Category: Planning

Online quizzes

In a recent post, I mentioned that, after the exercise with geopedia, students need to complete an online quiz on BlackBoard.  This is one of the things that I have been trying out this semester so that I ensure students are doing their homework, and I think it has worked very well.  Students seem to be coming to class better prepared than they did when I was not having them take these quizzes (albeit at a different university) and they have a stronger background in the material for the day’s lesson.

Here are some of the things that I have noticed ought to be considered with this method:

  • Time limits for the quiz. I started the semester with a 10 minute limit, but I extended it to 15 minutes after students asked for a little more time so that they could think through matching-type questions.
  • Number of attempts on the quiz. Depending on your method of teaching each lesson, you may only want to allow one attempt (e.g. with team-based learning) but multiple attempts may also be helpful (e.g. with Socratic seminars or semi-meandering class discussions).
  • Implications of flipping the classroom. This method of ensuring that students do the homework is essentially flipping the classroom–students receive more information passively at home than in the classroom. As a result, your class should not be a complete reiteration of the reading or material for the quiz. I have learned to add more material or dive into it more deeply in class.
  • Implications of quizzing students on new material. Many students become anxious about quizzes and exams, and I think giving students study questions that relate to/are similar to the exam questions may help them take the quiz with better grades and in a more calm manner (as well as know what is important information to read for).
  • What type of questions to ask. I tend to focus on questions that are fairly low on Bloom’s Taxonomy, so ones that ask students to recall information (i.e. what is the Nemean lion) or apply an new idea from the reading (i.e. identify a pot with a painting of Herakles and the Nemean lion). Partly, this is because I’m using the quizzes to make sure that students are reading the homework, partly it’s so that we can (ideally) use the class time to move up to higher levels of the taxonomy. Next semester, I think I would tell students this at the beginning of the course, so that there is a greater expectation that they learn from the passive reception of data at home–sometimes I feel like I am generally reinforcing this information in class.  Admittedly, it’s good that there is the reinforcement in class, and this can be used to your advantage.  The questions can also prime students for the class discussion.  So, for example, if you will discuss similarities between Aeneid 12 (Aeneas fights and kills Turnus) and Iliad 22 (Achilles fights and kills Hector) in class, on the quiz you can ask questions that will highlight the similarities (e.g. Who chases whom? What god helps each warrior? Is there begging for mercy and burial?)
  • Planning Ahead.  If you assign the quiz to be completed for a class, you need to have written the quiz before the end of the prior class–you cannot write the quiz the day before class.  Ideally, you’d also have planned the class for which you are writing the quiz too.
  • Visibility of the questions after the quiz is due. Depending on the system you use, you can choose whether your students can see the quizzes, answers, and correct answers after the quiz has been submitted.  Your choice on this matter could be affected by a variety of factors, including what method you will use to teach each day’s lessons and how your exams will be structured. To study for the latter, students would benefit from seeing the questions after the quiz is submitted.

Teaching the Homeric Question(s)

Homer is a foundational text for our discipline, and there has been a massive amount of scholarship about him and his poems.  Much of this work is detailed and complicated, and it draws on data points in many fields: Greek philology, archaeology, and Hittite studies. Many undergraduates do not possess the skills to grapple with this data–the ability to read Greek, for instance–especially at the beginning of a semester when Homer is usually taught.  So, how do we teach Homer in a way that students will understand the relevant problems?

First, we need to ask ourselves: how much do students need to appreciate the orality of Homer’s epics and the complexity of its time frame?  For example, in my mythology class, I do not teach mythology as a single unified body of stories.  I teach it more as “mythologies”–stories that are told often, develop over time, and change to fit their circumstances–much like Albert Lord and Milman Parry’s ideas regarding bards. In that class, students need to understand the Homeric Question. In others, such as a course that briefly mentions the archaeology of Troy, they will not need to.

