Reading for courses, how much and how fast?

Recently I’ve been trying to figure out some guidelines for setting readings for university courses.

There seem to be a number of complicating factors:

  • Do students read?
  • How much time can you expect students to read each week?
  • How fast can students read?
  • How dense is the reading material?
  • What level of engagement are they expected to have in the reading?

On question 1, I think this is similar to the question about lecture-attendance. These days, for some types of courses anyway, students simply do not turn up to lectures. They know that the content is fixed, that the lecture is a delivery system for that content, and that it will be recorded. They’d much rather listen to the recording at 1.5 – 2x speed and write down notes from that, than turn up and be bored by a droning robot. Attempts to circumvent this by essentially using ‘content protection’ rackets – not recording lectures, not doing handouts, trying to force students to turn up, are all pointless because they are attempts to salvage a stupid method of content delivery.

Anyway, that’s my tangent about lectures. While there may be good strategies for getting students to do readings, those shouldn’t amount to tricks and manipulation. In the end, if a student doesn’t want to do the readings, they are probably taking the wrong class.

Question 2 is generally fixed at a higher level than the subject level. The ol’ Carnegie Unit expectation is 2 hrs out of class for every 1hr in class. But that’s probably not going to be 2 hrs of reading. It is meant to encapsulate all the class’s external demands. It also depends upon how much set reading dovetails with assignment and assessment demands across the subject.

Assuming you have a class that fits the standard ¼ of a full-time work load, and has 2-3 hr of class per week, anywhere between 3 and 6hrs of reading could be reasonable.

Questions 3-5 are interrelated. The most useful site I found was this one here, which contains not only a discussion of the question of reading and workload, but a calculator built off self-reported data, that allows you to input Pages per week, Page Density (for different types of texts), Difficulty of Text, and Purpose of Reading (Survey/Understand/Engage) to produce estimated pages/hour.

From this, my rules of thumb going forward are 10 pages/hr estimate for texts to be discussed/engaged, 15 pages/hr for texts to be learnt/absorbed. On this proviso, a textbook chapter + a relatively short primary doc a week is more than feasible for an undergrad subject; a longer section of a scholarly secondary text could substitute for both.

Zuntz revisited

I’ve been spending more time with Zuntz’s textbooks, and I thought I would write some follow up thoughts (subsequent to this earlier post)

Firstly, over on this post from 2016 in Textkit (a surprisingly active forum, given how terrible its interface is. In fact, most forums should have gone the way of usenet. Much better architectures for discussion around. #sorry #sidetracked), are a very useful and interesting set of links. They include

  • PDFs of the 3 volume German edition of the Griechsicher Lehrgang
  • Some articles about Zuntz
  • A few articles by Zuntz about other textbooks.

Reading these is very insightful. In particular, the obituary by Hengel linked at the top of the page is fascinating, and Zuntz’s comments in his article on Chase and Phillips. The picture that emerges in relation to his own text is dominated (in my perception) by (a) his commitment to original text, not made-up Greek, and (b) the very long gestation period it had. The text really did have a long period of development, the culmination of both his own considerable classics experience, and explicitly teaching. It is somewhat ironic that it had to come out in Germany first, given his life as a scholar in England.

I have mixed feelings about the insistence upon ‘original’ Greek. On the one hand, this is commendable because Greek students (and in particular Greek students, I would say, compared to other languages I work with) often have a tough time transitioning from ‘textbook’ Greek to real texts. So, exposure to real ‘artefacts’ of the language, early, with minimal adaption, is fantastic.

On the other, there is nothing wrong with Greek written by those who weren’t, e.g., 5th century BCE Athenians. And there’s no linguistic reason ipso facto that contemporary speakers/writers couldn’t/can’t write ‘genuine’ Greek, if we mean Greek texts free from solecisms and barbarisms. Indeed, if a comprehensible input approach is to be taken, this is absolutely necessary.

Which is one reason why that textkit poster, rmedinap, has really hit upon something in suggesting Zuntz and Italian Athenaze as a paired resource. They don’t seem like a natural pair, but they are the two best resources for Greek students ‘on the market’, even though they are not really on most people’s ‘market’ at all.

