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.

Advertisement

May 10, 2013

Unexpected dips: this year’s module evaluation forms

This week I’ve finished writing up my responses to this year’s load of module evaluation forms – I wrote a little bit about them last year, although under different circumstances. This year, we have a new shiny system – although the forms are still completed manually, they are processed by computer, which means that all the clever number-crunching stuff is now delivered to one’s inbox in a shiny PDF. Along with a duplicate e-mail containing the same shiny PDF along with data in three other PDFs which do not appear to be particularly distinct from one other, but never mind, it’s the main one that’s interesting. Particularly clever is the fact that the scanning machine can capture written responses, so as well as the prettified data the PDFs also contain scans of what students actually wrote – meaning the time I put aside to carefully type them all up was wasted, but that’s a small price to pay for progress.

When I last wrote about these module evaluations, I expressed quite a bit of frustration about the conflicting feedback, and the problems with actually identifying anything concrete to do about the sort of comments that completely contradict each other. For that reason, I’m usually a big advocate of using things like the CIQs and one minute papers to engage with students on a micro-level rather than wait for the final assessment when it’s too late to solve problems that have affected students throughout the course. But this time around, a couple of things stood out, and I do have a few things that I want to do differently next time.

(more…)

December 17, 2012

End of term wrap-up

What with one thing and another, I’ve been run off my feet for the last fortnight or so. Term has now officially been over for a week, but I don’t feel as if I’ve got the paperwork and administration for everything quite under control yet. It’s getting there, but there are a couple of things that still need finishing off. I have, of course, finished all my teaching. The Roman novel first year seminar is working much more smoothly than it did last year; this is partly due to the department increasing seminar lengths from one to two hours across the board, meaning there’s more space for presentations and discussions, but I think the tweaks to the syllabus that I made at the start of the year have paid off as well. There’s still one class that isn’t quite working as I want it to work, but I’ve had another go at redefining the discussion questions, so we’ll see if that helps. It is, in fairness, the class dealing with literary form (e.g. why are parts of the Satyricon in poetry, and do we care?), so I think it’s going to be a case of continually experimenting until I get the formula right. I shall miss my first year tutees, who will be disappearing off to pastures new, but it will be good to meet some more of the first year intake next term.

The Roman Life Course lectures are going well – I have a good group of students, and we’ve established what feels like a productive discussion-based atmosphere to complement the parts of the session where I lecture more traditionally. The material seems to be engaging the students’ interest, and I’m sneakily incorporating as much philosophical evidence for social history as I can – one of the surprise hits was Plutarch’s The Training of Children, which seems to have gone over rather well! The blog posts are still working more or less as I want them to, and the students seem to like the idea of blog-based work in principle even if the practice is a little shakier. I’m also glad that I decided to stick it out with the critical incident questionnaire, for the simple reason that it’s really helping me see what is and isn’t working with this sort of teaching.

(more…)

October 1, 2012

Syllabi-wrangling – the 2012-13 edition

Things have been so busy here that I haven’t had the chance to talk very much about what I am actually doing this year in terms of my teaching. I have three major courses that are swinging into action this term – the Roman Novel first year seminar again; intermediate Greek language; and a lecture option on the Roman Life Course. Now, I’ve been thinking a bit about the new forms of assessment and interaction I worked with last year, and have come up with some changes and alterations for this year’s teaching:

