I. Classics, Latin, and Learning Styles

Chapter I - Solo and Independent Learning

Welcome all to the first chapter in this new series on Classics and Learning Styles. We commence the series by looking at solo and independent learning (part I). We will come to logic and problem-solving next week (part II).

For me, these learning styles are inseparable and one which will benefit most learners in some measure. All learners must have a chance to reflect, identify what they need to work on, understand how they learn best, and develop their own revision styles. However, I am going to treat them separately in order to give each the space they deserve.

Those of you who read the introductory article will be aware that I am quite deliberately avoiding the term ‘learner’. Very few pupils are only one type of learner. Even if they favour a particular mode of learning, this does not mean they are incapable of exploring, developing, and benefiting from other learning styles. Thus, I find the label ‘so-and-so is ‘x’ type of learner’ unhelpful and far too ‘neat’ in its rigid classification. Of course, it is helpful to the learner to understand where their strengths and preferences lie, but that is very far from implying that’s their only avenue of learning.

A. Solo and independent learning and Classics.

This mode of learning is one that I find keen students of Classics firstly, benefit from, but one which they often favour. Why does the capacity for solo and independent learning benefit a student of Classics?

Well, one reason is that there often simply aren’t many of them, and another they may find themselves studying in limited time slots or somewhat inhospitable ones. They may have a reduced timetable, thereby demanding extra independent learning outside of lessons. Or they may find themselves taking lessons during lunch times, giving up break times, after school, or even outside of school at weekends. Or they may simply be the one and only in scheduled classes. That is not for everyone. Keen bees generally persevere. But it can be a lot of pressure on top of other subjects and a full school curriculum. I was quite alone for both Latin and Greek at A Level. It didn’t’ bother me a bit. I enjoyed the opportunity for greater dialogue about Classics with my teachers and escaping from the tedious, ‘what can you do with Classics?’ question. This kind of repeated nagging also favours the independent learner, who much also show a certain independence of mind in pursuing a subject perceived as UNCOOL or irrelevant (and not just Classics).

This reason is less about the subject matter than the rather sad reality of the perception of Classics and its dwindling offering in schools.

Curiosity will always drive independent learning, and this is hardly Classics-specific. It certainly offers the curious plenty to explore.

I shall now consider Classics-based activities that encourage solo or independent learning in pupils.

B. Latin

Solo learning in Latin does not have to mean sitting and reciting ‘amo, amas, amat…’ in ones head over and over. (some quite like that method – it has its place; I was one such sad example! 😉) So here are some fun suggestions:

i) Get creative with your learning techniques. Pupils can invent whatever

technique they like, musical, artistic, visual, movement. My wonderful Latin

teacher taught us to sing Latin pronouns to ‘Three Blind Mice’. I know them

perfectly (thank you, Miss Felgate).

ii) You be the teacher: how would they teach a particular topic? This

encourages a bit of meta-learning, that is to say reflection on how they

learnt that topic, any difficulties they encountered, and how they would

draw on their own learning process to explain it to a beginner.

iii) Test the teacher: this can also be done as a fun pair or group activity. How

would you test someone’s knowledge on a topic? Try it out on your teacher.

We were revising Latin nouns and their different forms, and using the table,

one sparky student said I had to go through it diagonally and gave me a

starting point. I am pleased to say I passed. But it was a good one.

C. Classical Civilization and Ancient History:

The vast material both these subjects offer make the possibilities almost endless and attractive creatively to all learning styles. Here are just a few examples.

i) Freeze frames: this can also be done as a group activity. My wonderful

former colleague and good friend Hannah used this activity. Her Class Civ

GCSE class would make freeze frames (statue images) that reflected a key

element of the topic.

ii) Creative response project: raps, songs, videos, presentations, even

cookery. When teaching Pompeii to year 9s, we always had the creative

Pompeii competition (instituted by my fab head of department Janet

Taylor). I had every form of learning: imitations of the plaster casts, cakes,

time capsules, songs, poems, stories, you name it. Their creative

engagement was hugely impressive.

iii) Facebook profiles: test their understanding of the key figures by giving

each pupil a famous figure from a topic and create Facebook or other Social

Media profile for them.

iv) Film/Theatre poster: if you're studying Greek tragedy or ancient theatre,

an excellent way to revise the texts is have pupils create a poster, or even

trailer, advertising one of the prescribed plays. Can they capture the

essence of the play and its themes? Or they can imagine they are a famous

ancient theatre critic and write a review.

I hope these prove useful. Have a try and have fun.

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