Working on a tiny part of a large project that someone other than me is running. Mostly it involves editing historical documents and writing some (fairly substantial) introductory material. Of course, my brain being empty for the day, I’m writing about the writing than actually doing the writing. That’s probably because I’m not—deep down—a “writer’ as much as I am a teacher who likes to write; this stuff comes much harder than it probably does for more writerly writers.
So, this project (which has turned out to be a little more involved than I initially thought) has—regardless of anything else—provided me the opportunity to explore some additional sources to use in my classes. This writing (and the other writing I did over the summer—not just the book, but more bureaucratic and procedural stuff) has done a few things for me that I didn’t expect.
First, I completely rewrote most of my writing assignments for my classes. Nothing huge, just clarifying expectations and streamlining the words. I’ll be interested to see if the changes result in different, improved work from students.
Second—and this was not unexpected—is that the connections between my teaching and my writing (including writing that doesn’t directly bear on the subjects I teach) improve my teaching and, especially, my creation assessment activities.
A ramble, this, but one that clarified some things in my mind. Thanks for tagging along, if you have been.
On the list of links to your right, you’ll find a new one. It’s the final report for my 2012 Faculty Innovation Award. Inspired by the posts on Play The Past, I explored how I could use games (and, more broadly, historically-based media) to enhance how I encourage my students to be better consumers of historical media. I used the game Colonization as a starting point–because there’s just so much wrong with it–and tried to develop a writing assignment that will force students to begin examining historical media more critically.
The word count moves slowly, mostly because I’ve been in research mode over the past few weeks, tracking down old newsletters and out of print books as well as negotiating photo permissions with various entities.
The upshot is my writing time has been swallowed up by reading endless channeled/New Age books. It’s been painful.
I’m one of a group of faculty taking part in a workshop at the beginning of the winter semester. Part of our preparation for this is to come up with an example of a success and a challenge in our teaching. I thought it would be useful to throw it out into the world and—possibly—get some feedback or ways to clarify.
One success I’ve had is encouraging students to have a hand in creating their assessment activities. In my early world history class, I’ve put students into groups and asked them, for each chapter, to come up with 3 to 5 questions that would be good short answer exercises on an exam. Then, as a class we discuss each question discussing what makes that question a good or bad question
How do we determine a good versus bad question?
Does the question address what they need to know about the material covered in that particular section of the course?
Does the question make sense (grammatically, stylistically)? Is it clear?
Is it answerable given the information to which students have access (Have I talked about it in class? Is it discussed in the textbook? Did we read a document that covers the information?)?
Are potential answers concise enough for short answer questions or would it be more suited to a longer essay?
And rarely, but crucially:
Is the question based on an utter misunderstanding of the material? If so, how do we fix it?
The end result of this is that students then have a section of their exams that are crowdsourced, giving them some ownership and removing some avenues for complaining about the content of the exam.
I’m going to be honest. I’ve never liked using the euphemism “challenge” when we often mean “problem” or “screw-up”. Thus, I’m going to discuss–not challenges–but rather failures for which I repent and for which I have been attempting to atone. There’s a whole truckload, revolving around student assessment.
Assessments that build on previous ones–I would like to create a system of historical document analysis instruction that leads students to ask gradually more complex and nuanced questions of sources as we go further into the semester. Failures result from poor planning, lack of time, and my failure to adjust projects to account for shifting class ability (a project that worked well in one section bombs in another and I, usually, don’t pick up on the warning signs until too late to adjust effectively).
Exam essays should be the result of a series of practice essays written and critiqued. Failures resulted from poor time management in the classroom which, in turn resulted from poor scheduling at the top of the semester.
I want to do two things in my classes (regardless of the time period or place covered):
Train students to think critically about the past.
Train students to communicate their conclusions about the past.
I’ve got notions of how to do this more effectively, but developing ways to operationalize these notions continues to be a critical failure point.
I'm a historian and writer and have taught at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan since 2006. At Mott, I cover US, World, East Asian, American Military, and Medieval European history as well as serving as a faculty technology consultant in our Professional Development office.