Congratulations to Hannah Mace, who passed her PhD viva recently.
Hannah’s thesis is on the fourth century CE Latin astronomer, Firmicus Maternus. Hannah had already developed considerable expertise in Latin astronomical writing (such as Manilius and Ausonius) from her Undergraduate and Masters degrees. In her thesis, she explores Firmicus’ text to illuminate intellectual culture of the mid fourth century – a time when classical texts were being read, copied, redeployed, and canonised against a backdrop of the emerging Church. Astronomy/astrology was a particular case in point. Hannah discusses Firmicus’ expertise and his use of earlier writers and, specifically, his citation practice; this is compared with other late antique Latin prose didactic authors to argue that Firmicus had a distinctive, personal agenda.
The School of Classics at the University of St Andrews is delighted to begin the Iris Project Literary through Latin Scheme for 2016-17. This year, we have 8 student volunteers who will visit local primary schools in Fife, Scotland, to teach P6 and P7 pupils Latin, Classical culture and ancient mythology.
This year, we are excited to be working with Torbain Primary School, Thornton Primary School (both in the Kirkcaldy area) and Rimbleton Primary School (Glenrothes). A wide range of P6 and P7 pupils (aged 9-12 years old) will participate in the Iris Project Latin classes, which our student volunteers will teach in pairs on a weekly basis for four weeks each semester.
The School of Classics would like to thank all of our student volunteers for participating in the Iris Project Literacy through Latin scheme this year.
The Iris Project at St Andrews
The School of Classics at St Andrews has been running the Iris Project Literacy through Latin teaching scheme since 2012. During this time, we have worked with more than ten local primary state-schools in the Fife area to introduce their pupils to Latin and Classical culture, enabling them to experience the the wonders of studying the ancient world.
More than 15 third-year and fourth-year undergraduate Honours students have participated in Iris Project, giving them valuable work experience in teaching, outreach and access work, and working with children and young people. This year, we have expanded the student volunteer base by opening up the opportunity to our postgraduate students and we have two PhD students among our cohort of volunteers. Our student volunteers from the School of Classics make the Iris Project work organised by the University of St Andrews possible. Many students volunteer for Iris Project work because they are considering a career in teaching in HE, FE colleges or the primary and/or secondary school sector; others volunteer because they are passionate about Latin and Classics and want to make sure that state-school pupils get to experience and enjoy these subjects as much as they do.
The History of the Iris Project
The Iris Project is an educational charity which promotes access to classics in state schools across the UK. It is based at the Iris Project Classics Centre at Cheney School, Oxford. The project was founded by Dr Lorna Robinson, who has also produced an excellent text-book Telling Tales in Latin designed to introduce children to Latin through the study of mythology.
The Iris Project was the first organisation to run a scheme delivering Latin as part of the national literacy curriculum. This award-winning project introduces the nuts and bolts of Latin grammar, and demonstrates the connections between Latin and English; in this way, it instils a fascination for learning languages.
The project started life as a pilot in east London and east Oxford a decade ago. The first school to participate in the Iris Project was Benthal Primary School in Hackney, London, where two classes of Year 5 pupils (9-10 years old) participated in the scheme. By 2007, 20 state-schools in London were participating in the scheme. Since then, it has expanded to include many schools across London and Oxford, as well as schools in Swansea, Reading, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews. Internationally, we have provided guidance for schools in South Africa and New York to set up this scheme.
How it works
This project enables students from universities to deliver a year long introductory Latin course to pupils in primary schools. The project enables children in state-schools to learn Latin, Classics and ancient mythology, subjects which they would almost certainly not have access to without participation in the project.
Pupils are introduced to Latin using a series of lesson plans which incorporate hands-on activities and storytelling to give them a basic grounding in English and Latin grammar, and a taste of Latin myths and culture.
