When I think about physical signs that indicate how well a lesson is going, it’s clear that I made mistakes today. My first great flop! I guess it was bound to happen, and I’m sure I will flop again, but I never anticipated feeling so awful about it all, like the students missed an opportunity to learn so much more than they did.
The 2M students are reading a collection of essays by Bill Bryson called Notes from a Big Country. Bryson was born in Iowa, but moved to England in his twenties, and this collection comes from a series of columns he wrote upon returning to the States in the 1990s. He’s pretty critical in most of them, but his writing also involves a good deal of humor, which is what Isabelle wanted me to focus on today, something she informed me of about two hours before the lesson was to begin. Now, a lack of preparation was probably a factor—I needed to know about more than just satire, irony, and hyperbole for a fifty minute lesson—but I think my flop had more to do with a difference in expectations. That and my sudden inability to spell “exaggeration.”
The students had read “Why No one Walks” for homework, a piece describing the relatively extreme pedantic nature of Americans, and one that employs a fair share of hyperbole, irony, and the other assorted terms I had only recently learned. My plan was to ask the students what they thought about the piece, initiating a discussion that would last for a few minutes before asking them to pick specific lines they had found funny, at which point I would proceed to write the appropriate terms on the board. My grand plan continued, then, to introducing additional types of humor—ones that weren’t used in “Why No one Walks,” but were in other essays in the collection. I imagined writing words on the board and students helping me out with definitions, working together to find an appropriate definition that built upon their prior knowledge. At this point, I would introduce their homework and, if we had extra time, we’d start on it together.
What happened was the initial “discussion” turned into a quick three-sentence summary of the essay by one student and the rest of the class nodding in agreement. What happened was two or three students pitied me and contributed two or three “funny” lines, at which point I introduced the appropriate terms, attempted to spell “exaggeration” by starting off e-g-a and then forgetting the second “g” once I had the beginning nailed down. What happened was me talking most of the class time, rambling on about different types of humor and not knowing how much of what I said was understood, and then reading out loud the entire essay they were assigned for homework before doing half of the work in class together because we had so much extra time.
What happened was my first big flop, but what I learned is that a student-centered classroom is not typical for these students. I’ve observed classes before, and I’ve seen how Isabelle does most of the talking, calling on a random student to answer questions periodically, but I didn’t realize until today how prominent this model was for these students. I’m not saying I didn’t flop—even taking this into consideration, I know that I rambled and repeated myself and failed to do the subject justice, never mind the fact that I read an entire essay out loud, going against pretty much everything Dr. Frager ever taught me—but I now know that I’m going to have to model any sort of discussion I want to have in the future and adjust my expectations so that I can provide the proper support.
After class ended, Isabelle’s comment was, “Well, you handled that topic much better than I would have.” When I voiced my concerns about participation, she just said, “Well, this class isn’t one that talks a lot, but they do think a lot.” Part of that was an attempt to comfort me, I think, but her statements also speak to the importance of knowing your students. I’ll have to work on that—and my spelling skills, apparently.