Trends in Teaching the Classics to Undergraduates

by Mary Pendergraft, Wake Forest University

This paper was delivered as part of "The Future of Classical Education: A Dialogue," a panel organized by the SCS Program Committee at the 147th annual meeting of the SCS in San Francisco, January 8, 2016.

The economic volatility of the last decade has taken a toll on education at every level; the humanities in general and language studies in particular have suffered far more than STEM subjects; and among languages, Greek and Latin, which offer no immediately profitable benefits, feel especially vulnerable. Many of us feel this concern instinctively and find that anecdotes from around the country reinforce our concerns. In addition, three national organizations have published large-scale reports that each offer a different snapshot on the state of undergraduate education.Wake Forest student Mary Somerville talks with her teammates to solve advanced grammar problems in a role-playing game, April 15, 2013. Photo: via flickr, © Wake Forest University

AAAS

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has published two national departmental surveys of humanities departments in four-year institutions, in 2008 and 2013; only the second looked specifically at Classics departments. It tells us that

  • 276 institutions had departments of classics in 2012–13, with an average of 7 faculty members, for a total of 1,920 faculty members.
  • 4,770 juniors and seniors had a declared major in classics at the beginning of fall semester 2012, an average of 17 per department. The average number of majors was highest (32.1) for schools where the highest degree offered is the Master’s. The average number of majors in baccalaureate institutions was 13.6, and in doctorate-granting programs 23.7.
  • 2,240 Bachelor’s degrees in classics were awarded in 2012–13, an average of 8.1 per department.

For comparison, Philosophy departments were also first surveyed in 2012–13; they number 754, with a total of 7,830 faculty members. They average 27 junior and senior majors per department, and the greatest concentration is in research universities (18 majors per department); Baccalaureate and Master’s-degree institutions averaged 8 and 9 majors per department, respectively. 9,850 Philosophy Bachelor’s degrees were completed in that year, with an average of 13.1 per department.

SCS

Second, the SCS surveyed departments during Academic Year 2013–14; this study showed that approximately 190 majors graduated, a fact that suggests that the number of departments responding was smaller than the number in the AAAS survey. The average number of graduates per department in that year, however, was very close to the AAAS number: eight. There were somewhat more women than men, and on average fewer than two minority students, a disturbingly small number and an ongoing concern in every aspect of our discipline.

MLA

Both of these studies are interesting, but it is the annual survey of enrollments by the Modern Language Association where we find the most longitudinal data, stretching back to 1958. Their periodic surveys of language enrollments first included Latin and Greek in 1968; surveys of the twenty-first century, in 2002, 2006, 2009, 2013, show that Latin enrollments reached a high of 32,444, reported in 2009, and fell to a low of 27,000 in 2013. The latter number is comparable to the numbers for each survey in the 1990s. Greek, on the other hand, had the highest enrollments during the years surveyed—22,800—in 2006, only to plummet to fewer than 13,000 in 2013.

The SCS survey includes numbers for various courses in classical studies; there is no long term data for comparison, but the enrollments seem relatively healthy—something that my own observation supports. It seems that, while we can’t be complacent about Latin or Classics enrollments, it is Greek where we have good reason for concern.    

Pedagogy

With that background, I’d like to look at ways that course offerings and pedagogical approaches have undergone changes in the last decade or so, and I’ll tackle course offerings first. The SCS census asks about Ancient Art & Archaeology, Ancient History, Ancient Philosophy, Classical Civilization, Literature in Translation, Mythology, and Etymology—all titles, at least, that are familiar since my own undergraduate days. Two newer areas of focus appear as well, the Classical Tradition and Gender & Sexuality Studies. Where twenty years ago, for instance, a forward-thinking department would offer “Women in the Ancient World,” focusing on texts and inscriptions, say, today such a course reflects a theoretical sophistication that we would also find in a department of Gender and Sexuality. Similarly, as Classical Reception has emerged as a field of study, at the same time Classics courses that look at the afterlife of ancient models become more sophisticated as well.

Under even familiar headings, too, it’s very likely that the emphases and pedagogical strategies are new ones, and the same is true in language courses. I will simply call attention to some examples. Perhaps a dozen or more programs use Latin as the language of instruction—in whole or in part.1 And summer opportunities for practicing the active use of Latin are flourishing (see below for a list of Conventicula). Comparable programs for Greek are emerging more slowly.