The Benefits of the Iris Project
The benefits of access to Latin and ancient culture in an educational environment include:
Improving literacy skills
Greater language awareness and enhanced language abilities
Stimulation of creative thinking
Introduction to ancient history, culture and mythology
Learning Latin also benefits pupils’ capacity and study of a wide range of other subjects taught by primary and secondary schools (including English, History and Science) through the improvement of literacy skills, the stimulation of creative and critical thinking and enhanced language abilities.
As one of our previous student volunteers at St Andrews has commented, “The Iris Project is a fantastic initiative, invaluable to its learners, its student teachers and to Latin.”
Research Postgraduates at the School of Classics often take part in the teaching of Greek and Latin at sub-honours level, but aside from the University provision of (non-subject specific) teaching training and the advice given them by the relevant module coordinator, they weren’t offered any further support – until 2015, when Emma Buckley and I came up with a training scheme to help them out, which focuses specifically on the teaching of classical languages. Now running for the second year, the training is based on our personal experiences (especially my own PG training at Durham) but geared towards the demands of undergraduate teaching in Classics at St Andrews. It consolidates the participants’ knowledge of ancient languages; acquaints them with a variety of teaching styles, methods, and approaches; and helps them become competent and confident language tutors.
So who is it for and how does it work? The scheme is open to all Classics Research Postgraduates who are interested in teaching languages at St Andrews. We particularly encourage first-year students to participate – but if you are further on in your study and haven’t taken part in it yet, you are very welcome too! You will need your supervisor’s permission as well as a very good level of either Greek or Latin – or both.
The training lasts a full calendar year and there are three stages to it: observation, workshop / preparation, and practice:
During the observation stage (in semester 2 of a given academic year), participants sit in a variety of classes in first and second level modules of the language of their choice, and experience as many different settings and teaching styles as possible. There are also informal meetings for the whole group to discuss teaching techniques, dealing with problems, etc.
“Observing grammar and literature classes provided me with practical knowledge on how to engage constructively students attending this type of class. Most valuable to me was to learn how to balance the time devoted to explaining grammar rules with that used to illustrate the literary background of a text. […] The Postgraduate Language Teaching Training has allowed me to acquire valuable skills and to include in my CV a training specific for the teaching of classical languages.”
The second stage begins with a workshop after semester ends, in which members of staff offer short presentations on language teaching topics and discuss them with the participating postgraduates. They are then expected to lead a mock class on which they receive both general and personalised feedback. Postgraduates who took part in the scheme in previous years are also invited to attend, and share their own experiences with their colleagues.
“The workshop over two days provided lots of helpful advice and tips from staff members, and I greatly enjoyed giving a mock class – I was a bit nervous about presenting to incredibly experienced lecturers pretending to be students, but the feedback I received was really valuable and has helped me with all the teaching I have done, not just language teaching.”
The second stage also involves a summer of preparation during which the participants are encouraged to reflect on the observation and workshop as well as prepare set texts ahead of the third stage (in semester 1 of the following academic year), in which they undertake the teaching of a support or reading class in either Greek or Latin. This is a unique opportunity to put into practice what they have learnt, with constant support from myself and the module coordinators. Apart from meeting them every week to check on their progress, I also observe them twice in the course of the semester, and give them feedback on their performance. At the end of the semester their students fill in a questionnaire and they too have a chance to say what they thought of the experience. We discuss these results in a final meeting in December which marks the end of the training scheme – but not the end of their language teaching, which is an essential part of academic life.
“My students were very engaged and enthusiastic about the material that we looked at in class, which was great. I particularly enjoyed the smaller class size of the support class as it meant that participation from the whole group was high. This really helped with gauging the students’ understanding of the material.”
Congratulations to Hallvard Indgjerd, who has won a Russell Trust Award to support his fieldwork in the Cyclades and Athens this summer. His work will focus on the study of the Late Antique and Byzantine Pottery from the site of Apalirou on Naxos.
The School of Classics is opening its second round of selection for those seeking to begin postgraduate study in September 2016 in any area of Classics and Ancient History. We invite applications from Home, EU and Overseas students, and are prepared to offer a small number of fee waivers for the MLitt and fee waivers and/or maintenance grants for the PhD for candidates of exceptional academic merit.