I’m a new teacher.

This is the first quarter in which I’ve officially designed my own curriculum, and I’m finding that it changes on a daily, in not an hourly basis. Essentially, what I put together to try and talk about this material comes from a toolkit of various methods that I’ve been taught can work in English 101, and from observing what my own teachers do in class.

English 101 presents a conundrum for me, because it depends on discussion, by students in their first or second year of college, who all have different knowledge bases. 101 is theoretically designed to introduce students of all disciplines to the basics of rhetoric.

My challenge as discussion facilitator is that 24 people reading the same text at the same level of education with incredibly different backgrounds makes for a damned intimidating discussion environment. Nobody wants to feel like their education hasn’t prepared them for a class, and we want even less to sound that way. Unfortunately, this feeling doesn’t go away, ever. Not even in grad school, where everybody’s a specialist in something—I guarantee you that the first question of the day in every graduate classroom on this campus is met with staggering silence.

Your challenge as participants in 101 is to overcome this fear in order to learn from our conversations. There’s no rule, however, that says I can’t help you, which has got me thinking of ways that we might be able to do this discussion thing better.

I had a lit professor in my Junior year who had taught small, seminar-style classes for the last thirty years. He was used to 15 people per class at the most. Budget cuts in the department led to the brilliant idea of combining four different 300-level sections of lit into one, so a handful of teachers wound up with seminar-style classes of 60 students each.

Our instructor was aware that we were all nervous about talking in front of that many people, and anticipated that we would be mostly silent. His solution was to split us into groups, with each group discussing a specific aspect of the texts that we had read for the day. In this way, no single person had to take on the entire weight of the material when they answered. We found too that when each group came back together in conversation with the rest of the class, our coverage of group topics was more thorough than if we had each simply groped around for our portion of the Elephant.

Thinking about this, and the complexity of the rest of our texts for the quarter, I’ve started planning our next discussion in small-groups format. I’m considering groups of 5, each with a separate topic to discuss. We’ll spend some time getting our thoughts together in our groups, and have one or two people from each group present the class with their findings. I’m contemplating leaving the class discussion open to comment from everyone, no matter what group you find yourselves in—you may find that you have ideas on other groups’ topics that they haven’t thought of, and I want to hear them all!




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