Distance learning opportunities make it possible for programs to address larger audiences and in turn draw on a larger pool of offerings for their students: Synoikisis, a national consortium of Classics programs, is one very successful example.

Role-playing and gaming as instructional strategies can assume a variety of forms; in 2015 the SCS meeting included a panel of instructors who employ an array of such techniques. The Reacting to the Past project consists of elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts in the history of ideas. Classicists have been involved in this project almost since its inception.

Challenges for Greek

The importance of new teaching strategies, especially for Greek, was a lively topic on the Classics list earlier in January, prompted by James Romm’s article in last Sunday’s NY Times: “Beginning Greek, Again and Again.” His reflections on the inevitable frustrations that attend the joy of teaching Greek struck a nerve with many of us. At the same time, all the numbers we looked at above tell us that we need desperately to address declining Greek enrollments. Two themes emerge in discussions of that decline. One arose in that recent online conversation: the need to improve pedagogy in Greek. While examples of the innovative practices more widely adopted among our high school colleagues appear in some college Latin programs—the use of Latin in instruction, for instance—they are far less frequent in Greek. A strategy cited for its potential benefit is the use Comprehensible Input, that is, providing students with readings that are readily intelligible in order to increase their fluency. Again, far more materials are available for Latin than for Greek.

A second challenge facing Greek teachers has been raised by Willy Major of the Committee for the Promotion of Greek, and is echoed by others: As student demographics change, the study of Greek once again—still?—is perceived as a bastion of privilege removed from and absolutely unrelated to current concerns, and this perception persists to an extent that is not the case with Latin. This fact argues not only for new teaching but also for new entry points, perhaps, into its study. Students of engineering can be introduced to Archimedes, for instances; students whose tradition focuses on the Ottoman Empire need to know who founded Byzantium.

As an example of the kinds of changes that are taking place in teaching strategies and in content, I’ll take my own department at Wake Forest, the one I know best. From 1988 to 2008, there were four of us, good teachers all, but not, in general, engaged in pedagogical innovation. Since then three retirements have made us a department of teachers from a generation who have been engaged in questions of pedagogy in ways my age mates and I never were. My colleague Michael Sloan, for instance, is developing a repository of online Latin drills that can provide the out-of-class backbone for one kind of flipped class, where class time focuses on reading at sight.

My colleague Ted Gellar-Goad turned a required course for Latin majors—Advanced Grammar and Composition—into an elaborate role-playing game. His First Year Seminar combines two Reacting to the Past games, one set in Athens in 403 and the other in Rome immediately after Caesar’s assassination. John Oksanish developed an FYS called “Ancient STEM Societies.” Selena Witzke is designing digital portfolios for her course on women in the ancient world.

One of our most ambitious initiatives is still in the planning stage. Like many institutions, we see a growing number of students who are exempted from the language requirement for reasons of ability; large numbers of them are student athletes, first generation college students, and new Americans. In the case of some students, their disabilities are insurmountable, but perhaps that is not true for all of them. We hope to pilot an alternative Greek sequence that will be open only by recommendation from the dean’s office or the learning center and that will teach not only the Greek language but study skills, linguistic awareness, and more. At the same time, we hope that these students will gain confidence in their ability as learners. We’re very excited.

Conventicula:

Dickinson College

Paideia Institute

Polis: The Jerusalem Institute for Languages and Humanities

SALVI

University of Kentucky

University of Massachusetts-Boston

Wyoming Catholic College

Photo: Wake Forest student Mary Somerville talks with her teammates to solve advanced grammar problems in a role-playing game, April 15, 2013. Photo: via flickr, © Wake Forest University 


1. University of Kentucky; Davidson College; Ave Maria University; Washington University St. Louis; University of Houston; Christendom College; New Saint Andrews College; University of Massachusetts at Boston; Temple University; Western Washington University; Wyoming Catholic College; Cornell College.

Categories

Follow SCS News for information about the SCS and all things classical.

Use this field to search SCS News
Select a category from this list to limit the content on this page.

The deadline to receive nominations for the SCS Award for Exellence in Precollegiate Teaching has been extended to October 2, 2017.

Teachers, full- or part-time, of grades K-12 in schools in the United States and Canada who at the time of the application teach at least one class of Latin, Greek, or classics at the K-12 level are eligible.

