Thursday, February 25, 2010

Quick hit: retraining after the coffee break

Just back from the Delta blues gig: once a week (Thurs nights) in a coffeeshop where the clientele can, on any given night, be overladen with too many posing (and loud!) high school students, oblivious to those few others who might've actually come out to hear the music. But on other nights it can be OK, if the ambient noise level is reasonably low and my hands are working reasonably well. Not the best night tonight, playing-wise, but not the worst either.

This next picks up from a comment over on the ProfHacker blog (where a Dr Coyote article on teaching to large classrooms will appear in the next couple of weeks), where the PH crew asked for suggestions about "15 minute activities that improve the next day's efficiency."

Was working earlier today with teaching assistants on the materials for the Friday discussion sections, the balance to the Monday/Wednesday lectures when, on Fridays, the TA's take over in order to create a different interactional dynamic. The kiddos need the contrast--because having to deal with Dr Coyote two days a week is quite sufficiently intense--and they need to take responsibility for their own interactions with one another.

Down-side, of course, is when/if certain little criminals decide that the Friday meetings are somehow "less important" or "not real classes", it means a week away before the next Wednesday when I can bring the hammer down upon them. And, even when they're not criminal, it can be damned difficult for them to hold onto the continuity from Wednesday to Wednesday, if the Friday content is chunked-out separately or unrelatedly. So we try to have Friday group tasks & chores pick up from Wednesday lecture, and feed-into shared activities on the Monday morning--it makes for much better continuity.

I also work on continuity from one class meeting directly to the next. Immediately after every meeting of a class, including the MWF 50-minute sessions with the undergrads and the TR 80-minutes with the grads, I send a Blackboard email "further to meeting of XX-XX-XXXX [date]", in which I reiterate the meeting's topic, point to new resources relevant to the day's discussion (at the same time, I am converting and uploading the day's Flash slideshow--I teach music history so audio and video embeds are important for student review), cite next due dates, and so on. I find it keeps the continuity from the end of one class session through to the beginning of the next--in musician terms, this would be "connecting the energy at the end of one phrase to the beginning of the next"--as well as providing a concrete, succinct, cogent summary, meeting-by-meeting, of that course's progress through the semester.

It's a little more than 15 minutes, and it happens after each class meeting rather than once a day, but it certainly seems to help both students and professor with continuity.

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