professor
Jo Ann Cavallo

Dec 2014

This class was honestly a bit of a disappointment. I took it mostly for the chance to learn from de Bary (a world renowned expert on East Asian texts), but it turns out that de Bary himself doesn't do much teaching. There were two professors and a TA, each of whom were extremely knowledgable in their own ways, and yet students by and large ran the discussions. (I mean, it is a seminar, so student participation is to be expected and encouraged, but I would have liked to hear more from the experts in the room and less from kids who think that just because they took Lit Hum they're now qualified to compare everything to the Iliad.) So while there's certainly a lot to be said for the intangible intellectual value of sitting in a classroom with someone like de Bary, this class would have been more worthwhile if he had involved himself in discussions instead of just giving a brief intro spiel before each new text and then letting us take over. The method of evaluation is also confusing and entirely non-transparent. All three instructors read and give comments on your papers (which is great) but they don't give you an actual mark, so you have no idea how you stand until you receive your final grade after the end of the semester. Apparently after your oral exam the three of them get together and come to a consensus on what you get. I liked Cavallo a lot—she was more approachable than de Bary and took charge more during the second half of the semester as we moved toward more Western texts. But on the whole she was also pretty hands-off during class. All in all, this is a pretty good Globa Core option if you have a lot of time for reading and care about the texts. Having two professors and a TA present at all times is also pretty cool. But, if you actually want to learn new material, maybe take a lecture class instead.

May 2014

Rough semester. Dr. Cavallo is a very nice and well-intentioned woman. She's also very understanding and helpful during office hours. I think she is very intelligent, but unfortunately I didn't feel like class discussion was very fruitful. People became disinterested, and many eventually stopped reading (unlike first semester in our section with a different professor in which everyone was actually excited to come to class and participate). The essays were graded fairly, in my opinion. Each of the two essays needed to be 6-7 pages in length and include just 1 of the texts we've read. The midterm was what tanked everyone's grades. Average was in the low-mid 70s, no substantial curve (I think I remember her arbitrarily giving a few points back when she saw how badly we all did). The format of the midterm was very different from the format of the final exam (I believe that the midterm should be designed in a similar fashion to the final exam for test-taking continuity). The midterm included a number of strange sections (weird short answer questions, character ID questions) that were fairly arbitrary. This left us in a pretty bad place when it came time for the final. Overall, eh. Very nice professor on a personal level. Had a difficult time when it came to discussion and engagement. Grade turned out eh.

Apr 2012

Though her class was easy to get an A in (especially if you write longer papers than required that she assumes must be good) but I transferred out of her class after the first semester and it has been the best decision I've made yet. Discussions never left me feeling better informed about the texts, only that I had just wasted the past two hours. Professor Cavallo has no idea how to lead a discussion. She doesn't bring up any questions and merely asks students to merely find specific quotes in the text, and then punishes anyone who tried to actually interpret the texts. The same is true for her papers. Class discussion normally died once the few people in our class that spoke had exhausted themselves and it always seemed like she struggled to even have enough stuff to discuss in the full class times. That said, she certainly graded quite easily, everyone did fairly well on the midterm, and I did well on both my papers, but that A wasn't worth regretting every week why I had chosen Columbia and its core.

May 2011

I really enjoyed being in Prof. Cavallo's lit hum section. She asked interesting and relevant questions in class that helped us review main and important points and quotations from the texts. She really encouraged all students in class to participate in the discussions and led insightful discussions that triggered me to reflect more on the texts. She always respected and listened to students' opinions. Prof. Cavallo is very nice and approachable. She gave us ample time to work on our essays and returned them with useful comments and room for improvement. I would recommend her as a prof for lit hum.

Apr 2011

Cavallo is, to be honest, pretty terrible. This isn't a reflection on her as a person (she's quite friendly), but her classes were uniformly bland and uninspiring. Rather than stimulating discussion, contributing thoughts of her own, or even structuring conversation between students, she let the class run as a series of disassociated and often fairly crude observations. She would serenely acknowledge each comment with, "Hmm, yes, OK" before moving on to the next student. I did most of the reading and contributed a bit to class discussions, but couldn't help feeling that I was really missing out on what these texts had to offer. Sure enough, our class got a new teacher the following semester and it was a revelation––suddenly, we looked forward to Lit Hum and had genuinely interesting and thought-provoking discussions. It made me realize just how bad Cavallo was. I know this kind of literature isn't for everyone, but you have to work pretty hard to make it as boring as she did. Luckily, she allows laptops in class, so at least you can be doing something useful while you're forced to sit there (she takes attendance).

