"How do you think class went today?" Kathryn, my student observer said to me after class. (She'll be reading this blog entry.) Such an apropos question! I'm usually the one asking pointed questions that assume a certain authority in the respondent. It's the best form of compliment, you know.
Well, I think class went really well. Things were sort of chaotic, but organization was created out of that. I think that's so much better than going from boring organization to even more boring organization. We rearranged the desks and chairs to start class. Then people talked. Then I tried to get some order. My idea: people talking to one another, and listening to one another, is a good thing. What's bad in college is when students are so dead tired or uninterested that they don't even talk or look at one another. And it happens. It's deadly. College is a social milieu.
And honestly, when students discuss how their projects are going during class, should that be all that different from them talking about how they're not getting enough sleep? This isn't elementary school. I like trying to bridge the gap between formality (which scares people) and informality, the daily life, language and being of most of us (even professors and humanities grad students!). The best teachers make their audience comfortable and develop the skills students, who are actually people, already have.
So those are some of the ideas that led me to use student presentations in class. The first group, discussing MLA citation style, was led by a female student. She mixed formality (in trying to get her group's presentation along) and informality--she used the terms "guy" and "girl" to refer to article-writers, which I thought was both interesting and good. Her group got through describing in-text citation and how to cite a newspaper article, book, internet source and a film in a works cited page. It's hard to retain knowledge when it's just merely spoken, so it's helpful that our classroom has an Elmo projector, which can show a page on a screen without transfer to that clear plastic paper-like stuff (I forgot what it's called). So, by showing they knew how to do the MLA works cited forms, the group showed that performing that knowledge will be a definite expectation on papers (the group chose to present on that topic).
The groups are taking longer than I've been expecting, but that is fine, since I don't really have much to talk about, except for a dunderheaded e-zine article written for the Center for Arizona Policy about "Universities [sic] liberal bias" (their link is not working, which could be a good thing) and the upcoming assignments for the research paper, for which there isn't much to say. It usually works: simply give responsible people an expectation, and they will meet it, especially when they're doing it in front of people. Presentations are the smart teacher's tool, for they not only fill class time, but also demand in the presenter real-world knowledge. Communication, written and face-to-face, is very important in our culture, and that's what we're working on in English composition for first-year students.
Then we spent some time talking about what sources students have gotten so far for their research projects; also the difficulties of finding decent source material. Hunky dory.
Then the other group, which had been waiting for a student who was going to be late (according to a text message ), started talking about sentence clarity. This presentation perhaps could have been stronger, because they didn't maintain much classroom authority--the students didn't get out a sheet of paper and rephrase a sentence like they were asked to, but that's part of the learning curve. We did get to talk about using strong verbs and avoiding passive voice, which are things many students won't remember, but that is okay by me as long as they can write clearly. (Passive: "I was asked to jump." Active: "She asked me to jump.")
I think the little internet article on liberal bias will be fun to analyze in class. We only got to spend ten minutes on it, but even that was fruitful, because I got to describe duh-level writing mistakes (like plopping a quote) without having to use a student's writing to do it. And we'll get to talk about political stereotypes the liberals put on Christian conservatives and vice versa (the article reifies the latter).
So, what the English teacher teaches is intricacy of meaning. And that's realizing the intersection of formality and informality, the intersection of the objectively incorrect (i.e. grammar and punctuation) and subjectively neither correct nor incorrect (word choice, the style in which one addresses an audience, how to represent one's values in writing, and so on). So, teaching connections, teaching ideas, and how to lead students to a place where they can create, communicate and discuss ideas. That's my idea of teaching English.
Side note: I spent some class time earlier in the semester making fun of our Writing Program bureaucracy, one person of which uttered, "We're preparing students for middle management." Which is not untrue, but could have been enunciated much better. After writing what I've written above, I can say that, yes, my class prepares students to be middle- and middle-upper class professionals. But what that means is that they have to have intelligence and be able to communicate that intelligence in a group setting (via writing and speech). So in this sense, I'm conservative, because I think people should be able to write and discuss ideas in a scholarly environment (and all the conventions that go with it).
Second side note: I'm such a teetotaler! Last night I drank on the alma mater's dime at an alumni event in Mesa, AZ (west of Phoenix on the 202), and my hands and ankles swelled up a bit. No headache this morning, tho'.
Class 3-2-06, or How to Welcome the Unexpected
No profanes - sacred