Well, I’m back to teaching an IF-course, and for some reason, the same one I taught last year, a first-year seminar. Last fall wasn’t a complete failure, but I did a lot of re-tooling midstream, given that things didn’t always go to plan. This time out, I’ve made many changes, and most of them are working out for the better. One month in, and the only thing I’ve changed from the syllabus was moving one deadline back two days. There’s something of a consensus amongst my colleagues that this year’s batch of first-year students are doing better than last year’s, so that’s surely helping.
I have 13 students in this seminar, and the topic of the course is the nature of art, in all its variety. So I split the students into two groups, of six and seven. I used the same method I’ve used before, which I adapted from the IF Guidebook for Student-Centered Classroom Discussions. I give the students four statements and ask each to self-report which best describes her style working in a group. Since I have a student assistant who I chose for the course (and she’s a graduate of my same IF course last year), she and I step outside and sort through the students’ self-reports, and talk about who we think would work best together and who wouldn’t. At this stage, we’ve already met three times as a class, and my student assistant has seen them in social situations outside of class as well, so her perspective is extremely helpful. Mostly at this stage I can distinguish the talkers from the wallflowers, so I try to distribute them between the groups.
The results were acceptable. I let the groups choose their own names (“Dumbledore’s Army” and “Ravenclaw”, as it turns out), and each has its own character. The initial small group discussion is our “expectations and practices” discussion, the result of which is a document outlining how the students will communicate with each other, what they expect of each other, and what the ramifications are if one doesn’t keep up her end of the bargain. This collective agreement was somewhat useful last year, when we found out which students were the freeriders and which took on too much of the burden of the work. I hope this will work well again this year, and already the collective agreements are more detailed, especially for Dumbledore’s Army, who jumped right in and got specific about what they all promise to each other.
This week I’ve had my first four individual meetings with facilitators, and everyone has been thoughtful about her performance and receptive to my feedback. Of course, the first ones to facilitate are likely the most eager to learn, so we’ll see what happens when I get to the sixth and seventh facilitators. So far, so good. We’ll see what October brings.