Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The problem of the 2-hour class

In the summer, after I had planned my courses and submitted my syllabi and had reprotexts prepared, I discovered that one of my classes - the fourth-year seminar in the precise area of my research - was only two hours a week. I thought, then, "lucky me". There are very few two-hour courses out there, in my experience, at any institution - and I didn't expect ever to teach one. I was pleased because I sometimes think three hours is too long to hold students' attention. And two hours should be fine when it's a student-driven seminar.

I was wrong.

The class has met three times. The first was, of course, the hour-long introduction - the only work to be done was to get acquainted with the students and their interests. At the second class - the first one with readings, theme, and substance - I got only 2/3 of the way through the points I wanted to cover, since the students were so chatty. I don't mean to really lecture much, given that this is a seminar course, but there were some very important, foundational concepts I needed to introduce that day - in a dialogic, questioning way - to set up the remainder of the course. This is crucial because it's a topic to which people bring all sorts of weird commonsense assumptions and no notion of how to think critically-academically.

Then there was yesterday. In which I had 120 minutes (which is really, of course, meant to be 110 minutes) to show a 116-minute film upon which they are writing an assignment due next week, cover those crucial points I didn't get to last week, and tie together the three articles they'd read for the day with the film.

Ha. Except not.

So my provisional solution was handouts: one for the important things missed the previous week, and one for the key points of this week's readings that would set them up for the film. Amnd three minutes of me blabbing.

I just feel sick about it, frankly. I can't stop fretting about it. It is *so* not the way I envisioned this course unfolding. It feels as though it must seem, to the students, chaotic and random. I keep apologizing to students, and can't stop, even though it's drawing attention to the problem instead of minimizing and making the best of it. Hell, maybe they hadn't even noticed - well, they sure have now, because I keep opening my big mouth about it. (Another teaching tic: apologizing like this.) I feel as if at this institution, students' first impressions really matter, as I've written before. All I can think is, this isn't a great first impression. So last night I had to have nightmares about it.

I guess the thing is this: two hours sucks, when you've got the kinds of engaged, inquisitive students that I have. It would have been okay when I taught this course last spring at last year's uni; there, the pomo vanguard had beaten everyone else into submission so they were the only ones who talked. But real talking, adequately surfacing all the issues in the readings as well as gesturing toward larger themes, takes time.


MaggieMay said...

Don't fret, and DON'T APOLOGIZE! Simply go in the next time uber-prepared and organized. Students have short memories; they will forget!

When I have two hour classes, I always try to schedule at least 2 separate "periods" or "activities" in the class-- so that both the students and I have a sense that we have an agenda. (This way, too, if the dicussion is going wild, you have an opportunity to rein it back in.)

Anyway, stop fretting. If they're talking and contributing-- you're halfway there.

Anonymous said...

I'm so envious. I'm teaching a seminar that meets twice a week for two hours and I can't get anyone to talk to save my soul.


grumpyABDadjunct said...

I also teach a 110 minute class and I agree that it isn't enough time. I can only show film clips, and abbreviated ones at that, which annoys the hell out of me and discussions are over too soon. There's no time to do everything I want to do, so I leave things out and feel that I'm doing a poor job.

But hang in there! Maggie gives good advice, be prepared and don't apologize.

medieval woman said...

I agree! It's just about getting the hang of a shorter class - you've been prepping for 3 hours classes so much that you're taking a couple of weeks to get into this rhythm - if they're talking a lot then something like handouts can really help on the basic issues without having to resort to taping their mouths shut and lecturing! :)

At some point, I'd love to pick your brain about strategies for teaching a 3-hour class - next semester I have 2!

Hilaire said...

Oui! Let's talk strategies soon - you can give me yours for the 2-hour blocks.

Thanks all, for your advice and reassurance. Next Monday, I'm going to be all about confident time management - I'll wear something sharp to subconsiously convey that, too!

grumpyABDadjunct said...

I have a three hour class, too, yesterday I let them out 40 minutes early! I am not a good role model. Actually I did it because of Ramadan and it was a pretty heavy lecture. Usually we do lots of activities as well as lecture and discussion; thankfully they are good at discussion.

Hilaire said...

Grumpy, that's the thing. Sometimes 3 hours *is* too mich - quite often. I am thinking 2 1/2 hours would be perfect. It'll never happen, of course.