in what I’m doing – I might try to get back to using discussion boards for the Roman literature lecture, and I will be having small group discussion in the Greek Author class, but because there are only six students taking it the blog format seems a bit overly cumbersome. I’m going to keep on asking students to facilitate discussion and to report back on secondary literature, but in a more classroom-based way – the focus is, after all, meant to be on translating the Greek.

I’m also going to have to think what, if anything, I want to do with Twitter. I still want to use it as an informal channel of communication – in fact, I have included my Twitter handle as well as my e-mail address in the information I’ve posted on my office door. But I don’t know how to use it effectively as part of my language teaching. My new colleague Sigrun Wagner suggested using it to see which student could generate the best tweet to explain a Latin word or concept, but that might involve more students being signed up to the platform than is likely, and I don’t want it to be exclusionary. I also don’t feel these classes give me the forum I had in the first year projects at Birmingham to make having a Twitter account to track the week’s classically-related news part of the course activities.  

What all of this made me realise was that I haven’t really got as good a range of techniques to draw on when teaching language as I do when teaching non-language material – so it’s time for a refresh. I have a couple of strategies in place for handling this, not least of which is the small treasure-trove of language books that I’ve collected over the years and which are now coming into their own for offering examples, helping to build up exercise handouts and so on. However, my biggest investment will be in my own copy of When Dead Tongues Speak, an APA-sponsored volume on language teaching strategies at the university level. I started reading a copy at Birmingham but moving got in the way; however, it looked useful enough to invest in my own copy, and I’m hoping to find suggestions of various new and alternative techniques to use in the classroom. I’m also going to put a bit of time in to looking over Teaching Classical Languages to see if anything there might be of use. These are mainly American resources, but that seems to be where things are published and I’m not aware of a university-level equivalent in the UK. If anyone is aware of something similar in the UK context, do let me know – the more I can read and think about what I do in the classroom, the better chance I have of making sure that I have ways of getting through to every student, not just those who get on with my tried and tested methods.


  1. I’ll be interested in any thoughts you have on this topic, because I too always feel that my pedagogy in my language course(s) gets less attention. And I haven’t found many supplemental activities that I feel I, frankly, have time for — with only 2 1.5hr classes a week with my intro Latin students, who are starting (often) from completely monolingual with no English grammar training, I find it hard to get anywhere near as far into the language as I’d like in one year as it is. But please share any ideas you get!

    Comment by Aven McMaster — September 11, 2013 @ 3:16 pm | Reply

    • Well, the comments on this post are already throwing things out there! But I’ll definitely keep sharing what I come up with.

      Comment by lizgloyn — September 14, 2013 @ 5:44 pm | Reply

  2. Hmm. I’m learning Spanish at the moment, and some accounts I’ve found useful are @spanishdict (word of the day in Spanish) and @AP_ManualEstilo (the Spanish-language version of the AP style guide, which regularly tweets about “faux amis” that may catch out English-speakers when writing Spanish). Those might be ideas you could adapt for Latin, although they’re both rather one-way; I don’t think I’ve ever actually tweeted in Spanish.

    Comment by Liz W — September 12, 2013 @ 12:30 pm | Reply

    • Oh, that’s an interesting idea – there are a number of ‘word a day’ Twitter accounts for Latin and Greek that I might point students towards. That’s more of a passive than an active learning strategy, but it follows the same basic principle of what I did in Roman Novel by getting students to follow accounts which tweeted classics-related news items.

      Comment by lizgloyn — September 12, 2013 @ 9:58 pm | Reply

  3. I actually feel the opposite – but that is likely because I’m the pedagogy director for our Latin program. TCL is a great resource esp for the upper levels (WDTS is largely focused on beginning and intermediate). And FWIW, I use blogs all the time in upper level classes – two posters per week on a topic of their choice that is close reading of the text, the rest have to respond. IT works great, and relieves some of the pressure if we spend most of class translating.

    Comment by LDG — September 12, 2013 @ 6:01 pm | Reply

    • I was hoping you’d comment, because I know that you use blogs at the upper levels! I might see how Moodle works for discussion forums and that sort of thing to see if I can get some kind of self-help discussion forum about the grammar going there, but that means getting on to Moodle, which is another one of the many things on my to do list. As I have the intermediate students, WDTS will be just the right level for thinking about that – and if I’m honest, that’s the part I’m most interested in developing at the moment. Hopefully I’ll come out of this year feeling I’ve paid the right amount of attention to language pedagogy for a change.

      Comment by lizgloyn — September 12, 2013 @ 9:56 pm | Reply

      • I really love the TCL articles on using creative compositions in intermediate Latin and also on using pop songs (which they also suggest as prose comp) to identify the force and effect of literary devices and tropes. Super helpful.

        I am also a Moodle evangelist. their discussion fora are where I started the blog idea. The key, I think, is to make it a mandatory part of class – someone has to post one question per week and one answer. Because they will all have questions – but you need to create a space where they HAVE to share them. It breaks down walls really quickly and gets them thinking about it like a team as opposed to individuals.

        Comment by LDG — September 14, 2013 @ 3:23 pm | Reply

        • I’m thinking about what to do with Latin composition… I’m going to try getting my upper intermediate to do a little of it, but I have the problem that I had a very strong reaction against it at A-level, and while I recognise its pedagogical value, I need to think about how to teach it in a way that doesn’t feel inauthentic to me (if that makes sense).

          Given what I’ve already committed to, it feels like coming back to discussion fora next year (if I get more language, which is likely) might work, especially if I spend some time this year observing how the course plays out and how I might best work it into the pattern. Of course, it’s all made a bit trickier by the fact that in the UK, it’s harder to make part of a student’s grade rely on participation in that sort of activity, so the sense of obligation to do something because the lecturer sets it as a formative exercise can be less reliable than the knowledge that by not doing it, you’re risking your A.

          Comment by lizgloyn — September 14, 2013 @ 5:43 pm | Reply

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