This semester I am teaching Roman Art and Architecture. Partly inspired by the “Teach Naked” article, but more so my experience teaching with “Reacting to the Past,” I am not basing my classes on lectures. Instead, I am creating interactive and collaborative in-class assignments that will have students learn from each other and me. In order to achieve this, I am requiring my students to read assigned chapters before they come to class. Is there fear here? Sure, they might not read! At least that is what I worried about and, truthfully, continue to worry about.
But we’ve had two weeks so far. And guess what? They are reading!
Day 2 they were Archaeologists and had to give a “press conference” at the end of class on the most important finds in the city of Rome. In the next class they were Engineers who had to propose to the cash-strapped Senate the top three infrastructure projects and justify them as funds would allow. (The big winners in my class, by the way, were aqueducts and sewers. My students were very worried about water!)
I’ll be letting you all know the ups and downs of this class as the semester goes on. So far, I’ve been very pleased with their work. I am benefitting from the many conversations I have had with colleagues at McDaniel. Over the summer I attended the Writing Institute led by Suzanne Seibert and Julia Jasken. Learning about “low-stakes writing” has afforded me the chance to “quiz” them on the reading without having to make up an actual quiz. And Steve Kerby and I spoke much during the summer during my “Tech Week” about collaborative assignments inside and outside the classroom.
One thing I have learned is that our students will do more if we require it. But they have to know why it’s important. And you can’t relent. While I do lecture for about 20-30 minutes per 90 minute class to emphasize important points, it’s become less the focus of class. They know that they have to come to class prepared to work. I don’t have many art majors in the class. I have a great group with majors ranging from Physics to English and many undecided first-year students.
The big trick will be coming up with interactive and collaborative projects for the next 13 weeks! But I’ve got a few creative tricks up my sleeve. Stay tuned!