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Latin, Classics, and Learning Styles


Some of you who read this will already know that I love my subject Classics: Latin, Greek, Classical Civilization, and Ancient History. And that’s the four subjects currently studied in the UK. There is much more. There is the culture, literature, philosophy, art and architecture, some of which you can experience in the current syllabuses, but which unavoidably can only offer a taster.

I am also a firm believer in the educational value of studying the ancient world and not just Greece and Rome. It has the potential to appeal widely and offer enriching material to many subjects: languages, English, politics, history, even geography and science. There are many ways of incorporating Classics and the Ancient world into the classroom without it necessarily having to be timetabled separately. How this can be achieved is the topic for another article and one I intend to bring to you soon.

Different learning styles have been a prominent feature of pedagogical theory this past decade. These are very important. There are many different ways of learning. Different senses, different ways of learning that each can employ. However, I should just qualify that I will not be using the term ‘visual learners’, ‘aural learners’. I find such terms overly schematic. A person’s learning style is rarely purely visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, etc. Moreover, this implies that learners cannot and even should not be expected to be familiar with or train other learning styles. I do not agree with this.

‘x-type’ learner could become a label that makes a student feel that’s how they learn, and cannot otherwise. Of course, they may favour a particular learning style that they find easier and which comes more naturally to them. And they must be encouraged to develop their own method and revision style that plays to their strengths and facilitates their learning. However, I do not believe that they should not, therefore, have experience of practising other styles of learning. Why?

  • A more holistic approach to learning methods will enhance their overall learning experience and ability to connect with different types of material.

  • A greater understanding of different approaches and, therefore, of other pupils who favour different methods.

  • Students may favour one learning method for one subject but find another more useful for a different topic.

The pigeon-holing effect of ‘labels’ might ironically reduce and hamper the learning experience of a pupil, who, thinking themselves ‘x-type of learner’, then remains in that box without the confidence to grow and explore, erroneously believing that somehow is ‘their path’. I am not a natural kinaesthetic learner, but have I benefited from activities which practise this way of learning, YES!

In this series, I will show that Classics, in all its aspects, can appeal to all styles of learning, namely the very nature of the subject matter lends itself to a variety of learning styles. But I will also show that creative engagement with Classics through different learning styles and activities can bring the subject to life.

Creativity comes into all types of learning, whether it be a unique way of revising your vocabulary or analysing a painting, music, poetry, revising iron isotopes, plant biology, you name it. I once asked a year ten Latin group to pick an item of grammar and come up with as whacky a method as they liked for remembering it. One student set the Latin pluperfect subjunctive (could have, should have, would have) to Adèle’s wonderful, Rollin’ In The Deep. Greek vocabulary Charades kept a light atmosphere in a late lesson and appealed to the kinaesthetic learners. Act out the verb, the rest have to write down the Greek for it. And there is plenty more in Classics that lends itself to this type of learning.

Classics has suffered greatly from the image of being seen as an old-fashioned, outdated, grammar grind, and learn and churn. One can see how. This certainly the form it seems to have taken in schools at one time. But this could be further from the reality, and is not intrinsic to the subject itself. Classics’ innate variety speaks to a variety of learning styles and learners. I would even venture to say it has a diversity of subject matter like no other. It is the history of people, a while back admittedly. But it cannot be pigeon-holed, just like learners cannot. It has language, history, politics, philosophy, history of science and mathematics, some of which live on and shape our own syllabuses, art, architecture, engineering (much of which shows a jaw-dropping advancement and sophistication), the beginnings of geography, both in terms of conceptualising the world and physically mapping it, astronomy, even the beginnings of sociology, psychology, and anthropology. Staggering! So come with me to explore how this subject can enrich the learning experience, as well as feed and be illuminated by different learning styles.

(Next week: The Solitary Learning Style and the Logical Learning Style)

(In a similar vein, see:

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