Sunday, October 08, 2006

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.