Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"A Shift" in gear this academic year

Okay, here's the battle plan...
(Image from schoolmarm.org)

Gord Sellar -- published author, fellow expat, and innovative teacher -- has articulated an idea for a different approach to teaching this semester, and I think that it might work.

Let me explain.

Aside from incompetent teaching, perhaps the biggest barrier to having a successful class in Korea lies in the refusal of Korean students to speak up. Many if not most Korean students here in Korea have a tendency to remain silent during discussions or to parrot something that they've memorized beforehand.

In an effort to overcome student reticence, Gord plans to try something that he has seen at science fiction conventions:
I'm going to introduce a variation on "presentations." This might fly, it might crash, I'm not sure, but I think it's worth a try. The idea is simply stolen from SF conventions, where "panels" discuss some subject at length. Whether a panelist is an SF author, a fan, an editor, or some technical expert, everyone ends up on an even ground because the task of the panel is to come together, contribute individual thoughts and ideas to a discussion, entertain the listeners, answer questions in a thoughtful, interesting, or entertaining fashion, and fill up one hour semi-spontaneously.

This allows students to prepare in the way they're used to -- scouring Wikipedia, memorizing random bits of useful information -- but also makes it impossible for them to follow a prearranged script, since besides preparing a few questions or discussion topics individually, they'll have to grapple with questions put forth by the "moderator" (me) and the students, who will be expected to think up a few interesting questions as well. (And this kind of participation as an audience member will be tracked, too, for grades.) Since panelists will be competing, they'll all be trying hard to entertain their classmates and me, and to say something interesting, which will reduce the likelihood of them coming together and forcing through some kind of prepared presentation. And I'll be assigning the topics, so I can set the breadth to allow for focused discussion as well as general thoughts on the topic.
I've been toying with something like this myself, albeit not quite so well-thought out as what Gord suggests. I've tried lecturing to Korean students (though not for a long time), I've tried open discussion sessions (periodically, but not recently), I've tried assigning presentations (but long abandoned), and I've tried reading through a paper together with students in the classroom (more recently relinquished), but nothing seems to work very well consistently.

I'm not familiar with the method that Gord has experienced at science fiction conventions, but I think that I envision how it works, and I think that it might also prove effective in my cultural studies classes, so I may test it as the course moves along.

Before doing so, however, I'm resurrecting the discussion method for a couple of courses. At Kyung Hee University, I'm again teaching British and American culture, where I focus on the issue of multiculturalism, and at Yonsei University, I'm teaching a course on Islam, where I focus on Islamism. In both classes, I'm having the student spatially arrange themselves in a circle that includes me so that we can all face each other.

However, I'm dealing with the two courses somewhat differently.

For the Kyung Hee course, I'm assigning a text that we all read and bring to class to discuss. I've told students to come prepared to ask at least one question and to make at least one statement. They might not each have the opportunity in each discussion to ask or state what they've prepared, but at least, they'll be ready. This has sometimes worked, and I'll soon see if the students are self-motivated enough. If not, I'll move more toward what Gord is trying in assigning 'panels'.

My Yonsei students are more self-motivated, and I'm trying something radically different there in my Islamism course. Except for the first week, when we read and discussed the article "Manual for a 'Raid'" on 9/11, by Hassan Mneimneh and Kanan Makiya, I won't be assigning readings. I will offer suggestions from week to week, but I've told the students that we will define the course as we proceed. In effect, we're modeling our course on an organizational principle employed by the Islamists themselves, namely, "open-source" operations. Rather than the hierarchical classroom where I choose topics and assign readings, I'm letting the students follow up their interests within the context of Islamism. We will depend upon one another to fill in each other's gaps in knowledge, as we branch out on our own, by returning each week to report on what we've found out about ideas, personalities, movements, organizations, and so on -- and we'll make suggestions on things that others could read. I think that the students' self-motivation will enable this to succeed.

In both courses, students will be writing research papers, so these should contribute to the discussions as the course proceeds. Additionally, I intend to open a webpage for the two courses where students can post links to useful articles and ask each other questions about particular issues. My aim is to get the students more intimately involved.

I'll see how these two approaches work, though I may have to structure the coursework more if the students are not performing as I hope that they will.

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At 3:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think what he has in mind is something similar to what they call the Jigsaw Method. If you google Jigsaw Method of Teaching, you should get several websites with information about it. We had to do this in some of my credential classes. I am not really a fan of this, simply because I prefer not to depend on others for my information, but if you have students who are hesitant to participate in class discussions, it might be worth a try. It forces students to learn a piece of something well enough to teach/explain it to others, but in small groups rather than to the whole class.


At 4:01 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Cynthia, thanks. I'll look into this.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I saw this earlier -- an electronic bird told me -- but didn't have a chance to comment then. Glad to see my approach makes sense to someone besides me (and the one other teacher to whom I've mentioned it).

By the way -- what a scope on the classes there. I imagine it's endlessly interesting, at least with the self-motivated kids.

Cynthia, the jigsaw thing sounds cool too... I might use it in my Media English class, where we're looking at a couple of demanding books. If I split up the task of figuring out different areas covered by the text, and have the groups explain things, it might work.

