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CV MATERIAL: MY TEACHING PHILOSOPHY (UPDATED 09/30/2011)
Class Sessions. Class Sessions. My literature sessions consist of brief student presentations, discussion with the entire class, and my own comments. Although I find the lecture format appropriate for very large classes, in smaller ones I prefer to interact more intensively with students. I use class sessions not only to lecture but also to listen to studentsâ€™ presentations and informal class comments. On the whole, my classes are neither completely informal nor completely formal â€” they are (I hope) comfortably between those two ends of the spectrum. Here is a breakdown of a typical courseâ€™s activities both inside and outside the classroom:
Journal Requirement. My course wiki menus include an instruction page that explains how to complete and periodically turn in journals based on the study questions I provide online. Journal-keeping helps students stay current with the reading, develop ideas for papers, and participate in class discussions. (Visitors can find a journal instructions page in any of the current course menus under "Requirements/Journals.")
Presentation Requirement. I ask a few undergraduate students each class to devote prior attention to one of the study questions about an upcoming selection and then to relate their thoughts in class for 3-5 minutes, leaving time for othersâ€™ comments and my response. I also ask that they contact me beforehand so we can informally (by email or in person) discuss what issues might be worth addressing or how the question might be expanded if necessary, etc. Each participant will give one or more brief presentations (depending on class size) during the semester. This practice encourages students to take responsibility for each meetingâ€™s success. Wiki visitors can find a presentation instructions page in any of the current course menus under "Requirements / Presentations."
Term Paper Requirement. I provide multiple topics for these 5-7 page deductive essays (10+ for graduates), but never limit students to them. I make advance draft comments available on the web, and emphasize that turning in a rough draft almost always makes the paper's thesis and main section sharper. I require in advance that students email me a paragraph addressing their paper's general topic and specific claims. This "paragraph requirement" allows me to offer students some advice on how to develop the paper and gives me an opportunity to pass along to them my electronic Grammar Guide. I also make available extensive guides on essay development, citing texts, and the editing process. (Visitors can access these guides in the Resource Gallery section of the Archive Menu, and can find a term paper instructions page in any of the current course menus under "Requirements/Term Paper.")
Cumulative Final Exam Requirement. The exam usually consists of three sections: identification of substantive passages, a mix-and-match section, and short responses to a number of questions. There is some choice in all three sections. What I look for in exams -- aside from the quality of the writing and basic recall of the assigned readings -- is evidence that students have read the material with regard for its value and complexity and that they can make meaningful connections amongst the texts studied. (Visitors can find a final exam preparation page in any of the current course menus under "Requirements/Final Prep.")
MP3 Audio Review. I record each session with an unobtrusive digital voice recorder and, as soon as possible afterwards, post an mp3 audio file for optional review. Doing so lends a sense of relative permanence to the class experience, and many students appreciate the option to review a session or to keep up with the course when illness gets in the way. (Visitors can find audio files for current sessions -- if a semester is under way -- in any of the current course menus under "Resources/MP3 Audio." Some older lecture/discussion audio files can be accessed from the Lectures Archive.)
Finally, I generally begin my courses with an informal explanation of my own principles and expectations: humanities study shouldn't be about cramming for facts, consulting professional notes, and telling teachers what they want to hear. I encourage students to examine their ideas about learning, and throughout the semester I try to do three main things in class: to model an authentic, non-prescriptive engagement with the texts that challenges students to do the same on their own, to listen carefully, and to respond thoughtfully. If at the end I and most students think I have done those things well, I consider a course successful.