Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Week into Summer

Or just over. 

I'm working my way through the Herman and Bucholz and Key history texts, trying to decide which to order for my class.  They're both good reads, for me at least.  But what I'd have my class read in B&K would be about 200 pages, and in Herman about 100 pages.  And that may be enough to help me make my decision because they'll be reading a lot of other texts.

I'm trying to figure out a way to have my seniors do presentations again, but this time more effectively.  I'd love to hear suggestions.  I've had great luck with end of the semester projects in my Chaucer class, but not so much with the senior class doing presentations as the semester goes along.

One thing I think about is how miserably bad most of the presentations were in my seminars while I was a grad student.  But I would like to give my students more responsibility for their learning and more experience leading. 

Here's what I'm thinking of trying:  put students in groups, and have each group lead two shorter discussions, one on a play text, and one on another sort of text.  For the play text, I'm thinking of asking each group to come up with one passage they really want to discuss.  And for the other, one issue they really want to discuss.  Is that enough? 

I'd love to hear ideas or see assignments you've had success with, please.


  1. Anonymous7:50 PM

    I've found that success in these presentations or discussion-leading depends in part on requiring advance preparation, so I have students prepare a handout, e.g. with their passage and suggested areas for discussion, due 24 hours before class. This helps me work around anything that looks particularly sucky. I also invite them to visit my office hours for help in preparing, which few do. Also, you might consider assigning respondents -- sometimes discussions fall flat not because of the leaders but for lack of student engagement. So I sometimes divide the class into, e.g. 6 panels, and additionally require that panels 1 and 2 respond to panels 5 and 6, and so on. These too can be required ahead of time, or not, but then you really have some stuff to build on come class time

  2. I try to "prime the pump" for good presentations by getting some of the best students to do the earlier presentations. That and doing my own version of a presentation on a background element in the first class.

    I like the idea of assigned respondents. I might try having a double sign up. Students will sign up for presentations AND for responses. Thanks, Anonymous!

  3. I know I'm late to this, but here it goes:

    I do presentations in a LOT of my classes, and I've done versions of group presentations or single-person presentations. Whether you go the group route or the individual person route, I can't emphasize enough how much having a very detailed assignment sheet helps for these things. Just saying "come up with a passage" or "come up with an issue" probably isn't going to generate great presentations for all but the most engaged students. Instead, formulate what you want from them in a really concrete, step-by-step way. In other words, something like:

    1. Choose a passage.
    2. Look at the language of the passage. Talk about what stands out to you, figures of speech, important motifs, etc.
    3. Relate the passage to the day's reading as a whole.
    4. Relate the passage to the text as a whole (if you're covering it over multiple days.
    5. Make connections between this passage and the other things that we've discussed this semester.

    And if you're doing this with groups, I would strongly encourage you to force the groups to divide up the work according to the above breakdown - everyone should have to demonstrate which part of the presentation was there responsibility, and the grades for the presentations should be at least in some part individual (usually I do a 60 percent group grade 40 percent individual grade).

    If you go with individual presentations, I also recommend "doing" a presentation as a model for the class before any of the student presentations start. I do this in classes where I have individual presentations, and it makes a world of difference. Yes, it's more work for me up front, but it's good pedagogy because 1) you are doing the assignment that you expect them to do and 2) it means that the presentations get off to a good start, even if when you assign the presentations you don't necessarily know who will be a "good" presenter naturally and who is less likely to be so.

    If you want to see my presentation assignments, I'll happily send them along, though it might take a week or so because all of that is saved on my school computer and I'm not going into campus this week.

  4. Thanks, All. Dr. C, I'll email you :)