Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Are you gellin'?

Dr. Morache and I share an office and so we talk, from time to time, about how class went. In other words, when she gets back from class, I sometimes ask, “How did it go?” She asks me the same thing occasionally. It’s a good way to “process” what works and what doesn’t in our teaching techniques. I think we both find it to be an important part of our professional development to vet ideas with one another and try to keep our feet on the ground.

Something we’ve both been discussing lately (and all teachers out there will recognize this concern) is why the same lesson plan and presentation will really fly with one section and really bomb with another. Why is that?

When I was a first year teacher at the University of Utah, I had two sections of English 2010 (which is the same as our 102) back to back three times a week. I prepared one lesson plan for both sections (same class, so it makes sense to not overdo it). The first section was responsive enough. They would discuss the issues and ideas, debate the finer points, develop theses and defend them, etc., but there was never really much energy in it. They showed up, they did the work, and they went home. Okay. Fair enough.

The second section, which met immediately after the first, had a far different dynamic. Rather than just going through the motions, they would really dig in to the issues. They’d debate, but it was with some passion and excitement. They’d develop ideas and defend them, but with vigor and creativity and imagination. They’d get so excited to get their oar in that they’d talk over each other in their haste to be hear. That was occasionally a problem, but that’s the kind of problem that a teacher likes to have.

Of course, one might argue that because I’d covered the material once that the second go-round would be more polished– better presented. That’s probably true to a degree, but I compared my “presentation” from section to section and I didn’t find that much different (argue, if you will, about my subjectivity). To me, my part– the so-called “teaching”– was the same in each section. What caused the different dynamic in each class, then?

Here’s another example: this semester I have two back-to-back sections again. They exhibit different dynamics too, but the order is reversed. That is to say, the earlier section is the class that gels– that gets fired up and bounces ideas off one another and moves the discussion along in a lively and useful way. The later section stays pretty flat most of the time (students from that section, if you are reading this, help me understand the dynamic). In this case, one might argue that the more polished, or at least rehearsed, presentation is failing to elicit the greater response. What’s up with that?

So… bottom line… what makes a class gel? Which are the elements that bring students together to create a lively, productive class atmosphere? What have you observed? What have you done? What works, and what doesn’t?


(BTW, this useful, exciting “dynamic” can be present in online classes as well, but takes on a little different form. We can discuss that in another post.)


Murphy's New York-a-go-go said...

Ah, one of the great mysteries of teaching. I'm not having your particular problem, rather a different teacher issue. Maybe you can "relate" to this. I teach back to back fresh comp classes, so I say the same things twice in short order. Since I haven't taught back to back and I haven't taught freshies in a awhile, I'm having moments when I think "did I already say this?". The answer is, of course, yes, but even so I'm tempted to say "did I already say this?" to my 4:00 students. I feel confused and hope I get over this phenom soon. BTW, my classes are both responsive, but my 4:00 is almost exactly ten minutes' less responsive, and I've wondered how much of that is me-related. Am I too quick to respond because I've hurt responses once already? Who knows. Maybe it's me; maybe it's them. Maybe we just want to go home at 5:40.

Here's the best so far bread recipe, or did I already send you this? See, it's happening again!

White Wheat Bread -- 2 lb. loaf
1 1/2 C + 3T warm milk
4T soft butter
1/4 C sugar
2t salt
3C bread flour
1C whole wheat bread flour
1 package yeast
You can use water + 2T dry milk or buttermilk powder if you like. I used milk. I hope it works.
How did the house showing go?

Clark Draney said...

The showing went well... I guess. They didn't say much to me directly (I just let them wander the house rather than "showing" it), but I overheard several positive comments. They were being reserved, no doubt, so as to be in the best bargaining position if it comes to that. Either way, we're good. If we get a good offer, hurray! If we don't, we're happy too.

You did not send this recipe yet. I've been a little to consumed with some family things and some church things to get to bread making again (not to mention being a little discouraged after two bricks). Maybe tonight before choir rehearsal--- or maybe after.

How much yeast is in a "packet"?

Murphy's New York-a-go-go said...

About 2 and 1/2 teaspoons, I think. I'm glad you're so cool about the house thing. I'll probably be selling mine within the next couple of years to buy a house with my significant other. I'm torn and worried about the whole thing already. My house is old -- 140 years -- has too much yard (2/3 acre), no garage as you know, and little insulation. But I love it. It has three bedrooms, two baths and my office is red with gold trim. That'll keep you awake while working, huh?

Anyway, when push comes to shove I don't know if I'll be able to sell, although fewer cold drafts would be cool, get it?

Keep up the bread baking. It's worth it man. I sing in a choir too, btw.

Clark Draney said...

The bread is GOOD! I stayed up way too late to wait for the bread machine to finish. It was worth it. This is an excellent recipe.

I admit, though, that I went back to bread machine yeast. I couldn't take three heartbreaks in a row.

I'll try again with the other yeast soon.

Thanks for the wonderful (really!) recipe.