To explain the Homeric question, after students have been introduced to the problems by the introduction to their/an edition of the Iliad, I would divide the class or unit into three sections:

First, “why could an inhabitant of fifth century Athens not have read an account of the Trojan War written during the Trojan War or soon thereafter?”  I get my students engaged with the issue and, as a class, we analyze the assumptions in this question:

It assumes that there was an account of the Trojan War written during or soon after the war. You can discuss how Linear B was primarily used for accounting purposes, so it likely did not record an account of the war.  Even if it did, the people of Greece forgot how to read Linear B during the Dark Ages.  After the Dark Ages, when Greeks began to write again, they adapted the Phoenician alphabet and some of the early writing (like Nestor’s cup from Pithekoussai or the pots from Methone) was poetic and contained potential references to the Trojan War (i.e. Nestor). So there existed no account that they could read.

It also assumes that there was a Trojan War. Archaeologically, this has been hard to confirm.  Depending on the course, it may be a distraction to discuss all the issues with Heinrich Schliemann and his excavation of Troy, but it may be helpful to point out that he dug straight down through many layers of Troy and called things by deceptive names (e.g. the “Jewels of Helen” from Troy II).  It is probably most helpful to discuss two finds from the recent University of Cincinnati and University of Tübingen excavations: (1) the Luwian seal and (2) the fortifications of Troy VI’s lower city (below).troy-vi-gate Homer provides a nice description of a gate like this:

“And they built within these walls gates strongly fitted that there might be a way through them for the driving of horses; and on the outer side and against it they dug a deep ditch, making it great and wide, and fixed the sharp stakes inside it.” (Iliad 7.438-441)

There’s only one problem.  In the Iliad, the Achaeans build this gate. At Troy, it is the Trojans’ gate.  This serves as a clear example of how literature and the archaeology of Troy/the Aegean Bronze Age do not quite line up with the idea of Homer as a reliable account of the war.  From here, you can mention the Luwian seal as a rhetorical device to lead the discussion towards the Hittite Empire and its documents, such as the “Treaty of Wilusa,” that have many close parallels between names of people and places: Wilusa/Ilion, Aleksandru/Alexandros, and Ahhiyawa/Achaeans.  Then, you might rattle off the various parallels or near parallels in archaeological discoveries and Hittite documents to objects and events in the Iliad.  The goal is not for students to remember all these details, but so that they get a sense that it is likely that Homer is representative of a memory that the Mycenaeans attacked the Hittites, possibly at Troy, and that Troy was destroyed.  This memory/memories had to be passed down orally, the story was embellished over time (including with the participation of gods), and that it seems to have some basis in (an) historical event(s).

Second, “If it makes logical sense to say that the Iliad and Odyssey were orally transmitted, what evidence in the texts is there for this?”  I would describe different features of oral poems, such as the epithet system and type scenes that lead to Lord and Parry’s important contributions.  After they have heard about these epithets and such, this is a great opportunity have students hunt through the text for epithets and stock phrases that would help an oral poet compose the poem on the spot and/or memorize it.  Similarly, I show the poem’s orality by reading a small portion of the Iliad aloud and ask students if it is more entertaining to have heard the poem than when they read it silently at home.  I would also inform students about rhapsodes, the Peisistratean recension, and how cities had different texts of Homer–and even how Plato’s text of Homer does not always match our standard editions.  It may also be helpful to discuss Homer’s two different versions of why Hephaistos was thrown from Olympus and who cared for him when he landed on earth.

Third, depending on your comfort level, timing, and the course, you could also discuss how the visual versions of the Trojan War myths on pottery also suggest that the Homeric poems were transmitted orally and not entrenched in Greek culture until the 5th Century BC. To show this, I select examples from my students’ reading and Steven Lowenstam’s As Witnessed by Images–the Ransom of Hector works very well because Achilles is portrayed very differently on the pots and in the Iliad.

