Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Better Teacher, Part II: What I Think They Need, and What They Need

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the great things about a sabbatical is the opportunity to think about teaching. When we're in the thick of it, we tend to be reactive teachers, even though most of us have often thought about tearing down one or more of our courses so we could build it up into something… well, something better. But things just get so busy that we don't have time to reflect what that "better" would look like.

But during my sabbatical and the summer afterwards, I started reflecting more. Part of this was inspired by my visit to my friend Dr. S., who recently won a college-wide award for her teaching. Her institution is different from mine – different students, different work allocation – but one basic point remains the same: what we think our students need may not be what they actually need.

As it happens, this semester's courseload is the perfect laboratory to experiment, as I have the entire range of courses:
  • 100-level gen-ed course, 50-ish students, mostly non-majors. Goals: teach them the basic content; make them decent writers; get them to think analytically and critically (and to understand why this last thing is important more generally).
  • 300-level survey course in Medieval Stuff, 25-ish students, mostly majors (though not necessarily medievalists). Goals: basic content; better writing; higher-level analysis; basic independent research skills.
  • Grad historiography course, 7 students, medievalists all. Goals: introduce them to some of the classics of the discipline, get them to understand the nature of historiography, and how each of the works are situated in the history of the discipline; move their writing from acceptable to elegant, and their analysis from superficial to incisive; advanced independent research.
But that's what I think they need. What do they need? The answer, no matter what level, seems to be threefold: detailed guidance, a chance to learn from their mistakes, and potential rewards for making the extra effort to do so.

What I decided to do, coming in part III.


Another Damned Medievalist said...

I can't wait! I hope you don't mind that I'm probably going to be tying some of my NaNoBloMo posts to this

Belle said...

We're just finishing up a major department/program rewrite. And we're using the AHA blurb on what history is and the skills you need as our base. One of our Dinosaurs was stunned that we'd shifted from students needing to know facts & stories and more towards how historians (and they) work with the sources available. His favorite Civil War book has been out of print for almost 40 years....