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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Course design and the writing process

This fall I'll be teaching three courses, all of which I've already taught some version of. (The schedule was set up long before I even interviewed with DRU, with the intention that, whoever the department wound up hiring, they'd be able to slide into these classes with ease): Period Survey, Author Survey, and a composition seminar. The comp class will require the most revision, since I'm adapting the course that I taught at INRU two years ago, parts of which were designed to take advantage of the fact that 2004 was a presidential-election year. However, I'm switching some texts around in my other courses and generally trying to learn from my teaching experiences these past few semesters.

And it occurs to me that my approach to course design, or at any rate lesson planning, is weirdly similar to my approach to writing. As I've discussed, I'm a drafter. I write draft after draft after draft, usually into the double digits, of everything I write. I used to find this exasperating about myself--why can't I just call it done? Why can't I be faster at this?--but I've come to accept and often even to enjoy my own rhythms; in a way, it takes the pressure off to know that, okay, I'm going to have to be writing nearly every day for a month rather than screaming through a project in a week and a half--but on any given day I don't have to produce something brilliant, or even produce that much. I just have to plug away (at least until the end, when I do get truly crazy and obsessive).

I think I've now come to have a similar attitude toward teaching, born more of necessity than of nature. Teaching a 3/4 load this year was a shock, especially since each semester involved two new preps and I was on the market and I was still finishing my dissertation in the fall. So after the first few weeks of overpreparing, I learned the value of "prepared enough." I'd do the readings, type up any handouts or quizzes the night before, and then do all my lesson planning on the train into campus, scratching out big themes, lines of questioning, and important passages on a legal pad. To my surprise, this worked really well in the classroom, although I did always feel that I was perched on the edge of total disaster and might tumble into it at any moment.

In my period survey this spring, in the interests of time, I mostly just adapted or outright repeated what I'd done in the same class in the fall--sometimes using the exact same handwritten notes. I didn't love the straight repetition (one feels rather like a jukebox spitting out the same old tune), but I liked it when I had the time to think through a slightly different classroom strategy or to build on what I'd noticed from the previous semester. I also started occasionally scratching notes in the margins of my lesson plans as I was teaching, indicating things that worked well; things that needed more time; things to be scrapped.

Now that the term is over and I'm looking ahead to the fall, when I'll be teaching two of these same classes all over again, I'm also in the process of typing up my lesson plans based on these handwritten ones. My intention is to create a Word file for every text I teach, which I'll adapt and add to each year. Any given semester, I'll print out the document and then mark it up by hand: yes to this, this, and that part; skip that bit; try something else here.

We'll see how it plays out in practice, but I really like this as a way of thinking about teaching a given text or a given course: as a process with many stages and many drafts, and always with the potential for one more round of revisions.

And when I teach two brand-new classes in Spring 2007? Yeah, I'll put plenty of time into designing the syllabi and doing background reading--but the actual lesson plans will, I expect, be scratched out on legal pads the night before.


link | posted by La Lecturess at 2:47 PM |


9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous commented at 3:25 PM~  

Hello, I'm a blogless lurker who loves your blog, just finally weighing in to symbolically and vigourously nod my head at your draft-y process for course design. I'm teaching a compressed spring course right now in my precise research area (which is fun), and when I move to another university next year I will be teaching it again as a small senior seminar. I am so grateful for the opportunity to rethink even as I go...even though it's going very well, after each class I am full of ideas about how to change it up for the fall. And I have never enjoyed teaching quite this much, it has never felt so alive for me, so full of the possibility of making it even BETTER. So I think there's a lot to be said for your strategy of constant revision...and I think it works to enliven one as a professor, and of course the students respond to that, don't they?

Blogger Bardiac commented at 3:26 PM~  

I don't keep a file on a computer, but an actual literal file for all the texts I teach. When I use an anthology some (for theory classes, or surveys), I usually keep a file for the anthology itself, which works pretty well.

And I keep a separate file for each new class each semester; as I'm prepping, I'll reread the text, work through my teaching notes, and then either use the teaching notes directly, or add to them, or pull from them. So now my teaching notes often have a couple layers of notes. (That helps when I'm using different editions with lineation changes, especially.)

Putting things on a computer sounds great, but I hate when programs get changed or hard drives get mucked up (or when I changed jobs).

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 4:01 PM~  

Bardiac:

Yes, I'm a great believer in the physical file as well, and I don't expect to get rid of or avoid them through this method--but hopefully I can make it more efficient, especially since I've been moving back and forth between 50-minute, 75-minute, and now 85-minute class periods.

And anonymous lurker: welcome, and thanks for your words of support!

Anonymous What Now? commented at 4:14 PM~  

I have a computer file for each text I teach, and it does help enormously to keep track of all of the notes that accumulate over the years of teaching a text. I still haven't figured out how to handle it when I switch editions and thus page numbers of a text, but otherwise I've got a good system worked out.

And I think your drafting strategy is a fine one!

Blogger phd me commented at 11:56 PM~  

Allow me to say, I applaud your strategy! Building on what's come before while making changes to improve future classes - great teaching, LL. :)

Anonymous Dr M commented at 9:36 AM~  

Just curious -- what is the enrollment in these 3 classes?

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 11:26 AM~  

Dr. M: the enrollment caps are a little high, since these are intro or required classes (35 or 40 for the surveys and 14 for comp), so I *could* be teaching as many as 89 students; however, I don't expect those classes to fill up, esp. since one is an evening class.

The version of the surveys that I've taught before were capped at 30, so the classroom dynamics should be similar.

Anonymous hay, we commented at 9:12 PM~  

woo! LL's blog got an IHE link.

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 7:42 PM~  

Urg. I always have such mixed feelings about being linked by IHE--but I guess it's a compliment!

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