Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Fitting the shoe to the foot in the UG classroom...

Originated in comments over on Terminal Degree:

[Query was re/ whether "12- to 14-hour work days" should be considered "normal":

From a just-post-tenure perspective, here's a two-pronged observation that may help you re-think your level of preparation a bit:

(1) Sometimes over-preparation (12-14 hours/day is *too much work*) results because anything less than "total prep" feels shaky to us. That is, we think "what if I run out of material in class?" or "What if the students (or observing colleagues) think they're not getting enough?" I would submit that, though understandable, this results from a MIS-understanding of the purpose of a lecture-based class in the arts. Your job is not--cannnot be--giving them "everything there is to know" or even "everything you know" about a given music topic. Though it seems an obvious insight, it's easy to lose sight of just how rudementary *any* undergraduate music student's background in the lecture's material can be. You need to adjust your expectations about the sheer volume of material they are *capable* of taking in.

In other words: you should not teach according to your sense of "what there is to know" about the topic, but rather according to your (trained, experienced, empirically-observed, pedagogue's) sense of "what they can assimilate" TODAY about the topic.

In this sense, I think that we can see excessive over-preparation as proceeding from a certain *lack of awareness* of the students' actual capacities.

Want to test this?
Ask yourself if you sometimes, frequently, or even regularly have *too much material* and find yourself having to skip bullet points, whole slides, or whole explanations. If this is happening, you are over-preparing.

Remember: in teaching lecture classes, the crucial pedagogical question is *never* "how much do they need to know?" (much as we might wish that) but rather "how much can they take and and USE at their current stage of development?"

NOTHING is so engrossing, in teaching fine arts to large lecture classes, as a dynamic, engaged, variegated, kinesthetic, bodily-involved lecturer. Yes, for our post-literate students, multiple (especially visual) simultaneous media are the norm--but the fact that they have not experienced the riveting capacities of a great *live performance* does not mean they will not respond to it: it's a basic form of human communication that goes back at least 40,000 years.

You should consider teaching at least 1 lecture in 3 with NO Powerpoints, readings, or other technology. Challenge yourself to provide *as much* engrossing visual stimulus with just the audio recordings and your own body. Move, gesture, change inflection, make jokes, address specific students, haul up a student to pose the next question for you, act out questions, etc. You will be surprised how much the students will engage with these techniques. You will also be surprised how many positive comments they will elicit on evaluations.

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