Nominees do not have to be SCS members.

To learn more about the nomination process, visit the award's webpage.

---

(Photo: "library" by Viva Vivanista, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Wed, 09/20/2017 - 9:08am by Erik Shell.

The Committee on Diversity in the Profession of the Society for Classical Studies (SCS) invites applications from minority undergraduate students from across North America for scholarships to be awarded for Summer 2018. The purpose of the scholarship is to further students’ study of classics or classical archaeology with opportunities not available during the school year. Eligible proposals might include (but are not limited to) participation in classical summer programs or field schools in the Mediterranean or language training at institutions in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. The maximum amount of each award will be $4,500.

The receipt deadline for applications is 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, December 8, 2017; results will be announced by the end of January 2018.  All application materials should be sent as e-mail attachments to the Executive Director of the SCS, Dr. Helen Cullyer, at helen.cullyer@nyu.edu.

To learn more about the scholarship and how to apply, visit the scholarship's webpage.

---

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Wed, 09/20/2017 - 9:02am by Erik Shell.

The Latin and Linguistics Workshop (LLW) combines the field of Linguistics and the teaching of Latin. The goals of the LLW include:

  • The discussion of current issues surrounding Latin instruction and the tools of Linguistics to revitalize the teaching of Latin
  • The discussion of current issues surrounding the teaching of Linguistics at the high school level and the creation of a new Advanced Placement (AP) course and exam in Linguistics

Keynote speaker: Prof. Renato Oniga Università di Udine (Italy) Author of Latin: A Linguistic Introduction

Dates: October 13-14, 2017
Location: Stony Brook University
Contact: llw@stonybrook.edu

Registration is free.

Conference Website: www.stonybrook.edu/llw

---

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Tue, 09/19/2017 - 10:33am by Erik Shell.

(From our colleagues at Wadham College)

It is with great sadness that we announce the sudden death of Emeritus Fellow and Classicist James Morwood, at the age of 73, while on holiday in Greece. Details of a memorial service will be published in due course.

Below is a list of his accomplishments, adapted from his biography at Wadham College:

James Morwood was elected to a Fellowship at Wadham College in 1996, where he taught and served as Dean of Degrees, Steward of Common Room, and Dean (the last post from 2000 to 2006). He became an Emeritus Fellow in 2006 and was the Editor of the Wadham Gazette.

James was educated at Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he sat Part I of the Classical Tripos and Part II of the English Tripos. After a year at Merton College, Oxford on the course for the Diploma of Education, he went to Harrow School in September 1966 to teach Classics and English. He spent 30 years at Harrow, the last seventeen of them as Head of Classics. He was deeply involved in school journalism and drama, working with Richard Curtis and Ben Cumberbatch among many others. He was librarian for more than eleven years, and sat on and later chaired the school’s Treasures Committee, a body which brought into existence the Old Speech Room Gallery.

In 1996 he moved to Oxford University and took up the post of Grocyn Lecturer in the Classics Faculty and served for a year as President of the Oxford Philological Society.

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Mon, 09/18/2017 - 1:50pm by Erik Shell.
Aeneas Departs from Carthage (Aeneid, Book IV)

Intermediate Latin students typically encounter Latin poetry for the first time with Vergil’s Aeneid. After a brief tutorial on the rules and patterns of dactylic hexameter, they plunge in with arma virumque cano. They learn scansion not only for the sake of tradition and proper understanding of the poem, but also so that they can appreciate its rhythms and artistry—the same reasons English teachers have for teaching their students iambic pentameter for Shakespeare. The symphony of “longs and shorts” can seem forbidding to students at first, and the remedy for this is most often simply practice. Today, given the convenience of phone and tablet apps, and their potential to transform idle moments of otium into more productive ones, the Pericles Group, LLC has created the Latin Scansion App to help Latin AP students practice scanning Vergil. Aulus Gellius, who scraped together his Attic Nights from omnia subsiciva et subsecundaria tempora (“all my spare and third rate time” praef. 23), would no doubt approve.

The title screen has three main buttons: Marathon, Timed, and Achievements. “Marathon” allows the user to select a range of lines from the AP syllabus and to scan them in an untimed session.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 09/18/2017 - 12:00am by Patrick Paul Hogan.

