So I had lunch with the chair of my area, and he told me that what I’ve experienced with my students not showing up is the norm, not the exception. That made me feel relieved in one regard. I have always believed that students vote with their feet and that low attendance was a reflection on me. He said it was a big problem for the school. I am experiencing culture shock, I guess. I need to come up with some creative ways to reach the students. I’m open to suggestions.
That is reassuring (in a way). And while I think you’re five steps ahead of everyone else for thinking about how you need to improve as a teacher, I think it’s good to think about this new culture you’ve become a part of.
Something to consider, though: when I still lived in Madison I had a long-term temp job at MATC in the Alternative Learning Division, where they taught Adult Basic Education and ESL courses. And I think I mentioned that I taught at Columbus State for a little bit. What I learned from those two jobs is that the life of a community college student can be hard.
When students would call the department at MATC to let us know why they couldn’t be in class that day, often it was because of day care issues, or problems with their job or their landlord, or because somebody they knew was in jail and they had to go bail them out.
At Columbus State some of my students told me all about their lives (more so than other places I’ve taught) and I heard a lot of the same things. My general impression of students was that they really needed to be in school because it could make the difference between a minimum wage job and one that paid $12 an hour, but they had many more obstacles to getting into and staying in school.
Anyway, my suggestion: if you gave your students an opportunity to explain–maybe anonymously–why they aren’t prepared for their speeches or just don’t show up, do you think they’d be honest? They might say something different if it’s a minute paper than if they have to look you in the eye and explain themselves. Could be what’s going on in their lives, could be stage fright, could be a lot of things.
Also: lately more than ever, I’ve been ambivalent about teaching public speaking classes in the first place. I think the skills involved are invaluable, but you and I have been talking for, oh, the past 20 years or so about the death of speeches as a cultural practice. Do speeches matter when most people in this culture have been silenced? Do speeches matter when a media-dominated culture communicates in fragments?
Having said that, I think it’s good experience to stand up in front of a group of people and express your ideas for a few minutes. Lots of people are nervous about doing that, and I think it’s good confidence building if you at least try it. And for people who are all confidence, I think it’s good experience to be held accountable for your ideas, even if the feedback from a live audience is mostly non-verbal.
Anyway, you might want to try re-thinking strategy from a backwards design approach. (Even if you’ve know what I’m talking about I’ll explain–when I write comments on your blog I’m writing mainly to you, but also for others who might read it.)
Backwards design is a problem-based approach to course design that begins with identifying students’ obstacles to learning, and then with formulating goals for them. The third step is to create teaching strategies and assignments. Maybe that approach, combined with re-thinking public speaking, will spark your creativity.
The book we’ve been using at our place is Dee Fink’s Creating Significant Learning Experiences. There’s also a Web site with lots of resources. The site should have a pdf “short guide” to backwards design, but if you can’t find it I can send you a copy.
Hope this helps some!
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