  • Learning logs: I am going to have another go at doing these, particularly with my first year students as I think there’s a real benefit to using them and getting good study habits established early. This is made a bit easier because all of the department’s seminars and projects now last for two hours rather than one, meaning there’s a bit more time not only to have decent discussion but also to include some more pastoral-style checking in, particularly at the first year level. So I am going to incorporate this into our weekly sessions and see whether that makes the learning log a more effective tool. I am, however, dropping the reflective journal from the option course, given how unpopular it was last year.
  • Blog posts: instead, I’m going to use the method from last year’s epic seminar in the option course.  This time around I’ve got twenty students enrolled rather than seventy, which should make using this kind of micro-format a bit simpler and let everyone get involved. As I don’t have a seminar this year, I’m suspect I’m going treat the option as a slightly over-large seminar, so we’ll see how well that goes.
  • CIQs: given that the numbers for the Roman Life Course are fairly small, I’m going to take the plunge and carry on using the Critical Incident Questionnaire with the students. I will admit to being a bit nervous about this – an option is a different kind of fowl to a seminar, after all, and there are slightly more students here than I thought I was comfortable with for using the CIQ. But we shall see how it goes, particularly as I want the comparative material on how well the method works with a larger group for whenever I eventually come to write something on this. I also want to be better at keeping records of student responses – I suspect the departmental scanner will come in handy!
  • Twitter: as I said in my reflections at the end of last year, I’m in the process of reconsidering how best to use Twitter in class. I am still requiring my first year students to use it as a way to keep up to date with developments in the discipline and cultivate a classical identity; however, I think I want to move towards a more social-media-esque attitude to it rather than a formal class discussion backchannel. I do know that a lot of my now-second years are still on it and are still using it for various purposes, so at least that is heartening. I’ve started a proper list of staff and students currently at the IAA, so hopefully that should also provide some potential for students to discover each other.
  • Discussion: I’ve also made some broad outline tweaks to the Roman Novel syllabus – after teaching the course twice, I think I’ve worked out what I wasn’t doing enough of (deep engagement with the primary texts), and I’m trying a more student-driven approach to discussion to see if that remedies the problem. I haven’t tried student-led discussion in my teaching very much, apart from a couple of sessions in epic at the very end of last term, so I’m curious to see how this works out.

The one course missing from all of this is, of course, intermediate Greek! I figured that getting to grips with a new textbook was going to be enough of a teaching challenge for the time being – we’ll see if I’ve changed my mind by the Christmas break…

July 18, 2012

New assignments – final reflections

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 9:05 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Well, the end of the teaching year has come and gone, so it’s more than time to have a last look at the new assignments I put in place this year and to see how they went. I have to say that I don’t think my feelings have changed much since I did the mid-year review, but it’s good to close the circle. I also wonder whether the reason my thoughts haven’t changed much is because I didn’t do enough myself as a teacher to change what was happening, or whether the way I incorporated the assignments in the first place simply wasn’t right.

I should note that although I picked up some new courses in the spring term (most significantly the Augustan and imperial literature core course), I did not make any innovations in how I was teaching those courses. (The additional workload may also explain why I didn’t make more of an effort with the new assessment strategies I felt were failing after the first term.) For the Augustan course, this was a simple matter of survival as there was a lot to prepare and cover, and mastery of the material was more important than innovative teaching with a course that was compulsory for so many students. However, I think I may have missed a trick with Latin IV, where I could have done some more interesting things with the teaching and how I chose to approach language instruction. That said, I did pick an unusual text (some of Seneca’s Epistulae Morales), and given all the other things I had on my plate for spring, that was probably enough extra innovation to work with.

