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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Group work: pretty necessary

For various reasons, in both the electives today, I opted not to go with group work--and in both cases, I saw the value of groups in terms of getting the more shaky/reticent students involved in the conversation. However, in both classes, things ended up working well enough. In the SF class, I demonstrated how to move from a simple observation ("There's a lot of stuff about animals in Androids") to a more important, thematic idea ("Looking at the evidence, what can we say the novel suggests about empathy?"). Students loved seeing the ideas on the board (diligently taking notes)--and although the class discussion was confined pretty much to 6 or 7 students, the rest not saying anything (and a few nodding off), the comments and questions connected pretty well to what was on the board.

By the way, Mr. Difficult (or whatever I've been calling him: the borderline hostile student) was there again. He mostly read during class, but he said that he actually gets a lot ideas out of group work. I am beginning to think he truly isn't hostile; he just seems that way because he's both very bright and profoundly impatient. I keep going back and forth on what's going on with him, but I'll continue to gently encourage him to play with others, as it were.

In M&D, the students were pretty silent and apparently disengaged when we were talking about the middle chunk of A Study in Scarlet--which is understandable, as the story very abruptly shifts to an omniscient narrator and an apparently completely disconnected back story. There are clues that somehow the back story will connect with the mystery of the first part, but it's easy to get lost. Still, I was very happy that a few of the students who are normally silent were willing to jump in with some questions or observations. I didn't press the discussion very hard or far; I shifted pretty quickly into showing the first chunk of the TV Sherlock's first episode, "A Study in Pink." I was delighted that it was new to all but about 3 students--and I told them to pay careful attention to the ways in which it followed the original story and the ways in which it tweaked things. They loved it (of course)--and they were infinitely more engaged when it came time to make the connections from the book to the TV version and back again. Lively, intelligent comments and observations. I think they're a little disappointed that the primary focus of Thursday's class will be on discussion of the final chunk of the book: they want to get back to the TV show. But we will watch the remainder of it, though we may need to finish up next Tuesday. (I don't remember how long it is--which means I "have to" take the DVD home tonight and time out the rest of the episode, imagine my dismay.)

I did get everything marked and returned today--in part because I've pretty much stopped commenting on their responses. There are a few students in each class who need to come talk to me; I'll be interested to see if they actually follow up on my suggestion that they make a point to spend time with me in order to improve. Some of them are simply not interested in putting in any particular effort--or don't think they can learn to do anything more than what they're already doing (the expectation of failure that's been beaten into them over the years)--but a few are anxious to improve, so I hope they make that little bit of effort and get to my office. I finally did a little bit of the talk about how to improve responses in the SF class--though I didn't spend as long as I could have on the reason why simply copying ideas from someone else's summary is a bad idea. I'm getting somewhat tired of harping on what needs to go into responses, but I think they're finally getting the idea that the responses can be beneficial when it comes time to write their papers.

And I know fully and completely that when I get their first papers, I'll be frustrated and disappointed by most of them. I hate to say that I'm hoping a few of them bail before that point, as I honestly don't know how I'll get all the papers marked if the classes stay as big as they are. The former student who was in the SF class is no longer: he officially withdrew yesterday (after my big, fierce lecture about his coming to class unprepared). The two former students in M&D are holding steady, though one of them was absent today--but another student has stopped attending, and I think she's fled. (That reminds me: we have to do the first "census" of our classes this week. Put that on the "to do" list, Prof. P.) Others are sure to flee once they get their first essays back graded.

And I realize that I'm contemplating relaxing my very high standards for their papers. I hate it, but I also am trying to find a balance between what I think they should be able to do and what they actually are able to do. The problem is, some of the students can achieve high marks even with my standards at their usual high level. It's that vast middle ground, between the obvious fails and the obvious A's that is perplexing to me. I just don't know where to set the bar for the B, C, D grades....

Well, that's a dilemma for another day. For now, I'm completely exhausted and need to noodle around a little, just to let go of the day, and then get out of here. I may post tomorrow, depending on how I feel about the work I get done (or don't). I'm glad I don't have to get up to an alarm; I'm glad I can mark assignments and read the books without interruptions by students wanting advisement or my class schedule. But I have to say, this whole working for a living thing is highly overrated.

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