5 August 2008
Went into classroom yesterday and tried to create a presence. It wasn’t immediately successful because I still seemed to struggle to contain the errant chatting. I did draw their attention to it however, suggesting that it made the goal of everyone participating in discussion a bit more difficult.
On a related issue I found out that I have a range of levels in the class, everything from first year to third year. I suggested that when we do group work that people stick to people in their year levels, so that the first years have the chance to discuss their ideas without feeling intimidated by the advanced level of the third years, and similarly so the third years don’t get bored. Most were amenable to this reasoning, although one of the third year boys still tried to get in a group with some first year girls because they were closer to where he was sitting. He asked if it was a ‘rule’ that he couldn’t be in a group with first years. (Well, no. But think about someone other than yourself. Moving an extra three feet won’t kill you, especially if those girls’ confidence in expressing their ideas is affected by your somewhat bolshy presence. I only thought this).
Part of asserting my presence was done by outlining the plan for the tutorial, which was to address the questions for the first two weeks, to make sure they were answering them so they could get the marks they want. While I mentioned the various levels of learning again, I don’t think I was especially clear that they’ll need to provide more than information to get more than a pass. I asked them if they had managed to include quotes from the book to support their answers. They hadn’t, but hopefully the brighter ones will pick up on that and include them in their future answers.
I ran out of time again. We managed to answer the Tarzan questions, mostly, but didn’t get to go over the first week’s questions in any substantial way. I’ll make it a goal to have discussions about ‘popular’ and ‘culture’ next week when we discuss the topic of popular fiction more generally. I gave them a couple of news articles, where Howard had criticised the curriculum for teaching popular texts and a Web Diary blogger had dissected his assumptions, so that should feed into the discussion as well.
I made sure I fulfilled my request from last week to get them to write about an effective learning experience they’d had—even if most of them didn’t remember that I was going to ask. A couple of students didn’t write anything, which is their prerogative, but made me realise that some students just aren’t interested in this kind of meta-reflection. I can understand their impatience; they might see it as taking time away from their engagement with the content of the course, simply to help me with my teaching, when they might be thinking that’s my business to figure that out for myself. I don’t know. I’m following the advice in a couple of books on teaching in higher education that I’m reading, which cite the benefits of making the process of teaching a transparent process.
Anyway, I read through the comments of those students who did respond. They mentioned things like having an approachable teacher. Some were happy with the benefits they got from having class discussions. While some liked to have a clear exercise in class where they were able to consolidate their knowledge and understanding of a topic, by having a writing exercise or something similar.
On the one hand I figure I’m fairly approachable, especially if that’s the opposite of being authoritative in a punitive sense. It’s the open discussion vs structured activities that confuse me. In the past I’ve had evidence that students have interpreted open discussions as a sign that I haven’t planned anything, even when it’s been quite clear in my mind that there is a structure, and that I’ve worked hard on asking pertinent questions to keep the discussion moving in a relevant direction. On the matter of having set exercises, well, I guess I’ve been intimidated in the past by students who seem quite resistant to writing things down. They’re convinced it’s a waste of time and they’re not shy about saying that. Even when I know that writing things down forces everyone to think really hard and articulate something clearly that they mightn’t have arrived at simply through discussion.
I wish I wasn’t so easily intimidated, and I guess that’s why my major teaching goal this semester is about asserting a credible presence in the class room. I’ll keep on with my reading about teaching in higher ed and incorporate some of the strategies that the students themselves nominated as effective for their learning.