  • Learning journals/reflective journals: the update on these continued to be poor, particularly the reflective journals for the religion lecture, and I’m afraid I wasn’t proactive enough a personal tutor to keep pressing my first years on their learning journals. I do think that this has got some potential as a tool, in a pastoral rather than a teaching setting, and I need to think about how best to optimise that, but I suspect I’m not going to go back to the journal as a teaching tool until I’ve seriously rethought it and read around a bit more about UK-specific successes with the strategy.
  • Blog posts: I continue to be really pleased with the way that these worked to get students thinking about secondary literature and engaging with it properly. Some of my colleagues have done other interesting things with blogs to get students to engage with primary sources in a similarly reflective way; perhaps next time I’ll think about doing something like that as well, if there’s an appropriate source to use. But I’m delighted to have finally found a way to get students to critically engage with secondary literature in a fairly deep and thoughtful manner that helps them develop the sorts of skills I want them using as they deal with that body of material in a supportive and useful environment. The one thing I do want to think about is how to get students commenting on each other’s blogs more – they were good at posting the original entries and at discussing responses in seminar, but less at engaging in discussion on-line.
  • The Critical Incident Questionnaire: my use of this has really made me think that I need to do more with it. I want to try using it with other classes and see what sort of responses I get. I’ve asked the students from the epic seminar to give me some feedback, but I think there’s some scope here for a bit of concentrated research and thinking about it as a strategy within classics more broadly. For that, I’ll need more students to experiment on… but this definitely feels like a technique with some potential.
  • Twitter: now, I’ve had a bit of a volte-face on this. The introduction of hash tags for each course definitely didn’t work – but over the last term, I’ve had more and more IAA students following me on Twitter. The Latin IV students have been particularly vocal, including one student who used the medium to arrange a pre-exam meeting to go over some passages we hadn’t got to in class.  I know my colleague in Law Martin George uses Twitter a lot to communicate with his students off-site (as it were); I’m wondering whether this more informal kind of contact, where students find you if they want you, is a more useful way of encouraging continued thinking about the subject than trying to impose formal hashtags and assessments which work better in an American-style assessment system (where students can hypothetically be given credit for participating in out-of-classroom discussions – much harder to work into a UK marking scheme, especially whilst in a one year position).

What I end up trying next year on the basis of this will depend on what I end up doing next year… so stay tuned!

May 21, 2012

Communicating with students: the one minute paper

I realised recently that when I’ve been talking about the Critical Incident Questionnaire on the blog, I’ve talked about it as a natural progression from the one minute paper technique. Without ever writing about the one minute paper technique. So, for those of you who haven’t come across this method of feedback before, here’s how it works and some thoughts on using it in the UK and the US.

The method is taken and adapted from Cross and Angelo’s Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, which is the bible of Cool Stuff For Your Classroom from which most people who run workshops on this stuff tend to draw their material. The purpose of using the one minute paper is that it serves as quick and instant mechanism to pass feedback and other communication between students and the lecturer; it’s a method with a low time cost; and it encourages reflective learning in students. The process works as follows:

  • The final slide in every lecture asks students to answer two questions:
    • What was the clearest point made in class today?
    • What was the muddiest point?
  • Students anonymously write down their answers on a notecard or piece of paper and hand them in to the lecturer as they leave.
  • The lecturer (or postgraduate teaching assistant, if one is available for a large class) goes through the answers looking for broad themes of clarity and confusion.
  • Some possible responses:
    • If one big issue has confused students, write a handout addressing the issue and make it electronically available.
    • If one big issue has caused confusion, allocate time in the next lecture to resolve it.
    • If many little issues have come up, pick three or four questions that best reflect common areas of confusion; write a handout that answers those questions and make it electronically available.
  • At the start of the next lecture, the lecturer begins class with a one minute summary of the one minute paper issues, or a reminder that the handout is now available on WebCT.

(more…)

March 5, 2012

Teachable moment

I had a couple of unexpected insights into my teaching last week, one caused by circumstances beyond my control, one a consequence of a choice I’d made to vary my approach.

The first occurred in the first year literature survey, where I was giving my second lecture on Cicero’s Catilinarian speeches. The lecture of the previous week had dealt with the dates and chronology and the who and why of the conspiracy itself, so that I could spend its companion talking about the interpretation of the four speeches to people who had all the background material and thus would get what was going on. So far, so good.

But when I got to the classroom, the computer wasn’t working. It just wouldn’t turn on – which meant no Powerpoint. Drat, I thought. Rather than mess about with the machine, I decided to pull up a stool and give the lecture from my notes. The slides had a couple of particularly relevant quotations on them, but there was nothing that the students hadn’t read before and couldn’t look up afterwards. So I gave the lecture, and at the end, as usual, asked students to complete a one minute paper for me. (I have realised that, despite talking a great deal about one minute papers, I have yet to blog about them. It’s on the list of future topics.)

To my great surprise, a good number of students completed a one minute paper to tell me that they had preferred the lecture without the Powerpoint. It was easier to concentrate, they said. I could take notes better without being distracted. I enjoyed the lecture more.

