Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Physical Learning Environment

The other night I had a dream in which I had been assigned a classroom on the Ag Campus next to a building that was being demolished. There was a constant, high-pitched alarm emanating from the building. I was trying to conduct class but I couldn't focus at all. In desperation, I left the classroom to find a secretary who could find me a new room in the building. I then gave my students directions to the new room, but they got lost on the way--I couldn't even find it through the maze of elevators and Willy Wonka-esque domes. This leads me to my point:

The most common problem I have in class is the classroom itself. 

  1. Rooms without technology. Last semester I was assigned a classroom that had a projection screen but no projector and no place to set the portable projector to get a good image. This was in a class where I had planned regular student presentations. Luckily, someone switched with me. I've also been in classrooms that had only a chalkboard and were across campus, so it was difficult to convey the projector even if there had been a screen and convenient plug. I usually solve this problem by scheduling a class in the library for special viewings, but I find it very limiting to my pedagogy in general. 
  2. Location. Sometimes I'll have a class on the far side of the Hill and then another right afterward in Humanities. That's tough, but not impossible. Much worse is the condition of a friend who has one in Humanities followed by one on the Ag Campus--that's 15 minutes to get to a class almost a mile away.  When I've taught on the Ag Campus, I haven't had to rush there or back, but it was still a problem because students were often late. And don't get me started on classrooms that are still TBA 2 days before classes start.
  3. Access. Once I taught in a room that could only be accessed through a narrow stairway. A student broke her leg, and we moved for four weeks to the library. 
  4. Sound pollution, sometimes due to construction and sometimes to other classes. In an otherwise perfectly nice SMART classroom, the class next door was always showing films too loudly. I sent the instructor an email requesting he not show any on the day of the midterm. At a final exam this past semester, a classroom across the hall was having some kind of student presentations that were too loud and I couldn't do anything about it. I would love to work in a place that has sound barriers, even just corkboard on the walls.
  5. Size and shape. I've taught in large, cavernous rooms where my voice echoes. One room in the Alumni Memorial Building had a little stage in front, which would have been great if it had been a literature class instead of a writing class. One class had old wood floorboards that creaked and echoed over my voice. I also had a classroom that had huge filing cabinets taking up half the space.
  6. Climate control. Older buildings with window a/c units are particularly problematic, because it's a dilemma between comfort and being able to hear. In lots of other rooms, you can't control the temperature at all. This is so important that I once traded a SMART classroom without working a/c for a plain room that had window units. 
I don't want to sound too negative--my university has some lovely rooms, and overall I've been lucky. I simply want to observe that it's harder to have a good class when the physical environment is working against you.

*Image from

Classroom Struggles

I'm preparing for an interview for a new job, and I've been thinking about some of the standard questions that are asked. One of them is, "Tell us about a class that went poorly." Another version of this question that I like better is, "Tell us about a challenging class session."

It's hard to come up with scenarios. I don't have students disrupting class in loud or violent ways. I don't have rebellions. The larger failures aren't overt. Sometimes an individual student is unfocused or pays too much attention to his/her laptop rather than the class, in which case I say something to the student privately. (This reminds me that I want to say something about student professionalism later.)

The biggest problems I run into are students not preparing for class and students not responding to my discussion prompts. I try to address these as soon as I notice them. I have allowed myself to get a little mad when I see several students without books, but I'm thinking in future that I will use the "I'm very disappointed in you" tack. Last semester I ran into the problem of a class that stopped talking, and I addressed it with a large class conversation about what makes a good class. I used a reflection activity I had found online (I'll try to look for this later) and it led to a good conversation about why active learning was important. I also address low participation with group work. These strategies aren't always effective to the same degrees, but they always lead to some improvement.

