I just finished course design for the fall 2015 semester. If you were to shine a flashlight into this world every August, you would find me on a couch in the living room, hair disheveled, clothes unchanged for days, various food products tossed to the floor, and surrounded by books ranging from Vygotsky’s Mind in Society to Scieszka and Barnett’s Battle Bunny. I love this time of year. And once I get started on prep, it is almost impossible to stop. For me, imagining a learning environment, curating the texts, and designing for community and participation is like playing a great platform video game. Each course becomes a puzzle to solve as I imagine students inhabiting this world I’m trying to build. And I know–and hope–that they’ll take the world as it’s designed and mess it up. They’ll mess it up in all the best possible ways.
Imagining the course without students is actually easy…and tidy. The class is so clear in my head: what we’ll read, how we’ll talk about it, what students will make. And then other humans come in the room, and in most semesters, students do things and make things that I could not have imagined. And I learn. And we learn. What I learn mostly is that I have to be willing to let go of my favorite things I’ve designed for the course. I have to let students remix, mashup, and throw out our plans: their questions must drive the course even if we meander at times. I appreciate the struggle that comes from designing a course where it is safe to fail. Where failure is valued, not because “anything goes,” but because we are thinking through such complicated ideas we could not possibly solve them.
Course prep means I’ve probably opened 1000 links in the last few days and I’ve read or re-read 15 books in the last two weeks. And this devouring of material may be why course prep is so engaging: prep is so much more than putting due dates on the calendar. The reading and re-reading reminds me what matters in my field and points out the holes in my thinking. I finish this prep every time with a list of ideas to focus on for the upcoming school year. Here’s how it looks so far:
Multimodal-ing. I want to get clear(er) about multimodal composing: the whys, what assignments do, how to assess, how to give feedback, etc. I’ve been re-reading Gunther Kress and diving deep into Shipka’s recent work. Reading list is in process and a plan to gather a group of colleagues to read together.
Writing. Leslie Atkins, Irene Salter, and myself signed a book contract with Teachers College Press. Our book–Composing Science: A Facilitator’s Guide to Writing in the Inquiry Classroom–aims to provide research and support for teaching writing in the science classroom, particularly in higher education. We would like students to experience writing practices that mirror the practices of scientists (so, no lab reports). We are super excited to be working with all we’ve learned from our NSF grant and the last couple of years we’ve spent teaching and researching together. My plan: level up in my writing with more precise arguments. We have beautiful student data to work with and I’d like to do it justice.
Opening. I started a commitment last fall, after the DML work, to open up my class and make connections outside our space. I want to connect students to communities of practice they hope to join. I started by connecting with an amazing teacher, Wendy Fairon, and asking my future teachers to blog with Wendy’s 7th graders. The two populations of students blew us away with the connections they made to each other and to young adult novels. I’m hoping to continue this work with Wendy and with a teacher from Redding. I’ll also pair students–as peer response buddies (like a pen pal)–across sections. I’ve found that this outside audience is great for our blogs. I’m constantly in search of ways to connect my students to other authors, students, and fellow faculty.
Love the fresh start in fall. Let’s do this.