Day 476, July 6, 2021

Back in the Saddle Again

Tonight's soundtrack: Tedeschi Trucks Band, Layla Songs (I was forwarded this article about the Tedeschi Trucks Band covering the whole Layla album, which was a college staple for me and it made me curious to check it out.)

For the first time in many years, I find myself in the classroom again. Teaching is such an odd endeavor, equal parts performance, choreography, cheerleading, and organization. And on Zoom, it also feels like you are also an events coordinator. All while trying to facilitate learning.

I felt a little jittery today, in part because I am still recovering from a restless couple nights of sleep after traveling for the holiday, and in part compensating for that with a little extra caffeine. Surprisingly, I actually kept to my projected times, but I also jumped around a little more than seemed logical, like a person who is too excited.

The first class or two is always so important. It is that initial meeting where students feel out the expectations of a professor while making a good impression, and a chance for the professor to get an initial feel for the class, if there are active talkers, others who are more reticent, people who ask questions, others who need space to contribute. It is important not to waste the good will of students showing up and giving you an opportunity to be someone special. 

People talk about the five year mark, of when teaching suddenly becomes easier. Certainly, when I was teaching composition on a regular basis, I could walk in with a general sense of what we needed to cover, and I could do it almost cold. But my best classes were always carefully planned out where I had mapped out every minute of the class period and thought carefully about what information students needed to know and how to break up information with activities.

For this class, I am trying to put into action a lot of the things I've learned since I was last regularly in a classroom. The first is being transparent about why we are doing things. For some reason, I used to always enjoy having students discover or intuitively understand the construction of my class. I'm not sure why it seemed important to have this extra subtlety, as if teaching was something sneaky and tricky, but it was the way I was taught, and it was something I adopted. For this class, I am trying to make sure students understand why we are doing every assignment and how each assignment fits together.

That is the other big revision for this class, every assignment fits together in the construction of a final project. It is what we call scaffolded assignments. How can someone know what the final thing is supposed to look like if you haven't given guidance for each of the parts? In this way, everyone knows and has created a draft of their final project through a series of smaller assignments.

My goal is to make sure every student can pass the class. My hope is that I've constructed something where that is eminently possible. Of course, we all know things get in the way, despite our best intentions, we fall behind. This is a condensed summer class, so I'll have to watch for that as I think that's the greatest danger to inhibiting student success.

One semester, when I was last teaching, I ended each week's class with 5 minutes for students to write on a 3"x5" card what was the most important thing they learned that week, and one question they had. I would look at the cards over the weekend, if the students missed something I thought was really important, I knew I would have to review that in the next class, and then I could go through the questions at the beginning of class and give as many answers as I could. It was a way to get feedback from students, so I'm continuing to do that for this class where every week they will have a forum post where they share something they learned, a question they have, and feedback about the class. I hope to inspire a participatory aspect of the class where they can contribute to their own learning.

Already the students have spoken up with a great idea. Today, I had them break into pairs (and one trio) to interview one another about their influences on becoming successful college students. We came back to the big group and they shared some of their stories, and then I let them know what they would do next class and one student asked if they could have the same groups for peer review the next class period. I asked if other students thought that was a good idea and everyone raised their hand. I think it is a great idea. The students had just started to learn about one another and they wanted to learn more about their partners by listening to their draft autobiographies. How cool. Instantly, the class has become better and I feel good about the first day's class.

I love teaching because you get to see students do amazing things.

Take care and be well,

Leo


Larger than life... this was actually a very tiny frog.

From Our Friends:

From the Boston Public Library:

Read Together in July! 

This month's Reading Together theme is 
An LGBTQ+ Author.  
Get started with these recommendations for AdultsTeens, and Families, as well asReading Together Participants in June.
JULY 15
BOOK GROUP FOR TEENS
Brown Girl Dreaming 
by Jacqueline Woodson 
JULY 27
BOOK GROUP FOR ADULTS
Fair Play 
by Tove Jansson 
JULY 29
BOOK GROUP FOR FAMILIES
The Best at It 
by Maulik Pancholy 
If you haven't signed up for the Yearlong Reading Challenge yet, it's not too late: visit bpl.org/yearlong to learn more about the challenge and how to participate.











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