Friday, February 12, 2016

Experiments in Teaching, Part 1

Last week I wrote about how the schedule and format of classes constrains teachers to a limited palette of instructional methods, resulting primarily in lectures. This week, I'm going to write about how I broke those constraints to introduce some innovations. Be warned, though, that what I am about to relate will probably mark me as a 'bad' teacher.

In the past six years I have taught both IT and creative writing classes. While I've constantly been experimenting in both, it's been with my creative writing classes that I've been boldest. For one thing, those classes have usually been small -- except once, I never had more than ten students -- and so it's been easier to, er, connive with my charges on activities.

My creative nonfiction classes usually feature a lunch out as an official class activity. It started the first year I taught the course. My mostly-made-up-on-the-fly lesson plan had led us to writing food reviews. I talked about all the good places to eat in Davao (discovered through my wife) and I was met with blank stares.

"You mean you've never eaten at ---?" I asked incredulously.

"It looks expensive! We can't afford it!"

"Well, save up for it! I'm taking you there. It'll be worth it." To the lone guy in class, I said: "You'll have some place classy to take your dates." And to the rest of his classmates: "And you'll have some place to ask your dates to take you to."

To be safe, I did ask the program chair if I needed any permits and such. The chair considered, probably thought about the waivers, and said: "oh, they're practically adults, just go!"

At the restaurant, I recommended enough variety among the starters and entrees so we would have a passably diverse choices, subtly nudging them towards the slightly less expensive dishes. It seems they had their own minds about what to order, though, displaying just enough prudence and daring. We all split the bill, of course, I offered to pay for the paella for all, the priciest item on our combined order. After the meal, we asked to speak with owner, and that became an interview of sorts.

As they say, a good time was had by all. But I saw the impact of that activity through that lone male student -- in subsequent pieces, he wrote about bringing his date to that restaurant (and, I hope, to other fine dining places). I wonder if the girls also took my advice.

A short field trip is fine if the class is small. But what if the class is bigger? Well, you just tell half of them not to show up. But that's a story for another time.