 

Things to Consider

  • This is a very detailed way to introduce the Homeric Question, and this level of detail may be overwhelming, inappropriate, or unnecessary for some classes.  So, what do they need to know? In your particular class, can you just leave it at “Homer was an oral poet.” and these are a few of the implications of that?
  • This is still a very complicated way to introduce the Homeric Question, but it is an improved version of the seemingly successful lessons that I used in my mythology class this semester.
  • Similarly, this lesson plan can still be improved and I welcome your input on how to improve it.
  • Since high school and undergraduate students tend not to appreciate the value of literature reviews (and can be easily confused by them), I would avoid reviewing the scholarship on the Homeric question. Just report the finds and conclusions of the scholarship.
  • My lesson plan here follows Gregory Nagy’s interpretation of Homer.  You or the person who translated your edition of the Iliad may disagree with Nagy.  For example, I like Barry Powell’s translation because it is often easier for students to read, but he does not agree with Nagy.  Therefore, students may have a harder time finding epithets or type scenes that fit with Parry and Lord’s thesis–and so accepting that Homer is an oral poet.

Socratic Seminars

We often talk about discussing the main themes of a text in class, but what does this mean? Are we telling the students the themes and providing evidence? Are they providing evidence for the themes we identify for them? Are students identifying the themes and the evidence? Is it a lecture or a large-group conversation? How much are students actually understanding about the texts? Which of these is our goal and which of these is what happens?

The Socratic Seminar method aims to get students actively involved in conversations about the text and finding the evidence to support their assertions. The teacher’s role is less “sage on stage” and more “traveling companion on a journey of discovery” (or at least the traveling companion who might have the map). The goal of the conversation is that students to develop an answer to a particular question as a class. Many of the insights of this method can be adapted to improve all class discussions.

How it works

  • First, explain what will be expected of students in the seminar and why it is a good method of instruction. This may be a good time to tell your students the rules of the Socratic seminar: ground all discussion in the text, address comments to everyone (not to a neighbor or the teacher/facilitator who should sit at the same eye-level as the students), listen to each other carefully, respond to each other’s comments respectfully and with the goal of developing and improving upon interpretations (not tearing down other students or their ideas), don’t raise hands, don’t interrupt, don’t dominate the conversation, be bold enough to offer your interpretation but be flexible enough to accept other students’ ideas, and ask for clarification if a comment is confusing. Everyone should also sit in a circle facing each other.
  • Second, students read a text or watch a film, while taking notes or annotating the text. You should make sure that students understand how and why to annotate texts or that they are given something to help them think about the text. You could give them reading questions, a worksheet, or ask them to complete a prompt: “I am confused about…” or “I want to talk about…” or “This passage was interesting…”
  • At the beginning of class, it might be beneficial to review the behavior expectations for a Socratic seminar, and it is necessary to establish a Big Question to be answered by the discussion. This can ask about the text’s main/major theme, a moral dilemma in the text, the author’s purpose or perspective, the meaning of a phrase, renaming the text, or the most important sentence/paragraph. The Big Question could focus on a skill you are trying to teach or the major topic of discussion among scholars about the text, but remember many of these questions are interconnected. For example, in a discussion about the Antigone, you might ask “What is the major dilemma in the play?” Based on the play and the majority of scholarship, I would expect the discussion would focus on ‘Should Antigone follow the natural law to bury her brother or her state’s law to not bury her brother the traitor? Should Creon have made her choose and enforced the temporal law unyieldingly?’ This discussion will require students to identify the most important passages related to this theme.
  • At the beginning of the discussion, I have found it is very helpful for students to summarize what happened–maybe discussing this in a smaller group. The summary helps students remember what the text is about and who is important. In our example: they need to understand who Antigone and Creon are, and what they did. (This is the time for guided questions, when we are low on Bloom’s Taxonomy.)
  • During the discussion, students raise various ideas and hopefully move to a sound interpretation supported by the text and agreed upon by the class. As the facilitator, you can ask various (not guided) questions to help the conversation: where do you find evidence for that in the text? Can you clarify what you said? Is there something unclear in the text? How does that relate to what someone else said? Who hasn’t talked yet? Who has a different perspective? Has anyone changed their mind? You could also summarize or ask someone to summarize what has been said already. Allow there to be silence for awhile so students warm up or find answers or are more willing to talk.  Naturally, some of these questions can be planned in advance or I like to have a list of these broad prompts in front of me.
  • At the end of the discussion, debrief students by asking if their knowledge has improved or if they followed the rules of the discussion, or by sharing your thoughts on the discussion, or why the Big Question or theme of the text is important. You could also ask students to relate their interpretation of the text to the modern world, or to offer their own opinions about the main theme of the text (because they just spent the whole time analyzing the text)–what law should Antigone have followed? This debriefing could be in the form of further conversation, a short in-class writing task, a blog post at home, or a more extensive writing assignment.

