Teaching Badly: Change

Back in the saddle after allowing the blog to quiesce for a few weeks.  With the fall term starting up at St. Anselm’s, it’s time to start writing about teaching again.

Change is an important element in facing each new school year.  Things that didn’t work the previous year have to be improved or removed, whether that is an approach to discipline or a topic or an assignment.  Some topics grow stale over time, sometimes because the teacher has lost interest in them; they have to go.  And sometimes it’s just important to do something new, for your sake and the sake of the students.

This is a bit of a scary thing: I spent so many years early on just trying to figure out what worked and holding on to that.  What if I change things now and screw it all up?  What if a class goes badly?  What if a whole week is lost?

Quelle horreur!  Get over it (and yourself) and do something new.  You are not the pinnacle of the educational experience, no matter how good you are.  You’re not risking perfection here; you are risking your pride.

So what am I doing differently this year?

In Form I, I am organizing their class binder for them a bit more than usual.  I am not sure this will help but we’ll see.  More importantly I am no longer teaching them in-line annotations at the end of the year.  Normally I teach story summaries in the first trimester, outlines in the second, and annotations in the third.  This year I will stick with outlines until the end of the year.

When we get to the second half of the year with the boys I will focus a little bit more (amount currently undefined) on the wisdom literature and the prophets as the foundation of the Rule of St. Benedict.  That takes us away from our class theme a little, but I have marching orders from the Benedictine ethos committee.  It will be interesting to see how that turns out.

In Form III I am giving them a divided binder for the first time.  Form III has been getting worse and worse at classroom basics: bring the reading to class, consult the reading while we work, take good notes, etc.  So I am doing a procedural overhaul at this level, even though I strongly believe there should be a sink/swim element to our high school program.

Most importantly, I need to instruct them to write down questions.  Not their own, but the ones I pose to the class and the ones their classmates ask.  They also need to write down the answers that their classmates give.  We’ll see if this helps.

There are several content changes in Form III.  I am curtailing, with great reluctance, St. Anselm’s treatment of omnipotence and justice/mercy in Proslogion.  I will try once more to find a way to get them to really care about the revelation/transmission topic, and I am going to beef up the human nature series considerably.  There will probably be some year-end changes as well but that’s too far down the road to worry about.  I need to see how these others play out first.

In Form V, some changes have been forced upon me by an unusual schedule.  The major projects in the fall will play out differently, as I will not have enough students to present on all the topics when we get to the presentation phase.  For the first time in ten years, I’ll teach some of those topics directly in that class.  There’s a bigger change looming in the spring but I haven’t come to terms with that yet; I need to see how it goes with the fall presentations first.

I did make one change by choice: by omitting our first, introductory reading of the semester we are now diving directly into Aquinas.  I am not convinced this is a good idea, but it’s important to try new things!  My students clamor for it every year in the feedback sheets.  The loss?  A basic orientation on the link between good and happiness and the way choice and freedom are defined.  I had used it as a kind of stop-gap to make up for the fact that we don’t read the five questions on our last end in Aquinas.

Now?  I’m not sure how it will go without that setup, and I’ll have to be attentive to where they stumble (if at all) so that I can salvage what they are missing.  There’s a good chance this will not work so well, but if it does I will have an extra week at the end of the semester to work on law and grace.

Fortune favors the bold!

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