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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Teeny-tiny, itty-bitty 101...

Officially, there are 12 students on the 101 roster, down from the initial 15. Two weren't in class today--which means they're going to be at least one assignment behind everyone else, assuming they come to class on Tuesday. Looking again at the assignment schedule, I realize that the first four weeks of classes are screwy: Next week, no classes Monday; Tuesday follows a Monday schedule--so I see the 101 students twice and the students in the lit electives once. The following week, again, no classes on Monday--so I see the 101 students once and the elective students twice. The week after that, no classes on Wednesday--so I see the 101 students once and the elective students twice. That eventually evens out in November, when a Tuesday follows a Wednesday schedule and we have Wednesday off (for Veterans' Day). I'm hugely relieved that all the electives are on the T/Th schedule and the one comp is on the M/W schedule: it's very hard for me to keep things sorted out in my own mind when I've got one comp following the M/W track and another following the T/Th track: my brain needs them in sync, even when they're not. If that makes sense.

In any event, the 101 was great--so far. There is one student with guinea pig tendencies (that sounds so rude, but I just mean he may need to be suppressed periodically), and one who has the "too cool for school frat boy" kind of demeanor, but who was, in fact, very willing to participate in discussion.

And the "Backwards Brain Bicycle" was a huge hit. They got it.

Favorite moment: when the Frat Boy said he thought it was an interesting coincidence that the video and the quotation for consideration (by W. G. Sumner, about critical thinking) were addressing the same basic idea. Really? A coincidence? You think?

He rather sheepishly admitted that maybe it wasn't a coincidence. I wanted to say, "Darlin', I do know what I'm doing here." But he'll figure that out, after about a dozen more such coincidences.

They seem on board with the annotations and expanded reading notes--and not too freaked out about the online discussion board posts. I am expecting a very bumpy start, and I told them it was OK if they felt a little unsure what they were doing at first, but we'd get it sorted out.

Backing up a bit to the discussion over the quotation for consideration (which I'll provide below): it was interesting to see how they misread, what they see and what they don't. One student pointed out what she thought was a contradiction (between having a clear, codified method but keeping ideas open)--and after I'd sorted out the thinking so she could see there is not, in fact, a contradiction, I told the students that the kind of question she'd had would be great in expanded notes.

I don't want to get too optimistic about what I'm going to get in terms of actual intellectual content: I'll just be happy if they take a stab at the assignment.

But even this first day does make me think that maybe the whole process is too complex. I'll know more as the semester goes along--and the one really good thing about the small class size is that I can work with students individually, and the collaboration can be class-wide, not just within small groups. Of course, I wouldn't mind if a bunch more students register between now and Tuesday: I am still very nervous about attrition, even though I've done everything I can to stage them slowly and carefully through the papers. It's still a lot of work, and it still isn't easy, and they're still unused to working through frustration in their academic lives. But the first reading--Mike Rose's lovely little essay "I Just Wanna Be Average" (an extract from a book, actually)--is intended to help them see that it's possible to suddenly be introduced to a life of the mind and to find it exciting and wonderful.

We'll see. We'll see.

Anyway, here's the "Quotation for Consideration" that is the initial prompt for their first papers (including the footnote I provide for them--but which, of course, most of them didn't read):

“Education is good just so far as it produces well-developed critical faculty.[1] . . . A teacher of any subject, who insists on accuracy and a rational control of all processes and methods, and who holds everything open to unlimited verification and revision, is cultivating that method as a habit in the pupils. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded. . . . They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence. . . . They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens.”

W. G. Sumner. Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals, New York: Ginn and Co., 1940. 632-633. From The Critical Thinking Community, “Sumner’s Definition of Critical Thinking. July 23, 2014. Web.

And in case I didn't already post it, here's the Backwards Brain Bicycle:

I didn't point it out to them, but I hope they stumble across this, too:

Right now, I am going to force myself to pull together what I need for my classes tomorrow, so all I have to do is grab the correct folder and go: it's going to be a mad dash of a day, though I may have a break between the seminar hours meeting at 10 and whenever the unhappy colleague shows up to talk about scheduling. But then I have class, training in the scheduling software for seminar hours, class: no breaks, just dashing from one to the next. Of course, the classes themselves may not run the full period; I really don't know what to expect in terms of conversation. But I can't count on getting out early and having time to organize between events, so I'd better do it now, even though all I really want to do is get off campus. But those steaming piles of class stuff aren't going to sort themselves, so off I go, to try to tame the chaos before it gets too out of hand.

[1] As Sumner uses the word here, it does not mean “faculty” in the sense of teachers: it means an ability or power to do something.

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