Another instance of "failure" (sort of) is when an activity doesn't turn out the way I thought it would. Last summer I tried a roundtable activity that I had heard about at a panel at the College English Association conference. The instructor presenting it typically used the roundtable to cover lots of background materials, like information about the Great Revival in the U.S. Each student would be responsible for one reading. The teacher would prepare general questions and have the students take turns asking them to the participants, who would respond when appropriate. I modified this assignment, probably past all recognition. Instead of contextual information, the students read stories from Stephen King's Skeleton Crew. I prepared questions for the students to ask, but the roundtable quickly devolved into the students merely reporting on their stories. I had wanted them to choose, based on the reports, what we would read as a class the next day, but they were incapable of choosing and so I made the decision.

What went wrong? I don't actually think it was the switch in genre. At first I thought they weren't well-prepared enough, but checking my notes I see that I had them prepare written reports addressing these questions:

    1. What happens in the story? Who are the major characters, and how are they connected?
    2. In what sense is this a “horror” story? What is the primary fear?
    3. What is the setting, and how is it important to the narrative?
    4. What is the mode of narration, and how does it contribute to the suspense?
    5. Identify 2 additional elements of fiction and explain how they are important to the story.

So it wasn't preparation. I suspect the mistake I made was the prompts for the roundtable itself. I believe I used these same preparatory questions and had each of them answer in turn, rather than creating a set of questions for the students to ask each other. 

Yes, that was the problem. The students never had ownership of the activity. And that was also why they couldn't make the choice for the next day's reading. This active learning technique remained about me, instead of about them.

What problems have you encountered in your classes? What did you learn from them?

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    The Semester in Review

    This has been the longest semester I can remember. I was constantly struggling to juggle various assignments and preps. Still, I think it went smashingly, based on initial student feedback. Here are some things that definitely worked:

    • The Culture Reports in my upper-level literature class. Because the course was supposed to include a focus on both literature and culture over a 350-year period, it made sense to me to share the burden of gathering this information with my students. The students commented that not only did they learn interesting material but they felt that they had ownership of the class. 
    • The annotated bibliography in the same class. Most of them had never completed one before, but it's an assignment I often use with success.
    • The emphasis in my gen-ed sophomore survey on lifelong learning and student response to the reading. Several students said they had never had a teacher be interested in what they liked or didn't like before. I find that those conversations can lead to deeper analysis if they're encouraged.
    • Teaching computer skills to my first-year composition students. They all feel more digitally accomplished than before the semester started, which adds to the value of the class. 
    • GoogleDocs for the workshops, as I discussed in a previous post
    • My composition class's PowerPoint presentations, which were almost all excellent and on the whole better than most sophomore presentations I've seen.

    Some things had mixed results:

    • The paperless classroom, which made it easier to keep track of my grading, but also easier to avoid it. It also caused some student stress, though nothing unmanageable.
    • The Study Wikis in my sophomore class. They were a great idea, but the students needed some clearer guidelines. By contrast, the extra-credit Study Wiki in my upper-level course was truly impressive--because I gave them clear indications of what would be on the test, instead of making them discover the questions. The Research Wikis in my composition course were mostly a failure, also because they didn't receive clear enough guidelines.
    • I loved the personal nature of the Blogs, but I couldn't keep up with them over the course of the semester, so I couldn't give them immediate feedback or help guide their thinking in the way I had hoped. 
    • PowerPoints, as mentioned previously.

    And one thing that I will definitely change:

    • The final paper in composition, which asked my students to align themselves with a political party. Only about half of the students did a good job with this, simply because the task was too large. In future, I would ask them to pick a particular issue, research it, take a stand, and then identify which political parties agree with their view. This would require several steps. But for the moment, I'm finished with directly pushing citizenship. As the students mentioned in their blogs, they're just now able to vote and they're still figuring their way in the world. Some focus on citizenship is good, but too much just overwhelms them. 

    I feel content with my performance this semester and proud of my students' achievements, which is all I really ask for.

