The Joy of Meetings (and Some Real Joy)

I spent about half of last week at a Board meeting for Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society.  Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely hate meetings of any kind.  As much as I love the organization, I’m not sure what I was thinking when I agreed to a four-year term as the Southern Regent.

The meeting went as many academic meetings went.  People talked a lot longer than they should, especially when it was clear that everyone agreed with whatever had been suggested.  Parts of the meeting (though really only one part) was contentious, as it has been for years and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.  The meeting could have ended hours before it did, but, as with all academic meetings, it seems, it expanded to fit the time.  We thought we would end by lunch on the final day, but, when that didn’t happen, I was the loudest voice to simply press on without a lunch break, hoping that people would move the meeting along if they were hungry.  Though we went longer than most of us would have liked, we definitely ended earlier than we would have if we would have taken a lunch break.  That gave me time to visit a museum and see the oldest basilica in the U.S. Continue reading

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An Alternative to Cold Calling

In Jay Howard’s new book, Discussion in the College Classroom (a book that is well worth your time if you care about the amount and quality of discussion in your classroom), he lays out the research showing that cold calling on students is one of the best ways to get past their “civil attention.”  It’s clear that, once one establishes cold calling as part of the norm of your classroom, using that technique can increase the quality of discussion in your class.

However, most of us are loathe to use cold calling, partly because we don’t like the perception it creates in students that we are out to get them, partly because we don’t believe it will actually lead to a substantive answer, and partly because we believe it will negatively affect our course evaluations (if we’re honest).  For those of us who are introverts who went through our college courses often not talking, we also don’t want to inflict such expectations on students who are much like we were.

There is a middle path here, though, that I’ve found works quite well:  online forum posts to help guide discussion.  In my upper-division courses, students are required to post a response to their reading by the morning of the class where we’ll be discussing that reading.  Such an approach has a few advantages, all of which help with class discussion. Continue reading

Pick a Card

I’m using a technique this semester to divide my first-year writing students into groups, which I do almost every class.  I’ve found they’re not very good at have all-class discussions without my giving them time to talk about ideas ahead of time.  This approach is not a new one; I heard about it at a conference almost a decade ago, in fact.  Someone wrote about it online this week, though I don’t even remember where.

Here’s how it works.  Using a basic deck of cards, pull out whatever you won’t need based on the number of students you have.  I have 30 students in one card, so I use ace through seven, then two eights.  Each student takes a card.  I began by simply dividing them into groups of four, having them match up with people with the same number card, threes with threes, etc.  I would often put the eights into the sixes and sevens, so no group was under four or over five.

There are several benefits of this approach. Continue reading

Would You Please Be Quiet, Please

I’m slowly reading through Contemplative Practices in Higher Education by Daniel Barbezat and Mirabai Bush.  I wish I could say I’m reading through it slowly because I’m putting into practice what they’re arguing, but it’s really just because the semester has started, and I don’t have time to read for long periods of time any longer.  Still, the fact that I’m forced to read through it slowly is probably a good thing.

I’m still early in the book, but there’s one idea that’s already popped out at me.  When it comes to teaching books at this point in my career, I’m usually happy with just one or two ideas.  I can’t say that I’m convinced with all of their argument or how that might show up in class, and I don’t think people will see significant changes to my classes after I’ve finished the book, but there may be subtle differences.  The one idea I hope to explore is that of silence. Continue reading