The first class in which I will use Socratic seminars is coming up in a matter of hours. I am both excited and nervous about it. From what I’ve learned about Socratic seminar, though, it seems like that is natural, largely because when one allows the students to control the dialogue, the result is always going to be unpredictable. That means, of course, that I can’t really know in advance how well this is going to work, but the unpredictability is also quite exciting, and I think it will add a lot of freshness to the class.
Of course, I know it isn’t all left up to chance. Here are some things I have done and am doing to try and scaffold Socratic discussion for students. I am betting that only a few of the students have done classroom discussion this way; by a show of hands last class, only two had, and they don’t’ recall much about it (so it may have been early in their learning career). Therefore, there are things I am putting in place to try and support discussion during the critical first few weeks. (more…)
Yesterday and today, I taught my Fall semester classes for the first time. And in keeping with my desire to record my experience (for my reflection and your um, entertainment), here’s something these “first classes” have made me realize: I have a really tough time not centering my courses around me. This will take some work
Here’s some background. For the first day of my classes, I like to start right off with activity – no reading the syllabus at ’em. So, all three face-to-face courses (despite being different courses) followed the same format. They got into randomly assigned groups of six and took turns telling stories about their most memorable classroom experience. While one told a 3 minute story, the others would use post-it notes to write down one or two words the story made them think about. Once everyone had told their story and written post-its about the other stories, they worked in groups to organize the group’s words into categories (for one class, each class had to come up with two metaphors for what school is that they can use to organize their words. The other had to organize by whether the words fell into learning, motivation, or assessment.)
So, there is a lot of me resetting the online timer, walking around the room, and standing there. I’d interact with students and listen to stories being told, but mostly, the students ran the show. And I know that is how it should be. But here’s the thing: I noticed myself getting awfully fidgety during those three minute (and eight minute at the end) segments.
I think one reason I felt fidgety – like I should be DOING something – is that subconsciously, I have picked up the message about teaching and learning that most of us do: good teaching means the teacher is doing something at all times, and maybe ideally, is the central focus of what goes on in the classroom. But when your class period is designed in a way where students can move and do themselves – and where you don’t have to be the Sun in the room around whom student-planets must orbit – the teacher (well, at least me) will be left with the awkward feeling that at that moment, he should be doing more. (more…)
Today, I watched a really intriguing Intelligence Squared Debate on the motion of “Smart Technology is Making us Dumb.” For the affirmative, Nicholas Carr and Andrew Keen argued; for the negative, Steven Weinberger and Genevieve Bell. For my part, I agreed the most with Genevieve Bell, whose main point was that there is a lot more to the story than whether it IS making us smart or stupid, mostly because there are a lot of smart technologies and a lot of ways we can use those technologies. I agreed least with Andrew Keen, whose conservative persective seemed to be that if we can find even a few ways “we” are using technology in ways he thinks aren’t substantive (twitter seems his favorite example), then that settles the matter.
But one thing I noticed is that the debate really hinges on what we mean by ‘smart,” “dumb” and for that matter, “intelligence.” Carr seemed to tie these things to short-term memory and attention; Weinberger seemed to argue that all intelligence requires is having access to information.Here is a comment I wrote below the debate that may be interesting to share here. (And, of course, check out the debate to form your own conclusions.)
Warning: since you are reading this on a blog, Keen may accuse you of being stupider for it.
In less than a week, I jump in with both feet. As a college professor who loves teaching, I try to vary up my pedagoy every year or so to keep things fresh. This summer, I’ve done a lot of research on Socratic pedagogy and the more I’ve read (and talked with those who’ve used it) the more I like what I heard. So, in less than 1 week, when the Fall semester starts, I will be taking the plunge and running one of my classes in almost its full entirety Socratically. So that I can track (and let others in on) my experiences, I am going to blog about my experience doing this throughout the semester (and maybe the upcoming school year)
What is Socratic pedagogy? Well, in brief, it is running the class in a highly discussion driven way. While I generally keep lecture to a minimum anyway, this semester, I will do as little lecturing as possible. The course will be centered around texts I have students read, and my role will largely be confined to crafting discussion questions that we can have conversations about in class. But even beyond that, it won’t resemble the traditional “discussions” we see in most classrooms, where the teacher stands at the front of the room and calls on students, who do their best to craft answers to the discussion questions that the professor/teacher wants to hear. Socratic pedagogy generally demands that the students face each other during discussion and talk to each other rather than the teacher, while the teacher either sits and discusses with the students, or stands outside the discussion, occasionally jumping in to move conversation forward. Quite literally, Socratic pedagogy is about as student led as things can get.