    And that's a wrap!
    *Image from the Troy Public Library

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    PowerPoint Haze

    This semester I discovered a new phenomenon that I call PowerPoint Haze. It's what happens to a previously-talkative class when confronted with too many PowerPoints. It isn't that their brain shuts off; it's more like they go into TV-mode. Even an interactive PowerPoint that calls for audience response seems to have this effect after it's over.

    At the beginning of the semester, I was teaching an upper-level majors class that was very engaged. Because we're surveying a broad range of literature and culture, I developed a PowerPoints for them for almost every class. I was pretty proud of the presentations. They're a far cry from the plain black-and-white slideshows I used to produce. I was also congratulating myself on having multiple modes of learning, of having visuals to accompany my explanations and their readings. And then . . .

    The class became silent. They were awake and paying attention. They were listening. But only four or five students were responding anymore. What had happened? 

    After midterm, I started a new practice: any PowerPoints I had, I would post to Blackboard before class. That way we could spend class time having a discussion instead of me lecturing. They could listen to lectures on their own; our class time is precious. The solution seems to have worked. The class is responsive again. Because I'm often not organized enough to have PowerPoints ready ahead of time, I've reverted to using photocopied handouts on occasion. This somehow doesn't cause the same effect as a projected slideshow. It may be because they're more focused on what's right in front of them.

    Let me give another example to explain. In my composition class last month, I had an amazing PowerPoint on Visual Rhetoric. It was a fantastic lesson. It asked for student feedback and a group activity. The class was engaged and participated well. But the next day--a traditional, non-tech day--several of them forgot their books. When I suggested they bring the essay up on their computers, they had to ask classmates what the title was. They had completely neglected to even consider preparing. Now, I understand being short on time, but there's a minimum amount of faking-it that I expect, and part of it is knowing what the homework is. This class was normally better prepared. While many factors could have contributed (midterm being one), I believe the PowerPoint was largely to blame. They had switched back to the idea of being entertained rather than being active learners.

    PowerPoint is a wonderful tool for engaging students, and it can contribute to an active learning environment. I'm not denying either point. But too much of it hurts the class. In future, I hope to be better prepared so that I can post more of my lectures online and use class time for active learning activities.

    Friday, October 14, 2011

    Writing Workshops with Google Docs

    Peer workshops are a regular part of my writing classes. As I say on the syllabus, I consider workshop days the most important ones of the semester. They encourage students to see writing as a process, they build community through helping one another, they expose students to other writers' ideas and strategies, they encourage independent judgment, and they provide an early deadline for students' work.

    Since I was including so much tech this year, and since one of my classes is held in a computer classroom, I decided to experiment with using Google Docs for the workshop. Overall, I'm pleased with the experiment.

    What appealed to me about GDocs was that the files would be in a format that all the students could read. In my previous attempts at electronic workshops, I had students upload files to Blackboard, then download the files in their group, make comments, and re-upload them. Inevitably there were problems with file format, especially MS Works and OpenOffice. With GDocs, this process is greatly simplified. Here is the procedure we followed:
    1. Students create a Google ID so that they can access GDocs. My students already had one, since they all have Blogspot accounts.
    2. I recommend holding a practice session to make sure students can use GDocs and also to practice commenting on a file. We discovered that GDocs freaks out a bit when four or five people are editing at a time, while three seemed to be okay.
    3. Students upload their files. Have students check the option to convert the file to a GDocs format, or else it can't be edited (though it can still be viewed). At the first workshop students did this in class, while at the second workshop I had them complete this step ahead of time.
    4. Students share the file with those in their group and with the instructor. This is easier if the students are physically together so that they can tell each other their IDs. If you're more organized, students can share their IDs before the workshop. (I figured that step was one too many and it was fine to use workshop time for it.) Make sure students choose "can edit" and not just "can view."
    5. Students use the comment function to comment on the file and write end remarks per instruction. I ran into a couple of difficulties with this. Some people like to highlight a whole paragraph to make one comment, and it becomes hard to see what the comment points to. A bigger problem was their hesitation to make changes to the document itself. The comment feature was easier for them to handle, but their remarks were also shorter. On the second workshop I emphasized what should be inserted in the body of the paper by the reviewers at the end.
    6. During the workshop, I log on to GDocs and review the drafts to make sure they're complete. I also watch what the students are doing in real-time, which means I can immediately say things like, "Beth, tell Jason how to add depth. Make some specific suggestions."
    After the first workshop, I conducted a survey and found that all but one student (out of 31 who took the survey) enjoyed using GDocs for the workshop.