Zuntz in English is very difficult to obtain, except through libraries. One can use the German text, but not without (a) German, or (b) help. Similarly, It. Athenaze must be ordered from Italy (at least easier these days), and also requires either (c) Italian, or (d) help. For English language monoglots, it’s difficult to access one, let alone both, of these resources.

A few more comments about Zuntz in particular. Zuntz has some other features that are commendable:

  • Zuntz provides a philologist’s cornucopia of information about how forms derive. This includes the presence of digamma, and how its loss affected word formation. It also includes a lot of other ‘letter dropped out’ changes. This in particular helps students go from Attic to Homeric, because Homeric is so often the uncontracted forms.
  • Zuntz’s exercise section is frustratingly brilliant. Exercises for each lesson include both the skeleton structure of oral Q&A work, as well as oral drills, adaptable for a communicative approach, and old-school parse the heck out of this, write out some paradigms, and re-translate sentences back into Greek.
  • Zuntz also includes an anthology of easy texts for use later in the course/after the lessons.
  • Zuntz doesn’t neglect poetry, and includes poetic texts throughout the lessons.

Less helpful, perhaps:

  • That in the print versions, the vocabulary is in the same volume as the text. Since the text is not graded to inculcate vocabulary, either a lot of page-turning needs to be done, or else some other work around.

So, yes, get Zuntz. Get the German and work around that difficulty if you must. It is well worth the effort.

What are we marking for anyway? (1)

I’ve thought a lot about marking, and I have never come up with any good answers.

What exactly are we marking for?

The topic that got me thinking on this recently was a question about learning relatively rare irregular noun paradigms in Greek. Language instructors, I feel, have a tendency to include the irregular patterns as something students are tested on, sometimes to a level of perverse sadism. And so, is it fair that, say, ναῦς should be weighted the same as λόγος? What would the effect and the rationale of altering the weighting be? For example, if we scored a full paradigm of ναῦς on a test as 1 compared to λόγος as, say, 8. Suddenly we de-emphasise the importance of less common forms, reflecting that they are less important for reading. The argument might go the other way, that we should reward students who put in the extra work and learn something less common. Then λόγος would be 1, and ναῦς would be worth bonus points for difficulty.

Actually, neither of these is good solutions, really. Though, if I had to choose between 1-1, 1-8, and 8-1, I would probably argue that weighting less common forms with less marks makes the most sense.

The thing that really matters, is the question of what we are testing for. If we are testing to see whether students have learnt material, then our marking is diagnostic. In which case, all marking ought to do is go back into our teaching – students haven’t mastered the forms of ναῦς? I need to produce more content and expose them to more comprehensible repetitions of ναῦς in its forms until they do. Oh, wait, they’re not on top of λόγος? We need to backtrack and not move forward.

In this sense, the semesterisation of education is deleterious. When testing and marking that ought to be diagnostic becomes instead evaluative, all this tells me is that some students mastered the material to a greater degree than others. And yet, apart from fail grades, this has zero impact on pedagogy and pacing. If a Greek course were divided up into discrete ‘bite-sized’ pieces of atomised information, and students couldn’t proceed without mastering the material to that point, this would be fine. But a semester’s worth of material is not a suitable point to say, “no, not enough, do-over.” That is actually stupid. Imagine a language tutor getting to the end of 100 hours, and then deciding that you hadn’t learnt enough, so they were going to repeat the whole 100-hour block.

So long as you have a cohort of students, language instruction ought to be open-ended to the extent that a class does not move on unless students genuinely comprehend content. 90% at 90%. Testing is not the only way to diagnose that, but it’s one that is difficult to eradicate in formal contexts. What is imperative, however, is that we actually test both what they ought to learn, and what they have been taught. Which is why paradigm testing is actually terrible.

In a later post I’ll talk about my issues with essay-marking as an evaluative practice.

Greek Intensive round-up

In lieu of the many other posts I have floating around my brain and yet to make it to the digital page, I offer some reflections on the week just gone.

