Tag: teaching

From the Inbox

Object-based learning

There’s something about handling an artifact or experiencing an ancient building during class that really unleashes a student’s latent curiosity. In Cincinnati, I loved to use coin replicas from the University of Cincinnati Classics Department’s study collection during class or in outreach presentations about ancient coins. Students were more engaged and asked a lot of questions when they had coins in their hands, and they were more willing to try and figure things out on their own. When I came to teach at Ohio University, I no longer had access to a study collection or set of artifacts with which to harness students’ joy and awe of directly experiencing the ancient world, so to reify the experience or the use of objects and buildings in my archeology classes, I relied on PowerPoint slides, videos, and descriptions from my own vivid experiences with the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia or studying abroad at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome (i.e. the Centro).

Yet the gap between the artifacts and the students only seemed to truly be overcome with a final brief writing assignment for my Roman Archaeology class. I asked them to wander the campus of Ohio University and the city of Athens to find a building or piece of art that is unquestionably inspired by a Roman monument, building, or artifact that we have studied this semester and then to answer the following three questions in an essay:

  • soldiers-and-sailors-monument
    Soldiers and Sailors Monument, Athens, OH

    How do you know this structure/object is based on a Roman building/object? How are they similar?

  • What does the Roman model tell us about the modern building?
  • In what ways does the modern building/object make you better appreciate the ancient model?

As I read through the papers, I was proud to see how much students had learned: how to objectively describe monuments, how to identify their models, how these models fit into Roman culture, and how to read the messages and features of any monument. Since I was able to see their personalities in their writing a lot more, it seems like they enjoyed this assignment more than earlier assignments. But I was also struck by a common answer for the third question: they could better appreciate the engineering, greatness, or reality of the ancient model. One paper admitted that comparing a chapel to the Pantheon was like comparing a kitten to a lion, and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument is much smaller and simpler than Trajan’s Column; but this exercise reified the ancient monuments for them and gave them a taste of what the originals were like. It made me wish I had done something like this exercise earlier in the semester.

So what would it look like earlier in the semester? Several small blog posts throughout the semester could encourage students to discuss what they learn about a Roman building by looking at something modeled on it. For example, when we discuss Trajan’s Column, students could be asked to respond to this prompt: “Go look at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on campus, walk around it, and spend some time contemplating it and its decorations. Based on your experience examining the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, how would a Roman have responded to and appreciated the relief on the Column of Trajan?”

All too often, it’s hard to reify ancient buildings or objects for our students–even on site where many buildings only remain as foundations. By reifying them, we help students better understand the buildings, their messages, and their effects. After all, which of the images below is more engaging or helpful to understand Roman temple architecture?

Reconstruction drawing of the temples on Cosa’s Arx
First Church of Christ, Scientist (Rock Island, IL)    [Roman Temple Design filtered through Palladio’s Villa Rotonda]




New Latin YouTube Video Series!

With a new job and a new semester, I thought it was time to give the blog a new look and let you know about a side project I’ve been (slowly) working on: a set of YouTube videos about Latin constructions!  Latintutorial is an excellent YouTube channel that helps students study morphology, but I was disappointed that they didn’t have any videos about constructions like indirect statement or purpose clauses or any of the other uses of the subjunctive.  I was able to find a lot of videos introducing a new chapter of Wheelock’s Latin or another textbook’s chapter on result clauses or the like, but they were way too longabout 30 minutes.  So, I set out to fill the void and produce some of my own videos.

You can find my new videos as part of my “Latin Grammar” playlist on YouTube.