    First I asked, how much stress did GDocs cause you? The "tech class" (the one held in a computer classroom regularly) answered 15% high, 15% average, 38% mild, and 30% none. The "low-tech" class (held in a regular classroom but scheduled in a computer lab for the workshop) answered 5% very high, 11% average, 33% mild, and 50% none.

    Next I asked them to gauge their agreement with the statement, "Google Docs is a good tool to use for workshopping papers." In the tech class, 31% strongly agreed and 69% agreed. In the low-tech class, 44% strongly agreed, 50% agreed, and 6% neither agreed nor disagreed.

    In my final question, I asked whether for the second workshop we should stick to GDocs or switch to the traditional paper method. In the tech class, 69% said "Yes, use Google Docs" while 31% said "I'm fine either way." In the low-tech class, 78% said "Yes, use Google Docs," 17% said "I'm fine either way," and 6% (1 person) said "Switch to paper."

    We used GDocs for the second workshop, and I think I will use it next semester, too. I'm also interested in trying Microsoft Office Live Workspace, which is now linked to students' email accounts. My hesitation is that it is NOT linked to faculty accounts, which will make sharing with me more complicated.

    If any students are reading this, please comment about your experiences. And if faculty are reading who have used GDocs or similar tools, I also would like to hear your thoughts.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011

    Well begun is half done.

    If Mary Poppins is right, then I'd say the semester is half over. Actually, we're a week and a half in. The add deadline has passed, so the enrollment has stabilized and much of the initial business (explaining rules and assignments) is over. I have a good group of students all 'round, though I worry about the 3:40 class's sleepiness--it's a bit soon in the semester to start that. My British Lit students seem enthused about the material, especially but not only the Austen fans. I'm looking forward to starting Pride and Prejudice this week.

    The big challenge so far has been technology. I have one computer classroom where I have an instructor's computer with ethernet, but everywhere else I've been struggling with the extremely slow WiFi which often prevents me from loading Blackboard. One of my classes had no technology, but another lecturer graciously switched with me--hurrah! One class just has a Smart Board, which means the students on the far side of the room can't see anything. I may have to break down and actually hand out papers in that class.

    Oh, and I have a cold. Ah-choo!

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    Pater on the Value of Play

    "Often such moments are really our moments of play, and we are surprised at the unexpected blessedness of what may seem our least important part of time; not merely because play is in many instances that to which people really apply their own best powers, but also because at such times, the stress of our servile, everyday attentiveness being relaxed, the happier powers in things without are permitted free passage, and have their way with us." --Walter Pater, "The School of Giorgione," The Renaissance

    Fresco attributed to Giorgione (ca. 1498)
    Here Pater is talking about the pleasure that comes from listening to music or to life in general, but I think it applies in the classroom as well. When my work is playful, I do my best work. When class is playful, students are at their most creative. We're not servile; we're masters of ourselves, at least for that moment.

    I'm really enjoying re-reading The Renaissace. Pater is a wonderful stylist. I didn't appreciate him at all in grad school. I've put a section of his work on my British Culture syllabus, which has a heavy emphasis on discussions about art. Hopefully the majors will be more interested in such things than my gen-ed students were when I last tried them.

    Sunday, August 14, 2011

    The Excitement of the New

    The students are coming! The students are coming!

