Classically Inclined

January 21, 2014

The classical pedagogy of trigger warnings

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 8:03 am
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So, I was putting together my syllabus for Roman Literature of the Empire recently, which is the half-unit course I’m currently teaching to the first year students. It is going to be awesome – we have Livy, Ovid, Lucan, Petronius and Seneca, so I get to spend some time with my favourite boys talking about my favourite things. However. I had decided that for Ovid, if I was going to get the students to read some of his love poetry, I needed to have a lecture titled Why Ovid Is Problematic.

Why? Because it’s not pedagogically responsible to set students loose on the Amores and the Ars Amatoria without explicitly talking about sexual violence and rape. There is a darker side to our witty, playful poet that does need to be talked about, and students need to be given the tools for thinking about these difficult issues. This is, in part, what my article handling teaching the Metamorphoses in the classroom addresses. I had to think quite carefully about how I structured that lecture and what I do with it – I want to talk about the romanticisation of rape in terms of the Sabine women, the abuse of power as it appears in the two Cypassis poems, the violence against the female body as it appears in the two poems about Corinna’s abortion, and the problems of consent and its absence that some of the Amores pose, which feels like a well-structured progression through the issues posed by this sort of writing with some concrete examples.

I have, of course, yet to face the issues involved in actually preparing the lecture. My problem when I was constructing the syllabus was how to make it clear that the content of this session could be disturbing for survivors of rape. What is the pedagogy of the trigger warning on the syllabus?


December 10, 2013

Getting student feedback: the ‘Dear Liz’ letter

I mentioned on Twitter that I had decided, after some reflection, to return to asking my students to write me ‘dear Liz’ letters. 140 characters isn’t really enough to explain what they are, so here’s a blog post to do the job.

I picked up ‘dear Liz’ letters in the US, as a strategy that complemented the one minute papers I’ve written about before. When I came to Birmingham, however, I had a rude awakening – students in my ancient religion course responded pretty well to one minute papers, but absolutely hated the ‘dear Liz’ letter, and were happy to tell me so! So I dropped them, and moved on. Fast forward to this year, when I’m teaching far more language than I usually do. I wrote in that post that I wanted to use one minute papers to get a clear grasp of grammar that was causing problems. However, despite good intentions and introducing them at the start of the year, I haven’t actually used one minute papers. At all. They don’t seem helpful – my classes are such small groups that I’m engaging with each student heavily in each class session, and it’s easy to flag up areas of confusion through obvious problems of translation and comprehension. I don’t need one minute papers to tell me what I already know. Equally, the Euripides course doesn’t encourage me to use one minute papers either – my students are in single numbers, meaning that debate and questions flow comfortably. If anything the CIQ would have been a better fit here. However, while I feel I have quite a good handle on how individual classes are going, I don’t have any way to take the temperature of the course more broadly. As I’ve got to know the students quite well, I now think they’ll respond well to this reflective assignment.


September 4, 2013

Reading Rape in Ovid’s Metamorphoses: A Test-Case Lesson

Some of you may remember that I wrote a post back in January last year about pedagogy research and reading rape in Ovid. I’m delighted to be able to share that the article I wrote about then has finally appeared in print – the PDF and the bibliographic reference are on Project Muse, and the journal is Classical World. You will need an institutional subscription to read through that link, but if this is of interest and you don’t have such a subscription, do get in touch.

This piece has taken its time to turn around – it was first given as a conference paper in January 2009, and since then has been working its way through the long process of peer review and journal scheduling that’s a bit inevitable in these things. However, I’m really pleased that it’s now appeared along with two of the other papers from that conference panel. Together, they make a well-proportioned suite of papers offering sensible resources for coping with teaching difficult topics.

A number of other workshops and publications around these themes (looking more broadly at difficult topics rather than specifically at rape) have now started to surface, and it’s getting some air in the pedagogic discussion in our field. I’m really pleased that this article is now out there and part of the conversation. There’s been a very positive reaction to it over Twitter and Facebook, including from people who have already had their copy of the journal in the mail, and I can only hope that everyone who reads it finds it practical and helpful.

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.


July 18, 2012

New assignments – final reflections

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 9:05 am
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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.


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.


January 16, 2012

Politics, pedagogy and research: “Reading Rape in Ovid”

Filed under: Research,Teaching — lizgloyn @ 2:18 pm
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January is turning out to be quite an exciting month, research wise, as (on top of everything else) I’ve had back some suggested edits for a paper that I hope will eventually  appear in the Paedagogus section of Classical World. I first gave this paper as part of a panel at the 2009 American Philological Association conference [link to PDF], so there’s some pleasing poetic balance in getting the revisions at around the same time as this year’s conference.

