I am a lecturer by nature, and will most often defend the lecture-based course over one dedicated solely to class discussion (seminars excluded, of course). I do, though, want to gauge opinion on the most effective ways to teach upper-division American history courses. I will begin teaching senior-level courses in the fall, and, although, I have a clear idea on how I want to do it, I also would be interested in hearing other opinions on what folks have found useful in their own experiences.
My courses will comprise approximately 40 students, which, in my opinion, is too many for an effective discussion. So, I envision each class period dedicated primarily to lectures, but also interspersed with questions directed at the students. For example, I am interested in pursuing a Socratic method-style of teaching in which I will lecture for a while, and then call on a student, asking pointed questions about how that day’s assigned primary source relates to the theme of the lecture. I feel that this will serve two purposes. 1) It changes the flow of the class away from me and toward the students. 2) It forces the students to come prepared, already having read the assigned material based on the possibility that they will be called upon directly to interpret the meaning of documents or secondary readings. In addition, I plan to stop a lecture to engage in an in-class primary source interpretation, and then finish the lecture once the exercise is complete.
So, I envision each class period dedicated 75 percent to lecture, and 25 percent interaction/discussion. I know that when I was an undergraduate, I really did not care what my classmates believed or thought about a given topic. Instead, I wanted to know what the professor–indeed, the expert–had to say about the topic in which s/he specialized. I have since modified this position, somewhat, now that I am at the front of the classroom. Although I hesitate to give the class free reign of a topic, I am interested in seeing how students can apply a reading or source to the ideas and positions that I put forth in lecture. Hopefully, the students will come to a different conclusion/interpretation of the source, or offer an alternative point of view than mine.
What are your thoughts? How do you balance lecture and discussion in upper-level courses, those specifically as large as mine–40 to 50 students.