19 May 2008

Reflections on the Year: Teaching the Classics

As the school year rolls toward its end, I have just a few reflections on the year that has been. Even if you’re not an education nerd, you might appreciate these thoughts.

Since I’ve taught younger students this year than I have in the past, I’ve noticed a wider range of student abilities and motivation levels. I suppose the students who really do not care to be in school have not, or are just beginning to, take themselves out of the picture. As a result, I’ve had the chance to implement a little voluntary “ability grouping” within my classes.

On a strictly voluntary basis and with parental permission, students have participated in what I’ve called my “supplemental syllabus”. All students have had the opportunity to participate, meaning that “ability” isn’t really the separator here, student motivation is. What may scare some students off is that once they sign up for the supplemental syllabus, they can’t opt out of it. On the good side, though, is that those on the “supplemental” route do not have to accomplish all of the regular class work. They have more challenging, and rewarding, tasks to complete.

Students who participate have been asked to read Greek tragedies (by Aeschylus and Sophocles) and a little philosophy (by Adler). They then write an essay covering thematic elements of the reading. I tend to model the essay questions after Advanced Placement English literature essay questions. Unlike most essays, though, these essays are rewritten over the course of a week or two until they pass muster. At the end of the supplemental assignment, each student has a fairly well polished essay resulting from several drafts. What’s more, each student has a much better idea of how to write and where personal writing strengths and weaknesses are.

What’s more, the students are exposed to the roots of Western literature and thought (Adler’s philosophy is deeply rooted in Aristotle’s). The themes of the tragedies introduce morals and ethics, and the assignments the students have to do ask them to reflect internally on them in meaningful ways. So I suppose that the writing improvement portion is only 50% of the syllabus. Critical thinking and making moral and ethical judgments take up the other 50%. That seems to be a good balance.

If anyone has thoughts or suggestions regarding this “supplemental”, I’m very interested to hear what you’ve got in mind.


Jack N said...

Does the local school board know that you're asking students to critically think, evaluate, and discuss these radical, foreign materials?

Bob M. said...

The Superintendent does...honestly!