Friday, March 27, 2009

We are probably less original than we think we are

I teach an upper level seminar in German literature this semester. The goal in this course is not just to give students an overview of modern German prose, but also to hone their skills in a foreign language. Because I expected many students to be hesitant to talk in class in a language in which they know they are not fluent, I required them to meet with me one-on-one for casual conversations. Most class members seem to enjoy this chance to meet their instructor in a more personal fashion. But as they probably don't want to share too much about their life with me, they tend to talk about their other classes. What really shocked me here, was to hear how much fashion-driven we as instructors seem to be. Almost all the students, for example, are currently taking classes in which the instructors require them to blog and/or to podcast themselves. I, too, require my students to blog. And I honestly thought I had come up with an original idea. Well, I did not. My point is, that it might be a good idea to talk to students about their "other" classes occasionally. We might gain new insights into why some of our ideas on how to make our teaching more original, inspiring, etc. are not being met with quite the enthusiasm we expected.

1 comment:

The Daft Laird said...

I agree. I've talked to my advisees about their other classes over the last couple of years, to find out what they like and find useful.

I've also found it helpful to sit in on a number of my TA's discussion sections this semester. I usually just go to one each per semester, but this term I'm trying to go to one per week. This and the fact that I have two really great TAs means that I've seen a number of different strategies in action. It also helps to see things that don't work as well.

For example, our class read an article about the police and the "Modern Girl" in Brazil in the 1920s. One of my TAs wrote about eight key ideas on the board (e.g. gender, class, prostitution, public space, nation) and had the students, in groups of two, think about how three of these terms were connected in the article. They then came back together and, as each group presented their ideas, she circled the words and drew lines between them. It was a really great strategy to get the students thinking about the ideas in the article from different angles, but she micromanaged the discussion (something I do all the time as well) and probably stifled what could've been a better conversation.

My point isn't that I would've done a better job, but that sitting in on someone else's class provides a helpful perspective on what we do.

I would be interested to sit in on courses in different departments as well.