Reflection on Microteaching Exercise

NOTE: After reading everyone else’s responses, I feel like maybe I did this wrong; I ended up writing a sort of reflection paper, and it’s quite long and formal-sounding.  In retrospect, I wish I’d written less and talked more about how I felt teaching rather than what I felt about the effectiveness of my lesson and the microteaching exercise as a whole.  Whoops!  I apologize in advance for the lengthy read.

When planning the microteaching exercise, I did my best to include variety in the lesson plan so that students who learn best in different ways might have their needs met and so that the short story could be approached in more than one way.  I’ve always been a fan of discussion-based classes, but I think that might simply be because they work very well for me, personally, and because I enjoy interacting in that format.  I tried to set up the lesson in such a way that students who didn’t necessarily enjoy or learn from that style as much would have some other way of getting something out of the story.  The lesson plan goes from individual silent reflection to individual open reflection to a group “project” of sorts to finally end with a full-class discussion.  My thought was that this would help students “ramp up” to a discussion by letting them think of and develop ideas alone and in small groups together before bringing them up to everyone (and potentially having to argue over them with their classmates).  It would also emphasize the existence and importance of multiple interpretations and readings of a text; starting out with a discussion might have led some students not to bring up their interpretations in the face of a majority opinion or a particularly well-constructed or forcefully-argued reading from one or two particular students.  Allowing students to quietly reflect and then requiring them to share aloud before putting them into small groups just seemed like the best way to alter the traditional discussion format without completely changing the way it worked.

Obviously, I didn’t get to demo my entire lesson to the class, but I think that what I did go through went rather well, if the class’s response and my impression of my own teaching are anything to go by.  In general, everyone in the class had appreciative things to say about the class structure, the introductory activity, and the perspective activity that I had them start on before time ran out.  People (including myself) seemed particularly happy with the small group activity on perspective; I honestly did not think that that section of the lesson would have been the most popular or the most effective part, but it seemed like everyone was very much on-board with the concept of it and my execution of it (i.e. walking around to different groups, checking in with them, asking leading questions, etc.).  In my mind, the really important parts of the lesson were the first part (individual analysis) and the last part (full-class discussion), and the middle activity was as much a transition as it was about demonstrating the importance of perspective.  I think, in the future, that I will streamline that activity by making sure to assign characters who would have particularly varied perspectives on the events of the story to emphasize the point of the exercise rather than make it seem like I’m arbitrarily assigning characters for people to write through in order to take up time.  It also seems like people readily understood that the activity was meant as something of a preface to the character-based reading journal that I would assign next to accompany As I Lay Dying; I’m glad that came across with little explanation.

I also got the impression that everyone was happy with the initial analysis and sharing activity.  I feel like I could have made it a bit more organized, either by literally having everyone in a circle and just sticking to the order that people are sitting in, or by being a bit more focused with my groupings of responses.  I’m glad that people got a lot out of it, but I think it needs some tweaking in order to make it seem more cohesive and connected to the remainder of the lesson.  I do, however, really like the nonspecific nature of the assignment; I had no idea I would get such varied responses, and when I was brainstorming what the potential responses might be, I put down several that no one ever brought up and missed several that quite a few people brought up (e.g. Miss Emily’s house itself).  The danger in the exercise is if I (or any other teacher using the lesson) am not prepared to talk about any and every aspect of the story, the class could get derailed by unanticipated student responses or those students might have their responses ignored or brushed over, which is both ineffective and insulting after they’ve done all that work.  Ultimately, I’m impressed with how much this first portion of the lesson got people to think and how varied their responses were, and I think that that unexpected variety of responses meant that I wasn’t as prepared to facilitate it as I’d thought.  In the future, I’m not sure I’ll change much about it, but I will definitely spend more time working through the material just in case a student gives me something I’ve never heard before.

As far as the teaching exercise as a whole goes, I think it was definitely a worthwhile thing to do, from both a planning and an execution standpoint.  I’ve never had to write so much about my own lesson plans before or really justify them to anyone but myself, so I think all of these written responses are quite valuable just for them forcing me to think about my own thinking.  And with execution, it’s always better to have a trial run, so to speak, than to go into a classroom cold and just expect things to work with high schoolers or even undergraduates.  That being said, I do wish I could have gotten more feedback in terms of critique.  I understand the reasoning behind restricting comments to, “I think . . .” or, “I found that . . .” but I personally would have liked to hear more of what people struggled with or thought didn’t work.  I know that students were encouraged to talk about things they didn’t understand or times when they weren’t sure what to do, but I don’t think there was a single comment like that amongst any of the responses to any of the teaching presentations.  I guess that speaks as much to our hesitance as students as it does to the format of the class responses, but I do think we all got the impression that there would be no critique unless it was to talk about why particular things worked well.  I find myself constantly going back to my training as a Princeton Review instructor, but I think it’s relevant here: one of the most iconic and effective aspects of training was that our evaluations were given aloud immediately after each one of our teaching presentations by the trainer.  Everything was covered, including mistakes, flubs, points where we went completely off-track, etc., and I think that approach helped me improve quite a bit as a teacher.  I wanted just a little bit of that here, some suggestions for improvement, because I’m still not sure if anyone thought any particular thing that I did just flat-out didn’t work.

Ultimately, I am quite happy with how my teaching presentation worked out.  I think that it demonstrated the effectiveness in practice of what I had intended to do in theory when I wrote the lesson plan up in the first place, combining elements of different teaching approaches into a straightforward, cohesive lesson.  I think simplifying and focusing Blau’s “pointing” exercise for the opening comments was a good idea, and I’ll probably end up doing that for most any literature lesson I teach.  I also like that, as far as I can tell, the full-class discussion of a text can remain intact in combination with other kinds of analytical activities; I really would hate to lose that in the wake of newer styles of presenting the material.  I’m glad that people got enough out of my lesson that they feel the desire to use parts of it (e.g. the character-focused small group activity), and even more glad that other people’s presentations had elements that I’d like to adapt to my own lessons.