Pros

  • Students are actively engaging with the text, and so learning about it better. You can also encourage students to ground it in the text a lot more.
  • It models how to have a productive and respectful conversation among people with varying viewpoints.  Importantly, it established ground rules for doing so.
  • Even if you don’t follow the method perfectly, it suggests some ways to ask questions that make students more active and more free, or that lead to more fruitful and engaging discussions, than if you only asked guided/pointed questions.

Con

  • It may not work with every group of students or it might take some students awhile to catch on to this habit.  To mediate this con, be clear about the expectations/rules of the discussion, start using the strategy from the beginning of the term, or gradually make the discussion more complex as the term progresses (just like we would gradually guide our students through Bloom’s Taxonomy throughout the term).  And if it just isn’t working with a group of students, or they just don’t want to talk, find a strategy that does work with them (such as a more guided discussion or more in-class writing).

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Learning

My last post challenged us to think of ways to help students deal with the emotional stress of college and more challenging classes.  One of the questions I asked was “How do we help students gain the skills to succeed in the rat race?” One of the most common tools teachers use for this is Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Learning.

What is it?

It was developed in the 1950s as a way to compare course objectives and assignments across schools, grade levels, teachers, and courses; but teachers have come to use it in order to plan their classes so that students achieve the student learning outcomes.

Bloom’s Taxonomy has become so useful for teachers because it assumes that one cannot move from one step of the taxonomy to the next without mastering the first step. A student can’t analyze the data unless she knows the data.  Charts like this one are helpful because they offer verbs to help teachers know what level of the taxonomy their SLO is.  For example, “At the end of this course, students will be able to diagram a Latin sentence” is in the “Analysis” category.  It would require students to be able to identify know what a subject is (Knowledge), identify the subject (Application), and differentiate the various uses of the Ablative (Analysis), so it is a pretty high-level task (To say nothing of learning the procedure behind making a sentence diagram).

This taxonomy was revised in an article by David R. Krathwohl in Theory into Practice 2002 in order to take the different kinds of knowledge into account: factual, conceptual (how facts relate to each other), procedural (how to do something, how things happen), and metacognitive (how students think about their own work).  Others have separated the “procedural” into “processes” (how things work) and “procedures” (how to do things).  These revised taxonomies are well explained and illustrated on these two blog posts: on EdPsyc and by Don Clark. This chart is copied from the former:

COGNITIVE PROCESS DIMENSION
KNOWLEDGE
DIMENSION
Remember Understand Apply Analyze Evaluate Create
Factual Knowledge Terminology
Elements & Components
Label map
List names
Interpret paragraph
Summarize book
Use math algorithm Categorize words Critique article Create short story
Conceptual Knowledge Categories
Principles
Theories
Define levels of cognitive taxonomy Describe taxonomy in own words Write objectives using taxonomy Differentiate levels of cognitive taxonomy Critique written objectives Create new classification system
Procedural Knowledge Specific Skills & Techniques
Criteria for Use
List steps in problem solving Paraphrase problem solving process in own words Use problem solving process for assigned task Compare convergent and divergent techniques Critique appropriateness of techniques used in case analysis Develop original approach to problem solving
Meta-Cognitive Knowledge General Knowledge
Self Knowledge
List elements of personal learning style Describe implications of learning style Develop study skills appropriate to learning style Compare elements of dimensions in learning style Critique appropriateness of particular learning style theory to own learning Create an original learning style theory

This image provides some verbs to help SLOs and ideas for activities or technology to use for them:

Revised Blooms Taxonomy

 

How do we use it?

