Should the Elgin Marbles to back to Greece? What is the Best City in Rome?

Today was role-playing central in my classes today, and neither was using “Reacting to the Past” per se.

In the Classical Tradition class we spent last week talking about the Enlightenment and Neo-Classicism and their desire to possess works of classical art. The “excavations” (I use the term loosely) of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the eighteenth-century helped fuel this desire for antiquities from Greece and Rome, and Lord Elgin was no exception. My students took on the role of the Greeks, who want the marbles back, and the British, who had to make arguments for keeping them. I provided background reading, which the students assured me at the end of class were balanced, something I really tried to be sure was the case. In the end, we weren’t sure if they should go back or not, but the arguments quickly became heated with pathos and emotion over-riding the reasoning with which they started out. But they presented the issues extremely well and thoroughly. It was clear that they had read the texts and were well prepared for the debate.

In the Roman Art class I invited the InTech Crowd (Steve, Chris and Anita) to come and be senators to judge the Best City in Rome contest. Half of my students were from the city of Ostia and half from Herculaneum. I knew that Ostia had the better case — they are a port city, more traffic and money than Herculaneum (pre-Vesuvius of course). But the Ostians forgot that THE WAY you present counts and the Romans from Herculaneum prevailed. They knew who they needed to persuade, and thus tailored their comments directly at the “Senators.”

Thank you to Steve, Chris and Anita for helping out today — I could not be the judge of this and I appreciate your support.

Two great examples of student engagement and evidential learning in their ability to form debate and present material.

Happy Day.


5 Responses to Should the Elgin Marbles to back to Greece? What is the Best City in Rome?

  1. Pam Regis says:

    How do you assess these exercises? Grade them as presentations? Do you have samples of an assignment–whatever you post/pass out to them?

    • Gretchen McKay says:

      For the Best City in Rome they get a sheet that explains the contest and lists the criteria on which they will be based. This guides the presentations that they then have to create. The “judges” who come decide who “wins” and that group gets 3 extra points on the final exam. But the sheet guides the exercise.

      I grade them as part of the classroom participation grade, which is pretty high in my classes. In the 3000-level it’s 40% of their overall grade. I take notes after class on how they do – individually – after each class. In the 2000-level Roman class, their participation is 25%.

      I explain on the first day of class that each day will be something like this — an assignment IN CLASS to which they will apply the reading/writing they do to prepare for class. They understand this and come ready. They never work with the same students over and over again as I pre-sort the groups. This sometimes gets hairy when students are absent and I fix it on the fly (so sometimes it’s not my perfect world and some do work together again).

      So, pretty much I assess by how much engagement I see. And I ask them about how they felt the exercise went. I get good – and honest (sometimes too honest) – feedback from them.

    • gretchenmckay says:

      I have a sheet that outlines the criteria on which the “Best City” will be judged. They must show how their city achieves these ideas – economic prosperity, art and ideals, and city planning. The Romans were quite the pragmatists. This is also an exercise in group work – they have to work together fast – and oral communication skills. This year the Ostians had the content, but did not present as well. So, hopefully lesson learned on that. They bring their laptops to class and create presentations – usually powerpoints with the half hour I give them for the preparation.

      For the Classical class, this was the first time I used the Elgin Marble debate. The readings, as I said, they thought were balanced. They also received a sheet that outlined who they were (Greek or British) and how the debate would proceed. They also got a half hour to prepare in class.

      I can send you samples of what I gave them if you are interested.

      For grading, it’s all part of class participation. They understand that this is just one of many in-class activities that we do. It’s not about listening to me! I tell them that on the first day.

      The Roman class is 2000-level, and has 25% of the overall grade class participation. They are told the very first day that they need to plan to read and come to class ready to apply that information to a new context.

      The Classical class is a 3000-level class, and the one I collaborated in January with two students. They agreed that class part should be 40% so it. I take notes after class on how each of them does (it’s a small class) and they are all prepared.

  2. Pam Regis says:

    What about a larger class? My classes this fall will be about 25 each, both literature. How big are the groups?

    • gretchenmckay says:

      I actually wish I had had more for the Elgin marble debate. More is sometimes better as you should always have some “neutral” parties if you are trying to teach persuasion; if everyone is firmly entrenched in their positions, how can you persuade anyone?

      In my Roman Class, I usually have 20-25 every year. It works by carefully placing them into groups. You can’t hope that they’ll just do it. I find it necessary to put them all together and have them focus on a certain aspect of the topic at hand. But in a large class, you can do it. I have a colleague who uses Reacting games in a class of 40+.

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