Category Archives: Week 12 – Design

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.

The micro-lesson

Wow – I was really nervous to teach in front of you.  I was pretty intimidated by teaching a class of experts – but you were as Prof. Sample said you would be – my ideal students!  So thanks for that!

I was primarily nervous about teaching this particular lesson to you because I was going out on a limb with my claim for motive.  What I am proposing as a motive isn’t backed up by any experts (that I could find).  But I became am more convinced of its possibility after reading Poe’s “Philosophy of Composition”.  By giving you some bits of that essay, it might have made my proposition more plausible to you.  And after I figured out how to use it, I think it became the heart of my lesson.  It was also a necessary piece of the puzzle because without knowing a little about Poe’s process you might not have been willing to work on the question of motive.  Most people simply accept the fact that we will never understand the reason, and would be rightly skeptical of someone claiming to know the motive.

I see from developing this lesson, that a teacher should have some good reasons for asking students to do something.  Not only that, but be able to explain those reasons, and create work that helps makes connections.  When the students feel the work is pointless, they don’t engage as fully – it merely becomes busy work filling 75 min of their lives.

As I mentioned in my lesson, I really related to the difficulty paper idea.  I think this concept can be used in various ways to get students to engage in some deeper level thinking.  Even in the Eng 101’s, where literature is being pushed aside in favor of more article/opinion type reading, the difficulty paper can be used. I will probably use it quite a bit next semester, as well as other lessons I learned both from you and from our class.


A little anxiety never hurts

I was excited to do the microteaching activity, but I must admit that I was feeling anxious prior to starting the lesson. I think the main reason for my anxiety was that I was concerned about how to organize the fifteen minutes in a way that would be informative, and fun at the same time. While planning the lesson I found myself drawn to some of the teaching approaches outlined in the Blau text. For example, I liked the writing about a line activity, and the jump-in reading exercise he described in his book. Given the text that I was teaching, however, I knew that time would not allow for me to do a jump-in reading exercise of the whole text, and I didn’t think that writing about one line of “Orientation” would be the best activity for the short story. Ultimately, I am glad that I included a variation of the pointing exercise in the activity, but I was a little bummed that the clock ran out before the class could fully work through the exercise.

I wanted to do a small lead-up activity prior to the pointing exercise. I was certain (of course) that my classmates would be able to start with the pointing activity easily, but I wasn’t sure that the students I designed my lesson for would immediately be able to recognize the critiques present in “Orientation”. There were so many questions that I wanted to start off with that it was hard for me to narrow down my handout sheet to just three. I changed my handout numerous times trying to figure out which approach to take. In the end I was really encouraged by the feedback that I received in class. I was happy that responding to the discussion questions felt like a natural transition to the pointing exercise. I also really enjoyed the class discussion about the text.  It was so great to see that people enjoyed reading the text, and I hated having to limit the conversation about it.

As I reflect more on the experience I am glad that we were only given fifteen minutes for the teaching presentation. When the lesson was first introduced I was skeptical about how much could get done within that time, but I learned a lot from my participation, and by watching others while also participating in their lessons.  As a “student” I found myself jotting down notes for techniques to use while teaching. I like that most of the lessons involved group work that didn’t feel superficial, and at sometimes was even difficult.  I will admit now to everyone that I plan to borrow/steal the really great handouts and materials that were covered in class. This was a good learning experience that not only left me with new ideas, but valuable experience that I can transfer to the classroom. I am excited now to work through a lesson on “Orientation” the next time I teach a class, and I don’t think I will feel as anxious next time.

Less is More

This semester has been great and I have learned a great deal from Professor Sample and from all of my fantastic classmates.  The experience of the teaching Plan was great, but a bit stressful. I have been teaching for the past 15 years and I have always thought that the teaching plan was going to be a piece of cake. The part that I found to be challenging was that I had so many activities to choose from.  It wasn’t until I posted my teaching plan on the Blackboard that I realized I miscalculated the amount of time it would take me to cover the entire lesson. Instead of three class sessions, it would take me six or more.

Some aspects of my microteaching were surprising. For example, in the classes that I teach every semester at Nova, time does not seem to be an issue.  During my microteaching, time seemed to go by very slowly at the beginning. When the class was rewriting the point of view of their assigned paragraphs, I felt a bit uncomfortable with how slow time seemed to be going. I could hear the clock ticking closer towards the 15 minutes deadline. I wanted to rush the class to hurry up. Yet, in my regular college classes, I don’t have the need to rush the students. On the contrary, I want the students to take their time and truly get deeper into the text.  That said, I enjoyed the feedback and the responses I received from the microteaching activity.

