Sunday, August 21, 2011

Class Assignment: Mini-Lessons

I've been working on my syllabus for next semester, finding readings (short stories, poems, academic articles, newspaper articles, etc.), hashing out due dates, all that good stuff. I'm enjoying it, partly because it's been about a year since I've had my own classroom and had to put some serious thought into something I enjoy, and partly because it's nice to be thinking about something other than planning dinner or when I should empty the dishwasher.

Of course, it's taking me awhile to hash out these details partly because it's been a year since I've had my own classroom; it's also a good idea to update one's class readings, even if you wind up using some of the same things (Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl" is short and easy to incorporate when talking about gender and culture, especially when paired with a writing activity). 

I forget which of my former Stony Brook University professors it was who noted that he had gotten to planning half semesters at a time; he would plan until about halfway through the semester, distributing half the course schedule at the beginning of the semester; the remaining schedule would be distributed later. When I started teaching I started doing the same thing: I work out due dates (including first and second drafts) for the papers, since those tend to be how students earn 60% or more of their final grades; I also don't want to get halfway through the semester before realizing I've only assigned one paper, meaning the poor students would have four more papers to write for their portfolios in six weeks.

All this means that my big goal before classes begin was to assign due dates for the students' papers, and create a course schedule to go until the end of October. (Most of the syllabus itself had been taken from previous classes taught, although there was some necessary rethinking and rewriting.) I have one more class to plan for, but for the most part, I'm done. But I was a bit at a loss as what to do with the remainder of the semester. Until I had the idea of having the students teaching mini-lessons on culture.

Obviously this would need to be modelled for them; I'd have at least one class in which we would discuss appropriate topics and resources, how to effectively teach, what activities would be pertinent, how much time could be spent on each activity, etc. I found a good resource that includes a handful of teaching prompts I could tweak and give them. I would still need to find textbook-related readings and some short writing assignments, but we could also have a class discussion afterwards that incorporates some of those necessities. I'll already have incorporated a semester-long 10-15-minute journaling prompt at the end of each class, so a combination of writing, critical response, and reflection would be easy enough to integrate.

This may go terribly, but the assignment will require my students to research and write, which definitely needs emphasizing. I also want them to pay attention to their other professors and begin thinking about what makes effective and interesting teaching, something they're likely to be required to do at some point.

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