Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Fruitful Omission: Forgetting a Book and Learning a Lesson

As I opened my briefcase before teaching my evening Ethics 1030 course at Metro State College of Denver, I noticed that I had forgotten the textbook. However, I did have my notes and had read the entries for that evening (Kant and Richard Taylor) many times.

However, I could not point students to specific pages or read from the text. That was, I thought, a drawback of my forgetfulness. Yet, it ended up making for a more interactive and textually-oriented class because I had to ask the students to read pertinent passages aloud so we could analyze them. This gave them more ownership of the texts and got them more involved a deeper level.

Sometimes, teachers can teach too much--that is, do too much of the work for the students. But by not having my text, I was forced to depend on student involvement more than usual. All teaching involves some trust in and reliance upon students (as Parker Palmer points out), but my absent-mindedness deepened this need and actually enhanced the classroom environment.

I'm not planning on leaving the text behind next time, but I will encourage students to supply more of the textual involvement for themselves.


Anonymous said...

I am encouraged that absent-mindedness can work out well. ;)

More seriously, when students are invited to truly wrestle with the material together, a love of learning can be kindled! This is when teaching is transformational. Thank you for your reflection on this.

Paul D. Adams said...

Outstanding lesson, Doug.
"Sometimes, teachers can teach too much..." true.

My Introduction to Philosophy syllabus includes:

Presentations (20 points total/5 points each): During the course of the semester, you will be responsible for presenting 4 verbal presentation summaries from assigned readings in the text. Your presentation will be approx. 10 minutes followed by a Q/A session, which you facilitate. Class members will actively participate by asking relevant questions. You will summarize the assigned reading by critically analyzing it within the following framework:

a) What does the text mean in relation to the chapter?

b) How is the reading related to metaphysics, epistemology, religion, or ethics?

c) What are some practical implications of your findings?

[Sadly, one student once asked me (completely sincere), "What's an implication?"]

The rewards for time lost in lecture far exceeded anything I could've imagined in the learning journey.

Susan said...

Doug, one of my most favorite classes, of those I took from you, was Philosophical Ethics. You had each of us take a class period and present some of the material for discussion and interaction. I learned so much in that course from having not only to read the material, but process it in such a way as to be able to present something to the class, knowing it would be critiqued by both the class and by the Professor!

Becky Vartabedian said...

DRG - this very thing happened to me on Wednesday. I left my copy of Meditations at home and - in a fit of crazy forgetfulness - part of my notes for Meditation 6 as well. There must have been something in the air this week. :) Glad your class worked out!

Paul D. Adams said...

Thanks for posting your experience. I feel cheated because I don't remember Doug ever giving us an opportunity to do this. Of course, that was '94-95, so Doug was just a young troop back in the day ;-).

While I do not subscribe to Dewey's constructivism whereby students "construct" their own knowledge of a discipline, there clearly is benefit in having to publicly verbalize one's thoughts, as Socratic dialogs indicate.

After the spirit of Paul (the Apostle), "I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another" (Rom. 15:14, TNIV).

Jim Pemberton said...

The best education is not when all the teacher gives all the answers to the student, but when the student learns how to obtain the answers himself.

For example, I read the bible with my kids. It's not that I sit there and tell them the theological or moralistic conclusions that my school of thought has already derived. Actually, I don't even prepare the lesson ahead of time. Rather, as we read it and talk about what it could mean, I show them how to use tools like concordances/lexicons/dictionaries/commentaries/etc to figure out what it means and especially what questions to ask of the text so they can figure out themselves what it means for their life. So they watch me study the text and get to try it themselves as I guide them.