This week, and now for the 6th time in a row, as a tutor at least, I was teaching at the Macquarie Ancient Languages School, which operates twice a year, summer and winter. Each session I’ve taught what was formerly labelled Koine, now Biblical/Patristic Greek course. Actually, I’ve never covered a Biblical text per se, on the rationale that there’s no shortage of resources to help students read New Testament texts, but there is a considerable dearth of help to read anything non-canonical (or even LXX), especially if you come from a Biblical background and not a Classical one (I have always found classical students to do rather well, which I generally attribute to the combination of a broader experience of Greek, and for those who have gone through several years of classical study, much more exposure to the language).

Over those six sessions, I have instead taught the Martyrdom of Polycarp, The Passion of Perpetua (in its Greek recension), Selections from Josephus, The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Acts of Thecla, Nazianzen’s Oration 29, Nyssen’s De Deitate Filii et Spiritus Sancti, and in this week just complete, Hermas’ Visions. I had originally planned to do Visions 1-4, as a discrete unit, but we moved at a rapid pace, and I had full days instead of half-days, so we also covered Vision 5, which itself is the start of the second ‘half’ of the book, and in our last day read some of Polycarp’s Martyrdom as well.

It’s always good, and refreshing, to spend some time just teaching Greek. There are not enough opportunities like this around, for me in teaching, but also for those keen to spend time in the language and in texts. I had a small but enjoyable group of four this time around.

Anyway, that’s it for this week. Plenty of other things to get on with for the present.

So, you want to know about the Italian Athenaze?

The Italian version of Athenaze, which first appeared all the way back in 1999, has long remained something of a mythical creature for a lot of English language students. Athenaze, of course, is the venerable Oxford produced Classical Greek course first produced in 1995 and now into its third edition. It isn’t without its own problems, but apart from JACT, it remains one of the best attempts to produce a reading lead, inductive-ish course with a hybrid, explicit post-factum grammar explanation.

A lot of people, rightfully, have found great benefit in using Ørberg’s Lingua Latina per se Illustrata course for Latin. It remains the best executed example of a Direct Method text I’ve ever laid eyes on – the more time you spend with it, the more you see how carefully and consciously it has been composed on DM principles.

So, a lot of people started thinking, “Hey, why isn’t there an Ørberg for Greek?” To no avail. Until 1999, when L. Miraglia and T.F. Bórri of the Accademia Vivarium Novum released Athenaze: Introduzione al greco antico, in 2 volumes. This was an adaptation and Ørbergisation of the 1st edition of the Athenaze course. It is, sadly, not a complete Ørberg-style Direct Method Greek course. You can view a description of the volumes and view a generous, extended preview of the texts, on the Vivarium Novum site here: volume 1 and 2.

Miraglia and Bórri took the Athenaze text, formatted it in an Ørberg style, added side-column illustrations and Greek notes. They also (a) doubled (so far as I can estimate) the amount of Greek text per chapter, and (b) added Italian glosses for some vocab at the foot of pages; (c) rewrote the grammar sections in Italian for their own purposes, and (d) reproduced the exercises in Italian <> Greek rather than English <> Greek.

Out of those 4 things, (b) is a departure from Ørberg. (a) is both amazing and incredibly helpful, because more graded reading is what most learners need. (c) is understandable but also unfortunate, because grammar is not taught in Greek as it is in Ørberg, and (d) is neither here nor there. This is why I said before that it is not a “complete” Greek Ørberg. But it is more than anyone else has done, or will do for some time I suspect. It is also a major feat itself, and of great help to us, if we take the opportunity to work with what we have.

So, besides the main two volume (506 and 588 pages respectively), there are also two workbooks of exercises (Μελετήματα I and II), and two additional workbooks for volume 1, Quaderno d’esercizi I and II, and lastly a similar-style version of The Tablet of Cebes. All those supplementary works, I have not seen personally and can’t comment on.

It used to be much harder to order these outside Italy, but if you can navigate Italian Amazon, you can get them.

Who could/should get the Italian Athenaze, who would it benefit?

