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Hey, Look! I'm Radical!
October 27, 2013 - 9:29pm

There was recently a piece in Wired praising a new, radical teaching method that is sweeping...a classroom in Mexico. It will produce geniuses, truly! A whole generation of them!

To say I was skeptical about this article when I read the title is an understatement, and I actually actively avoided reading it for almost a whole day. I was glad to see that what the article was talking about was actually “just” peer-driven learning, something I have been doing for a few years now in my classroom. I’m not sure if I’m producing geniuses or not, but I am creating (I hope) more motivated and engaged students, not to mention more aware of their educations.

The experiment lives on, and I praise the method to my colleagues who are struggling with how to teach the particular course I do as peer-driven. I am reminded, however, that I am doing something pretty radical, at least it would be in the eyes of some of my (tenured) colleagues if they knew what I was doing (not to mention Wired, but I’m just an instructor in rural Eastern Kentucky, so, you know, whatever).

We’re about to start the presentations, or sharing time, where the students show off what they’ve built over the past weeks of the semester. We met to set the schedules and they were all excited to get started and share. I’ve written before that this is the hardest time for me, worried that this semester is the one where everything goes horribly wrong, but I feel like I’ll be vindicated, as I am every semester, despite my anxiety.

And now my 100-level students are getting into the building/peer-driven game: they are off building/creating their own game based on our research and discussions that took place during the first-half of the semester. I shouldn’t, but I still can’t believe the transformation of the class that looked...well, less than enthuses about their argument essays (again, required) and the class that is now excited and engaged with the process, falling all over themselves to share their ideas with me.

Next semester, I’m teaching literature again. I’m going to make my Introduction to World Literature class somewhat peer-driven, where we can spend the first part of the semester deciding what we should read for the rest of the semester. We’ll work from an anthology, but also discuss the parameters around how anthologies are made, as well as what the heck “world literature” even means. I’m excited to get to find out what the students are interested in reading and why, as well as how they view world literature. My role is still important, as there is much to be taught, questions to ask, assumptions to interrogate, etc. But if it starts from them, instead of from me, I’m optimistic that it will be a really exciting and engaging class.

More challenging for me is the Honors class I’m going to be teaching because of the formless nature of the class (cover the period between 1500-1900! And not just literature!) so I have to come up with a framing device in which we can play around. But I’m up for the challenge, as well as working with our honors students in this kind of environment. Constructive suggestions are welcome!

I guess I am radical, in my tiny, remote corner of higher education.

 

 

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