I know that “Teaching Wednesday” isn’t a thing, but I realized that I hadn’t blogged about teaching for a while here, and left my night class yesterday thinking about teaching at the end of the semester. As readers of this blog know, I’ve been teaching History 101 in the University of North Dakota’s fancy Scale-Up classroom. The Scale-Up room consisted of 20, 9-student tables designed to facilitated group learning.
My course leads students through the process of writing a history textbook with each table being responsible for a part of a chapter on Greek, Roman, and Medieval history. Over the course of the semester, the students start by writing 500-700 word, individual, analysis papers which introduce them to using primary sources, compiling specific historical evidence (e.g. names, dates, et c.), and constructing arguments. These papers begin as group work, with each table working on an outline, compiling evidence, and discussing their approaches to the topic. Then, each student turns in an individual paper.
The skills developed in these exercises are then applied them to the larger task of writing 3, 3000-word sections of chapters for a textbook written collectively. For each section, each 9-person table prepares an outline, writes a draft, reviews other table’s drafts, and revises their draft into a polished, final product over a three week stretch. Thus, the final 9 weeks of the semester are dedicated to each group writing a section on three different topics.
Each class is a bit different, but generally, I provide different levels of feedback over the course of the 9 weeks. The first section each table writes often focuses on process. For example, students become so eager to figure out a thesis for their chapter that they often try to come up with an argument before they have compiled evidence (each table has a variety of textbooks and web resources for their research). The second 3-week section tends to focus on issues of organization and making sure that a 3000-word paper written by 9 students coheres and supports a single argument. The final 3-week section tends to focus on more writerly issues, but it also offers the students an opportunity to approach the task of writing a 3000-word paper with a sense of confidence both in my expectations and in understand group dynamics and how the process works.
The biggest challenge for me as we head toward the end of the semester is what to do during class time. This week, for example, was the second week in the final 3-week module. This class period usually involves addressing feedback they’ve been given on their outline, refining their supporting arguments and thesis, and hopefully beginning to write. Last night, I stood there, bored, and watched the class work. I thought: “Everyone is just writing. It’s like they don’t NEED me any more.”
Then I realized that everyone is working, and while I can always push them to improve, to some extent, the class has reached its goals. Everyone in the class was just writing.
That was a pretty good feeling.