Emergent Teaching

I’ve been thinking a bit about my teaching this semester. I don’t think it’s going as well as last semester. Partly this has been my own distraction with health issues and stuff, but also I think it has something to do with the way I teach.

I put a lot of responsibility on the students to make my classes work. Like most discussion-based classes, I expect students to come prepared–having read the material and thought about it. Most of them do this and they are “forced” to do this in part by having to write for the blog. The blog itself is just as important as the class discussion. It should be just as lively as in-class discussion. In both places, both virtual and meatspace, if the students don’t participate, then things fall apart pretty quickly. Oh, sure, I have questions and thoughts of my own that I bring to class, but I prefer it if I let the students lead the way. That’s one of the luxuries of this class where there’s no content to cover. We’re learning to read and think and write about what we read and think, so we can go wherever we need to go or want to go.

Except that I feel like we’re stagnating. I feel like the students may not really want to go anywhere. Or maybe I’m doing all the leading and they don’t like where we’re going, but are afraid to speak up. They’re not really writing on the blog the way I want them to. For example, I’m looking at the blog now and there haven’t been any posts over the weekend. None. For three days.

I think there are a number of reasons for lack of blog activity. One is that the blog is on a site with a bunch of other class blogs. Those are being used for entirely different purposes and our stuff is all mixed up with that. And I think our students are getting a weird view of what a group blog is. If I had this to do over again, I’d do it the way I’ve done it before. We’d have our own space.

So what am I going to do about it? Well, first, I need to reimpress the importance of the blog. I need to pull some posts and use them as examples of writing and work on those in class. I think I’ll do a peer review session for this. I did this last year and it seemed to make a good impression. We’re going to be creating a collaborative publication and I think that will help bond us together and think together as a class about some writing issues. Right now, any talk about writing, for the most part, is happening during individual conferences.

Second, I think I need to put some real responsibility on the students for discussion. They’re doing fine on in-class discussion, but I’d like to go a little deeper. So I think I might assign a student to be responsible for leading the discussion, including looking over the blog posts.

I’m willing to take any suggestions anyone might have. And if any my students have found me, you can leave anonymous comments as well. It’s not that I think the class is going badly. I just think it’s lacking some sparkle. I feel like we’re close. I’d like to see us get all the way there.

Teaching is hard

We’re three weeks into the semester and I’m not sure I feel we’re totally in the swing of things. My students may find this, so I will paint this in broad strokes. In fact, I hope they do find this. It would mean they’re doing what I expect.Last semester, when I taught this course, we really focused on blogging. We didn’t have a heavy-duty reading assignment until 2-3 weeks into the course. This semester, I decided to do both–have the blog and do some reading and leave it up to the students as to whether they blogged about the reading or something else related. The thing is, most students are averaging about 1 post a week, though I’ve assigned 4 posts (two over each long weekend). I know this blogging thing works. The hard part is motivating the students to get going on it. Most are motivated (from my recent study results) by receiving comments either from other students or from other bloggers. I had given them the assignment to find something to comment on and to comment and leave our url so that we might get some traffic to our site. I even showed them how to do this in class on Thursday.

I did my own assignment over the weekend and indeed, we did get a link and a comment. So I modeled what I wanted, and I guess I’ll discuss what I did in class. I’m also planning to do a brainstormin exercise a la jo(e). I feel like I need to mix it up in class a little. The students were kind of dragging on Thursday. Partly, I think the weather was a factor and it was beginning to sink in that college is going to be a lot of work and I think we’re kind of tired of the book. We should have gone through that faster.

The thing that’s hard is that my philosophy about teaching is that the students should take responsibility for their learning. Creating the environment for that is much harder than lecturing, just giving paper assignments and then grading them. I come to class with more questions than answers and I think some students find that unnerving. And if the students don’t wrestle with my questions, there’s a lot of dead air and I find that unnerving.

The kind of teacher I want to be is one who inspires in her students the desire to learn more. I’ve always had a few students like that. Whether I’ve had anything to do with it or not, I don’t know. But I recognize that I’m not always that inspiring. But I want to be, and so I keep working at it.

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