Course: ITA207
Instructor: Frassica
SU 2015

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

The course has two sections: an Italian historical survey of art and literature from the Renaissance to the present, and an Italian culture section. Each is taught daily for two hours with a ten-minute break between the two, and the course lasts four weeks. Professor Frassica from Princeton teaches the culture unit, in which the class discusses social customs and colloquial language, and one or two professors from the University of Macerata teach Italian history of art and literature. Every week there is an outing to a nearby town that holds special significance to course material. Because this course is unique in structure, there are no precepts or labs. The class dynamic at Princeton that most closely mimics this course is the two 1.5 hour lecture/seminars a week in which there is a combination of teachers lecturing and students having the opportunity to speak in class. The professors have a very relaxed grading style, and no letter grades are distributed until the final report card. The main goal of the professors was to encourage cultural fluency of the Princeton students through improvement in both written and oral fluency in Italian and a general knowledge of Italian art and literature.
  1. The flow of the culture section is based on the questions that arise from the daily experience of students. For a majority of the course, the class reads chapters of a 20th century short story. The flow of the history section is not chronological either, though there are separate units used to discuss the cities of Assisi, Urbino, and Recanati and artists that were associated with each during the Renaissance.
  2. The course is not fundamentally comparative, nor organized hierarchically. At best, it is organized sequentially, because it is not a survey course, nor a seminar that delves deeply into one subject.
  3. The course was challenging in the sense that there was no syllabus, so there was no way to look at the overview of the course and see how each segment fit into the whole. It didn’t end up being too much of an issue because the course was so short and there were not too many connections to be made between sections. It was easier to tackle this challenge because the amount of daily vs long-term work more reflected a high school class than a college course because there was much less synthesis of materials demanded of the students and no long-term assignments.
  4. Background knowledge of Italian art is helpful, though not necessary to do well in the course. Even taking ITA 102 (the minimum prerequisite to apply for the course) is a good enough basis to be comfortable with the course content and expectations.

Learning From Classroom Instruction

  1. The students are expected to increase language fluency and knowledge of Italian art over the course of four weeks of class time.
  2. Class time is used for going over homework and introducing new concepts for the next night’s homework.
  3. It is useful to think about each unit being connected to the field trip at the end of the week and keeping track of the different elements of the story for that week. Both class sections are heavily lecture-based. There are rarely projection slides or PowerPoint presentations, and no lecture outlines provided, so students must rely on non-electronic note-taking to grasp material covered in lecture.
  4. It can be stressful when one doesn’t know how to take notes during class because of the lack of structure.
  5. It is important to remember that the test at the end of the four weeks is made up of mostly general questions that address overarching themes rather than specific facts. This takes the pressure off of writing down every date or fact that the professor mentions. A more useful way of taking notes would be to, in addition to writing down recurring ideas during lecture, to write down a few sentences of summary after each class about the important points that were addressed.
There is daily homework in the form of short readings and written responses, as well as research and preparation for informal presentations on Italian artists and scholars the following day. Daily assignments over the four weeks include: reading Italian poetry or short stories contained in a Pequod packet, handwriting a one-page reflection on an outing or experience in town, and editing previous writing assignments that have been corrected and returned by the professor.
  1. From the homework reading and writing assignments, students are expected to get better at written and reading fluency in Italian.
  2. The homework readings are always discussed in class the following day. They are the basis for some of the questions on the final exam as well.
  3. All of the writing assignments are reflections on one’s own experience, so the nature of what to write and how to think about the prompts is comfortingly similar each week.
  4. It can be difficult to read the older Italian text (ie Renaissance poetry) because it is as if one is reading Shakespeare, which is already a step away from modern English and difficult for native English speakers, but in Italian. However, the professors do not expect students to have understood the text fully before class because a lot of time in class is spent dissecting the poetry line by line.
  5. With both the older poetry and the modern text, it is very helpful for students to read the texts three times before class. It is useful to read through the first time without stopping to look words up and try to get a general understanding of the text even if one doesn’t understand the specifics of each line. Then, go through line by line, see what words and phrases do not make sense, look them up, and write them down in the margins. Then, reread the text a third time for the combination of specific and general clarity. Because there are not more than 10 pages of reading a night and class ends at 1pm with afternoons and evenings off, this is possible to do daily.

Learning For and From Assignments

  1. a) There is only one assessment in the course – a two-hour final exam on the last day of class.
It includes a writing portion in which students must write a short essay about a personal experience (instead of literary analysis, for example), define vocabulary words covered in class, and respond to short-answer questions about various plot points of the collection of readings for the course and points of significance surrounding the field trips to other towns. This requires having memorized/learned vocabulary words, having fully understood Italian texts, and the more abstract skill of being able to express one’s thoughts in another language for the essay portion.
  1. b) Because so much of the final exam involves one’s own writing, it is important to practice writing complex sentences and varying vocabulary during the daily homework assignments that are not graded, so that they feel comfortable communicating their ideas in Italian on the exam. It is also important to write down new vocabulary words discussed in class and take notes on the literature and poetry analysis done by the professor and classmates because of the likelihood that similar ideas will appear on the exam.
c) To prepare for the exam, it is useful to review all of the reading completed for the course. If one starts a few days in advance, it is doable to review the readings. If one has taken notes on vocabulary or overarching themes in the margins of the reading, reviewing them alone or comparing notes in a group is a very effective strategy to prepare for the exam. When reviewing, it is important to speak or write in Italian for most of the review, because that is the way that one will be asked to express oneself on the exam.

External Resources

One can bring a former textbook from ITA 102 in one’s suitcase, though past students who have brought the textbook do not often use it. Instead, Google is a great resource to use if one is interested in reviewing Italian grammar rules, verb conjugations, etc. (and a lighter thing to carry across an ocean) Although the professors would be willing to stay after class to talk to students, there are no official office hours.

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

A majority of students who take the course are looking to finish their foreign language requirement, and a desire to become fluent in Italian is not the first priority. Because one lives with fellow Princetonians in the dorm and does not have many opportunities to speak in class, those looking to improve oral fluency must take it upon themselves to practice speaking Italian outside of class by speaking with locals in shops, or making friends in the dining hall with Italian university students. There are also cultural differences in Italian vs American classrooms. While American classrooms are often a more collaborative setting, with students being asked to participate for a portion of class time and people can snack or chew gum during class, Italian professor-student dynamics are more formal. The structure of class involves the professor lecturing to students, with little participation from students except in the form of questions of clarification. This course is a very relaxing one to take over the summer because the workload is light. It is very exciting and interesting to live in a foreign city for a month as well.
Accelerated Summer Study in Italy

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