Friday, April 14, 2017

Taking A Semester Off, or “Still Not Clean. Stink of Failure Still On Me”

I think I’ve finally hit upon a sure-fire way to get familiar with the curriculum in FDENG 101: Take a semester off by teaching Pathways English 106.

I’m going to have to quickly download some items so I can read them, video links so I can watch them. Goal in mind: Read and watch and take notes all the while teaching two sections of 106. (Or could an “empty” section be created, where teachers could go in an “off” semester, or during the summer break, to download and read the 101 curriculum? Having our individual sections disappear so fast feels like walking up to the library door, seeing the books we want to read, and knowing the doors are locked.

I might have some of this stuff downloaded already. But I’d like the time to make sure.
Why not do this at the same time I’m teaching 101? I do not have the time.

What are our priorities, as instructors?

Grading, for one. There’s a lot to grade. Even in that last week, there was an essay, an annotated reading, and a course evaluation. The week previous? More readings. Peer reviews. Rough drafts. Oh, those rough drafts. I wish I’d had more time with the rough drafts.

But there are emails. Those peer reviews. A thousand things to read and grade. Some of their final essays, as I grade them this week, I feel like I’m reading them for the first time. Because, to tell the truth, it’s the first time I’ve had time to sit and read them.

I can say it’s my fault. I could have made more time. But I can also say I’ve got a full-time job outside of teaching. A Scoutmaster calling. A family to spend time with. A house that needs repair. When do I find the time?

The past two semesters have felt like this:

FRODO: It’s gone. It’s done.
SAM: Yes, Mister Frodo. It’s over now.
FRODO: I can see the Shire. The Brandywine River. Bag End. Gandalf’s fireworks. The lights. The party tree.
SAM: Rosie Cotton dancing. She had ribbons in her hair. If ever I was to marry someone, it would’ve been her. It would’ve been her.
FRODO: I’m glad to be with you Samwise Gamgee. Here at the end of all things.

And I only had one section of 101 this semester. My wife had two. And she’s just as busy as I am.

We’ve compared a lot of notes. Neither one of us has had the time we wanted to dedicate to our students. There’s simply too much to do.

I would like to see more discussion on the readings, rather than having students submit annotations. I know the annotated readings are meant to encourage students to learn annotation, to learn how to get more out of what they read. But where one plus one can equal two on an individual basis, one plus one can equal five or six for those who participate in a group discussion. Will all students participate in a group discussion? No. But not all students are doing the annotated readings as they should be done. The same problem of participation/non-participation exists in both camps. But at least in the discussion camp, the cumulative benefits are greater. Students get to hear what the others say, not just what the teacher says. Long after the fact, when the moment to discuss the reading has passed. Discussions are more instant, more immediate. An annotated reading commented on by the teacher can be tucked away and ignored a lot more easily.

I will work this next semester, even if I’m not teaching 101, to become more familiar with its curriculum. But I’d like to see the course council reciprocate by bringing discussions back.

I used to despair at how few students used the discussion groups. Until I got to the new 101 and saw how few students used the annotated readings to their full potential – even after multiple messages and lowered grades offering incentive on how to improve.

I keep going back to what I’ve read on classroom discussions in general, not just about online discussions, and I have to say I’d like more of this in what I teach:

“It’s hard to maintain students’ focus and attention when all they hear is the professor talking. It helps to hear another voice as well as an answer or another point of view.”

Actually, there are many salient points about discussion in this link. I won’t repeat them all here. But I can see how they’d work wonders (again) in 101.

Surely 101 taught in the classroom is not as devoid of discussion on these readings or videos as the online classes are.

One more idea: I’d love to go see an English 101 classroom, to see how this material is taught face-to-face. Would that be a possibility? I’d certainly be there in a non-threatening manner. I’m here to learn as a teacher!

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