we did have class yesterday, which bothered me on the way to uni (the wheels on the bus were spinning in the snow, and i looked over the edge of the mountain and worried) but turned out really well. we're doing some really dense nihilistic linguistic material at themoment, and i've been having trouble:
a) helping the students make any sense of the set readings - i had trouble wading through the nietzsche, and i do this for a living,
b) making the students engage with the ideas on any meaningful level. last week the prof was pontificating just before the end of lecture along the lines of "all language is a lie! truth is a metaphor that's lost its meaning! we can't know reality in any way!"and all the students started packing up their books to leave and chatting over the top of him. in contrast, i floored my class by telling them they had to put a title on their essay. bah.
anyways, so this week i ran a fabulous tutorial which addressed both of those issues. cos i am so fabulous. ahem. first i wrote down on the board all their suggestions for tackling a difficult reading. stuff like use a highlighter, rewrite in your own words, look up difficult words in a dictionary, etc.. then i said, "right, today we're going to use this, this and this, idea to tackle this week's readings." split them into groups and made each of them do a concept map on the board of one section of the reading. i went round answering questions and suggesting ways to visualise their ideas. then we went round the room and each group taught the rest of the class about their section of the reading, using their concept map on the board. questions and discussion throughout, and occasionally butting in by the TA.
i've used this technique before and it works so well. each student has a small, managable section of the article, and between the group's knowledge and my help, they really get to understand it, and in the concept map they get a useful tool for working out their ideas. teaching it means they really have to understand it, and they tend to work hard, cos they have peer pressure (though i am big on the "no wrong answers" and "let's be supportive", so not too pressured), and it means that everyone in the class gets a sense of the whole article, cos they use language that their peers can understand. also the teacher hardly has to do anything. if you're having a down day you can sit in the corner and read most of the time. that doesn't work as well, obviously, as giving the groups ongoing feedback, but it works.
in this case i had a couple of students say "oh, i *get* it now, this totally makes sense!" and there was actually a look of shock on their faces as they realised what the article was saying. also, when i suggested they try the exercise at home for the next difficult reading they had, one of them responded with "but that wouldn't be as much fun!" oh, i'm such a sucker for good student feedback. it makes me all warm inside. *sniffles*
i think i stole this idea from someone else - do take it for yourself, and let me know if you come with good variations.