  • Help write student learning objectives.
  • Help our assignments and classes have rigor.  Many people note that most assignments and tests do not ask students to go beyond the “Knowledge”/”Remembering” level of the taxonomy, but most of us want to get our students to at least the “Analyzing” level.  We need to remember to use rigor in our assignments, and this taxonomy can help us get there.
  • Help our assignments and classes actually teach skills.  When I first started teaching Latin, I didn’t think about what the students actually need to learn how to translate Latin sentences, so they did not learn well.  When I took a step back and thought “What are the actual steps they will need in order to learn how to translate this verb or that construction?”, students were able to learn Latin from me.  We need to make sure that students develop skills and that we work up to the more complex skills rather than ask them to do something complicated on the first day.  Building skills throughout the course and throughout class periods are good ideas.  You can also model skills before you ask students to do the same thing, and lectures are often good ways to model that skill.

What are some things we need to remember?

  • Work with the pace of your students.  They will not all be able to learn how to apply ideas right away.
  • Moving up the taxonomy requires students to frequently engage with material and for you to regularly assess their level on the taxonomy.  You can do this through in-class writing or through personal response systems, but be aware of what level you are actually assessing with these methods.  The latter is better for Knowledge/Remembering and the former is better for higher cognitive questions.
  • This teaches students how to think.  It does not teach students about emotions and developing their own value system (the affective domain) or about psychomotor skills.

What are other resources related to Bloom’s Taxonomy?

 

A taxonomy of Affective Learning

Last week’s post focused on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Learning.  Today’s post focuses on Krathwohl’s Taxonomy of the Affective Domain which focuses on perceptions, feelings, emotions, and belief systems.  And the emotional side of things cannot simply be ignored, even if many of our learning objectives and course aims focus on the cognitive domain. Unlike the taxonomy of cognitive learning, I think the “verbs” in learning objectives are less helpful for understanding the affective domain taxonomy than examples. So here are the levels of affective learning and examples:

Level Definition Examples
Receiving A person is aware of, or sensitive to, ideas, material, or phenomena and is willing to tolerate them.
  • Listening to a discussion of a new topic
  • Knowing that homework is assigned
  • Aware that racism exists
Responding A person not only responds to a phenomenon but reacts to it in some way.
  • Completing homework assignments
  • Reading beyond the assignment
  • Reading for enjoyment
  • Questions new ideas in order to fully understand them
  • Participates in team problem-solving activities
Valuing A person shows some involvement or commitment to a new item. These ideas are often considered under “attitude” and “appreciation.”
  • Assumes responsibility for getting the group to work well
  • Participating in campus blood drive
  • Informs a teacher about something they care about
  • Providing food to the homeless
Organization A person relates a new value to the other values that they already hold and attempts to bring them together into an internally consistent philosophy.
  • Accepts responsibility for one’s actions
  • Recognizes own abilities and values, and then developing realistic aspirations
  • Accepting professional ethics
  • Prioritizing time well to meeting everyone’s needs
Characterization A person actions consistently with their values and internalized philosophy.
  • A person has a consistent and predictable belief and behavior system
  • A person follows their professional ethics
  • Revising judgments in light of new information

This taxonomy is more difficult to assess, and some of these categories are very broad.  Nevertheless, I think it is very helpful when we try to understand students’ behavior and think about responding to students’ declining resilience and emotional health.

