Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What Do I Want To Know?

What do you see in these pictures?  Do you see school projects that are too simple for today's world that seeks to develop critical thinking skills?  Do you see evidence of teaching methods that are outdated?  Are you inspired or left flat?


I see something rather more, and yes, I am inspired.  My first year Latin students keep a section in their notebooks titled QNC, which stands for Quod Noscere Cupio, or What I Want To Learn.  Most days they have the opportunity to jot down something that they would like to know based on what we have discussed in class.  At different times throughout the semester they will present one of their questions to the class, including a discussion of what inspired the question and the answer or answers they have discovered on their own.

"Okay," you say.  "That's great for helping students take ownership of their own learning, but, um, posters?  Why not something a little more tech savvy and hip for the 21st century?"

I can't display a PowerPoint in the hallway and I want other students, non-Latin students, to see what my students are thinking about and discussing.  I want them to be intrigued by the diversity of topics.  Look at those pictures again.  There is considerable variety displayed, including questions that I would not have thought to ask.  Yes, I know that not everything is grammatically correct or spelled correctly even in the English.  Some of my students are not native English speakers, so I can live with that.  What is important is that my students develop the belief that Room A526 is a place to ask questions and explore big ideas.

That belief begins in Latin I and finds some of its best expression in Latin IV, our A.P. class.  Recently one of my students asked a highly perceptive question about one of the characters in Vergil's Aeneid.  He asked why Mercury could appear in full divinity to Aeneas in Book IV, but Venus had disguised herself for a similar appearance in Book I.  Another student chimed in that Iris, another divine messenger like Mercury, had appeared undisguised to Turnus in Book IX, a fact she recalled from her own research for a presentation she had given in our class a few weeks before.  She wondered whether the lack of disguise were a feature common to divine messengers.

I ended up posting the question and the direction of our class discussion on Facebook, tagging Latin colleagues and Classicists from universities around the country.  The comments exploded as scholars began discussing the matter, and when the academic frenzy had abated, I printed out the entire FB discussion, three pages, and took it to my students for further exploration, pointing out that none of it would have taken place had they not asked the questions they did.

It's true that our QNC projects in Latin I are a bit simple.  They may even be old fashioned with regard to their presentation.  Yet they help develop a culture of inquisitiveness that is vital to our exploration of matters that matter in the philosophy, history, and poetry of the Romans.  If a simple first-year poster will lead a student to ask a probing question in his study of Vergil, I am more than pleased.