Friday, May 13, 2011
May 12, 2011 [End of Semester Post 3]: Teacher, Examine Thyself
[With about 150 papers and 60 exams to grade in the next week, I’m anticipating that many of my posts over that time will be quicker hits, reflections on the end of a semester. This is the third of those!]
Maybe I’ll get to a point where I don’t feel as if I have anything more to learn about this teaching gig, but I doubt it, and I certainly hope I don’t. Today I had a really good illustration of how important it can be to keep rethinking what we do, even—especially—those things that have worked well for a long time. I’ve taught probably eight or nine sections of American Literature II, and had used more or less the same final exam format every time: a paragraph close reading of a new passage and then a mini-essay linking a couple course texts in a new way. That second part always worked fine, led to some interesting ideas, etc., but this past fall I happened to be reading those finals just after reading the ones from my Intro to Sci Fi and Fantasy class, where the questions are much more creative and fun. Light bulb went off. And so for this semester’s American Literature final, I turned the mini-essay into a choice of one of two (hopefully) more creative and fun questions: a Mr./Ms. American Literature Since 1865 pageant, where three of our characters have to argue for why they’re the most representative character; and a drunken bar conversation where three of our authors are debating whose works best stand the test of time and are worth our continued engagement.
Needless to say, the results, which I looked at briefly and will be grading tonight, are significantly more creative as well. Not only because they include images like Kate Chopin asking Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald if they want to do jello shots, but also and more importantly because they allowed students to have some fun with our texts and voices while still developing analytical takes on them for sure. Makes me wonder why I waited so long to do this. But better late than never, and if I had it all figured out already—well, I’d be wrong. More tomorrow,
PS. Any creative or fun assignments you’ve given, taken, seen?