September Review Point: Greek Magical Papyrus, Teaching with RAR and Tanka Poetry

Subject knowledge

 I’ve been watching videos by Dr Justin Sledge on the YouTube channel Esoterica, which cover esoteric, hermetic, alchemical, and magic-based philosophies. The most recent video I watched was on the Greek Magical Papyrus, which dates from between the second century and the fifth century. What I found most interesting about the video is that the amalgamation of texts that compose the Greek Magical Papyrus contains references to Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Christian and Jewish traditions, and are often used seemingly interchangeably. In some cases, parts of the same spell will be written in more than one language, such as Coptic and Greek. 

 Dr Sledge claims this apparent syncretism is somewhat remarkable, which I suppose to a degree it is, though I would argue that religions or belief systems have never existed in a vacuum. Statues depicting the Roman god Mars have been found in the remains of Celtic settlements in southern France. In the present day, some members of denominations of Christian monks and some members of Buddhist Sanghas have gone on ‘exchanges’ to learn from each other. That said, the Greek Magical Papyrus does infer that a belief in a type of perennialism was held by some members of these ancient religious traditions, which I was previously unaware of.  

What is also interesting is that some spells in the Greek Magical Papyrus were aimed at controlling emotions, which Dr Sledge suggests was a way of conceptualising mental health issues. In another video, Dr Sledge discusses Psellos’s ‘On the Operation of Demons’ written in 1050 AD, in which intrusive thoughts are explained as demons trying to damage or influence their victim. Viewing practices that religious traditions engage in as a means of addressing issues with mental health is an interesting lens. It has struck me in the past that practices such as saying thanks to God in prayer could be seen as a form of positive reinforcement. I would like to find further reading on the topic.  

 I lived in Thessaloniki, named after Alexander the Great’s sister, from April to June. I spent some of my time visiting Greek Orthodox Churches. I hadn’t seen one before, what I found striking was how important the Saints are in the Greek Orthodox Tradition. There is also an area only the priest can enter called the ‘Holy of Holies’. This made me think of the ‘Holy of Holies’ that was supposedly within the Temple of Solomon, which only a high priest could enter on Yom Kippur. I will research the topic further. 

 I also learnt about Mount Athos, the oldest monastic community on earth and one of the most important areas of worship for Greek Orthodox Christians. It consists of twenty monasteries that only men can visit. I was interested to learn from locals that it is often used as a form of rehab. If you are willing to work, you can stay there, as a result Mount Athos supposedly attracts both those who wish to change their lives for the better and those who wish to disappear completely. I will find more reading on the Greek Orthodox Church in the coming months. 

 Teaching and Learning

 I composed and performed an Artist talk for RoundLemon, which took place on Zoom. The talk followed a lecture format, which was a new experience for me. Unlike a lesson plan, where each slide I create is commonly designed to be used for a longer length of time, I found I needed many more slides to fill up fifty minutes of talking. I used forty-eight slides in total, the first thirty minutes concerning my philosophical influences, and the latter half concerning my written work. I used the program ManyCam to display the Coffee & Alex logo and my contact details for the duration of the talk.  

 I focused on Daoism, Buddhism and Absurdism. Making the PPT and performing the presentation reinforced old knowledge, though I think asking questions would have increased engagement with my audience. That said the talk went well, I finished at the correct time, and I answered all the questions at the end. I didn’t use all the slides partially due their being too much information to get through. To increase engagement and have a use for each slide, in the future I think I would use more visual slides and provide a handout of the most important text-based information. 

I enrolled for Bling ABC, teaching two mock classes with their online software and going to two 90-minute training days. I went to a City and Guilds training day each month from January to May, focusing on functional English and Maths in prisons. Although City and Guilds have made me more aware of methods and resources available to embed english and maths into my future lessons, I’ve now decided to move onto SET webinars to expand my knowledge base. I went to a training day on how to teach using Geoff Petty’s RAR approach, which is backed by evidence-based research. 

 ‘RAR’ stands for ‘receive, apply and reuse’, stages used to teach a topic throughout a series of lessons. It seems logical to spread the ‘receive’ stage over the first third of lessons covering the selected topic as the RAR approach has three steps, though I will ask colleagues with experience using this approach and engage with further reading to justify this assumption. 

The first step is to uncover what the learners already know to better build on existing knowledge, Petty going on to explain that cognitive science tells us we learn well when connecting old knowledge with new knowledge. The findings he presents are as follows:

 1. We learn and remember what we have thought hard about

2. We understand new things by connecting new learning to old learning

3. Students create their own meaning, they don’t just remember yours

4. Students meanings can be improved by feedback

5. Learning needs to be reused about 6 times to be remembered well

6. Teachers need feedback on student understanding to correct errors and omissions in learning

 I find these six cognitive tips meaningful, as each can be directly applied to any lesson that I construct in the future or can be added into a lesson via questioning. My main takeaways are that it takes on average six times to commit information to long term memory, and that learners who produce their own interpretations of knowledge will recall that information better than learners who do not. 

 After uncovering the information previously known by the students the facilitator must ‘summarise’, which is to explain to the learners with diagrams what will be taught when and to set the learners goals. The goals should incentivise the learners to work, as they know they will be tested later. 

The ‘apply’ stage is next, in which the learner must complete ‘a ladder’ of tasks, leading from one to the other. Learners must reproduce the information you have given them in the previous stage, and be encouraged to use their cognitive faculties to engage with questions regarding the topic. Open tasks are also encouraged to get learners to use the new information. 

Lastly, there is the reuse stage, the purpose of which is to use the lessons to recap everything covered. Learners need to recall all the information given to them at least six times to embed it into their long-term memory. 

 Academic writing

I have continued writing short educational stories for my main client, now writing for a new project called ‘Planet X’. I have more creative freedom, as it is set on a fictional planet rather than a fictional Los Angeles. This allows for me to somewhat bend and create internal continuity rules within the story, and to make up objects, people and environments I wasn’t able to before.  I have been writing longer stories with more characters, and regularly write stories with more than one plot line. I’ve been pushed to write longer and more complex stories than before, most of which have been 6000-8000 words. I have also been trying to explore how best to differentiate each character’s ‘voice’ from each other, focusing specifically on word choice, tone, and manners. 

 I have written more poems for RoundLemon and a short story called Beer Fish. I wrote a review of New Grooves Gallery’s art exhibition soon to be published on their website. I wrote a concrete poem which was arranged from twelve different haiku, and is now purchasable as a print. I have also some tanka poems, otherwise known as Japanese short songs, published in the Moonink Anthology. Tanka poems are under thirty-one syllables and are constructed with five lines. The length of the lines is separated as follows, short, long, short, long, and then long. In the future, I am trying to write more traditional metered poetry. I have recently submitted a ghazal, which dates from 7th century Arabic poetry, and a villanelle, which found its fixed form in early 17th century France, and several sonnets for publication. 

Published by Coffee & Alex

Alexander Clarke is a sole trader who writes and teaches. He’s published articles, blog posts, short stories and poems. He’s taught philosophy, theology, ESOL and PSHE.

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