The panel and paper came out of a conversation at Feminism and Classics V about how we deal with the topic of rape in our classrooms, both as a social phenomenon and something that’s normalised in the texts we teach. If you have ever read any Greek New Comedy or the works of the Roman comic playwrights Plautus and Terence, you’ll know that rape is an almost ubiquitous plot device, and that the problems it causes are often resolved by the rapist marrying his victim (a state of affairs which is normally accepted as a perfectly sensible solution). Dealing with this sort of thing by anachronistically reading modern interpretations of rape onto ancient texts is not the way to go, but it seems to me that there’s a place for thinking about how we approach and present this material in way that is both historically appropriate and socially responsible.

The article that I’m tweaking at the moment is about a class I taught during my time at Rutgers-Newark that aimed to do just that. I tried to use a single class meeting as a properly researched and well-planned experiment in whether it was possible to deal with this material responsibly in such a short period of time. I think I found a way of creating discussion and awareness that actually worked, although it was far from perfect. But what seems to me to be the central point is that when this sort of material turns up in our classrooms, we can’t turn a blind eye to it and its impact on our classroom community. The usual statistic invoked in these circumstances is that at least one in four American college women have experienced rape or attempted rape. Those statistics may not transfer to a UK classroom, but I’m willing to bet that the numbers aren’t so very different. The responsibility remains ours to work out how to talk about this  material in a way that’s productive and open about the unacceptable behaviour it represents.

If you’re interested in reading a bit more on this topic, the first issue of EuGeStA includes an article by Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz titled “Greek Tragedy: A Rape Culture?”, which is freely available and well worth a read.

December 12, 2011

The Blue Form Of Death: end of term evaluation forms

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 12:02 pm
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Over the last fortnight, I’ve been distributing Module Evaluation Questionnaires to my students, this year printed on fetching blue paper (hence this post’s title riff on MS’s Blue Screen Of Death). Most of them went out on Friday the week before last, and I gave any stragglers the opportunity to fill out one in the last lecture of term, most of which I gave last Friday.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have noticed that on the Friday when I first distributed the forms, I was not a happy bunny – I had, like an idealistic novice, looked straight through the evaluations to try and see any patterns or information that would be of use. Which meant I was looking at the tick-box scales – you know the ones, the ones which ask students to score on a scale of strongly agree to strongly disagree with statements like “the module was intellectually stimulating” and “the module was well structured”. I’m afraid I flicked through the tables and the written feedback, and all of the really negative material jumped out at me, in the way it always does, and my confidence in my teaching abilities plummeted to the floor.

However, last week I started dealing with the forms in a rather more systematic way; someone else will collate the numerical data, but I like having a record of written feedback, both to remind me what students have said as positive, but also as pointers for what I might work on improving next time. With some feedback, of course, you just can’t win – for my religion lectures, I had responses praising my use of Powerpoint juxtaposed to requests for the slides to contain more detail and more information. For that lecture, too, I had students expressing appreciation for the detail and depth of the lectures next to responses requesting that we do more analysis and suggesting the course should be more challenging (particularly difficult when I know I have students with greatly varying prior knowledge in the room, which makes it a challenge to teach at a level where everyone is going to get something out of the lecture).

What really struck me, however, was the disjunct between the written feedback and those blessed ticky-boxes, which are considered so important as a numerical metric of our teaching ability and effectiveness. They just didn’t see to add up with the written feedback. I’d have an enthusiastic comment about the course content, with only a 4, or even a 3, ticked for ‘the module was intellectually stimulating’. There seemed to be a lack of understanding of what these forms were for, or how they were going to be used once students had filled them out. (more…)

October 14, 2011

Taking risks in the classroom and listening to the CIQ

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 4:45 pm
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I took a really big risk in my epic seminar today. I wasn’t sure if it was going to pay off, to be honest – but the whole point of trying a CIQ approach is to actually listen to what your students are telling you, be honest with them about the pros and cons they’re bringing before you, and actually try to do something about it. The point of using this particular approach in a seminar setting was that I felt that I had the confidence I could have a proper discussion about issues raised with a smaller group (as opposed to, say, my lecture group of 65+), and thus manage what needed to be changed.

So in last week’s CIQs for epic, I had two members of the seminar report that the moment when they had felt most distanced from class activity and most puzzled or confused was when discussion had gone too fast. Both people reported the speed of discussion twice on their forms, and one of them suggested perhaps trying to focus on key topics rather than having such broad discussion. Now, I thought that my notes were the key topics, but the fact that the same issue reported twice gave me pause.

I thought a lot about whether or not to bring this to the class – should I just adjust my own notes and hope this fixed the problem? But then I faced up to it – if I was to be using the CIQs properly, I actually had to discuss the issue with the students. So, with some trepidation, at the start of class I laid out the issue, and invited student responses. (more…)

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