So, why am I so excited to try this? There are a few reasons. (more…)
Recently, Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison made headlines by returning two participation trophies given to his children – student athletes. In so doing, a lot of internet praise has accrued to Harrison. Here was his original Instagram post explaining his decision:
I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues
The only way
I can describe my thoughts on this is that they are mixed. I’m definitely not as sure about Harrison’s decision as some seem to be. So let me explain a bit of why I am having trouble.
First, the whole message seems to be that these prizes were unearned. I’m not sure about that. A prize is earned when you meet the criterion/a for the prize. And in this case, that is exactly what the student athletes did. The prize was for anyone who showed up, the students showed up, so they met the criterion for the prize. Harrison (and others) may disagree that there should be a prize for showing up, ot that showing up shouldn’t be sufficient to earn a prize. But that is a different argument altogether than saying that the prize was unearned. (more…)
Much proverbial ink has been spilled in the past year or so debating whether or not professors should ban computer technology in class. A lot of it comes down on the side of disallowing students from bringing or opening laptops, cell phone, and other potential distractions in class. I respectfully dissent from that viewpoint, and I’d like to offer some reasons why.
[First, a caveat. Since the context in which I teach may be different from others, I should explain my general situation. I teach in a College of Education, and the classes I teach generally don’t get larger than 30 students. Thus, I am able to do more activity-based learning than professors stuck with larger lecture-hall class sizes.]
The primary reason I am concerned about the efficacy of banning computer technology in class is that it assumes that computer surfing in class is a cause, not a symptom, of inattention. That is, many professors seem to assume that banning computer technology will stop (or make it significantly harder) for students to think about other things, like their friends, what they want to do after class, etc. I am skeptical that this is how attention works. I think all us 30+ers all remember our k-12 experience, where we were unlikely to have computer technology at the ready, and that didn’t stop us from not paying attention. When we think about something other than what the professor wants us to think about, it is a general sign that what we are thinking about is, to us, more engaging than what they are talking about. Computer technology may give us a way to act on our boredom or inattention, but disallowing computers in class is unlikely to alleviate that inattention. (more…)
Currently, I am reading a (so far) fantastic book on how to do Socratic (highly discussion-based) pedagogy, called Teaching With Your Mouth Shut. So, a few of my coming entries will be about that book. In this entry, I want to reflect on how some of the book’s message reflects what I call my ‘facebook philosophy of education.’ I developed this philosophy when working at University of Delaware’s Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning as a graduate assistant.
Let me explain. The dilemma the Center was having was that while they often advocated that professors do less lecture and more activity/discussion (“teaching with your mouth shut,” so to speak), professors would find that students often gave them lower evaluations when they did this, with comments about how the professor didn’t seem to do much teaching. (That led students to believe that the teacher who didn’t lecture was probably less competent than the teacher who did.)
My own observation has confirmed this a bit, and it is likely due to teachers and students falling for what I sometimes call the “labor theory of teaching and learning.” Like Karl Marx’s labor theory of value – where a thing’s value amounts to the labor used to create the thing – teachers and students often believe (wrongly, I think) that how much teaching or learning is going on can be surmised by looking at how much labor is visibly going on. This can be seen, for instance, when teachers believe that the more homework students do, the more they must be learning (and avoid assigning too few readings or homework for fear that the class will be too easy). It can also be seen when students equate teaching with lecture; if I don’t see the teacher up in front of the class lecturing, that means she just isn’t teaching. (Of course, we often get these ideas by absorbing what happened in our own schooling, where lecture often was what counted as teaching, and parents and teachers believed that a class’s workload was a proxy for how much learning went on in the course.) (more…)