13 November 2013

On being out of practice

I've just finished my first serious (3-hour) teaching session since April, and I'd like to apologise to the students.

We (I think I can generalise here) get used to a certain lack of edge after the long summer break, but usually the introductory overview and briefing sessions explaining the handbook/syllabus are enough to free up the rusty bits and hone that edge a little. In my case, however, I am returning to tag-team teaching on a module in full flow.

And I made a hash of it:
  • I got the timing all wrong for the first 2-hour slot (with comfort break). I had edited a familiar presentation on Hattie's work to structure the session, but I had failed to allow for this being the first proper class with the group, so they were much less responsive than usual (not their fault), so we "got through" the material much faster than usual.
  • I found myself fumbling for the right expressions (the mots justes), particularly when  responding to questions, which led to a halting presentation (and an understandable possible conclusion that I had not prepared properly--although they were too kind to say so...)  That may reflect age-related intellectual decline in general, but for the moment I'd prefer to put it down to being out of practice.
  • But the overall "voice" was wrong, too. I told them about meta-analyses, the method and the results (actually, I think I was rather better on the method--standardising results on effect-sizes--than I was on the results, which were of course the important bits) but I didn't teach them. I could have done that with a ranking exercise, for them to complete and then compare with the research results... The irony is that I had one ready, but I didn't set it up because on previous occasions it would have been redundant, because the points arose naturally in the course of conversation...
  • And in response to questions, I set too many hares running and left them to it. I hope to recover some of those issues later in the blog post on the session, but even so it must have left them confused and wondering what kind of idiot they have had foisted on them... (I'll link their blog to here, but I'd rather not point back to the blog itself, because I am hoping to encourage comments--which may be inhibited if they go beyond members and mentors of the course group.)
The snack break prompted some rapid re-thinking. As usual there were several possible directions to go in: dig down into some of the issues I'd already flagged on the board;  proceed blithely onto the next announced topic regardless (the default if you follow your schemes of work); pick up on some themes touched on in the discussion, such as educational branding...

I decided to go with the next item on the topic list. After the previous cognitive mush, they were entitled to a clearer direction. I didn't actually write off the preceding two hours; by now I had my brain sufficiently in gear to refer back in discussion to points which students had previously made and stitch them in to the current points (not however helped by my failure to make sure I knew all their names--there were after all only seven present tonight--I'd expected double that number and decided against yet another introductions exercise because they have already been through it--not knowing names is my problem, not theirs).

That item concerned "use of resources". We are planning to go into this in more detail later, so I decided in the break to go through a venerable (although dare I say it, prescient?) presentation from 2001, and gut it for the present day. I decided to argue that the technology is not neutral and to look at the impact of available technology on the teaching and learning process--taking in printed books, slates, dedicated furniture and photocopiers along the way, and concluding with the malevolence of PowerPoint. The simple mantra helped structure the argument and I got some real push-back from a few group members...

I quit a little early while I was ahead. I could feel dormant "senses", or foci of attention, stirring as the session proceeded. But my "takeaway" learning point is that lack of practice dulls not only the fine arts of dancing with students*, but also the grosser ones of making sense of a deck of slides.

*  I'm currently reading George Lakoff and Mark Johnson on Metaphors we live by (U. Chicago Press; 2nd edn. 2008); they point to the prevalent metaphor of "argument/debate as war" and wonder what it would look like if re-conceived as "dance".

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