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.)