July 30, 2010

You're telling me I can't teach everything I know in a semester?

I've been revising my plans for the upcoming fall undergrad history of ed class based on a bunch of things that have been percolating in my head this summer, including the need to recertify it for my university's gen-ed program (or at least apply for recertification), the Utah Tuning project in history and what we expect from undergraduates, some thoughts about formative assessment in history, and other items. As a result, I've tinkered with the major writing assignments and the exam item structures, linked some of the weekly work more tightly to a major writing assignment, changed how I address attendance, bit the bullet on students and laptops, and then realized I have 28 class sessions (T-Th class, so Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving are gone).

Hoo, boy, that's a limit. So I decided how I'd handle some of the longer primary-source documents, tied the shorter ones I wanted everyone to read to a calendar, and looked again. Still "hoo, boy." So I created a table to sketch out each day of class, the immediate upcoming assignments (i.e., how students might look at the near-term future for a class), and the theme of readings. In went the obvious topics I address every semester, at the logical locations. This morning, I did the rest: figure out in more detail than I ever have before what I could do with each class session--the stuff that will take up a whole class, the stuff that won't and what combinations would work where, the topics where simulation/debriefing would make sense, topics for "fishbowl" discussions, topics for certain types of structured activities, and one week where I'm not sure what I'm doing in detail but I know how to set up the intellectual puzzle.

Apart from that week in mid-October where I'm a bit at loose ends, there are still plans I need to make in the ordinary course of things: how to guide students for certain activities I haven't tried before, or haven't tried with a particular topic, how to set days up (with a motivating issue/puzzle, by foreshadowing something earlier in the semester, by tying it into a major course theme, by tying it to a major assignment, etc.), and so forth. Nonetheless, this is fairly detailed. I won't follow this plan to the letter, guaranteed, but this has been a very useful planning activity, in part to guarantee that as many loose ends are tied up as possible by the end of the semester. One of the conclusions I drew from reading the draft and final state social-studies standards a few years ago is that I share the "topic-a-week" symptom of my fellow historians: I'm competent at addressing the topic du jour, and I can tie things together impromptu when it's appropriate and obvious. But taking an intro/survey course and making those connections explicit, so that the intellectual core of a class is clear and the work for students is as easy as possible (and by this I mean easy to accomplish, not easy by lowering the bar)? I needed to carve out a few days and be selfish for that.

The reward for students should be a better course. The immediate reward for me: in addition to generally liking teaching this class, I've also got something very specific to be excited about for every class.

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Posted in Teaching on July 30, 2010 4:26 PM | Submit