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The Function and Context of an Ancient Greek Textbook: A New Approach

Michael Laughy

Washington and Lee University

“I know of no one who teaches first-year Greek who is completely satisfied with his or her textbook” (Clayton 2005). Many of us have heard variations of this quote from our colleagues. We have also heard from students about what drives them away from Greek: “endless memorization, confusing variations, [and] opaque readings” (Major 2007a). In fact, the mere appearance of some Greek textbooks can be daunting to students. Many of the most popular Greek textbooks – written with the admirable aim of introducing nearly all possible forms and grammatical constructions – are formidable physical objects, numbering in the hundreds of pages. Such textbooks present material at a pace that is demanding even for the most expansive of academic calendars, and deter all but the most dedicated of Classics students.

            In response to this issue, Wilfred Major suggests that “we need to teach less, not more, in Beginning Greek in order to be more effective” (Major 2007 93). In other words, we should treat first-year Greek textbooks as just that: a first-year introduction to the essential morphology, syntax, and vocabulary of Greek. This approach solves part of the function challenges that many instructors and students find with textbooks. But with Greek there is also a classroom context problem. Textbooks vary widely in their assumptions of the pedagogical needs of a given classroom environment (cf. Wala 2003). However, each cohort of first-year Greek students brings with it a unique collective of interests and previous language experiences. The result is that while one cohort may respond well to the approach of a particular textbook, we find ourselves teaching “against” the same book to reach another.

            The goal of the paper is to present the possibilities that a fully digital textbook offers both functionally and contextually. Ancient Greek for Everyone: Essential Morphology and Syntax for Beginning Greek, is a digital, open license first-year Greek course that offers a simplified approach to first-year Greek. In this talk, I discuss the development and organization of the material, as well as present sample lessons and their use in the classroom.

            I also discuss the promise that the fluid and open nature of Ancient Greek for Everyone holds for the development of modified in-house editions across other campuses. In-house textbooks are nothing new in language instruction (Lyons 2003). The possibilities that an in-house digital textbook offer, however, distinguish it from standard print versions in three ways. 1. The book can be exported in a format that best suits a particular instructor or department: a print-on-demand book, a pdf, or an eBook. 2. It allows for multiple authors, so other contributors can add material/exercises. 3. Different “editions” can be made for different campuses, making for a more fluid and adaptable text for students and faculty alike. The result is an open, free, multi-contributor text that promises a new and evolving approach to first-year Greek.

Session/Panel Title:

The Future of Teaching Ancient Greek

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