Many of our thoughts about students’ behavior are in the “Receiving” and “Responding” levels.  Did students do their homework? Did they even know about the homework? Did they do it well? Did students know that Caesar was dictator of Rome? (Affective: Receiving) Did students answer the question about Caesar’s dictatorship correctly? (Affective: Responding, Cognitive: Remembering/Knowledge)

But the other levels are incredibly important.  Students may not do the homework, or do it well, if they do not value the assignment or the subject we teach.  Students’ resilience and emotional health are also tied up in the “Valuing,” “Organization,” and “Characterization” levels.  These are some of the hardest things to teach, so it is no surprise that some students struggle with them.  Indeed, there are also ethical issues involved:

  • Is it right to change students’ attitudes and values?
  • What differentiates changing students’ values from indoctrination?
  • How do we guard against students adopting unwanted values, such as racism?

How do we help students move from “Receiving” and “Responding” to, at least, “Valuing”?

Recent educational research, summarized by Thomas Koballa on a Carleton College website, offers several insights to helping motivate students:

  • Motivation can be intrinsic (reading Latin because it’s fun) or extrinsic (reading Latin because I want an A in Latin class).
  • Learning goals focus on the challenge and mastery of a task, but performance goals are often related to social status, pleasing teachers, and avoiding “extra” work.  Many of us many focus on the former and our students on the latter.
  • When students believe they have more control over a task or assignment (i.e. self-determination), they will benefit more from the task.  This can be as simple as choosing partners for group work or choosing from a list of possible essay topics, or it can be as complex as designing one’s own assignment.
  • A student’s confidence in their ability to perform a given task to achieve a desired goal (i.e. self-efficacy) can be very important.
  • Anxiety is normal, and moderate amounts of anxiety motivate learning.

With these insights into motivation, how do we actually motivate students and make sure they are at least in the “Responding,” if not “Valuing” or higher categories? According to a summary, and bibliography, of research by Karin Kirk:

  • Give frequent, positive feedback that supports students’ confidence.
  • Encourage their belief in self-efficacy by assigning tasks that are not too easy nor too difficult.
  • Create an open and positive environment in the classroom and school.
  • Help students feel like they are valued within the learning community.
  • Create learning activities that are relevant to students’ lives. Use local examples, events in the news, popular technology, and connections to students’ culture and lives (i.e. Expanding the canon).
  • Provide choices for partners, assignments, and/or test questions.
  • Seek and provide students with additional role models, such as guest speakers, fellow students, or other peers.
  • Use models that students can identify with because of gender, ethnicity, social circles, interests, clothing, or age.  These can be characters in stories, Romans, scholars, and/or tutors.
  • Encourage a sense of belonging and community.  Group work helps, but a teacher can also help a lot by being warm, open, enthusiastic, friendly, helpful, and prepared and by encouraging student participation.
  • Be supportive: listen, give hints and encouragement, show empathy, and respond to students’ questions and concerns.  Mid-term course evaluations are a more formal way of showing this.
  • When students are struggling academically, have low confidence, or low motivation, strategize with them and encourage metacognition.

 Resources about Krathwohl’s Taxonomy

 

Cost of College Textbooks

There’s been some recent discussion in the blogosphere about the cost of college textbooks.  The discussion involves these ideas:

  • The College Board reports that college students should budget $1,200 for textbooks/year.
  • Surveys of college students suggest that students actually spend about $600/year on textbooks.

The discussion centers on a few points:

  • How much do these costs affect students’ enrollment and educational success?
  • How much do the expenditures relate to first-generation college students?
  • What are the effects of students trying to cut costs on textbooks?
  • What set of data make sense for making policy decisions?
  • Is the actual expenditure on textbooks so low because students max-out their budget?
  • What about “recommended” vs. “required” materials?

Everyone seems to agree that the cost of required materials is too high.

