The Waiting Room

This could take a while...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Posted by Seeking Solace |

An anonymous person posted told me to check out this website with respect to my post. So, in the hope of finding some useful information, I decided to check it out. You can read the post for yourself. Let me know what you think.

I don't think the anonymous poster on my blog or the person who wrote the post (perhaps it is the same person) has followed my saga with this class. For if they had, they would see that I am considering drastic measures after two months of trying numerous options. I have tried to understand and come up with alternative activities to help them come out of their shell. Many of my faithful readers, fellow colleagues and friends have given my some wonderful suggestions as well. Some things have worked, some have not. I have asked the students in a confidential survey how I can help them make the class more enjoyable and comfortable. Even when I have used their suggestions in the manner they suggested, they have reverted to not speaking.

I am not some vicious person trying to break these student like I was in my first year of law school. Those of you who have been through that experience are probably curled up in a little ball, rocking back and forth as you recall being subjected to the Paper Chase (Socratic) method. (Sorry, Chaser! You know I have nothing but love for you). You no doubt recall the humiliation and fear you felt. I vowed that I would NEVER teach that way. I used a kinder, gentler approach, more geared toward having them debate and discuss issues or topics with each other. I don't push or knock them around. And I fully understand that it is possible that if I do push them, it could create the same environment that cause them to be quiet in the first place.

I think this person also fails to see that part of teaching critical thinking almost requires some form of verbal discourse. That is not to say that writing has not place, in fact, it does. My course assessments are all essay and research assignments that allow the student to express their thoughts that way. Oral expression is necessary. I am not even asking them to engage with me. They don't want to engage with each other.

That being said, I have decided that perhaps this will become a writing only course. After some discussion this morning with a great friend/colleague, I have decided that if they choose not to discuss the assigned reading, they will have to write instead. They have no trouble telling me their views in writing, so let them write. If that is their comfort level, I am willing to accept that. If that is what it takes to get the job done, then that is what I will have to do. But, I will not accept blank looks when asked a question like "If you were told you had an hour to leave your home, what essential items would you take."

I am not some poor soul who doesn't get it. I totally get it.


Ellen said...

Keep the faith - you have tried everything and you are only doing it to jar them out of autopilot. Good Luck!

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

How about this...

1) One day... Make them write -- and grade it. Grade it hard and be as critical as you should be.

2) Return the papers and give them a choice... you can have a class discussion or you can write some more and I can grade some more... Maye even tell them that you are going to call on them randomly if the discussion doesn't roll on its own.

3) If the discussion is good, give them a small bonus toward redeeming their negative grade...

I'd also consider telling them that you're changing the syllabus to have group preparation and participation grades. Unless 75% of the class participates in some way, the class will get a 0 for the day.

Depending on how large the class is, you could give individual grades on participation. The shy ones can prepare 5 questions about the material, send them before class and you'll try to work them into the discussion.

Seeking Solace said...

Philosophy Factory: I love your ideas!!!! You're the best!!!!

righteous babe said...

How about this: you can't even leave a comment for that blogger. Um...a blog is designed to be a dialog, an interactive space.

Second of all, I have taught the same course you have, same place and everything. Sometimes you just have a quiet class. They don't talk, pushing, pulling, punishing, rewarding, doing every damn activity that every colleague has ever suggested just DOESN'T WORK. They're just a quiet group. Like I told you earlier: give them a thinking exercise: here's how I intended the course, here's what's happening. If you were a teacher what would you do? As a student, what do you prefer for learning methods? You're still getting them to think critically and address the issue at the same time. They can be very honest when they write. Then you also can see where they're at and go from there.

Course if they say "well college is hard." Um...yeah, go to the university down the street. Now that's hard. We are a far cry from it.

Done bitchin'

radicalteacher said...

i'm the one that linked to your post (radicalteacher). You are right, i didn't know the saga and made some assumptions that are quite likely unwarranted (my own students of critical thinking will have a field day at my expense for that one!). i apologize.

Having said that, and having not only felt the way you feel, but having carried it out (pop quizzes, etc.), it always seems to make things worse. Maybe they start talking, but the quality of the "talk" is almost worse than their silence. They perform rather than engage.

i have no answers other than turning the problem of their silence over to them. But i am lucky, i teach classes in leadership and organization so every classroom problem becomes something with which they can grapple.

Good luck, and i will take the time to read about your struggles as i should have earlier.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

You know, I had an amusing (heh) experience about pop quizzes once - I was in a (grad student) workshop about making lecture more interactive. I was one of the only humanities people (they all seemed to be from the social sciences), and one of the few with classroom experience (I'd TAed for a few years = running discussion sections, writing paper assignments/tests, grading, etc.). Anyway, a psych student who hadn't taught yet asked about incorporating quizzes into lectures as a way to figure out if students in a big lecture class were doing the reading.

I said, "Well, I don't do this myself, but I do know people who, when they've had problems with people not doing the work, have started using pop quizzes, and they've found them effective at getting the students to do the reading."

At which point a grad student in family social science turned to me and said, in the same tone of voice that you might use to announce that the electric chair had worked and the execution had been successful, "Yes, fear is a POWERFUL motivator."

Damn, he pissed me off! I don't use pop quizzes, but after that I was tempted to start. :-P I don't want to go into the classroom and create a dictatorial, adversarial relationship, but if you've tried all the different things you've tried, and the students simply aren't upholding their responsibilities (here it's talking rather than reading, I realize, but I think the idea is the same), then I think they're reasonable - as a response to a specific situation, not a general educational policy.

That said, I think the writing class idea is brilliant! Except for the issue of having to READ what they write (I suppose you could have them write and then read their writing aloud, so you're not reading additional work?).

And I only wish I were asking my students what essential items they'd take, instead of questions about stuff that seems incredibly arcane and far away from their lives!

Seeking Solace said...

rigtheous babe: Thanks again. You are my voice of reason!

radicalteacher: Apology accepted.

New Kid: Wow. I don't know what I would have said to that student without using any four letter words!!!!