  1. If you read Italian and want to study Greek, get this.
  2. If you have done a Greek course before, and want a sustained reading-based approach, you could make use of this without great difficulty. That is, if you have the grammatical background knowledge, the absence of Italian won’t slow you down that much.
  3. I wouldn’t recommend trying to use this if you’re both new to Greek and don’t know Italian, unless you had a guide/teacher. Athenaze (the English version) was never designed to be per se illustrata, and the Italian version hasn’t made up that deficit. Go and read this post here (and the comments!) for an analysis of how problematic the vocabulary introduction is in Athenaze. There’s no getting around the fact that no good Greek course exists. Athenaze is the best of the worst, and Italian Athenaze is a huge, huge improvement on English Athenaze, but the scaffolding is Italian!

I think Italian Athenaze could be adapted back to an English market, but it never will be commercially, because the whole licence provision that allowed the unique Italian version to come into existence was/is (as I understand it) a restriction of it to the Italian market.

That said, with a competent teacher, you could re-scaffold the text for a non-Italian speaker. Either by using English where the text uses Italian, or by putting together Greek language resources for grammar and exercises (probably they would require some English too, to be honest, because Greek grammar terms are a long way from being as evident as Latin ones).

Lastly, before I finish up here, let me say that I have some interest in teaching/facilitating/leading a small group of interested people in working all the way through Italian Athenaze, and this would involve developing a dual English/Greek ‘scaffold’ to support the text. If that would interest you, get in touch with me by email



I have more to say about Italian Athenaze, but I will save that for another day.

Why learn Greek and Hebrew? A friendly rejoinder

Recently an acquaintance of mine blogged this post, What is the Benefit of Greek & Hebrew?, in which he says, “[r]eading in Greek and Hebrew slows me down and helps me rummage around in the text and reflect.” And goes on to reflect on this.

I think this is half-right and half-wrong, and both halves are interesting to think about. Firstly, half-right: learning to read in a foreign language does slow you down, and if your interest is the Scriptures, this is a great thing! I too have had that experience and benefit of being forced to slow down, to explore, to make connections, to dwell on the text. These are all good and positive outcomes of the process of learning a foreign language.

But I don’t think that’s the why, the ἵνα τί so to speak. Because it contains a contradictory seed of its own destruction within itself. Presumably we want to “get better” at reading in Greek and Hebrew. And as we get better, as we read more fluently, we can read faster. And so imagine you achieve the dream, you read Greek or Hebrew fluently, or near-natively, or even just “as fast as English”. Suddenly you have progressed to a point where that benefit is gone, and if that benefit of forced-slowed reading was your reason, you’ve outwitted yourself!

To put the same point in a couple of other guises – is it not possible to learn to read slow and rummage around the text in English? What about the Greek Fathers, for whom the New Testament was not a foreign language at all – what benefit to them of reading in the original?

This is the half-wrong, in that I think it confuses a benefit with a purpose (to be fair, Brian doesn’t call it a purpose, he just calls it the main benefit). I think the purpose is to rummage around in the text without a veil. Anyone who has learnt any second language knows the inherent difficulties of translation, difficulties that will never go away. To access the original languages is to deal with the texts as they are, at the source. this is the why. Slow reading is a skill in itself, you can learn it, practice it, in English if you like. In another foreign language, if it please you. But it’s not the why, it’s a by-product of the long and slow road towards language proficiency.

Review of “Going Deeper with New Testament Greek”

All textbooks have flaws, and this one does too.

When I studied Koine Greek in a seminary context, the 2nd year course was given over to working our way rigourously through Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, a scary book.

In recent times two texts have appeared attempting to capture this kind of intermediate/2nd year/Greek grammar market for evangelical seminaries, Elodie Ballantine Emig and Dave Mathewson’s Intermediate Greek Grammar: Syntax for Students of the New Testament (a book I have no personal knowledge of), and this volume, Going Deeper with New Testament Greek, by Andreas J. Köstenberger, Benjamin L. Merkle, and Robert L. Plummer.

The Preface sets us firmly in what I consider a slightly odd context for a language textbook – this is a grammar textbook written for not just students of New Testament Greek, but seminary students of an evangelical persuasion looking at NT Greek. I’m very sympathetic to that group of people, but I have reservations about whether what they need is a view of Greek that’s any different from anyone else’s view of Greek. Language is not religious.

