Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Individual Approach in Teaching

Because I'm a sucker for punishment (a.k.a a very responsible educator dedicated to the intellectual well-being of her students), I allow students in my literature courses to send me rough drafts of their essays as many times as they need before handing in the final version. I go over the rough drafts and make extensive comments on how the essays can be improved. This, of course, makes the end of the semester particularly brutal for me. However, when all that pays off, I feel really fantastic.

There is a student who, for the longest time, couldn't understand what it meant to write an essay in a literature class. Over the course of 4 rough drafts, this student regaled me with statements of the "La Celestina is an interesting work of literature" variety. With every new version of the essay, I kept nudging and pushing the student towards engaging with the text critically, towards learning the difference between describing and analyzing. And this morning, finally, the student sent me the fifth rough draft that has actual analysis of the text. This version of the essay is still not perfect, of course, but it is engaging, lucid and free of trivial observations and annoying generalizations. 

It is my firm belief that all you need is to awaken students' critical faculties once. Just one single time. The moment when a person has their first taste of what it means to become free of the constraints of received wisdoms and produce a critical opinion of their own, they will never go back to regurgitating boring platitudes. This is what my role as an educator really is.

I feel very happy right now. 


susannah said...

I think that your approach is a wonderful one. Every new kind of writing I've done, I've learned how to do through careful and thoughtful edits of mentors, professors, teachers.

Clarissa said...

It's very difficult to do when the classes are huge. We get pushed to raise enrollments all the time, and the quality of instruction suffers as a result.

Pagan Topologist said...

Quality of instruction really does suffer from either increased teaching loads or larger class sizes. The outrageous element here is that this fact is often used to justify hiring many underpaid part-time or non tenure-track faculty so that students can have more individual attention.

Jonathan said...

I've thought of doing this too. You could just start out each student with a first draft and then see how far each one progresses from there.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your teaching philosophy and think the freedom you give your students to think is essential for their development.

Unfortunately it has been my experience however, that professors such as yourself spoil students for the much of the remainder of their academic careers. I know that I for instance, find subsequent classes taught by instructors who (unfathomably) condone and require regurgitation nearly unbearable. Further, I absolutely love the field of study which I am currently undertaking and as such, I immerse myself in and have a quite thorough understanding of the subject matter. Yet somehow, instructors can still find a way to bore me to death with their lectures and make me question my decision to pursue degrees in this field.

Obviously I prefer courses structured in the way you describe yours to be, it is just sad that other, poor instructors are defacing engaging subject matter on a daily basis. (I am just venting here. I am finishing up a course of said low quality at the moment and am frustrated beyond belief.)

Melissa said...

You probably changed this student's life. His/her academic future, at any rate.