    One of the great pleasures of my job is interacting with students new to the university. They're nervous and excited about this new step in their lives, full of curiosity and hopes and lofty goals. I was the same way. I remember how at band camp in my freshman year we would self-mockingly use advanced vocabulary in our everyday speech because "we're in college now." We didn't sweat; we perspired. We weren't tired; we were fatigued. Unfortunately, for me and for many others, this bloom soon passed and we got caught up in the grind.

    How can we keep this excitement going? Is it doomed to fade like the rose? How can we encourage new growth?

    Perhaps one way is to make sure that each course provides a Significant Learning Experience. The point of a course is not what we teach, but what the students learn. Keeping that in mind will help keep the courses fresh for us as teachers and hopefully for the students as well.

    Thursday, July 28, 2011

    "Drop and give me 20!" No, I'm not that kind of coach.

    Weighty work
    I've been revising my Statement of Teaching Philosophy and Methods, and in this version I use athletics as a metaphor. I'm amused by this, because anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm uncoordinated, out of shape, and I flinch at anything thrown at me. On the other hand, I enjoy strength training, which is probably where I got this idea.

    Here are some of the points I make:
    • Gen-ed requirements are like cross-training for the mind.
    • Athletes need the sport to be fun, so I include playful learning activities.
    • Athletes are training for a goal, so I include forward-looking assessments to prepare them for the real game.
    • I think of myself as their coach, but I try to avoid being the mean P.E. teacher. I balance discipline and encouragement.
    • As a coach, I have to keep up with new developments in the game.

    If you want to see the whole statement, you'll have to wait until it's posted on my revamped website later this summer...  :)

    Sunday, July 24, 2011

    Planning for the future

    One of the things I love about my job is that I can design my own courses. I'm currently working on a course design for a new version of Composition II called "Inquiry into the Future." I can't begin to say how amused I am by this. I keep finding more and more examples of thinking about the future or of retro-futurism. The flying wing that I first saw in Yesterday's Tomorrows (a book based on a Smithsonian Exhibit) was in Captain America:

    I've also found lots of great resources on the web, like these:
    And lots more movies are coming out about the future. Hunger Games opens in March 2012. Contagion opens this year. The list goes on and on.

    Here's the course description:

    Inquiry into the Future

    I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.
    —Michael Masser and Linda Creed

    How many times have today’s students been told that they are the future? It’s been a cliché for ages, at the very least since Whitney Houston made a hit of Masser and Creed’s song, “The Greatest Love of All,” in 1986. Students are necessarily future-oriented in the sense that their course work is geared to prepare them for their future. How does this emphasis on the future affect students in the present? How do they react to futurist rhetoric? And what kind of future are they building?

    In this course, students will examine various visions of the future in order to discover how the values of the creators are illustrated through these images. What sorts of fears, needs, and hopes are revealed? I’ve chosen mostly dystopian views of the future because these highlight fears and the dangers of utopian dreams. Students will also consider the values that they project when they imagine their personal futures. How do concerns about the future impact actions in the present? Lastly, how do various disciplines talk about or prepare for the future?

    While the primary focus of the class is on values, language is also a major concern. What language is used to describe the future? How is rhetoric about the future used to manipulate present choices?

    Course Sequence
    The Present (Hands-on Research) 
    The course begins with recent depictions of the future in order to establish the idea that visions of the future reflect values, needs, and fears in the present. Texts include: Richards’ article on future cosmic calamities and architectural designs; the first five chapters of Hunger Games, which will be released as a film in spring 2012; the beginning of I Am Legend (2007), which students will compare to descriptions of Richard Matheson’s original 1954 novel; and (if times allows) V for Vendetta. Students will conduct surveys to discover a particular audience’s ideas and feelings about the future.

    The Past (Historical Research) 
    After thinking about the values, needs, and fears of the present, students will be asked to turn their attention to the past. Students will read H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel, The Time Machine. I will provide some information about the time period and direct students’ independent research into the era. They will search for similar trends as in the first unit: what does Wells’ vision of the future say about him or his era? This unit will be supplemented by visual images of the future from the past, known as retro-futurism.

