Thinking about teaching 1

As I mentioned earlier, I want to use this space to think about teaching, from course structure to reading selection to classroom management and approaches. This first post, and several subsequent posts, will be to establish the current structures of my courses, what I like, and what I don’t like. My classes are (if my students are to be believed) not terribly conventional – one evaluation used the term “eccentric” – so I think they need some explaining.

I have been teaching US I since Fall of 2011 and US II since Fall of 2013, beginning as a graduate student, always on a MWF schedule.* I started off lecturing two of the three days, but relatively quickly ditched that. Several things made me get rid of it, but put briefly, students were not getting out the lectures what I hoped they would, and there was no space to discuss the lecture material as a class and make sure everyone was on the same page.

I switched to a sort of flipped classroom style, using text- and image-heavy PowerPoints converted to videos.  (ETA: These PowerPoints are completely original and written by me. They make the arguments I want to make about the past.) In general, both US I and II feature two of these a week. They are 3,000 words each, give or take, and my students are expected to take notes on them before they come to class. The videos disappear when class begins so that there is some motivation for students to keep up and come to class prepared each day; if they don’t, class really doesn’t work, or the burden of discussion.falls on a small subset of the class.

In each lesson, as I call them, there are a dozen or more questions embedded throughout that form the basis for discussion in class.  For instance, students might be asked to think about questions like “What would change in the lives of people moving from farm labor into wage labor in factories?” or “How do these views of socialism compare to those of other Americans we’ve looked at earlier in the semester?” Each day we come to class and talk through the lesson, tying it back to earlier lessons, building timelines, and sometimes reading additional small sources. I also ask students to write a brief journal entry after they take notes on the lesson, reflecting on what was interesting or confusing to them, and I use those journal entries and their questions in class to guide the discussion.

One day a week, students engage deeply with one primary source, never more than two pages, often much shorter. With each source, they complete an assignment I’ve created called a think-aloud, based on some examinations of historical thinking in Sam Wineburg’s Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.  All my friends from grad school know about think-alouds, but in my next post on teaching, I’ll explain them in case anyone other than my friends from grad school read this and are interested.

*As a grad student, I was teaching 40-person classes. My classes now are capped at 25.

3 responses to “Thinking about teaching 1”

  1. […] Having read Wineburg before I started teaching my own classes, I wanted to develop an assignment that would allow students to see their thought process so they could think about the way they thought, as a path to thinking like historians. The assignment I came up with, which I call a think-aloud, attempts to do that. As of now, I assign it in my US I and US II classes, the structure of which I outlined here. […]

  2. […] addition to my U.S. survey classes, which I examined in earlier posts, I also taught 200-level courses on the history of women in the U.S. in […]

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