I wanted them to be brief, but I also am creating them to help students review the construction and how they translate it as they read.  I do not intend them to be the first thing to teach students these concepts.  I was happy to read a sort of similar logic expressed on Michael Feldstein’s blog, e-Literate:

we spontaneously came up with a term that we both like and that seemed to resonate with the audience: antisocial deconstructivism. It’s the approach of breaking learning down into teeny, tiny bits, tied to fine-grained competencies and micro-assessments, that students learn on their own by following a prescription that is created for them, possibly with the help of a robot. To be clear, the term isn’t entirely meant to mock. There are times when antisocial deconstructivism is an appropriate pedagogical technique. For example, it’s pretty good for helping nursing students memorize medical terminology or IT students learn the basic components of a network. It can be good for learning some math kinds of skills, depending on your philosophy of math education. Any situation in which you are working fairly low on Bloom’s Taxonomy might be OK for it as an approach. Procedural knowledge that either doesn’t require higher order problem solving skills or where problem solving skills are best built incrementally by slowing increasing problem complexity is a particularly appropriate type of candidate for antisocial deconstructivism.

Enjoy! I hope these videos help you and your students!

  • This old post explains how I made these videos.


Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention, which was 7% plagiarised from Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2008, has sparked a series of stories about plagiarism.  These discussions illustrate well why plagiarism is problematic, and several news stories may be helpful for teaching students about plagiarism before, or after, they commit this infraction.  The stories that I have found most enlightening, summative, and helpful for teaching about the issue are:

Of course, this discussion could be a little perilous because of how political the national conventions are and how polarizing Donald Trump is.

New Feature: Links

I am very thankful for various teaching and Classics resources throughout the internet: websites with collections of images and 3-D reconstructions, websites with collections of ancient texts and translations, or blogs about all things Classics.

I’ve collected many of these resources under the heading Links above.  Enjoy and use them as much as I have!

And please suggest some that I have missed so that more of us can benefit from them.

Stereotype threat

“Stereotype threat is being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group,” according to Steele and Aronson 1995 who first defined this phenomenon. This sad phenomenon causes people to think along these lines, for example: “I am a girl. Girls are stereotypically bad at math, so I am bad at math.” Then this belief plays out in real life and the student performs worse than the dominant group. Students suffering from the stereotype threat perform poorly in tests or in class, discount the assessment or goals of the assessment, and/or become disenchanted with a class or field of study. This low performance seems to be due to anxiety, stress, emotional regulation, and performance regulation that distract from the task at hand; and this can in turn lead to inequality and segregated fields–or different preferences in one’s life because this does not apply only to school. This is a very important concern for Classics, a field dominated by white people.

Who is vulnerable to stereotype threat?

Everyone is vulnerable to stereotype threat, whether the stereotype has positive or negative connotations. If someone identifies as part of a social group, and that group has a stereotype about their performance in a particular field, their performance in that field is more likely to be affected by the stereotype, especially if it is highlighted somehow, such as on a questionnaire before a standardized test. The more one identifies with that group or has been stigmatized because of their identity in that group, the more pronounced the effects of stereotype threat may become.  Similarly, people who care more about success in a particular field are more likely to be affected by the stereotypes related to that field–this is not to say we should encourage students to care less but be aware of this stereotype threat.

There are some other interesting  factors for who is vulnerable. Ironically, students who are more proactive about overcoming the stereotype may be more likely to suffer from stereotype threat. Students who use their sense of humor to cope with negative events and who have a positive self-image are more likely to resist stereotype threat.  People with a high education level are less susceptible to stereotype threat–so we should be most aware of this with students in lower grade levels and in introductory courses.

And of course, stereotype threat is only a factor if people are aware of stereotypes related to thheir group. Children tend to learn more of these stereotypes between ages 6 and 11.

What situations trigger stereotype threat?

  • Asking about membership in a stereotyped group before an evaluation
  • Making the test-taker aware of a stereotype through subtle means, such as having a white examiner or grader evaluate a black student’s language abilities (Black students perform as well as white students when the examiner is black).
  • When a student is the only member of a minority group in the room during an evaluation that the stereotype might claim that student would do poorly on. Is the one student of color in a college Classics course an example of this?
  • The description of the task recalls or alludes to the stereotype.
  • Students are being evaluated, especially when the test is said to evaluate their intelligence or the limits of their abilities.