    The Future (Academic Research) 
    What is the future of higher education? Will students in the future learn on computers instead of in traditional academic spaces? What is the future of the humanities? Will it be able to defend its relevance in a quick-paced, technological world? What is the future of creative writing? Will the Twitter-novel make epics obsolete? What is the future of medicine? Will the singularity be reached within our lifetimes? Etc. In this final unit, students will investigate how their profession or field talks about or plans for the future, using a combination of interviewing and traditional research. This unit will have fewer readings as students concentrate intently on research.

    The Personal (Integration) 
    The final step for the class is to bring the course back around to the student. What does each envision for his/her future? Students will be asked to create a blog entry that describes their image of the future and to respond to others’ blogs. At the last session, students will be given the “time capsules” that they composed on the first day of the course and will discuss how their futures matched their visions.

    EDIT: How cool is this? Yesterday's Tomorrows is still in print! 

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    New Course Goals--or, Lots of Work for Little Change

    After working my way through Dee Fink's "Self-Directed Guide for Designing Course for Significant Learning," and studying the University and departmental goals, I've come up with a new value statement and list of course goals for British Literature II.

    This is the new value statement (there wasn't an old one): "In this general education course, you will be introduced to a range of British literature from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in order to broaden your historical and cultural perspectives, deepen your understanding of self and society, and provide personal enrichment." These 3 areas are based upon my university's description of general education courses. I'm pleased with the personal-growth aspect of this statement. 

    These were my old course goals: 
    • To broaden your understanding of British literary history and our cultural heritage.
    • To enhance your ability to comprehend literature through close attention to the text and its patterns.
    • To improve your writing. I encourage you to visit during my office hours or by appointment to have me look over your drafts or just to discuss ideas. I will also answer questions about your thesis or specific parts of your essay by email, though I will not read entire drafts by email.
    • To make critical thinking a habit. Once you make a practice of consciously interpreting texts, you will find it easier to think critically about other elements of your life and society.
    • To increase your enjoyment of literature.
    I was dissatisfied with these goals because (a) they aren't specific, (b) they're not exciting to me (probably because I've had them for so long, and (c) the hierarchy is unclear. Most importantly, they weren't fully supported by the course design. What activities were designed to increase enjoyment? I did encourage students to say things they liked and disliked, but this really wasn't sufficient. How was I assessing enjoyment?

    These are the new goals: 
    • To analyze and interpret texts using the tools and vocabulary of literary analysis;
    • To place those texts within historical and aesthetic contexts;
    • To gain insight into the human experience. What is it like to grow up, to grow old, to be an outsider, to be an insider, to love, to mourn, to struggle, to sacrifice?
    • To reflect on personal values and beliefs;
    • To use technology to achieve these goals.
    The goals in red are adapted from my department's description of the undergraduate studies program.The third goal is what I think is most valuable about reading literature. The fifth goal I have some doubts about listing, but adding it as a goal reminds me to provide support for the technical aspects of the course. You'll notice that I've cut "critical thinking"--because it's too vague and it's covered by the first 4 goals. I've also cut the writing goal, since the survey course is Writing Emphasis, not Concentration in Writing. Writing is an important part of the course, but actually I use writing to achieve the other goals instead of focusing on writing per se. I'm a little worried that I've cut the "British" part of the goals, but to me it seems implicit in goal 2.

    What's most important about the course goals is how they're tied to the value statement and especially to course activities and assessment. Goals 1 & 2 are assessed through formal papers and tests. Goals 3 & 4 will be assessed through 5 required blog posts or journal entries. I've decided to cut the midterm exam in order to make room for the blogs.

    The next step is thinking about unit goals and which readings best match them.

