Friday, August 03, 2007

Course planning feedback from the best possible source

So I have a newish friend, who was one of my students this past year. She was an extraordinary student, and also one that I ended up in a sort of mentor- or even counselor-type relationship with, as she had quite an emotionally difficult year. (Which I don't recommend, but you live and you learn.) And now she and I have become friends. We stayed in touch, seeing each other for coffee or dinner when I was in Uni City or she was in Home City. She stayed with me for a few days in June, when she was looking for a place to live in Home City. She came to my little going-away party - twenty years old and confidently holding her own among the thirty- and fortysomethings. Very impressive. I'd never have imagined I could have what feels like a real friendship with someone that age.

Anyway, we're in close email contact right this minute because I am trying to hook her up with a job in Home City. (She is taking a year off school, which is the best possible thing she could have done...) And so today I finished a draft of my first-year course syllabus, the one for the 90 students for whom I'm having to do some complicated assignment-designing. And I wanted a pair of eyes to look at it, to see whether my explanations of Complicated Assignment and my new 5-days'-grace late policy made sense. So I sent it to Student Friend.

Within just a couple of hours, she sent me back the longest, smartest, most helpful feedback. Lots and lots of it - pages and pages. Detailed and well thought out. I'd asked her only for advice on these two elements, but she had thoughts on all sorts of things. It was amazing - so helpful to be seeing the syllabus through a student's eyes. She even suggested language to use for it.

This is a good thing about leaving Dream Uni. Some of those amazing students can now become friends and resources, and I don't have to worry about feeling compromised.

It also makes me think again about the value of student consultation. I really do think it can be a great thing. And in my experience, it doesn't have to mean students narrowly and selfishly looking out for themselves. In this case, Student Friend offered a suggestion of reworded language that was about protecting me from the perception that I am a softie.

I'm all about the student consultation - I think it makes me a better teacher.


Earnest English said...

Yay! This sounds awesome. (This morning I'm catching up on my blogging, because doing anything else seems way beyond me.) I remember how honored I felt when Senior Scholar asked for feedback on his syllabus. Even better when it comes from an undergrad! I love this and think things like this should become the norm! If there are any broadly-applicable things she says, I for one would love to hear them.

Hilaire said...

Most of her general suggestions were about teaching Intro in my not necessarily that helpful to your different discipline. One thing that I thought was a great idea, though: I am requiring my students to write critical responses every week. Also they have to an annotated bibliography, and write an article review. But of course, since these are first-year students, they have no idea what the hell I mean by that. Of course, I'll talk about each of these assignments in class, and also distribute materials about them. But she thinks even that's not enough. (And I agree, because dang, do students ever have a hard time writing an intelligent critical response, in my experience!) So, she suggested that I put together a little book of samples of successful ones of all of these and put it on reserve in the library. What a fab idea! Of course, I will be using her work, as well as that of a couple of other students from last year with whom I'm still in touch.