Saturday, October 10, 2009

what am I doing wrong?

what am I doing wrong?

Ok, so I've been teaching for a while now. I'm now at a point where students who have been taking my classes since they were freshmen are in my upper-division classes... and yet they seem to have learnt nothing. At least, they seem not to have learnt to use primary sources very well. And this makes me crazy, because it's something I focus on in the surveys all the time. It's not that they are hopeless; they are not bad at using the material in the documents, at least. But they seem really unwilling or unable to consider the source, if you know what I mean.

It makes me crazy. I set up assignments that are gradually more difficult -- assignments that require them to think about authorship. And they do it, more or less. In class, before we talk about a document, I always ask the students to tell me about the document -- author, temporal and geographical context, you all know the drill. And yet, when I give them an assignment that requires them to tell me what a set of documents tells me about X, it's as if each document exists in a vacuum.


Double Argh.

So, I'm going to finish up with my marking and do some revamping of classes, I think. And I think I'm going to add an assignment or two that require the students to work in groups to tell me everything they can about the documents and their authors before we even start to look at the contents.

I think.


What do you think?


teridr said...

I think yes -- but honestly, it may not do much good yet. Often it takes a different kind of thinking about scholarship before that kind of work makes sense, and undergraduates generally (though not always) don't have that kind of perception or perspective yet.

I know that when I started thinking of myself as a scholar, I suddenly discovered a deep respect for all those words on the page as the work of actual *people*, with dreams and biases and aspirations and misconceptions. Before that I knew intellectually that these things must have been written by people, but they still seemed more like holy writ or something -- produced from on high to give me words of truth to quote (probably out of context, even though I was a pretty good student).

Your exercise should be useful, though. Modeling the behavior is important so that when they do gain the perspective they now lack, they'll have some "muscle memory" to rely on.

Digger said...

Unfortunately, I think a lot of students don't realize that what they learn in one class is relevant outside of that class. HIST 101 is HIST 101, and any other HIST is entirely separate from it (except that it might be a prerequisite, which is an administrative thing, not an understanding or content thing...)

I think throwing them in the pool with no warning and making them remember or figure out how to swim is the way to go. Then ask them how they knew what to look for. I've found that sometimes showing the class my pedagogical cards seems to help; then again, I don't see them in any upper level classes, so I can't say for sure.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

I think Digger's right... and not only do they not see connections between classes, they don't see connections between assignments. I've also designed a series of assignments that build on each other, and yet I see students making the same mistakes in each one, to the extent that I included a warning in the assignment description that if they made a mistake that I'd given them comments on in an earlier stage, they'd lose five points more. Otherwise they think of assignments as discrete objects, to be dismissed from the mind once they're turned in.