Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Teaching Attic

Good coffee with useful packaging
When I was asked to teach  Attic Greek to Catholic home-schoolers, my first thought
was to text a recent Classics grad from Edinburgh Uni to see if she would like the job. However, she had not done any Greek; her specialization began and ended with Latin. I cast about in my mind for someone else among my Edinburgh friends and acquaintances, but I could not think of anyone who had studied Ancient Greek within the past 25 years save my unworthy self.

As I passed Ancient Greek 101 and 102 only by the skin of my teeth, my conscience would have cut up rougher had I not sat down eight years later and worked through the bally stuff. That was the year I lived alone in a bachelor flat and spent my evenings reviewing Italian, French, Latin and Attic Greek. Eventually French and Greek fell by the wayside as I concentrated on Italian and Latin. My Italian was in super shape by 2000, and I actually used it at work----but let us return to Attic Greek.

Although I have little "natural talent" for foreign languages, I know a lot about learning them, thanks to a steady reading diet of popular works on language acquisition and years of grappling with Tym Pięknym Językiem.  I also know something about teaching, which I have been doing off-and-on since the year 2000. A three year stint under the Ignatian Pedagogical Method taught me some great teaching tricks, including repetition and getting students to really "ENGAGE" with the material. All that stuff about marking your "consolations" and "desolations" in the margins of photocopies and writing "questions for reflection" turn out to be key to memory work.

"Revel in your chagrin," I yell at my students when they perceive their errors. "Feel the pain of your errors! Or feel the joy of your successes! Joy or pain! Whichever! Feel it!"

I am all about pedagogical method. When my first Attic Greek pupils were sent away to be educated by a proper teaching order on the Continent, I asked them to discern the sisters' pedagogical method. They're still not sure what it is, but I hope it has lots of sneakily useful teaching tricks. Meanwhile, I have been engaged to continue teaching them Ancient Greek by correspondence as the girls their age are already reading Homer, Herodotus and the gang. Fortunately, we have a brilliant textbook.

My first and favourite Greek teaching trick is to make pupils cut out, bake and eat the Greek Alphabet. Subsequent testing has led me to believe that this step should never be skipped. Apparently Jews taught their children the Hebrew alphabet with cookies for centuries, and it makes complete sense. Children love cookies, so their love for cookies becomes linked to the alphabet being consumed. If the children are made to cut out the stencils and then the dough themselves, this engages their eyes, ears and hands. In fact, since they eventually bake and eat the alphabet cookies, all their senses work together.

My most recent Greek teaching trick was to make up Leitner boxes for my senior students. A Leitner Box is a classic Spaced Repetition System. In short, one has vocabulary cards which one reviews according to a fixed schedule, moving them closer to the back of the box as one's memory for them strengthens. As per the instructions in Fluent Forever, I left the backs of the cards blank so that my students could draw pictures or symbols denoting the Greek word (or word pair) on the front. English is not allowed.

The amusing thing about my Leitner Boxes is that the actual boxes are made from cardboard Union Coffee coffee bag supports, and as my favourite brew has this vigorous name, my students are returning to their consecrated preceptress from their Jesuit-trained, Easter-holidays tutor with boxes marked Liberacion. No pun was intended, and I rather wish I preferred "Bobolink", whose name is surely more in keeping with Traditional Catholicism, homeschooling and convent schools. But there it is.



  1. Domestic Diva2 May 2017 at 17:34

    I've been doing a good deal of reading lately about pedagogy, much of it along the lines of what you describe. As I'm sure you know, Aquinas said "Nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses," so the more senses you engage (taste and smell so often are not engaged in teaching) then the more likely it will stick in the intellect. Sofia Cavalletti, the good friend of Maria Montessori who developed the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, was known to say, "Remember the order: body, heart, mind." In other words, we take in information through the bodily senses, which moves our hearts to joy or its opposite, and encodes the message in the mind. Your cookies are a perfect example.

    Just wanted to share a few fun facts to say, Bravo! and I wish I was in your class.

    1. Those are indeed fun facts! I shall have to read up on Sofia Cavalletti (and, come to think of it, Maria Montessori).

  2. Thank you and Domestic Diva! It is so interesting to read about teaching methods and ways of engaging the whole person in learning. I'll be using it with my tutees. The love of learning is, after all, an implicit form of the love of God....and Dorothy, I have been reading your blogs for long enough to know your caveats about Simone! Thanks for all you write.

  3. Ahhhh, Simone! She was soooo brilliant and is still so enfurrrriating!

    1. Here's a question to muse on during white nights and wee hours - was it simply sibling rivalry? I think it would be fascinating to write about Andre and Simone together. Just an idea for fun, though, if a bit of distraction might help at a hard time. Prayers for you and BA.

  4. This is terrific advice! Wish I had it years ago when I began to teach French but I incorporated some of these techniques over the years. Also: one theory (teacher conferences constantly give theories....zzzz...some good some.....) was to be sure - in every lesson - to appeal to the visual, the auditory, and the kinetic because we all have one primary way of learning (ie seeing the words, hearing them, writing them down, underlining, etc.) I LOVE the baking of the letters of the alphabet! splendid (we cut up pix in old magazines and made posters). ALSO it's very important to repeat and repeat and repeat new materials - go around the room having each child speak, string new words together to make funny sentences, be sure to give a new word or two EVERY class. The great thing about kids is they come up with the most brilliant ideas (rap sentences when rap was big - they were funny - SONGS which get into their heads.etc.) You are doing a WONDERFUL job! Enjoy! they will always remember your classes. THANKS for your blog!!!