Teaching: Philosophy and Methods

Photograph of yours truly taken by a Latin 203 student at Duke University, Spring 2018

Why I Teach

Students of Classics have the opportunity to explore language, literature, and history that are at once distant in time and immediately relevant to the present day. In so doing, they develop both knowledge and skills that will serve them in a range of environments, academic and otherwise. Because of my commitment to helping students accomplish these goals, I have dedicated the past ten years to my professional development in the craft of pedagogy. I have taught courses in Classics and related subjects in a variety of institutional settings, in a range of formats, and at several different levels, and sought out opportunities to study and discuss best practices with peers and mentors. The strength of a good Classics curriculum lies in the many opportunities it presents for students and faculty to access, analyze, and apply a wide range of knowledge. We synthesize language, literature, history, myth, and the material record to develop complex narratives that deepen students’ knowledge and, just as significantly, develop invaluable skills in the process. I have found that the career of a teacher-scholar rewards enthusiasm, discipline, and reflection. Nothing has motivated me to succeed as a scholar more than my time in the classroom, and conversely whenever I work through a new idea in my research, I find myself considering how to incorporate it into my teaching. There is no better way for one both to benefit from and give back to an academic field than by drawing others into it, whether for a lifetime or a single term. Success at this goal means practicing this profession by taking every course, lesson, and contact with students as an opportunity for variation, experimentation, and improvement as a teacher.

 

My Approach

I design and implement lessons for courses in Classical languages and cultures to take maximum advantage of the great opportunities the subjects offer, while appreciating the considerable challenges they can present. For instance, both my own experience and the current evidence on language learning show that the single greatest return on time invested comes from acquisition of vocabulary. Students in my elementary language courses practice using online multimedia vocabulary tools as well as traditional methods, and I reinforce the regular repetitive practice of memorization with them. However, the great challenge in teaching ancient language courses comes from the need to balance this incremental and repetitive process with an exploration of the complexities in the underlying syntax and semantics that students’ vocabulary must ultimately serve. In facing this challenge, I find students are drawn to linguistic issues in phonetics and phonology, syntax, and semantics in ways they might not have realized previously, and I deal with the need to provide balance between small details and large concepts by giving students avenues to explore these issues.

With theoretical frameworks developed from my Linguistics training, I design classroom activities in which students observe patterns in their own use of language, abstract a larger principle from them, and then investigate how the target language addresses this same principle. By doing so, I scaffold the higher-level learning tasks involved in acquiring new concepts of Latin or Greek grammar. For example, at the start of my elementary language classes, students prepare for the challenge of learning paradigms from different verb conjugations by generating lists of verbs from English and other languages they know, putting these verbs into the simple past tense, and then categorizing verbs by their past tense forms. Through his kind of activity, students see in clear relief the knowledge they already possess regarding verb inflection. With this conceptual framework in place, students then find it easier to acquire new discrete pieces of information, such as additional noun case or verb tense endings, because they have a clearer picture of how they will fit in alongside what they already know. Students can use tools from phonetics and phonology in the same way, to understand (e.g.) how seemingly irregular forms result from predictable shifts in pronunciation.

From observing this continuous motion between the big concepts and the smaller details, I have come to view students’ learning less as a hierarchical taxonomy of low- to high-level tasks and more as a cyclically reinforcing process. I keep this principle in mind for more advanced courses, where I invite students to look behind the instructor curtain and think critically and reflectively about their own learning. As a teacher, I know how valuable the experience of presenting a topic for someone else to learn can be for one’s own understanding. Thus, in both elementary and more advanced language courses I structure classroom lessons around interactive group exercises, sometimes employing a flipped classroom model where appropriate. Students find these activities challenging yet see the benefit of asking and answering questions among each other. In a recent intermediate Latin reading course, where students already had a firm grasp of grammar and knew how to access relevant reference materials to work through the readings, I assigned students periodic short papers in translation, reflection, and response. (Click here to view the assignments and rubric) For these assignments, students prepared a polished translation—first from an assigned reading, later from a text of their choice—along with a paragraph describing their process and another paragraph sharing their opinion on the content of the text. They grew in their insights into the different tasks they performed over the course of reading, comprehending, interpreting, and composing a translation, and their individual work helps them to understand their abilities better and grow in confidence in expressing themselves during class discussions.

