Course context: CLAS 2114, Introduction to Gellius and Caesar
There were 19 students in this class. At the start of the class, they had not yet finished the introductory textbook, and they had read no authentic Latin. The class started by introducing them to remaining basic grammar, then moved to the Latin of two authors of radically different subject-matter and style, Aulus Gellius and Julius Caesar.
• Target of improvement/evidence:
I was looking to understand more about student experience of the transition from the textbook to authentic Latin and of the move from one Roman author to the next. I wanted access to what they found difficult, so that I could re-shape the experience of the course to allow them to become independent readers of Latin more rapidly--both so that they would enjoy the material more and so that they would be more proficient and resourceful readers when they progressed to more advanced courses.
• What did you do?
I gave students a questionnaire on the first day of class, asking them to describe the process of studying Latin from their point of view (e.g. What do you enjoy about learning Latin? What do you find troublesome? How is learning Latin different from studying a modern foreign language? What tools do you need? What is worth knowing / core knowledge?) I repeated these questions as we moved into studying Gellius and again as we moved into studying Caesar, adding relevant questions: e.g. how does the Latin of Caesar differ from the Latin of Gellius? We discussed the students’ descriptions of their experiences as a group and came up with strategies for tackling the challenges both of the regular material/day-to-day assignments and that of exams.
I also dedicated two sections of the website so that students could talk about (1) the process of learning Latin (2) ask about any substantive points that were unclear to them.
• What difference did it make?
I found that students used the website to ask about material that was not necessarily the subject of immediate discussion but that was indeed crucial to their being able properly to navigate the subject-matter I was asking them to. Their responses therefore re-directed the way that I spent time in class. The website was more useful for eliciting specific points of confusion but did not really work as a forum for discussing the process of learning; the group discussions were more useful for establishing what the conceptual difficulties were. The students found different aspects of the transitions challenging and not infrequently disagreed with each other about the nature of the problems and their solutions. It was, however, clearly reassuring to them as a group to talk openly about the simple fact of how challenging the material was and to try to analyse for themselves what makes it challenging at different stages and what the tools for mastering that challenge might be.
• How did the classroom assessment (feedback gathering) help you make adjustments mid-course?
In the first place it affected the order and presentation of material in specific classes, sometimes completely replacing the originally planned material. Also, it affected the nature of the discussions we had as we went along. For example, it became clear that some students either did not know what basic tools or resources to use; or else considered them unimportant and/or inappropriate to their level of learning—i.e. they felt they might be too advanced to use reference tools! I therefore spent time talking to them about the different sorts of knowledge available from different sources and asking them to practice putting these resources to use.
• What worked? What did you learn?
While students seemed to have a fairly good grasp even from the first day of what was necessary, they did not always know how to go about acquiring the knowledge they knew they needed or using it effectively to engage with the language in front of them. It was useful to talk to them about this and to brainstorm collectively about the challenges.
• Sharing with colleagues
Graduate-student instructors in Classics are required to participate in a pro-seminar in their first semester. This seminar would make a good venue for sharing assessment-strategies like one-minute papers, pre-test posts and website responses/posting. Crucial also are strategies for integrating e.g. website responses into the classroom and for allowing students control within the classroom. The same material can be shared informally with interested faculty colleagues.