Thursday, September 30, 2010

I'm so far behind . . I think I'm first

After such a long absence from this blog, I wonder if I can say anything of substance at this point. I've thought in fits and snippets off and on since the semester began, but have just not had the time to really sit down and post a reflection - and this has been such an odd semester so far. Maybe, thought, I've just been too lazy to sit down and think through my fingers. But here's my rationalization: To begin with, I was in Scotland until less than 24 hours before the semester began - and although I'd gotten my syllabi ready, had my plans done well before the opening date, and after teaching this course for 20 years or more, I still felt so behind. I've been playing catch up since the very beginning. Of course, I didn't think of everything I needed to do before we left on the trip -- so when I got back, with school looming immediately, I decided not to do my usual syllabus quiz. In all honesty, I just didn't have the time it would take to go into the new Blackboard Learn and edit the "old" quiz to have it reflect the new things in the syllabus, like different office hours, projects, etc. To rationalize, I reasoned that these were seniors in college and a syllabus quiz might be too "elementary" -but I was wrong. What I discovered was that going over a few things and then directing students to read the syllabus didn't seem to make a dent. By the time I discovered that students had not looked at the syllabus, it was too late to go back to a syllabus quiz. Or maybe I was just too tired to do that. We cannot duplicate our syllabi anymore because of the current economic situation, so uploading the syllabus to Blackboard or to a website or Wiki or Ning so that it is available to students is the only recourse. I wonder if that causes students to overlook the importance of the syllabus? Whatever the cause, students haven't taken the time to look at or think about the syllabus and I've had to be sort of hard-nosed about the file naming convention, among other things. Oh well, there has to be something I can do to get students to pay attention to the information in the syllabus - but I haven't found it yet. Maybe next semester I'll do a scavenger hunt?

I tried not to overwhelm students this semester with an in-depth description of all the projects, so I introduced the projects VERY briefly on the first day, but waited until they could sort of figure out what was expected to give an in-depth view of the projects as we got to them. For example, the Disciplinary Literacy Digital Essay, I wanted them to have read the first chapter at least, and get an idea of the differences in the various disciplinary fields before we looked at the project. Once we sketched out a chart summarizing the challenges of each discipline, and added a row for them to list/find examples of each challenge, I thought they would understand what was expected. We'll see when I finally get around to grading the DLDEs - which is another thing I feel bad about; I'm so far behind on my grading I think I'm first - I've just never been this far behind.

Likewise, the assessment project would not have made any sense at all unless students had experienced a Strategic Content Literacy Assessment themselves, heard it explained, and then read about it in their text. Maybe I waited too long to explain what was expected -- but I assumed [again, doing assumptive teaching is dangerous] they would read the scoring guide and see the expectations clearly outlined there. HMMMM - some students may still be confused, but I hope not. In reality, they probably won't understand the whole process until they've collected and then analyzed their data - and operating in that arena of uncertainty is unsettling to these students. They don't have much capacity for confusion. Maybe it's just me, but students these days seem to want to know everything they are supposed to learn over the span of a semester in the beginning - and not to actually know and be able to use the information, but to earn an A. I know that many are operating under tremendous pressures of maintaining GPAs to keep scholarships and grants - but the atmosphere of such pressure seems to me to be counterproductive in terms of their ability to tolerate uncertainty. Shoot, if they knew everything they needed to know before they came to class, there would be no need to come to class. Where is the joy of learning?

Well, I set out to reflect on the lesson from today [Bionic Trees] but all I've managed to do is gripe and complain. And that's not really fair - I have thoroughly enjoyed classes thus far, even with a teaching schedule that is worse than I've had in 20 years, which is saying something. I was pleasantly surprised by Section 03 when their response to questions about why there seem to be people who learn easier than others was one that focused on the context of that learning rather than on the constrained abilities of the learners. And the Section 02 initial professional reflections were at a level I expect to see in practicing teachers who have had several years of experience. I can see the results of the junior year methods courses already - and that has been positive. I just want these students to leave my class every day with something they can use in their own teaching - one idea, practice, principle, or strategy that is valuable to them. Because I've been where many of them are right now [wondering why in the world they are required to take a @#$#@ reading course] and because I know that about mid-term or a little after, the value of these ideas will sink in for most of them, I can be patient. So, I think I'll end this gripe session and return to a reflection on Bionic Trees tomorrow, when I've had some rest and some coffee -- lots of it.