Thursday, November 03, 2005

Sometimes we get it right!

The other day I observed a junior colleague's class for her yearly evaluation. She did a great job, but that's not what I'm writing about today. Today, I want to celebrate how well some of our students have gotten educated.

A bit of background: over the past several years, we've been re-organizing our English major curriculum. We've tried to make logical rubrics for courses at each level so that it's clear to us (though not always to our students) what the differences are between, say, a sophomore and a junior level course. Among the choices we made was to require our English majors to take at least two senior level seminars, and to put several prerequisites in place for senior level seminars so that the students in those seminars will all have a fair bit of experience in English courses, including specific courses such as Theory. What we're hoping is that we can give English majors a much more concentrated, demanding, and rewarding experience in a small seminar where we can start discussion on a more sophisticated level.

The class I observed was a senior literature seminar. And I have to say, something's working! I was so impressed with the level of conversation and discussion our students were having. Certainly, the professor sets the tone for class discussion. But students also have to be ready for it. And these students were.

They disagreed usefully and respectfully, and were able to explain and support their points of view.

They talked to one another, and not just to the professor, so that the discussion was a real discussion rather than a bunch of separate, unrelated points. They asked each other questions and responded intelligently!

They were able to bring in theorists from their readings elsewhere and to refer to other texts in smart, interesting ways.

Part of the class involved a small group doing a presentation, which was quite good. Each member of the group contributed, each part of the presentation worked to contribute to a whole "argument," and each part of the presentation was a bit different. They used small group discussions to focus the later full class discussion. The group leading the discussion had arrived early and re-arranged the classroom seating, and explained why they'd done what they'd done. That means, these people are THINKING critically about their education, thinking about learning and how learning happens and works.

We really are doing something right here at NWU!

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