Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Cat Herding

I've been fretting publicly about the upcoming trip to London with my students for weeks now, and it is full of all of the attendant anxieties--10 young ladies, and one young man; a tardy passport, did I mention I've never been to London?

But as the trip itself comes up, I'm actually reaching a sort of calm...it'll be a good trip, the students are all generally pretty responsible yadda yadda yadda.

The problem is no longer the trip, it's the class. See the thing is, the class had objectives, goals, material, that is just completely lost in the excitement of the trip. Try as I might, I've had a really hard time making this a class and not just a club.

Part of the problem is that the class is scheduled for only fifty minutes a week: the other classroom hours are supposedly being spent in London on tours, in theatres, etc.

Part of the problem, though, is that many of these students I've had before, and so even on the first day, there was a familiarity that made for an eroded teacher student boundary. And I think I've not helped this. For the most part, the courses I've taught (many of them first year writing, non-major gen ed courses, or required surveys) have been populated by students who didn't necessarily want to be there. My evaluations often say something like "Made a boring subject interesting" so a lot of my pedagogical bag of tricks are focused around eliciting talk, getting the wheels going, etc.

In this class, things have been much less formal, and the talking has been incessant--often devolving multiple times into off-topic chatter. We have been able to stay on topic in maybe half of the classes: two or three of the play discussions, the day we talked about some of the prominent theatres in London history, the day I gave them the Adorno-Horkheimer-Bourdieu smackdown. So it hasn't been completely futile.

but these students have to come back and write papers, potentially sophisticated ones, and I'm worried that they're going to come back from their trip, refreshed, exuberant, and find that the funfunfun of the London trip has just morphed into a nightmare about wresting their experience into a cultural studies framework that they don't get or don't want to get, and they'll feel completely cheated.

But anyway, on to London. We leave Saturday.


Matt said...

It seems a shame that the papers they will write should be so disconnected from the funfunfun of the travel experience itself.

Perhaps it's too late for this, but have you thought about allowing for some kind of final project that would mix creative and critical impulses? Perhaps something that would involve taking videos during the trip, editing them together into some kind of coherent narrative, and then reflecting upon them critically in a companion paper?

Nels said...

Don't beat yourself up over this. Maybe they won't write the best essays of their academic careers. But they are going to end up learning things they will remember for the rest of their lives. Remember that their final papers are not the only test of what they've learned. This will be a great experience for them and for you.