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Archive for November 27th, 2011

As the fall semester winds down I find myself thinking about how to improve the less-than-perfect aspects of my courses for the spring.  Unfortunately, I still haven’t found the perfect method for motivating my students to come to class prepared to engage in intelligent discussions of the reading (and it is increasingly evident that daily quizzes in 50-minute classes have a number of drawbacks).  To this end I am considering a range of options including providing discussion questions ahead of class and taking some of the control over who participates and who does not away from students.  I am also thinking of stealing some lines from a syllabus by David Foster Wallace.

Katie Roiphe at Slate notes that Wallace’s section on participation notes that:

Even in a seminar class, it seems a little silly to require participation. Some students who are cripplingly shy, or who can’t always formulate their best thoughts and questions in the rapid back-and-forth of a group discussion, are nevertheless good and serious students. On the other hand, as Prof — points out supra, our class can’t really function if there isn’t student participation—it will become just me giving a half-assed ad-lib lecture for 90 minutes, which (trust me) will be horrible in all kinds of ways.

As you might expect, he also has some words of wisdom for students’ typical approach to writing:

If you are used to whipping off papers the night before they’re due, running them quickly through the computer’s Spellchecker, handing them in full of high-school errors and sentences that make no sense and having the professor accept them ‘because the ideas are good’ or something, please be informed that I draw no distinction between the quality of one’s ideas and the quality of those ideas’ verbal expression, and I will not accept sloppy, rough-draftish, or semiliterate college writing. Again, I am absolutely not kidding.

While I don’t have the reputation of David Foster Wallace (nor am I teaching at Pomona), giving students a clearer picture of expectations upfront is a key component of holding them to those expectations near the end of the semester.

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