Sunday, August 03, 2014

Early Bird

I just got a very polite email from a student requesting the reading assignments for a course.

(It so happens that I'm not teaching the course zie seems to think I am, so that solves that for me.)

Now, if a student emailed me about my Shakespeare class, I could give hir the names of the plays I've ordered.  But if I were teaching a survey type course, there's no way I'd know all the stuff I'd ask them to read at this point.  And for the course that's brand new for me, other than the books I've ordered, I don't know quite yet.

We have about four weeks to the start of classes, and I think it's pretty reasonable not to have a course calendar planned.  How about you?

(I'm not blaming the student for asking, but even if I were teaching hir course, I'd have difficulty answering.)


  1. Up to seven or eight years ago, I would have taught as you are teaching now, which I think is a fine way to teach most students.

    But with the students I have now, who are almost all working 30-40 hours a week and some of whom have families, I've started planning out the semester in advance. The better students want to get at least the first several weeks of reading done the month before classes start, and I like to be able to give it to them.

  2. I've had a few such requests. They're mostly from pretty good students, so I don't really mind them; I mention a few things I know we'll be reading early on, tell them I haven't absolutely decided about the rest of the semester, and send them on their way.

    I do think it's inadvisable for students to read ahead of the syllabus, though; my experience has been that they can't really talk language or details unless the readings are very fresh in their mind, as in read or re-read within the last day or two.

  3. I'm with you, even though my students have schedules much like delagar's. Maybe that's because I teaching a course with lots of writing and relatively little reading, my take is that they have to leave sufficient time during the semester to do out-of-class school work, even if that means taking more than 4 years to graduate. And yes, I know that some kinds of aid are only available to full-time students, but still aren't sufficient financially. That's a structural problem that needs to be fixed.

    If I were teaching a lit class structured around novels (or plays, were drama my specialty), I'd happily give the student the book list (or direct hir to the bookstore, with some info. about the planned order of reading, if I knew it, which I probably would, since I tend to order readings chronologically (though I once tried reverse-chronologically, which worked in some ways and not in others). But if I were teaching a survey based on an anthology and perhaps some additional readings, with lots of short works and excerpts (which I dislike, but they're sometimes a necessary evil) and such, no, I wouldn't have a full reading list at this point (though I would have a full course calendar, with all the readings in place, on Day 1 of the semester, since that seems to be pretty much required these days. Of course, there might have to be some adjustment as we go along).

    By the way, I suspect that student expectations are shaped both by courses in other departments, where a single textbook is the backbone of the course (sometimes to the point of coming along with prepackaged powerpoints or online modules or whatever), and by high school, where teachers may well be required to know what they'll be reading, and when, if only so the books can be made available.

    So, yes, I'd be sympathetic to the request, but not necessarily prepared to answer it in detail. I have learned, especially with online or partially-online courses, especially in the condensed summer term, to send out a list of "things you can do to get ahead" with my welcome/warning email (welcome! be advised that this is a real course, with time demands equal to or greater than a face to face one). Judging by early completion of a few online posts, a few students, but only a few, do work ahead. I suspect there are a lot of good intentions involved in such questions but less follow-through.

    1. That should be "I teach." Aargh.

    2. And the parentheses seem to have taken on a life of their own. Sorry. Not quite awake yet.