By J. Todd
When I first started teaching, as a graduate student, I would would plan my classes in excruciating detail. These classes were largely lectures, interspersed with the occasional individual or group work. Often, I would even write out a joke or some irrelevant comment I wanted to start the class with. I still have the legal pads that I filled up with this extensive planning. Meanwhile, I had friends who could walk into the classroom without any real preparation and lead a successful class.
I've always been a planner; although, now those plans are just outlines with approximate times -- things to help me keep the class on track. But I've also always been a procrastinator; I do much of my best work under a quickly diminishing deadline. These days, I do most of my daily class planning the night before class.
However, recent innovations that I've become involved with are challenging me to plan in different ways. There are plenty of great and potentially powerful pedagogical innovations available now. Two new ways I'm dealing with this semester are inverted teaching and collaborative teaching. Both of these, I'm slowly learning, mean that planning for class is not simply getting ready to teach class on a given day. As a result, I'm (very) slowly coming to accept that I have to do significantly more planning significantly earlier.
While video lectures are not a necessity for inverted teaching, they are one effective way to deliver content without using up class time. The videos, to be honest, are killing me. I suppose, as is often the case, this will get better over time, assuming I decide to reuse the videos from this semester the next time I teach this class. (Although, given my propensity for making significant changes every time I teach a class, I probably won't.) I had grand plans to record all the videos for my grammar class this past summer, to have them done and ready to go throughout the semester. Then, once the semester began, and I hadn't recorded any of the videos, I developed a plan for recording each video at least two weeks in advance. Here too, I failed.
Aaron Sams, one of the pioneers of inverted teaching, tells stories of recording videos for his Chemistry classes late at night in the laundry room, so as not to disturb his sleeping family. This past Saturday morning, I recorded a lecture on rhetorical grammar in my car while my son was at his Tae Kwon Do class. The video needed to be watched by my students before class this Monday. Granted, it's only a 15 minute video (I know, I know. It should be under 10 minutes.), but still, it feels like cheating to tell my students in class on Friday, "Please watch the video on Rhetorical Grammar before Monday's class. It's not done yet, but when it is, be sure to watch it."
This has been the pattern for much of the semester. For the composition classes I'm teaching in the spring, I have a list of about 20 videos I'm planning on recording over the winter break...
Meanwhile, I'm also team-teaching a class with a colleague in the Art department. The class itself is pretty well planned out, with a fairly set schedule that we've managed to stick with throughout the semester. It's a largely discussion-based class, so as long as both of us arrive having done the assigned reading and supplemented it with some additional research, the classes themselves go pretty well. We both come to class having individually prepared, but we never seem to have enough time to get together to collaborate on the planning and grading. Much of that takes place via email, often sent late at night.
The literature on this is beyond clear: you have to co-plan to co-teach. It's another new way of thinking about teaching: as I said, I do most of my best teaching planning the night before a class. That doesn't leave much time for co-planning, though, so it's another change I need to make in my time management. Maybe next time, we need to schedule at least one joint office hour to have a set time each week that we can be together to plan for the following week.
What's the Point?
The point, I guess, is that these innovations, which I believe are having a significantly positive impact on student learning, are also having a significant impact on the way I prepare to teach. I suppose that is another improvement, but the growing pains aren't that fun. Innovation is about change, and change can be a challenge. These innovations, while done to help our students, can also help us by forcing us to rethink the way we do things.