Lessons From the Lessons

We’re two weeks into the lessons for the shift project in my US History class. So far, students have taught classes on shifts in alcohol, drugs, transportation, race in sports, and social entertainment.

I’ve been impressed with the way the students have really owned the content that they’re teaching and cared about whether others are engaging with it. They’ve come up with interesting preparation materials (readings, videos, timelines, etc.) and questions that have sparked good discussion.

This is a good group of students, but I think the combination of a lack of strong adult presence and the sense of some senioritis setting in has proved a bit problematic. Nothing dramatic, but things like side conversations and lack of focus, which can be disheartening when you’re the person trying to teach. If this were a pedagogy class then I would have spent more time with students discussing strategies for managing a classroom. However, I’m more focused on whether students have learned the historical information and can convey it/invite participation in discussion on it than whether they can control the class. So I am trying to honor my commitment to act as a student and not intervene during class, but still address the issues. I’ve had some out of class conversations via email and face to face with students who I felt like weren’t respecting the leader for the day.

Shifting roles has been challenging not only for the students, but also for me. I thought I’d done a pretty good job of this, so I grit my teeth when I read what one student wrote on my participant evaluation for the class she led:

I like that she kept the conversations going and raised some good questions. However, she did ask questions I was going to ask so it seemed like she was still teaching.

I’m trying hard to listen first and then speak, a challenge for both me as a teacher and a super type-A student.

Having students complete teacher reflection, student evaluation, and teacher feedback forms has been an incredibly important piece of the process. Knowing that they’ll be evaluated and be doing an evaluation has kept participants on their toes, including me. I care deeply about the content and quality of the class, but I’m also competitive, so I want to get good grades and feedback 🙂 I’ve been impressed with the ability of those who’ve led so far to give feedback on specific behaviors and comments of participants in reflecting on whether participants “got” the day’s lesson.

After the trimester break, we’ll have classes on shifts in women’s roles, labor, children and work, baseball, healthcare, food, race and education, and dance.

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