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Going Meta

I went to a workshop a few years ago that focused on microteaching as a way to become a better teacher. In microteaching, a group of colleagues takes turns teaching each other something for about five minutes, then they talk about how it worked. I still vividly recall the sense I had through the process of remembering what it was like to be a student and how much that changed how I saw myself as a teacher. I’ve had aha! moments like this during my IF class, and I think many of the students have, too, moments that really cause us to what education is and the way it works in a different way.

Thursday I went meta in class in a way I haven’t since they started doing their IF discussions. We talked about student-centered learning and Friere, and my desire in planning the course to think about how literature relates to our lives as community members and citizens. What students said in response captured succinctly my own feelings about the course.  A senior spoke animatedly about how stimulating she finds the class and the way it asks her to engage with ideas and apply them to her life. A first-year student expressed her frustration at the open-endedness of the discussions and how they didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.  Another senior said she appreciated all the different viewpoints her group members brought to the discussions and their openness in sharing them. An English major couldn’t understand why their wasn’t more reading required for the course. A junior said she didn’t feel like she had enough expertise to address the questions I was asking them to answer–what does it mean to be American and what can we do to make the country better?

I really resonated with Sue’s and Keally’s comments about giving students space to explore an issue broadly and deeply. I think students feel that space in this class in a way most of them have never experienced before, and I’m glad for that. I had a cornball moment last week as I listened to the students’ discussions and thought how lucky they were to be talking to each other like that in a world where learning is becoming increasingly Phoenix-ed and Kaplan-ized. When I think about the facilitation skills I want them to take from the class, what springs to mind is just the process of having been in and helped facilitate groups where they help each other unpack ideas and deal with difference without having large white man (I can’t help who I am) authority figure butting in to tell them how to do it right. I’ve seen shy students stand up and run their groups; I’ve talked with dominating students about how good facilitators don’t just lead but make space for others to create; I talked Tuesday with a student who told me she wasn’t cut out to facilitate a discussion, and I could tell her she was dead wrong because I’d just seen her do it.

The caveat still comes with the “deeply” part, the old content/process issue Laura recently wrote about. My biggest mistake in designing the course was asking them to talk too much about things they didn’t know enough about. For me reading Glengarry, Glen Ross, or Pynchon’s “Entropy” leads naturally to a discussion of public policy in America, but it doesn’t to them. That’s the biggest thing I need to work on in moving forward with IF classes–building in ways to strengthen and deepen the connections between what they read and do research on and what they discuss.