This feeds into a more general criticism I have of the book, which emerges in a few places below – while the new testament may be viewed as an authoritative religious canon, it does not follow that you can make theological arguments about linguistic principles. New Testament Greek has the unfortunate ‘history of scholarship’ that continues to isolate it from broader studies of linguistics, and even Ancient Greek itself. This reveals itself in quotations, with approval, of texts like Dana and Mantey’s 1927 grammar. Really, no better source of fundamental linguistic concepts than a 90 year old NT grammar?

Chapter 1 is devoted to an overview of a history of the Greek Language, with not very much there, though why a student interested in expanding their Koine knowledge to classical is encouraged to pick up a 1961 textbook also bewilders me (p 21). So too, collapsing everything between 2230 and Modern Greek as ‘Byzantine’ (p 23) is a disservice. The very brief note on pronunciation (p24) continues to recommend Erasmian, as favoured by “the vast majority of NT professors”; that is only the weight of an erroneous consensus.

Textual criticism deserves its section, though really a student should have recourse to a more comprehensive treatment than this half chapter. Although I don’t have any particular sympathy to the Byzantine priority position of Robinson, et al, the authors don’t do enough to undermine their own guilt-by-association of this position with the KJVonlyism they mention (even though they do specifically disassociate it, they undermine this disassociation by repeatedly associating them).

Coherence Based Genealogical Method (CBGM) is summarized briefly (p 28), which is obviously difficult, but since it is such an important development it should have perhaps been given more space (because of the difficulty in grasping what is occurring, and the way it challenges and makes problematic traditional TC practices as practiced by students).

Chapter 2 moves on to the case system, and the main practice of the book: to provide as many (and no more) labels for grammatical usages as necessary. This ‘label’ approach has its own pedagogical problems, but that is a debate for another day.

I am surprised that any space is given to outlining, even if they dismiss it, the 8-case system (p 51-2). 8 cases is arbitrary, based on notions of PIE, and not good practice, it doesn’t need even a dismissal (in my view).

Another odd feature appears in the treatment of the nominative, with the suggestion that the nominative somehow mystically emerged to specify the subject of 3rd singular verbs (p 52). Black is cited in connection to this, which is surely insufficient. It reveals a view of language in which verbs head everything, and nouns modify. Is this any more fundamental than viewing subject-nouns as fundamental and everything else as ‘predicate’? I feel like some grammatical essentialism is lurking under the bed. Citing Dana and Mantey to suggest that the Nominative as Subject is somehow Appositional does nothing to allay my concern.

Categories in general are treated reasonably well, though with much simplification from, e.g., Wallace (who honestly had too many categories). Again Dana and Mantey are cited to suggest the accusative is “probably the oldest” case (p 63). Is a 1927 grammar our best source on this? The collapse of two accusative structures (personal object + impersonal object) and (object + accusative predicate) into a category of “Double Accusative” is, I would say, confusing for the sake of simplification. Those structures are different enough that a student doesn’t gain that much pedagogically by having a single label. Meanwhile, relegating lesser-used accusatives to a footnote (p68, n69) and then including one in the practice exercises (p 72) is poor pedagogy.

The Genitive case gets a whole chapter (3) as it should since its usage contains the most variation and categorization is difficult. Indeed, the exercises for this chapter (p 108) had the most number where I felt the answer could be debatable. (And indeed, what on earth you get for exercise 8 when you split τοῦ ἀνθρώπου of from τοῦ υἱοῦ is particularly questionable, if not headache inducing). The dative similarly take a chapter (4), and has similarly difficult overlaps of usage (sphere vs reference vs respect?). Also, what they mean by the dative of possession being a “unique construction” (p 126) evades me – unique in relation to what? Other languages? Because that’s factually false.