The one thing is that this tends to boil down to group presentations, which in my experience means one self-motivated student (usually a female) carries the whole team on her back, for at least one, often two or three, groups.

(Which is why I gravitated toward the Panel Discussion: if you shine, you shine on your own merits. If you flop, you can't hide behind someone else or make them shine for you. It also takes advantage of the Korean group-orientation -- the desire to do something in a group -- while keeping the preparation and grades individualized, and lets them do all the things they seem to have grown up doing -- referring to Wikipedia, bringing a bunch of randomly sorted facts and personal responses to the table, and so on -- but lets the class and moderator shape things into usefulness and coherence in the form of questions posed.

(Of course, that's all in theory, and I'll report in at my own blog after a few discussions to note how it's working out. I expect a few bumps along the way, because after all, it's new and I'm pretty sure none of them have ever done such a thing before, or even seen one done... and a video online may or may not convey what I'm trying to get them to do.)

At 11:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ack! I meant Jeffery!

Damn, once you know it's spelled different-like, it becomes impossible to spell correct-like.


At 4:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Gord, I actually didn't even notice the misspelling this time.

Thanks for the comment. I'll stay tuned to how your experiment turns out. Are you going to post a video? Or have you already?

An electronic bird?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this is a serious discussion among professional however:

Jeffery, your sentence, "Korean students here in Korea have a tendency to remain silent during discussions...

I have a question, not being in Korea, how does one guage the success of the discussion per your dilemma? I hope you'll not tell me "one hand clapping."


At 4:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate it when that happens. s and "


At 4:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, I find evaluating discussion to be a difficult task, for a silent student may be paying close attention, so I won't be attempting to evaluate participation.

A student's participation in the discussions, however, will be probably influence the quality of that student's semester paper, and I do emphasize that point.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I applaud you ingenuity. With both hands.


At 5:04 AM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

Interesting! It forces individualistic thinking on unwilling students who would, of course, actually LEARN something this way. Brilliant!

At 6:17 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, I can almost hear your online applause.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Saur, the brilliance is all from Gord, so I'm merely reflecting his light...

Good to see you here again, by the way.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a former Yonsei instructor, I found upperclass students in general to be very active participants.

As for classroom structures that engage all learners, Jigsaw Method is one. There are so many others. Are you familiar with Kagan's Cooperative Learning? If not, google and read about the various pair, small group, and whole class structures used for learning. They are called structures because, like Jigsaw, they can be adapted to any content. Kagan's structures are based on brain research and are designed to engage all learners. The great thing about structures is that once students become familiar with them, lessons run so much more smoothly. "Class, to review yesterday's essay, we will do a mindstreaming. Mindstreaming is a favorite quick review/preview activity. Students pair up. One talks for one minute (or some other short period of time) to a partner. Then the pair switches roles. The second talker is encouraged to fill in gaps in the first speaker's summary. Kagan literally has lots and lots of structures like these.

Besides Kagan, another program that might interest you is CRISS, Creating Independent Student-Owned Strategies. This is a US K-12 program, but many of the learning strategies would be useful for university students, too. I don't think Korean schools spend much time on actively teaching learning strategies. I think they just depend on the students to use their own intelligence to figure out how to learn and work with information. Your university students certainly come equipped with their own effective learning strategies, but they would enjoy Kagan structures and CRISS strategies.

One final program you might be interested in called Thinking Maps. This is a copyrighted collection of eight graphic organizers that represent major thinking processes: 1) defining in context, 2) describing, 3) sequencing, 4) classifying and grouping, 5) comparing and contrasting, 6) making analogies, 7) breaking a whole into its parts, and 8) analyzing causes and effects. There are literally hundreds of graphic organizers used in teaching. The Venn Diagram and the flowchart are among the few that are standard and universally recognized. What's great about Thinking Maps is that by consistently using the same organizers, students connect the organizer to the thinking process. My third and fourth graders often predict correctly which thinking map we are going to use based on the task or purpose I lay out. No doubt you use graphic organizers in your teaching, but you might be interested in viewing the program. If I were to return to a Korean classroom, I wouldn't teach the maps, but I would use them regularly to organize information.

from Guess Who.

At 11:47 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

'Guess Who,' thanks for the manifold advice. I'll look into these things.

If I have to guess, I'd say that you -- being highly intelligent, very well-informed, and teaching elementary school -- sound like Sonagi.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:24 PM, Blogger Deplorably Bonnie Blue said...

I look forward to reading how your panel goes. I think it sounds like a great idea.

In regards to Jigsawing, the way we did it, there wasn't really a group presentation. Each individual who was an "expert" on their part of the text was grouped with an expert from each other area and they had to present to them, so everyone has to do it. Let's say you break your text into 5 parts, so you have five groups. Then one from each of these groups is put in a new group with one from each of the other groups and they have to teach their section to the others in their new group. Hopefully, that makes sense. As a teacher, you can walk around and listen to each group, but of course you won't get to hear each person speak, but they can also discuss it to clear up any questions, which you can also listen in on.

By the way, I was one of those females you mentioned, haha. I would never take the chance of letting someone mess up my grade, so I did most of the work.



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