Courses in myth, history, or literature in translation likewise present transformational learning opportunities for students to develop skills in accessing, vetting, and synthesizing information to generate complex ideas. Classical sources represent a singularly valuable target for this kind of inquiry, and I design class activities that allow students to investigate sources critically in a way they may not have done before. My approach to teaching ancient sources is exemplified by a lesson I taught in an Ancient Myth course during my Preparing Future Faculty fellowship. Students in this class had just read the Aeneid in translation, and as we discussed key inflection points in in the later books the focus fell on the way Juno relinquishes her grudge against Aeneas, through the promise that Italic cultural identity would survive after the Trojans are allowed to settle in Latium. Following this discussion, the students divided into teams and volunteered for different roles—researcher, recorder, reporter—to analyze other texts about the founding of Rome and the origins of the Roman people, including Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Livy, Claudius, and Tacitus. Students used reference materials to establish each author’s background and their likely biases and presented each source to the class with comments on the ideology it laid out for Roman identity. Reading these texts against Vergil, students realized how certain tropes are common across multiple genres, made significant and surprising discoveries about the way Romans imagined diversity in their own origins and practices, and reevaluated their notions about the distinction between history and mythology.

In the 2017-18 academic year, through my Certificate in College Teaching program I developed a comparative ancient civilization course intended to help students develop the subject knowledge and critical analytic skills that will allow them to investigate the meaning, and the usefulness, of the label "Greco-Roman" as applied to Classical cultures. Titled "Greeks versus Romans," this course is designed for students who may have no prior background in Classical Studies but who will likely have acquired a general awareness of certain aspects of Greek and Roman myth, architecture, history, and so on. Whether implemented as a small first-year seminar or a large lecture course, it focuses on the different ways Greek and Roman culture historically intersected and diverged, as expressed in literature, art, law, myth
, and language. Through extensive interactive discussion and project-based learning, incorporating a range of activities including collaborative presentations, role-playing debates, and critical reading, this course will prepare students well for future in-depth study, whether in future Classics courses or in any other field. On the basis of my syllabus design (viewable here), in 2019 I received a Bass Instructional Fellowship from the Graduate School at Duke University.

Intermediate and advanced language

Teaching elementary language courses

Pedagogy for Classical civilization

Courses Taught

Collegiate Level

University of Cincinnati

Classics 1002: Roman Civilization (Spring 2020)

Latin 1002: Intensive Latin II (Spring 2020 - Syllabus here)

Latin 1001: Intensive Latin I (Spring 2020 - Syllabus here)

Classics 1021: Mythology (Fall 2019, online - Syllabus here)

Duke University

Instructor of Record
Latin 102: Elementary Latin II (Spring 2019)

Latin 101: Elementary Latin I (Fall 2018 - Syllabus here)
Latin 203: Intermediate Latin (Spring 2018 - Syllabus here)
Greek 102: Elementary Ancient Greek II (Spring 2017 - Syllabus here)
Greek 101: Elementary Ancient Greek I (Fall 2016 - Syllabus here)

Teaching Assistant

Greek 102: Elementary Ancient Greek II (Spring 2016) William A. Johnson, Instructor

Greek 101: Elementary Ancient Greek I (Fall 2015) William A. Johnson, Instructor
CLST 308: Greek and Roman Law (Fall 2014) Joshua D. Sosin, Instructor

 

Florida State University

Instructor of Record

LAT1121: Beginning Latin II (Fall 2012, Spring 2013)

Teaching Assistant
CLT3501: Women and Society in Ancient Greece (Summer 2012, Online) James Sickinger, Instructor

CLT3378: Ancient Mythology East and West (Spring 2012) Elizabeth Richey, Instructor

Secondary Level

Johns Hopkins University

Center for Talented Youth

LNCS: Linguistics (Summer 2014, 2015, 2017)
GRK1: Beginning Ancient Greek (Summer 2014, 2015) Teaching Assistant Summer 2011-13
LAT1: Beginning Latin (Summer 2013)

