Friday, September 05, 2008

Making my list, checking it twice...

This has been a day of crossing things off lists, something that fills me with great delight. I have completed annual evaluations of two faculty members in my department (out of eight). I have read and responded to 10 student drafts (out of 37 that need to be returned early next week). I have updated my bulletin board, posted grades, read the online discussion produced by my brilliant African-American Lit students, picked tomatoes, prepped Monday's classes. That's an awful lot for one day, but I worked through lunch just so I wouldn't have to take so much home with me for the weekend.

The best part, probably, was reading my students' contributions to their online discussion. This is an experimental assignment in my African-American Lit class: on each of five Fridays spread across the semester, four students will write brief but thorough summaries of theoretical articles dealing with African-American Lit, and the rest of the students will write brief responses (at least 250 words) to at least two of the summaries, exploring the ideas in greater depth or connecting them to our reading in the class. I was a little nervous about how seriously students would take the assignment: will the discussion forum become an echo chamber or a lively conversation focusing on profound ideas?

The answer is B. The summaries themselves were quite well done, introducing provocative ideas objectively and insightfully, and they provoked a variety of responses ranging from bland agreement to sharp critique. With a few minor exceptions, students showed evidence that they were reading carefully and thinking deeply before responding. Best of all, students who have never opened their mouths in class presented their ideas confidently. That's what I wanted, and that's what I got.

Getting silent students to speak up: there's another item to check off my list.

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