How do we reduce the effects of stereotype threat?

  • Cast the task or test in a light that doesn’t recall stereotypes. A unit test or final exam is, by its nature, diagnostic but we can say that it is fair for all sexes and races.
  • Not ask about students’ sex and racial identities until after the test, if at all.
  • Encourage students to identify as a member of a not stereotyped group. For example, call a class of students “Latinists” or “historians.” This positive title may encourage them to do better on the test or tasks too–a positive stereotype threat.
  • Encourage students to think of themselves as more complex people than “Boy” or “Girl” or “White” or “Black” or “Hispanic” or “Asian,” etc.
  • Give students the ability to self-affirm and say what they are good at throughout the semester to counteract the negative effects of stereotype threat. This is similar to encouraging metacognition.
  • When giving feedback, try to avoid playing into the stereotype threat. Instead, offer positive feedback and encouragement. Say that while you hold students to high standards, you believe that students can meet them.
  • Provide role models that work against the stereotype. These role models may be the teacher, the person administering the test, or the subject of an essay (such as a famous female archaeologist).
  • Explain why students may feel anxiety and attribute it to an outside source, such as stereotypes that don’t reflect students’ abilities or the stressful time of middle school.
  • Emphasize how intelligence grows over time and with work, how the struggle is good for you.  This destroys the validity of a stereotype that assumes a students’ intelligence doesn’t ever change.  Similarly, downplaying “talent” and “genius” will also help students see that intelligence is about learning and the struggle.

The insights and ideas in this blog post are all summarized from this incredibly helpful website, Reducing Stereotype Threat, that has lots of links to studies on this phenomenon.

The Courage to Teach

Last week, I was at the XVth International Numismatic Congress. On the way to and from the conference, I finished reading the tenth anniversary edition of Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach. The book has two central theses and they both resonated particularly well with me as I was going to this conference.

Theme One: Know Thyself and teach with integrity and authenticity. You should not focus on the techniques of teaching, but you should focus on the goals—inspiring students and opening their minds to the ideas of your field—and on why you’re in the room teaching them. What got you interested in your subject? Why do you love it? What do you like about your subject? Which mentors inspired you and who inspires you now? Learn these answers and then use this self-knowledge to guide your teaching—use strategies and methods that are you, not someone else. If you are unsure about how to address something, ask “How does my own teaching persona and philosophy guide me in this instance?”

This theme speaks to me because I am currently trying to figure out and articulate myself, my teaching philosophy, and my career goals while I finish graduate school and go on the job market.

Theme Two: Teach within a “Community of Truth.” Palmer points to two different extreme, models of teaching: (1) a teacher-focused method in which the teacher dispenses the objective truth and serves as an intermediary between the students and the subject’s primary material, and (2) a student-focused approach in which subjectivity and the validity of everyone’s opinions as “truth” predominates. As an intermediate and superior method, Palmer proposes that teaching happen within “communities of truth” in which all members of the class are “knowers” who access the “truth” through direct engagement with primary sources, the standard thought processes and logic of the discipline, personal perspectives and interests, and conversations dedicated to developing a better understanding of the subject.

This model resonated particularly strongly with me while I was on my way to the XVth INC (and thinking broadly about research for my dissertation). We were all trained in the ways of numismatics, offering new perspectives and/methods, and working to better understand coins. I was very pleased to hear many helpful suggestions on my presentation and offer some for other people’s papers. I have been looking forward to and am enjoying looking through my data (and additional data) to look at my topic through more perspectives in order to further our knowledge. I was also very pleased by the kindness and collegiality that seemed to spread throughout the conference. In many ways, it was the kind of atmosphere you want in a classroom: very learned and cheerful discussion focused on primary sources (and Palmer does note the similarities between research communities and his idea of a community of truth). Yet, there was a major difference between the congress and a classroom: we were all trained in numismatics (even if our knowledge levels were vastly different) but this is not always the case in a classroom.

