Another week in one of the snowiest semesters I can recall, and I am wrestling with the practical issues of several snow days. In my M/W/F First Year Writing courses, I found myself spending the entirety of class Friday giving mini lessons (I presented three), along with going over a handout outlining the genre conventions for the proposal students are working towards in this project. I talked. all. hour.
I was exhausted, and I could tell my students were, too. They were phenomenally good sports about it, but I just had that icky feeling at the end of class that everyone–myself included–couldn’t wait to just get out of there. Now, having taught at the college level for about 7 years, I have developed the performative aspects of my teaching practice. I make jokes, gesture, walk around the room (sometimes I feel like a shark, ever circulating), bring in elements of whole-class discussion and even bits of practice writing to my mini-lessons. I always, always have a visual aid–a Power Point, a Prezi, a video, a handout. Teaching is a performance, and lecturing is perhaps the most intensive aspect of this. Even so, by the end of the hour (for all three sections) I felt like perhaps my words just weren’t magic anymore. No one was really soaking them in. Why was I even still talking? Because I had to get through the material.
When Lang runs through some bullets on the effectiveness of lecturing–students retain better in the first 10 minutes of class, in a 50-minute lecture, students are attentive about 40% of the time, etc. –my teacher-heart sank. That was exactly what my students were experiencing last week.
Such is the twisted mind of the teacher. All the helpful and practical tips for how to teach without lecturing, or teaching while still making lecturing palatable, only brought me to my recent class of lecture-fail. (at least, it felt like a fail in my mind). The funny thing is, that rationally, if pressed, I would explain my lecturing coherently. And I would do it again. Students needed all the explicit information I was giving them in order to move forward in their projects. We had missed time in the classroom due to snow days, and there was no other way for me to get them up to speed efficiently. This week, we’ll try something different.
For example, today will be a day almost entirely devoted to small group discussion and a problem-solving task. I plan to talk as little as possible to the whole class. In my ideal classroom, every student listens to something, writes something, says something and does something. This is difficult to swing in a 50-minute time frame. Which is why I’ve been thinking more and more about the concept of flipping my classrooms.
In conversations with colleagues about teaching writing, we have been musing on the aspects of teaching the writing process, teaching craft. This works best in a writing-workshop environment, where students can be practicing concepts in the context of their own work. How can this be budgeted for in an already-packed semester filled with content that must be disseminated? (an issue that looms in both FYW and writing about literature courses…) This is where the idea of the flipped classroom becomes salient for me. In short, flipping the classroom involves moving much of the content-dissemination for a class online, for students to engage with at home, and opens up class time for hands-on workshops, discussion of the material, and other applications. I’m still thinking about how it could be integrated effectively into my classes….but with the winter we’re having, I’m thinking about it more seriously than ever.