May 2005

this class was one huge smoke blowing contest between a couple of students who would not shut up. cavallo did nothing to silence the students who talked all the time because they love the sound of their own voices....what a colossal pain in the ass!!!! i did no reading for this class and sailed right through no problems.

Jan 2005

I didn't find Cavallo half as bad as most of these reviews say she is. Yes, the class can be a snooze, but I honestly did come out of it having learned the basics of each book on the syllabus. She is an incredibly nice woman and a very easy grader. This class is what you make of it, if you do the readings and participate in the discussion then you can make it more interesting, if you don't do either it will be two hours of hell twice a week. Trust me, you could get a MUCH worse Lit Hum teacher.

Jan 2005

One word comes to mind immediately when considering a comparable experience to sitting in Prof. Cavallo's Lit Hum class two hours twice per week: holocaust. And by holocaust, I mean I would take my chances in a concentration camp rather than endure the intellectual coma that one finds onself falling into and out of at the start and end of every class. Don't get me wrong, Cavallo is really nice. But she lacks insight, direction and motivation when it comes to the Lit Hum texts and class discussions. When I say 'class discussions', I really mean that two or three students generally talk a lot., however, each student makes his/her point in isolation from the previous one, which, by the way, is not helped by Cavallo's uninterested nod and "alright, anyone else?" after each student who speaks. Feedback on comments? No. Interesting discussion questions? No. Any redeeming intellectual insights into the texts? ........ I am quite serious when I say that the majority of my highschool literature courses were significantly more interesting, more challenging, and more valuable than this course.

Jan 2005

Cavallo is really hit or miss whether you like her or not. Some people do, some people don't. What I will say is her class isn't boring if you don't want it to be. She rarely lectures, instead she uses the socratic method and lets the students teach themselves. Pretty much the whole class is student led discussion, so if you're into that sort of thing you'll like the class. The midterm is all based on the discussion, so you really do learn enough to do well in the class from the other students. One big plus is that she isn't a hard grader. If you just do the reading you can get a B+ or A- without putting in a huge amount of effort.

Dec 2004

It is hard to decide whether it's just the difficult nature of the material, the reading selections, or the professor, but this class is a snooze. Cavallo is a very nice lady who makes a point of meeting with students in small groups just to chat over coffee or a sandwich, but she struggles to get students to participate in discussion. Halfway through the course she decided to make us write a paragraph for every class on the reading assignment, which would count as our participation, just to make sure we were doing it. Shorter readings would make the texts more accessible and discussion more probable. The class is taught in Italian but all coursework can be turned in in English. This course in unavoidable for Italian majors so make sure you bring extra caffeine.

Aug 2004

She is quite a nice person, but to but it frankly, she was an awful Lit Hum teacher. Her field is Italian oral tradition and thus knew about Dante and Boccaccio, but I was not sure whether she had read the other books before having to teach Lit Hum. She cannot lead discussion and I felt that I got absolutely nothing out of the course. I felt as if I was basically reading the books on my own, because she gave virtually no insight or direction...thus most people ended up not doing any of the reading, which seemed to not even matter.

Nov 2003

She's lenient all around, but she's not enthusiastic about her work. If you want to really get as much as you can from lit books, I recommend you to find another teacher. She's very knowledgeable about her own field (Italian opera/oral tradition) but the class discussions are completely run by the students--which is kind of annoying when you need to get to the CORE of the books (which is what the tests are one). She grades essays without an obvious rubric so you don't really know HOW you got the grade you got. But she seems very friendly, and if you want to talk to her, you can anytime. Great person, but as a Lit Hum teacher, eh....

Sep 2003

She's a decent teacher, fair grader, and fun to be around. Had some troubling controlling arguments at points (people would just start yelling at each other, although it made for an exciting class). Was STILL kind to us even after no one showed up to the class trip at the Cloisters (we felt real bad about that...)