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Bravo! Linguist wins teaching prize
Folksingers have it: timing. In sing-alongs, they feed the upcoming lyrics to the audience just before it finishes the previous lyrics and starts grasping for the next words. With expert cueing, they keep everybody together in the social exercise.
Giuseppe Faustini is no Pete Seeger, but his timing is spot-on. A professor of Italian, he recently won the college’s Ciancio teaching prize for the way he leads students, who may start out wordless, toward verbal virtuosity. By Thanksgiving of last semester’s Italian 101–102, students were answering his questions about where they went for the holiday, how they traveled, and what they ate. Faustini walks around the circle of chairs to stand in front of each student in turn. Eye contact is motivating, and watching lips helps both teacher and student with pronunciation. When one student hesitates, he smiles and waits; she can’t remember a word, and he gently cues her with it so that she can continue.
Faustini’s patience and prompting keep the class focused yet fluid. When practicing past tenses, he refers to the four chalkboards he has filled with conjugations of familiar verbs and asks the students to recite the words in unison (some have five or six syllables, and the accented syllable can be tongue-twistingly variable). Next, they take turns using a verb form in a sentence. In case of a pause or stumble, another student is as likely as Faustini to offer a hint, keeping up the lively pace and collaborative spirit.
A Harvard PhD, Faustini also teaches Italian literature, especially Dante’s classics and the seminal modernist works of Pirandello. As a scholar of Italian cinema as well, he’s an expert on renowned directors like Visconti, De Sica, and Fellini. Last year his freshman Scribner Seminar in Italian film was such a hit that it was extended in a one-credit course the following semester, allowing Faustini “to continue the mentoring that’s integral to the Scribner Seminars.” He finds cinema helps to “hook more students into studying foreign language. It gets them in through the window if not the door.” And, he adds, movies are great vehicles for exploring societies and cultures.
Along with the Ciancio award, Faustini recently won national honors. When the University of Oregon’s Educational Policy and Improvement Center invited twenty-six professors to send in a syllabus and other course materials, Faustini submitted his 200-level “Italian Language and Culture” course, and EPIC cited it as one of two exemplars of best practices in teaching Italian. As a result of that award, the College Board named him to its commission on Advanced Placement language-and-culture courses. “It’s exciting to work with the other instructors,” he says, “to help redesign the curricular focus of AP foreign-language courses.”
A more personal accolade has also come his way: Frank Messa, a retired lawyer and chair of the Union College board of trustees, who has taken several Faustini courses, has made a major gift to Skidmore in his honor. Messa recalls that being an adult learner in a college class “was initially a bit awkward, but both Giuseppe and the students were very welcoming.” He applauds Faustini’s expertise, enthusiasm, and accessibility: “He encourages participation by according importance to every question or comment.” Messa’s gift will provide a prize for a top student of Italian each year and also help fund cultural activities for students studying in Italy.
Faustini says,“I feel it’s an honor that students want to learn my language and culture. Therefore the onus is on me to find any way I can to help them learn.” No wonder his student evaluations are full of words like “engaging,” “demanding,” and “personable.” Elena Milius ’08 adds “thorough and always prepared; he wants us to get the most out of the class.”
The 101 class is nearly over when Faustini plugs in a CD player. “You know the drill,” he says, handing out song sheets. The students stand up, Faustini joins the circle, and everyone gamely sings along with a little pop song—something about a cat in a window—that uses the verb tenses they were just practicing. It’s all about cultural cadences and the social interplay of language. As the classroom empties, the students get in the last words: “Grazie, Professore.” —SR