Tuesday, December 2, 2014

End of the semester? Time to hand over the reins

It's the first at the DigitalConnect@SWC Blogging Challenge! I'm so excited. bayanprofessor.blogspot.com and I have cobbled together a cohort of amazing faculty to join us on a weekly blogging adventure. I can't wait to see what we all come up with and to connect with folks from across campus.

The first challenge asks us to share strategies for maintaining focus and motivating students (and ourselves) at the end of the semester. What a great question, as we are currently in week 16 of an 18-week semester.

I can't say I have a foolproof technique--little is foolproof in my life except my recipe for pumpkin pie (it's Libby's, but with a homemade crust it turns out great every time)--but I'm happy to ramble on about the topic anyway.

I've noticed that the semester has kind of a natural progression to it that I've learned to surrender to. For at least the first half of the semester, I'm a gatekeeper. I clarify and enforce rules. I have reasonably high standards for everything from classroom etiquette to completing and turning in assignments. I think it's important to make mistakes, though, and the first HW assignment or two I will allow them to revise if they're way off.

I spend a LOT of time at the beginning focusing on the basics of essay and paragraph writing, and yeah, I expect them to do certain things like support their assertions with examples, format their papers correctly, and print and turn in their homework or essays on time.We familiarize ourselves with critical thinking concepts and principles of rhetorical analysis, and initially it's definitely instructor-directed, though hopefully not instructor-centered.

But after that first half, I really hand the reins over to the students. We conference. They get more time in class to work on their projects. They work toward a group presentation. This helps to prevent me from burning out--hey, the students have the materials; they've (hopefully) learned the concepts. Now it's time for them to work through it, turning to whatever resources they need along the way. I step in from the sidelines every now and then and encourage or provide clarification. Boy is it nice to really take myself off the stage.

Admittedly, there are students who still have no clue that they need to do simple things like type or print their work before turning it into me (seriously, yes, this happens). The ones who are having the "Oh crap, I'm failing!" realizations and are now scrambling to do anything they can to still pass didn't have the benefit of making mistakes at the beginning of the semester, so the stakes are much higher for them. This is frustrating for us both, but since I've seen the cycle of the semester enough, it doesn't surprise me, so it doesn't get to me as much as it used to.

Still, as I blogged about last week, the air of desperation that follows many of our students this time of the year can really get to you. It's important to take breaks, even at work. Being pregnant has made me a little better about this: a couple of times a week I take a book or just my cell phone up to the botanic garden and sit for a while before a class. It really, really helps me get centered and get my head out of the "My life is on fire!" space that so many of our students walk around in.

1 comment:

Henry Aronson said...

Ahhh! The "air of desparation"! Love that phrase. Your post reminds me that so much depends on how we cultivate the community norms early in the semester. EARLY. And consistently. I'm realizing more and more that a single lesson, project, or demonstration isn't enough for a concept or habit of mind to sink in. Iteration is my new favorite work, i.e., figuring how to reinforce without being repetitive. When I see myself sliding out of the "guide on the side" role back into direct instruction mode, I have to ask myself, is it about me wanting control (often) or about students actually not having enough scaffolding. Thanks for the reminder. Here's to pumpkin pie!