I've learned some lessons:
- The space matters: a bad classroom set-up can totally change the dynamic of the classroom, and after the first two spaces (there was an unofficial room change, and then an official one), I ended up in a room with a seminar table, and while it is by no means a perfect space, it is a familiar one for me.
- Good discussion needs to be taught: I was really flummoxed early on by what I initially believed was a lack of ambition in the class. A few folks recommended structuring exercises--the occasional groupwork, a bit of lecture here and there, guided questions and discussion as opposed to the more free-form discussion I had hoped for--and those helped early on. This past week, I wanted tot test how well these structures had been teaching discussion, and not just serving as a crutch...for two texts that I have a fair amount of expertise on, I announced that I was going to sit back and listen as much as I could. I tried to interject to keep the discussion rolling with discussion questions, and stopped to give a bit of a primer on some relevant theoretical models (Sedgwick, Butler), but by and large, I left the actual work of criticism up to the class. And while I had to bite my tongue a lot (I REALLY like to talk about books and plays), things kept rolling at a good pace, most of the major ideas and issues were hit upon, and most were handled with a modicum of sophistication, and more people than usual spoke more than usual. It was good.
- That midstream feedback from the class is as important in the grad class as it is in the undergraduate classroom: I did a midterm eval exercise around week five, and got some really excellent suggestions for tweaking the class, including providing more background context (I figured it was not as necessary for a class that focused on lit from the past sixty years, but it was, and I myself needed to brush up on some of it). It also gave the class a sense of ownership over what was going on there, and I think that this moment was important for spurring on their own incentive to step up their participation.
- At first I thought that good syllabus design was no more than half of a good course. Now I think that good syllabus design is fully half of a good course. I took some advice to not overload the reading to heart, and I actually think I lowballed the amount of reading. Maybe not, but there are a lot of things that I'll make sure I'm doing on the syllabus design for future classes: Including more and denser theory that I sort half-expected that people would know; thinking a bit more closely about subject-matter coherence (as opposed to simply using a survey approach to a nonetheless focused period and genre); building in structures that will rely less on discussion early on, but build toward it, etc.