This debate is fascinating and very important.  Here are links to the blogs discussing it (and many of then present very good data):

T. H. M. Gellar-Goad’s “How Learning Works in the Greek and Latin Classroom” Blog Posts

In June 2014, T. H. N. Gellar-Goad began a seven part series of blog posts for the Society of Classical Studies. These posts took the insights from How Learning Works by Susan Ambrose et al. and discussed how to apply these ideas to teaching Latin and Greek. The last post of the series was in July 2015. They are all excellent and helpful. I provide links to them below, especially because the SCS website has recently changed and old links may have become dead.

These are all very good posts, and I hope to return to many of the topics and ideas in these posts for my own classes and my future blog posts.

Should we teach sensitive topics?

Last week, one of my friends used a Latin reading with the story of Nisus and Euryalus so that he could talk about the quotation of a Vergil line on the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, and about quotation and intertextuality.  Since the class was on September 11, 2015, it was perfect timing; but he was also aware he could be opening up several cans of worms: politics about 9/11 and its repercussions, Islamophobia, sexuality, etc.  He was fine with talking about these sensitive subjects in order to achieve his larger goal; but not every teacher is willing to engage in these topics.

While I discussed this lesson plan with him and afterwards, it is clear that there were several factors to consider for talking about sensitive subjects in a classroom:

  • Are you comfortable with it?  Students will not respond well if you are clearly uncomfortable talking about the topic.
  • What is the age group of your class? Is this topic something they should be thinking about at their age?
  • How much are you going out of the way to talk about this? Some topics, like sexuality and sexual violence (Earlier blog posts Part 1 and Part 2), are almost unavoidable in Latin and Classics courses; but others, like racism (Earlier bog posts Part 1 and Part 2) require a bit more effort to address in a Latin or Classics classroom.  Do you have the time to do justice to these issues if you are going out of your way? I don’t think my experimental class on racism was as successful as it could have been because I didn’t put in enough extra work.
  • Is a trigger warning appropriate?
  • Is it best to confront it head on or to wait for students to raise the issue?  In my opening example, my friend wanted to focus on the 9/11 memorial because of the significance of the day, but what about sexuality? It isn’t what he wanted to focus on but it is a large part of the Nisus and Euryalus story, so he chose to deal with the sexuality aspect quickly if students mentioned it.  Does this work in every case?  Can we quickly discuss the topic and move on or does it require a class of its own so that you can address it more thoroughly, thoughtfully, and considerately?
  • Are you prepared for students’ potentially emotional reactions to a sensitive topic? or their indifference?
  • Is it something students will even find to be a sensitive issue? Again, with my opening example, many current college students would have been very young on September 11, 2001 and probably don’t remember watching the terrorist attacks on the news or the 24-hour news coverage for the next few days.  They are only aware of the aftermath and the narrative of the day.  Will a class about the 9/11 memorial quotation resonate with them? How can you make it resonate more?
  • Do you have a personal story related to this topic? and are you willing to share it?
  • Will students pay attention more because it is a sensitive topic?
  • Is this a black-and-white issue or is it an area with grey areas?  For us, rape is always bad; for ancient Greeks and Romans, rape was not necessarily bad.  We need to be able to carefully communicate the idea of cultural relativity, but at the same time acknowledge our modern [students’] perspectives.
  • How much discussion and how much lecture is appropriate?  This will depend on the age level of your students, but it is often good to get students talking about the issues.
  • What do you believe is the goal of education? Some people view education as a place for students to learn skills; others view it as a place for students to develop ideas and a personal philosophy.  These different outlooks on education affect how you and how your students will approach the subject and accompanying discussion.  If you think education is about skills, what skills will a class on a sensitive topic address?  If you believe education is about developing one’s ideas and thought processes, then more discussion among students would be a good idea.

Like I said, some topics–like sexuality and rape–are unavoidable and you will have to address them.  Other topics may be optional, and you may not even realize how sensitive some topics could be until a student responds to them.  So you should at least be aware that you may need to discuss things quickly, calmly, and off the cuff.