    Thursday, July 7, 2011


    The category I like least on our student evaluations is "Relevance and usefulness of course content." How do you know what's really relevant and useful until years later? More of my students realize the value of the class after a couple of years have passed but not as much during the semester. I would like to change that perception in order to increase their (and my) satisfaction.

    Most students in general education literature courses aren't pursuing an English major. They may never read another work of literature again. So it's a given that the course will not directly contribute to their major. What then is the relevance and use of the course?

    For future majors, it would be relevant to have an idea about literary movements and to become familiar with specialized vocabulary and forms of literary analysis. This does need to be a part of the class, but it is relatively minor.

    For all students:
    • it's useful to improve their reading and writing skills. Even technical majors need to be able to communicate verbally. Reading closely improves the ability to pay attention to detail (sensing skills) and makes students more aware of the nuances of language (intuitive skills).
    • it's useful to improve their critical thinking skills. What are the implications of the behavior of characters in various situations? What sort of logic do characters and speakers use? How can you identify the subtext and assumptions?
    • it's probably most relevant to gain insight into the human experience. What does it feel like to grow up, to grow old, to be an outsider, to be an insider, to be in love, to mourn, to struggle, to sacrifice? What would we do in similar situations? This is what I feel should be the major thrust of any gen-ed literature course.
    I'm thinking about this because I'm in the process of redesigning my British literature survey. While I've always valued the connections readers make, I haven't explicitly encouraged the goal of learning more about human experience. In my revision, I'm going to tie this goal to my student learning outcomes.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    Backward Course Design

    I'm currently participating in a Summer Teaching Institute run by my institute's Teaching and Learning Center in order to add more technology to my classes. I was surprised that the first 3 sessions were actually not about technology per se, but rather about course design. In retrospect, this makes perfect sense: pedagogy should drive the use of technology, not vice-versa.

    One new concept that the institute introduced was backward course design. Normally, I think of a backward design as one that's inconsistent or wrong-headed. In this context, however, it means that the ends drive the means, that the goals of the course determine the activities of the course. Conveniently enough, Mark Sample wrote an article about this topic in last week's Chronicle. He creates an analogy of a target:

    'Imagine a set of three concentric rings. The outer ring represents knowledge “worth being familiar with” for students. The middle ring encapsulates knowledge and skills “important to know and do.” Finally, the smallest ring, the inner ring, represents “enduring understanding”—the fundamental ideas you want to students to remember days and months and years later, even after they’ve forgotten the details of the course.'

    Once the instructor has identified the target(s), then he or she can design the course and course activities to address all of these goals.

    This has helped me so far in English 101, a course that you would think would already have clear goals (since they're established by the department). Thinking backward, I realized that one of my goals was to have my students become more conscious and involved citizens. But was I actively working toward those goals beyond my choice of readings? Articulating a Student Learning Outcome helped show me ways to better support this goal through reflection and blogging. I realized that another enduring goal of mine is to have my students be tech-savvy, but I haven't really been providing enough support for this goal and keep getting frustrated at their ineptness; now I have baby-steps built into the syllabus.

    My next task is to establish clear outcomes for my British literature survey. What do I really want them to take with them? What do I want them to remember a year after the course?

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    My Summer "Off"

    Everyone knows teachers have the summer off, right? Actually, anyone truly in the know realizes that isn't true. Any teacher who doesn't have to prepare a new course or new lesson plans for the next year or to conduct research will probably take a second job to supplement his/her meager salary.

    Here's what I'm doing with my summer:
    • Revising my book manuscript for publication. 
    • Attending the Summer Teaching Institute at my university in order to add more technological components to my class
    • Rethinking my syllabi for Composition I and the British literature survey
    • Creating a new class, a survey of British culture from 1660-present (gulp)
    • Various work on my house, including repainting the front door and deck and planting new things
    • If I have any spare time, I have several shelves of books I've been meaning to read.
    • Bird-watching
    That's my summer "off." I think it's pretty sweet, myself. But I wish I had time to teach a summer class--I need the money.