When we get to verbs, it seems odd to me to start with an overview, and then turn to subjunctives and imperatives first. Perhaps they chose to do so because they have less categories. At least there is a section recognising that deponency is done and dusted, though it appears the authors rely heavily on Pennington alone, . Footnote 27 on p 197 points to Pennington’s sources, but the authors of this book do not appear to “dig deeper” themselves. One of the reasons the chapter sequence seems odd at this point is that a discussion of tense and aspect is delayed until the next chapter 7. There we get a discussion of aspect, largely informed by discussions in the NT grammatical field. The book adopts the view from Ellis and Dubis, that the perfect tense-forms are stative, and that this is “combinative”, combining perfective and imperfective. Personally I think this is problematic, because while “stative” may amount to the same thing as other ways of thinking about perfects, calling it a combination of perfective and imperfective seems to confuse the perfect tense-forms as some kind of simple combo of the other two aspects, instead of a genuine 3rd aspect.

Much of the verb chapters are taken up by identifying the “Type of Action” of indicative verbs. I suppose this is something close to Aktionsart. This leads me back to one of the main criticisms of this kind of book for 2nd year Greek students: they can’t read Greek anyway.

Most 2nd year Greek students went through a crash course of basic NT Greek grammar, learnt to parse a whole bunch of forms, and have to play “decode the verse” when they encounter Greek, helped by a good dose of English Bible knowledge. Then they get to 2nd year, and instead of being trained to read Greek, they get this whopping dose of Grammar Categories. Suddenly they’ve got a big bag of labels, and they’re told, “Okay, now (i) parse everything, (ii) label it with these fancy new categories you’ve got”. But the labels in the second box are driven by meaning – the only way you really know that an Imperfect is ‘Tendential’ (hey, what happened to Conative?) instead of ‘Inceptive’ is if you can read the Greek. Labelling doesn’t help you work out what things mean, it just lets people who understand meaning put labels on it.

To be fair, knowing what possible meanings there are for a structure does help, but that’s not what this book does, and it’s not what most NT departments are doing. I suppose it’s worth saying that this book includes “guided readings” at the end of each chapter. But these are really grammatical commentaries on NT texts. I’m not sure they rise to the level of what I’d call “training in reading”

Back to the book. Participles are in chapter 10, and it’s a disaster. There’s no discussion of participles in predicate position, even though this is surprisingly common. Instead they’re broken down into Adjectival vs. Verbal, and the main category of Verbal is Adverbial. But all the Adverbial examples I can see are nominative. So students get to the end of this chapter having no clue how to read an anarthrous participle in an oblique case.

Particles get shoved into two pages (420-421), which is a shame because learning to read particles well is a really important skill. Discourse Analysis almost gets a run – well it’s there in chapter 13, but it reads to me like, “hey, there’s this thing called DA, and it’s really cool. you should read about it, like in Runge or something” (p461).

There’s also a whole chapter devoted to word studies. My goodness, haven’t we killed them yet? I know word studies used to be a big thing, in certain circles, and I suppose that’s why there’s a chapter here. Even in Mongolia I had to deal with students doing word studies, using Strong’s usually. At least this chapter has some helpful advice on how not to overinterpret your word study conclusions.

Finally, there’s a chapter about “Continuing with Greek”, which I think every textbook ever written ought to have (mutatis mutandis). There are some good suggestions here, but oddly enough none of them are “learn to read Greek without analyzing grammar to death”, “learn some classical Greek”, or even “read outside the New Testament corpus”.

We all know I have my biases, and if you’ve made it this far in my review, you probably knew them before we started. Is this a better replacement than Wallace? Probably not. Yes, it does update the things from Wallace that need updating, but (a) its attempt to simplify categories often comes at the price of precision, and collapsing things into categories that don’t belong together, or else relegating them to difficult to find footnotes; (b) it’s not clear to me that the simplification of Wallace’s categories is a successful improvement.

Perhaps my major criticism is that I simply don’t believe that this kind of grammar instruction makes better readers of Greek, NT or otherwise. Its deliberate isolationism from broader Greek, even Koine, continues a worrying trend in NT Greek books. Its presentation of aspect is reasonable, but a choice among competing views (not the worst option, though!), and leads to a new death-by-category of subjecting students to the definitely-subjective death-by-category labelling of Type of Action.