In that spirit, I hope to suggest ways to address more sensitive topics in the future.  Please let me know if you have suggestions for topics to discuss, or if you have had particular success teaching a specific topic and would like to share your insights.

Checklist for student papers

During a discussion of how to improve student writing, a colleague remarked that she gave her students a checklist for each paper and required them to complete it and attach it to their assignments. This checklist included all the formatting guidelines, like font size and margins, that students often forget (or fudge), and some of the paper requirements, like how many primary sources to cite.  In some ways, this infantilized students; in other ways, it is a useful and helpful way to remind them about the paper’s requirements.  And, possibly most importantly for some teachers, it is a way of minimizing your own irritation with some pet peeves.  And if we’re less annoyed by minutiae, we can actually evaluate the students for what they wrote: what they thought and on what evidence and logic these thoughts were based.

Here is an example from when I tried this on a paper (but did not require students to turn in the completed checklist with their paper):

Final Draft Checklist

Before you turn in the final draft of the paper, please make sure you have done at least the following:

  • Discussed one quotation from a piece of literary evidence
  • Discussed one other piece of archaeological, epigraphic, literary, or numismatic evidence
  • Properly cited, in footnotes, at least two secondary sources
  • Included a bibliography of secondary sources after the conclusion of the paper
  • Proofread your paper for logical consistency
  • Proofread your paper for typos and grammatical errors
  • Made the font size 12 and Times New Roman
  • All margins are 1 inch
  • Double-spaced the paper
  • Added page numbers in the footer
  • Printed and stapled the paper
  • Bring a hard copy of the paper to class on Monday, April 7, 2014.

Discussing Sexuality and Sexual Violence, A Follow Up

A recent Jezebel article has encouraged me to write a follow up post to my earlier post, Discussing Sexuality and Sexual Violence.  Rather than sharing my own opinions, some of which which are still developing and will be discussed in future blog posts, I want to share two ideas on the topic that I have appreciated hearing.

(1) Dr. Donna Zuckerberg’s Jezebel article–“How to Teach an Ancient Rape Joke“–discusses the difficulty of talking about rape in college campuses and advocates for confronting the issue, and other difficult issues, and acknowledging that they make us uncomfortable.  The article’s main idea is best summarized by the last two paragraphs:

In other words, Euripides’ rape joke works for me. Comedy reveals a society’s concerns. I almost wish we were at a place where our comedians could make complicated, intelligent, funny jokes about college boys raping drunk girls—but that would require a much fuller, clearer acceptance of the dimensions of the problem. Whether rape is a real problem on college campuses is, to many, a question that still hangs in doubt.

But it’s not to me, and it’s not to many of my students. And so I decided to teach the rape joke exactly as I’d encountered it: something that I knew was potentially difficult and painful, but was more important because of it—more likely to give us insight into the ancient world, and into ourselves.

Dr. Zuckerberg, as I read the article, encourages professors to provide historical and cultural context for such jokes rather than brush them aside as “that’s just the Greeks” or the like.  She also seems to want educators to confront the question “What is the rape doing for this text? for this historical narrative? for this event? for this culture?”  In her example–a rape in Euripides’ satyr-play the Cyclops–she views it as a critique of, and possible attack on, Athenian pederasty and its connections with the symposium.  In the example from my earlier post–the rape of Lucretia–we could see the rape of Lucretia as an attack on L. Tarquinius Collatinus’s rights and family, we could see it as an excuse for revolution; we could see her suicide as victim-blaming, guilt of the victim, and/or a convenient plot device to remove a woman from any historical prominence in the fall of the Roman Monarchy.  Once we, as teachers, have determined how best to interpret the text (or the various possible “best” interpretations), we go armed with these interpretations (and sensitivity and awareness about modern social issues) to class and share the ideas to confront the topic.

(2) A discussion on facebook about this topic contained this valuable suggestion: remind or tell students about resources that they might have as victims of sexual assault, rape, and/or domestic violence.  What legal or counseling is available for the victims?  These will differ based on your school. county, and state.