Monday, August 18, 2014

Goldilocks Creates a Schedule

I spent two days last week trying to create a schedule for a class I'm teaching this semester, only to end up totally frustrated and unsatisfied. Okay, maybe not two full days -- but too big a chunk of those days to end up without the desired (by me) version of the product I'd set out to create.

The trouble was, I wasn't the one who desired the product, and while my endeavors yielded some benefits, the whole exercise once again provided validation of something I already knew.

My brain just doesn't work that way.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think creating the schedule (imperfect though it was) was a waste of time -- precisely because not everyone's brain works the same way. My students who are planners will like this resource -- many will need this resource. And to be honest, I got something out of the process, too. Creating the schedule helped me to sketch out plans for the first two or three units of the semester.

But that's where I got stuck. I was lacking no resource. I had samples and all the information I could possibly want about the subject matter, but I haven't met my students yet and so I haven't yet answered the Goldilocks question for this group of undergraduates: too easy, too hard or just right?

And it was the just right that led me to want to throw things and pull out my hair. And spend much too much time on what should have been a simple task.

In the end, I settled for as close to just right as I could get, with the disclaimer that all dates are approximate and subject to change. If my students "get" something right away, I don't want to drag it out for another  30 minutes just because the schedule says so. And if, on the other hand, they don't "get" something, I don't want to push forward just because the schedule says so.

Fortunately, no one expects me to do that. Over the course of the semester, I need to cover the material  and approximate schedule or no approximate schedule, I'm at liberty to change the dates, the assignments, the order of topics…all of it.

So why was this so hard?
Because without meaning to, I'd made it a matter of absolutes. For me, creating a schedule creates the illusion that certain items will be checked off at certain times. This topic will take ten minutes, that one twenty, and the one over there, well, that could take a day or two. When I hear "schedule," I think "itinerary."

Hmm. Could it possibly be that it took so long because I kept getting in my own way?

And so perhaps my first lesson for the semester was a lesson in empathy. Should I require my students to follow a path that's an uphill climb because the adults have mapped it out and determined it's the best way to go? Or should I encourage them to ignore the GPS and follow the path that makes sense to them, provided they arrive at the right destination? Isn't it only fair for them to expect that if they're going to put in the work, the eventual outcome will be of some benefit to them as well?

Yes, I know that all sounds ridiculously idealistic, but I'm not sure that's such a bad way to begin a semester. Reality will intrude for all of us soon enough as we check off the things we must accomplish, but for me, one of the things I want to teach my students is a love of learning. If I'm to do that, then I need to encourage them to create connections between themselves and the subject matter so that when an assignment requires divergent thinking, they truly believe they're not only allowed to flex that muscle but encouraged to do so. I can put the information into the semester's GPS, expecting -- and even encouraging -- a little "recalculating" along the way.

And for me the first step is unboxing the schedule.

Speaking of schedules…last week, I shifted into "semester mode" and completely forgot about Word Count Wednesday. Due to an unpredictable week which lacked sprints, stretches and pretty much all things writing-related that weren't also school-related, I not only didn't have much to report. I didn't realize until last night that I'd failed to report it.

Look for an update this Wednesday :-)

1 comment:

  1. Interesting!

    I had a literature professor in grad school who assigned us 7 or 8 18th-century British novels and told us that no matter what his syllabus indicated, our best bet was to add up the number of pages in all the books, divide by the number of days until the final exam, and read that many pages per day until we were done.
    It drove me nuts, because I am a schedule person and I wanted to know what book he would be talking about on a given day so I could be sure to have finished it by then! But either that's how this prof's brain worked, OR he was trying to find a way to accommodate everyone's diverse scheduling needs. Thanks for helping me understand that a little better.