Classical Representations in Popular Culture

The Southwest Popular / American Culture Association (SWPACA) will once again be sponsoring sessions on CLASSICAL REPRESENTATIONS IN POPULAR CULTURE at their 39th annual conference, February 7-10, 2018 at Hyatt Regency Hotel and Conference Center in beautiful Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Papers on any aspect of Greek and Roman antiquity in contemporary culture are eligible for consideration.

Potential topics include:

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Fri, 09/15/2017 - 3:23pm by Erik Shell.

Tacitus’ Wonders
Conference at Victoria University of Wellington, 27-29 August 2018
First call for papers

Readers have been attracted to the remarkable and wondrous, the admirable and the uncanny in Tacitus. But in order to appreciate what is mirum or novum, we also need to understand the apparently mundane material between the monstra. Tacitus famously derides the praises of new public buildings as a topic more worthy of the daily gazette than illustres annales (A. 13.31.1); his own criteria for selection, however, and his own judgments on what is worthy of note, have often differed in interesting ways from the preoccupations of his readers.

Abstracts (250 words) are invited on the topic of Tacitus’ wonders.
Submissions on comparative material are very much welcome.

Reflection is invited on the consequences of different methods of dividing or reconciling historical events and historiographical representation, e.g. Woodman (1993), O’Gorman (2001), Haynes (2003), and Sailor (2008). In preparing abstracts, it will be helpful to consider the challenge extended by Dench (in Feldherr, 2009), the ‘awkward question’ of whether the much admired Tacitean text ‘represents anything other than itself’. Papers treating the Classical tradition, reception and history of scholarship are welcome.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:38pm by Erik Shell.

Human | Nature: Environmental Humanities in Historical Perspective

March 23-24, 2018

The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio

Keynote Speaker: Timothy Saunders, Volda University College

Opening Remarks: Chris Otter, The Ohio State University

The Ohio State University Department of Classics, in collaboration with OSU’s Discovery Theme for Environmental Humanities and the Humanities Institute, is proud to announce its 15th annual graduate student colloquium.

A sense of urgency characterizes contemporary discussions about ecological welfare and anthropogenic effects on the non-human environment. At the core of this discourse lie questions with a long history of artistic, philosophical, political and religious expression. The proper management of space and resources, the negotiation of shifting boundaries between the “human” and “natural” worlds (however one chooses to define these categories), as well as the contemplation of humanity’s place among the living and nonliving co-inhabitants of Earth are all pursuits basic to human survival and livelihood. Moreover, the ways earlier generations found to represent the natural world they experienced and their human community's place within it have shaped the way we think and talk about such matters today.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Fri, 09/15/2017 - 1:06pm by Erik Shell.

Digital Publication in Mediterranean Archaeology
Current Practice and Common Goals

A conference organized by the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World and The Shelby White and Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications, in partnership with the Archaeological Institute of America
Institute for the Study of the Ancient World

15 E. 84th Street
New York, NY
Friday, October 20, 2017
9am-5pm

Speaker list

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:56pm by Erik Shell.

“Deconstructing the Open Greek and Latin Project: The First Thousand Years of Greek”

An AIA-SCS Pre-Meeting Workshop, presented in coordination with the SCS 

January 3, 2018, 9:00 to 5:00, Tufts University, Medford, MA

Interested in open access, the digital humanities, or conducting digital scholarship in your research and/or teaching?  Aren't sure what these topics have to do with classics or archaeology, or even how to get started?  Then, please consider joining us next January 3 at the AIA-SCS pre-meeting workshop "Deconstructing the Open Greek and Latin Project"!

In this workshop, partners from the Perseus Digital Library, the Harvard Library and Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies, the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, the University of Leipzig, Mount Allison University, and the University of Virginia Library will come together to demonstrate research tools, explain how to involve students in digital scholarship, provide open data for hands-on exploration from the Open Greek and Latin Project, as well as create a growing and supportive open access community.

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Fri, 09/15/2017 - 9:23am by Erik Shell.

Pages

Latest Stories

Awards and Fellowships
The Committee on Diversity in the Profession of the Society for Classical Stu
Awards and Fellowships
The deadline to receive nominations for the SCS Award for Exellence in Precol
Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings
The Latin and Linguistics Workshop (LLW) combines the field
In Memoriam
(From our colleagues at Wadham College)

© 2017, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy