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Half Time

Not to go all Drama of the Gifted Child, but I’m feeling decidedly inadequate about posting after reading entries from people like Keally, Laura, and Jack. They seem so professional, and I feel so amateurish. On the plus side, I have learned a lot from your ideas (grading facilitation credit/no credit, asking students to come in with a written plan for facilitation, etc.) that will help me in the future; I was also comforted by Jill’s “bad student” persona (though it was easily seen through); and I have some hope that by pumping Jack up, he’ll remember his snack pledge (I promise not to mention it again).

My class is at the half-way point with Spring Break next week. I feel like it’s going well, but I continue to feel up in the air about how all the parts are fitting together and how the IF part of the class is going. Yesterday we had a literature day, with a student presentation on “Party in the USA” (what is the party exactly, and why is Miley going to it in those Daisy Dukes?) followed by a discussion of Louise Erdrich’s “Fleur” and “Dear John Wayne” (how is Erdrich challenging “traditional” definitions of American identity, power, and truth?). I left the class feeling like we’d had a great discussion, wide and deep.

On Tuesday, we’d had our last IF class before break, and I felt more uncertain about it. I asked each of the three groups to summarize their discussions so far by bringing in their working descriptions of what it means to be American. Each group’s summary showed they’ve been thinking about the topic, and I’ve observed that almost all the students have been engaged in the discussions and worked to move them forward. I would’ve liked to have seen more depth in their descriptions, and we talked about that as a class on Tuesday. A concrete example: one of the groups mentioned citizenship in their definition and that led us to a discussion on Tuesday of the rights and responsibilities of citizens similar to the one we had at the SI last summer. They clearly hadn’t thought about these issues, and I felt both that I didn’t blame them for not doing so and that I wished they had.

I decided when I designed the course to have a “self-contained” IF process not directly tied to the literature we’re reading. I’m not sure I made the right choice. Their project is to describe what it means to be American, then to think about what the group wants to preserve/change about the country, and finally to come up with steps to help that preservation/change happen. I very much value the idea of students claiming ownership of their IF project and seeing it as coming from them. I also, though, want to challenge/help them to think as deeply as they can about these issues and come up with the best answers they can. Maybe I’m asking them to come up with policy ideas without providing them with/asking them to research information and ideas to enable them to answer the questions with any sophistication.

I’m well aware that part of my problem is that I’m going through this process for the first time. As Dickinson said, “Hope is a thing with feathers.” I’m trying to trust that the students are learning, even if they’re not learning exactly how or what I’d envisioned. I had a good talk with Sue this morning about the class. I told her that I did feel confident that the students are really exploring what it means to facilitate a discussion (a skill I don’t think any of them have explicitly been asked to work on) and that they are learning from each other. Sue also pointed out that in movingĀ  forward in the process of coming up with specific suggestions for America, they may well reflect back and deepen their ideas about who we are. I do look forward to seeing where they end up.

I see my main work as staying tuned in to the balance of giving the students the freedom to have their own discussions and stepping in to give them advice and strategies to move the discussions forward. But first Spring Break.