Friday, August 24, 2012

Week One is in the can!

Just an hour ago I wrapped up my last class of the first week of the semester. I'm looking forward to Complex this term: it's a small (for me) class, with only 15 students, many of whom already know each other and are comfortable working together. So far I've had no trouble getting folks to volunteer to present solutions at the board, and I think the students' level of experience and sophistication is almost exactly what I'd expected. This is good.

Meanwhile, my first-year seminar is proving a bit more of a challenge, relatively unused as I am to leading discussion-based classes. The conversations were sluggish again today, and I asked the students at the end of the class to give me some feedback by asking each of them to tell me one thing that would better help them get involved in the discussions. The most common response (from five or six people) was that they feel they'll open up a bit more once they know each other better. There were several other very good suggestions, one of which I'm going to try to implement: "Less of an assumption that the teacher leads the discussion. Maybe we have daily/topical discussion leaders."

In each class meeting starting on Monday, I'm going to have two people volunteer to lead discussion in the next meeting. It'll be up to those people to design activities to plan to prepare people for conversation and to come up with questions to ask to prod conversation along when it lags. This will give students more ownership in the process. Moreover, they'll be asking each other questions, rather than waiting for me to ask questions of them, which in turn decenters the classroom further.

There were aspects of today's conversation that were interesting. As an exercise in identity formation, and to indicate the power of naming things, I asked each student to describe herself in three words. Though they were not required to share their words with the class, all but a couple of students did so (my own three are last):

I am happy
absurd/optimistic/playful [arranged in a playful little triangle]
Trying my best
outgoing/intelligent/determined [fittingly, for the first, written in large, bold letters]

What's this say about us? An optimistic bunch, I guess.

It's been a good first week, overall. I'm glad to be back in the classroom, though my adjusting to the role of Honors Director is distracting me from fully focusing on my classes. That'll get better as I settle in. To my students: apologies if I've seemed distracted these first few days. I'll get better, I promise.

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