Stronger Beginnings: Teaching First-Semester Greek in a Differentiated Classroom
Differentiated instruction in language pedagogy is not a new technique for teachers of ancient languages. At the secondary level, combined classes of Latin 3 and 4 are common. At the university level, mixed graduate/undergraduate classes in both languages are a traditional method for allowing advanced undergraduates and new graduate students to develop their skills. However, a differentiated beginning semester in either language is a rarity. The creation of such a class—a split section of first-semester Greek and honors first-semester Greek at the university level—has proven to be a rewarding pedagogical experience that has fostered a cross-departmental academic exchange between the Honors Program and Classical Studies, and more importantly has enhanced the learning experience for students in both sections. This paper provides an overview as to why a “split class” in the first semester may be a boon to student development as well as a successful strategy for increasing the appeal of beginning Greek.
The fundamental instructional design employed in creating a differentiated learning environment for this split class relied on three assumptions: (1) all students would be using a similar set of instructional materials; (2) they would be moving at the same pace through them; (3) the instruction for the honors section would not simply ask those students to do more than the regular students (i.e. translating 20 lines instead of 15). In this class, the instructor chose instead to focus on enrichment of the material on a qualitative level (e.g. asking honors students to explicate grammar of greater complexity, assigning them Greek composition practice sentences instead of sentences for translation from Greek into English, assigning material in an e-learning, self-paced format).
In the classroom, coordinating the day’s learning objectives for the two groups was often facilitated by the fact that the students were aware of the split class. Students understood that their classmates were learning the same material in different formats; that fact made them curious about the different paths through the class and intensified their attention to their own syllabus. Class-wide group projects were tailored to engage a variety of academic strengths (i.e. facility with translation, proficiency with vocabulary, knowledge of Greek culture, inductive and deductive reasoning) to give every student a chance to participate.
The benefits for the students of being enrolled in such a combined class have proven to be manifold. Both groups were actively involved in managing their own learning schedules, which manifested itself in a high degree of on-time, complete, and accurate homework. Both groups developed a facility for cooperation and peer tutoring. For the honors students, the advantages were even more pronounced. These students were often in a flipped-classroom model or asked to do self-paced enrichment activities within a given chapter, and this allowed them to work more independently and at their own pace on select assignments, an opportunity most relished. The ability to self-motivate and the confidence to work independently are foundational skills for doing successful research across all disciplines; it is also a set of skills that many students do not get to develop until later in their undergraduate careers. This class provided a chance for the honors students to practice that style of thinking and learning before the various capstone courses and theses of their final semesters.
In conclusion, a differentiated section of regular and honors beginning Greek can provide the program offering it, and the students taking it, with a considerable set of benefits. For the program offering them, such classes raise the awareness of the value of language training. For the honors students taking them, such courses can nurture techniques and abilities that transcend facility with the language. These skills in creative thinking, self-management, and communication are crucial across disciplines at the university level and have become necessary for those who would succeed in an increasingly interconnected world.
μᾶλλον καὶ μᾶλλον: How Greek Instruction Can Reach More Students at More Levels