The Tatnall School

Latin I, II, III, IV, Advanced Placement: Vergil (2008-10)
English Literature & Composition: Greek Tragedy, Vergil & Dante, 20th Century Science Fiction (2008-10)

Reviewing the third conjugation, Latin 1001 at the University of Cincinnati, Fall 2019

 
 

Evidence of Success

I find teaching to be a uniquely fulfilling career, and the evidence from student evaluations and observations from peers and supervisor attests to my effectiveness. Students have consistently given my classes above-average numerical scores and in their comments noted that I am enthusiastic, accessible, and sensitive to their learning needs. Outside of official evaluations, I give students opportunities to submit feedback, by means of end-of-class micro-essays as well as online survey forms that follow tests or other intervals in the course. Such feedback allows me to tailor instruction to the needs of a specific group of students and, just as significantly, it provides students with an opportunity to reflect on their learning experience during the course. For instance, through such channels my Latin students have commented on interactive exercises they found to be effective, and the Ancient Myth students expressed the key points they took away from the lesson on Roman origins.

 

Because of the emphasis I place on reflective learning and metacognition, peer and faculty observers alike have remarked that I create learning environments in which students are comfortable taking risks, prepared to learn from failure, and eager to face new challenges. They also have noted my organization and attention to detail in lesson planning, as well as the high level of active student participation that results from the classroom dynamics I create and the group-based interactive exercises I employ in my lessons. At the same time, the outside perspectives and constructive criticism I have received from these evaluations have greatly aided my professional development and provided guidance for my ongoing work to adapt and innovate in my teaching of Classical language and civilization.

(Click here to download samples of faculty, peer, and student evaluations.)

Professional Development

Outside of the classroom, I have pursued numerous avenues for professional development in pedagogy. At the University of Cincinnati, through the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, I am a member of a Junior Faculty Learning Community focused on collaborative, discussion-based professional development in classroom management and course design. In this group, junior faculty from different departments and colleges meet regularly to conduct workshops on issues such as effective implementation of learning technologies, the creation of culturally inclusive classroom environments, and the challenges of addressing individual student needs within large classes. Like the exploratory practice workgroup in which I took part during my last year at Duke, this group has offered unique opportunities to interact with faculty outside my department and exchange interdisciplinary perspectives.

 

In my current faculty role, I serve as the Latin instruction supervisor for the UC Classics department. As the mentor for graduate student language instructors I am working to create opportunities for Cincinnati graduate students to develop as educators. It is a perennial challenge to balance the needs of professional development and excellence in teaching, and my goal in the current year is to ensure both these needs are met. I have set up peer observation of classroom teaching, organized and directed a reading group for literature on pedagogy, and initiated discussions on research-based teaching practices for ancient languages and Classical studies.

 

I have earned a Certificate in College Teaching (CCT) from the Duke University Graduate School, which included three semesters of coursework in best practices in higher education for classroom management and effective course design. As part of the CCT program I also participated in cross-disciplinary reciprocal peer observation, working with a small group of graduate instructors to provide extensive feedback and engage in reflective discussion on our teaching. This training has provided many opportunities for critical reflection on my teaching practices, both as a result of the research-based pedagogic theories I have studied, and from peer feedback on my approach to course and lesson planning. In particular, I have become more systematic in identifying student learning outcomes (SLOs) in my Latin and Greek courses. As a result, I am now better able to design activities and assignments that target outcomes ranging from specific content knowledge to broadly applicable interdisciplinary skills.

In addition, during the 2017-18 academic year I received a Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) fellowship from the Graduate School, one of eighteen awarded in this selective program. As a PFF fellow, I met with students, faculty, and administrators at partner institutions to discuss their experiences and philosophies in higher education. I also worked with a mentor at a partner institution to examine Classics-specific issues in higher education, develop lesson plans and syllabi, guest-teach, and participate in workshops at the teaching and learning center. With this experience I took on a leadership role during graduate instructor orientation, demonstrating to new Latin instructors the importance of clearly identifying learning objectives for each individual lesson and discussing effective methods of designing classroom activities to support these objectives.

 
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Background image: Harpocration, Lexicon of the Ten Attic Orators. British Library, Burney MS 96