Therefore (and this is also a reflection of my own views of myself as a teacher—Palmer’s other theme), I suggest a slight adjustment to Palmer’s idea. I suggest that one of the “knowers” (i.e. the teacher, or the “guiding knower” in my diagram) is closer to the subject material and the discipline’s norms and guides the other knowers (i.e. the students, or “growing knowers” here). This is not to say that the teacher/guiding knower knows everything or cannot learn from the students/growing knowers. Indeed, teachers should learn and grow too (guides can, afterall, also lose the path sometimes).

Courage to Teach Adapted

Palmer’s focus on the primary sources and evidence helps mitigate—and sometimes relies on—the teacher being closer to the subject material. Exemplary primary sources are perfect for class discussions because, as Palmer points out, they provide data and gaps. These gaps can be filled by a discussion that interrogates and analyzes the source as well as teaches the students the thought processes, norms, and analytical techniques of the discipline. I would also add that the reliance on primary sources levels the playing field so that all students–and the teacher to some extent–all have the same documents in front of them to draw on. Palmer, though, is right that we must provide time for these discussions and balance between sharing lots of information to fill the informational gaps on the one hand and guiding/allowing student discussion to fill the gaps. If we can mange this balance and develop this community, it allows us to share our passion with the students and each other, motivate us further, and help students learn more material, learn more deeply, and learn more lastingly.

Teaching Students with Dyslexia

On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act and helped many people obtain better access to all areas of life.  In recognition of the 25th anniversary of this law, I wanted to consider a specific “disability”: dyslexia, which effects about 5% of the population.  While dyslexia can effect people to varying degrees and students without dyslexia can exhibit similar traits to students with dyslexia, some traits of dyslexia are:

  • Problems remembering the sequence of things
  • Difficulty seeing (and occasionally hearing) similarities and differences in letters and words
  • Inability to sound out the pronunciation of an unfamiliar word
  • Difficulty spelling
  • Difficulty reading, including reading aloud
  • Trouble understanding idioms
  • Difficulty with time management
  • Difficulty summarizing a story
  • Difficulty memorizing

Some of these symptoms may make Latin or Classics difficult for a student with dyslexia, but Latin also has some qualities that could help a dyslexic: Latin classes generally do not have an aural/oral component (although, see my earlier post on Spoken Latin), the text is provided, Latin pronunciation is regular, Latin has few idioms, and Latin vocabulary can often resemble English words.  Morphology, though, will be problematic.

Of course, this treats dyslexia as a “problem” when, really, students with dyslexia just have brains that work differently.  As Ray Laurence explains, they understand the world differently.  They are better at thinking “visually and holistically,” rather than the more common “verbal and sequential” way of thinking.  They are different–not deficient–and they can offer many good qualities to the classroom (quoted from Laurence, quoting Cooper 2009, 66):

  • Approaching academic issues from unusual perspectives
  • Making unusual connections
  • Being creative and producing new ideas easily
  • Being particularly good at dissecting arguments in discussions
  • Being good at ‘what if’ problems
  • Being good at following a passionate interest

Three articles (listed below) offer several suggestions for how to help students with dyslexia achieve well in your class:

  • Give clear, explicit instruction that also explains not only the purpose but also the mechanics of why you’re asking students to complete a task.  Granted, the “why” may not always be apparent or easy to explain for a new Latin case usage; but in other classes, for example, it may be necessary to explain that writing essays is a means to communicate ideas (rather than impress) and that we cite other sources in order to give credit and support the validity of our ideas.  This is especially true for exams, give clear directions.  “Answer 2 questions in 20 minutes” is better than directions that ask students to divide the time into many chunks for each question.
  • Similarly, when discussing an article (especially in comments on a paper), do not simply say “You should have referred to article D because it is important” but say “Article D argues K and is relevant to your paper because of X, Y, Z.”
  • Present in a visually clear way.  On worksheets, have white space and readable fonts.  Always use standardized spelling (e.g. Cleisthenes rather than Kleisthenes) and avoid confusing Roman numerals.
  • During class, dyslexic students may have difficulty taking notes, so you can allow them to record lectures or provide handouts ahead of time.
  • On homework and essays, be judicious and kind about spelling and grammar errors.  To what extent is it necessary to downgrade students for poor grammar on this assignment?  Do we really expect perfect spelling from anyone on a test?
  • Dyslexic students often have a difficult time expressing their ideas in writing, but often express their ideas well aloud.  You can encourage the student to tape record themselves and their ideas before writing a paper, encourage them to think about their paper in terms of a series of questions that must be answered.  Alternatively, you may consider alternative means of examination than a paper or essay: graphic/visual representations of ideas (possibly with written explanations), an oral presentation (from a script or from notes, by choice of the student), or an oral exam.
  • Be comfortable with unexpected, imaginative answers. Does the student support the idea with evidence? Can the answer fit the available data?
  • In a Latin class, if you are unable to provide one-on-one help, peer help through group work may help too.  However, be aware that students may also (inadvertantly) discriminate against the dyslexic student.
  • Multi-sensory teaching (advocated by Richard L. Sparks and Miller 2000) that focuses on the phonology of Latin so that students can learn and predict the proper spelling and pronunciation of new words may help students with Latin.
  • Help students understand categories.  When students get new Latin vocabulary, provide a list or outline that separates words into appropriate categories (nouns, adjectives, verbs, pronouns).  When you teach a new grammar idea, review all earlier ideas in that category so that students can help understand them within a context.  For example, when teaching a new use of the ablative, review the other uses of the ablative.
  • Help students break Latin into more manageable bits.  When students translate Latin, there are a lot of parts to help students keep track of: morphology, syntax, semantics, and maybe phonology.  To help the students, you can provide a vocabulary list with the new vocabulary (so they aren’t distracted looking up words in a dictionary or so they choose the proper meaning) and at the top of the vocabulary list give them a blank chart in which they should decline the most difficult nouns or conjugate the most difficult verbs in the passage.  If you want to save yourself time, help students develop greater facility with a dictionary, and help students learn vocabulary without being reliant on you, you can create a preview assignment: students look up the words they don’t know, write them down, compare the list with their peers, and create a master vocabulary list from a group or the whole class.  This could be done online with a wiki tool.  Also, have students “chunk” the Latin sentence or break it down into smaller parts–prepositional phrases, participial phrases, adjective-nouns, genitives and the words they modify, subordinate clauses, etc.–so that it is a less formidable sentence.
  • Preview assignments and provide context so proper nouns are less confusing and daunting.
  • Provide practice quizzes/tests so that students understand the directions and format of the exams ahead of time.
  • Regarding the choice of texts, anecdotally, dyslexic students may respond better to formulaic and visual texts (like inscriptions).
  • Provide support for students: mentors who have succeeded with dyslexia, references to books that may help them understand how they are different, and extra help outside of class.

Generally, many of these strategies are simply good teaching strategies for all students, many of whom may not be as prepared as we would hope they would be.  These strategies help introduce a foreign time and place to students, review and reinforce material, focus on/prioritize the learning objectives of tasks, and possibly diminish stress among our students.  And all this is also a good sign: we should employ teaching practices that include everyone, as much as possible, rather than discourage and exclude others because of their differences.


Works recommended in these articles:

  • Cooper, R. (2009) ‘Dyslexia’, in D. Pollak (ed.) Neurodiversity in Higher Education. Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences, Wiley-Blackwell: Oxford.
  • Sparks, Richard L., and Karen S. Miller (2000) ‘Teaching a Foreign Language Using Multi-sensory Structured Language Techniques to At-Risk Learners: A Review’, Dyslexia 6: 12432.
  • Liz Du Pré, Dorothy Gilmore and Tim Miles Dyslexia at College, 3rd edition, Routledge 2008
  • Tomlinson, J. (1996) Inclusive Learning (The Tomlinson Report), FEFC: Coventry.