(more…)

January 9, 2012

New assignments – mid-year review

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 9:41 am
Tags: , , , ,

I promised myself I’d devote some time in the Christmas vacation to reflecting on the new assignments that I including in my teaching during the term, and how they are working. (I wrote about them in these two posts.) Now that they have been in place for half the teaching year, I can have a look at them and work out whether they are doing what I wanted them to be doing – and if there is anything I can do to salvage them, should there be problems, or whether these assignments will be one-offs in my teaching history. The whole process of teaching is about recognising when things don’t quite work, and I feel as if last term clearly demonstrated that some things worked better than others. (more…)

September 27, 2011

An update on those new assignments

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 1:35 pm
Tags: , , , ,

So, back in August I posted some random noodlings about what innovations I might incorporate into my teaching for the coming year. Now that the syllabi have gone live and I’m starting to implement those ideas, I thought I’d let you know what form they finally took…

  • Learning journals/reflective journals – I ended up using two versions of this for different purposes. As planned, I’m asking my religion students to keep a reflective journal that expects them to do quite a lot of thinking about their learning experience, how things are going, that sort of thing. I’m also asking my first year tutees to keep a learning log, which is a rather more basic kind of journal – all I want them to do is log how much time they’re spending on each activity for each course, as a way for them to be aware about how they’re spending their unstructured time at university. They’re serving two very different purposes, and I’m hoping that they’ll both work well.
  • Blog posts. I have followed through my original idea of getting the students in my epic seminar to contribute to a group blog, and decided to do it via WordPress; I’ve set up a ‘private blog’ that seemed to be the best option, given that I didn’t feel I had enough time to get to grips with how the  built-in blog function in WebCT works. I will admit to a minor crisis yesterday morning when I managed to convince myself that I had just invited all the students to have complete control over this blog rather than managed control over their blog (hello tech paranoia), but now that the first group have taken up their invitations I can see that the permissions are working as I hoped they would. Now I just have to hope that the blog does its bit in starting some significant discussion on secondary literature!
  • The Critical Incident Questionnaire. Again, I’m following through with this for the Epic seminar; small numbers are definitely the way forward. Until I’ve actually had a few weeks of this in practice, though, I won’t be able to say how it’s working.
  • I did indeed go ahead and work in Twitter. All my classes have hashtags assigned as an optional extra way of discussing the course material, so if anyone fancies uses that casually, they can.  I’ve also gone the extra mile in expecting my first year students to set up and maintain a Twitter account for the purpose of keeping up with developments in the classical world – the latest archaeological discoveries, for example, the latest department under threat, the latest from Classics for All, or the current Big Classics Television/Radio Programme. It also will hopefully give them a bit of an insight into the norms of academic practice, given that I’ve given them a starting list of Tweeters who are professionals in the field.

All in all, quite a lot of innovation there, although it’s mainly to do with community building and reflective learning rather than formal ‘written’ assessment – but then, these kinds of reflective and formative activities make improvement in those formal assignments possible. I’ll keep you posted on how things develop…

August 8, 2011

Syllabi wrangling – new assignments

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 9:57 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Over the weekend I’ve been putting together some syllabi for the courses I’m going to be teaching at Birmingham. Specifically for the first semester, this involves working out what I want to do for an option course on religion, myth and ritual, which will be lectures for about 70 students; a seminar course on ancient epic; and a first year project course designed to help student improve their research skills, which I am going to base around the Roman novel, because I can’t think of a better way to start your university career than some quality time with the smutty bits of the Satyricon and Metamorphoses.

The syllabi are still quite rough and very much in outline, but I’ve got a better sense of what I intend to cover in each course. I’ve particularly been mulling over what I want to do in terms of course assessment. Now, formal assessment at Birmingham is very formalised, but there’s plenty of space for informal activities within the course itself – which suits me fine, as I can use that flexibility to try out some things I’ve wanted to experiment with for a while now without going through the paperwork necessary to use these ideas for formal assessment. The ideas I want to play with are as follows: (more…)

« Previous PageNext Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.