We’re back from “spring” break this week, and my students have all gotten their midterms handed back to them. My inbox and office hours were both accordingly more full than usual. Some of the students are taking the time to check in, talk about their performance, and think about what they can do to improve in the second half of the term. These meetings can be tough, but they fill me with hope. There are still seven weeks left in the term! Plenty of time to turn things around if you’re not happy with how you’re doing. We talk about strategies for them to improve their work. We talk about note-taking. We set up plans to check in more frequently going forward. I hope that they will take me up on it.
It’s a good time for me to check in as well, and think about whether my performance in these classes is where I’d like it to be. I’m teaching two lecture courses this semester, and I’ve been trying out a few ideas from the TUSH bloggers as I go forward. I’ve particularly been trying to think about Ben Wright’s suggestion that teach like we write. I could probably do better with conclusions (I clearly lack Ben’s discipline with timing), but I’ve found the idea of opening the class with big interpretive questions extremely helpful, and I think my students do as well.
If I were to give myself a midterm report, I’d have to admit that I’m having problems with readings this semester. We do not have discussion sections, and I’ve found it hard to dedicate considerable classroom time to reading discussion. The result of this is that a lot of my students are simply not doing the reading. Several of them are, and are doing a wonderful job on their papers and exams, but many of them clearly need more accountability. When I have smaller classes, I’ve assigned frequent response papers to keep tabs on the reading. This semester, though, there are simply too many students for this to work for me. In one of my classes, I’ve bitten the bullet and begun shifting around my syllabus to give us more time to talk about the readings in class. I split them into small groups, give each group a question to talk about, and then we all come together to discuss the answers. This has made a huge difference, and I am trying not to kick myself too hard for not having done it earlier in the semester. I’m not sure what to do in my other class, where the seats are fixed to the ground (so they can’t move around to form small groups) and where only four or five students will talk when I raise questions. I’ve begun distributing reading questions to them every week, in the hopes that some will be encouraged to keep up the reading because they will know what the “important” parts are.
I am trying to give myself the same pep talk that I gave my students in office hours: the middle of the term is a good time to check in and see what is working and what isn’t. It’s a good time to think of new strategies for fixing the things that aren’t working so well. I’d love to hear some new ideas: outside of additional writing assignments, what do you do to ensure that your students are doing the reading?