I want to thank the class and Professor Sample for a wonderful course this semester. Now I have new found knowledge and a huge number excellent activities that I can utilize with my students.

Sometimes you just need to talk it out

To some extent I should probably apologize. It was likely very jarring having been required to re-read the text a second time and then answer questions you weren’t ready for. I was very glad that the conversation went well, but it at many times had been hanging only by a thread. I guess that much is to be expected, given how difficult a piece “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is to plan a class discussion around. Conversation can snowball a variety of ways.

I very much value the power of good writing prompts. They’re great introspective thinking to prepare students. But for my micro-teach, I did not want that. I wanted to talk it out; I find that talking things out sorts a lot of confusion, especially when it comes to difficult texts.

Perhaps the one mistake I made was in hoping to get to the essence of the story in a matter of minutes. But even still, it was certainly fun to try. Non-directive teaching is probably something everyone was familiar with. To ask questions—and have students answer them—is nothing new or revolutionary. But when it comes to Hemingway’s work, at least with this story, it works best to dig deep, immediately. I’m still not 100% certain that I asked the right questions, which is something that I’ve taken into consideration. I guess one thing that’s worth mentioning is that I certainly would have taught it a different way approaching ENGH 101-level students. What I was trying to get across in my micro-teach was more about style than substance, however; and I took advantage of the higher reading level of the classroom and “dug deep” in ways that was meant to intentionally challenge.

And if that felt like an ambush—once again—I must apologize. But it was a lot of fun to engage in group discussion of the piece, and to do so with such a well versed audience in literary studies. It was certainly an exceptional learning experience, and great practice for one such as myself with no directly relate-able teaching experience: one of the better moments of what compiles a very successful semester course in teaching instruction.

Let this be a lesson to us all

So, that was fun. And a bit scary and nerve-wracking. And challenging. In other words, a good exercise. I always appreciate the chance to teach, even if it makes me a little self-conscious. I will admit, I originally chose my story (“I.D.” by Joyce Carol Oates) because I had been moved when I read it and felt I had quite a bit to say about it by way of analysis. Then, when it came time to think about teaching the story, I panicked a bit. It seemed too long a piece, with too many moving parts. The most challenging aspect was finding a way to teach a subset of the story’s content in 15 minutes and have there be some kind of coherent exploration, but at the same time, keep the discussion and activities open enough to student interpretation (i.e., not just say, “here’s what the story means”).

When we first studied Blau’s book this semester, I found it very interesting. I liked some of the concrete techniques highlighted in it, even if his blow-by-blow descriptions of their execution were somewhat idealized. I especially liked the practice of “pointing” because it seems a way to have students focus on what is meaningful to them in a story. However, because “I.D.” is such a detailed and relatively un-short short story, I toyed with the idea of “focused pointing” to help direct the traffic of student commentary.  Again, I was unsure if this was a good idea. Would it interfere too much with student interpretation? Was I telling them how to think about the story? After trying it in the lesson, I like the idea of focused pointing to help “organize” thought, not to sort it into neat little boxes of interpretation.

However, throughout the semester, I’ve been wondering: How detached should the teacher be from the interpretive activities of a class? Are we mostly facilitators? Do we put stuff out there, and just let everybody have at it? Certainly we act a bit like traffic cops, overseeing discussion so the group doesn’t get hung up on a question and so everyone gets their say. But what place does the interpretation of the teacher have in the classroom? To what extent do we share our own acumen, education and breadth of experience, and interpret along with the students?

Like Riding a Bike

When I designed this lesson, I knew I was taking a risk. I was putting into practice a theory of theories. Can you take what does it say/mean/matter? and make it work with text within/upon/against text? Blau seemed to think so, but the what does it matter/ text against text is tricky.

If I were to do this microteach again, I would have students read “Girl” in advance to save time. I’d considered having students tweet their most thought-provoking line so that I would come in knowing what lines were ones we could discuss. I didn’t because I liked the idea of a raw reading so that students had to work off their initial reaction. In hindsight, though, I don’t think I got enough time to focus on my main objective, which was really to think about text against text.

Despite our brief discussion, I still feel like there is a missing step to this lesson. I think it is still a stretch to ask high school seniors to get to text against text simply by asking ‘so what?’ I tried to get around this problem by showing my what does it matter? example. When I teach this lesson in the future, I will definitely have to consider some more specific questions first. I might first take an old fairytale, Cinderella, for example and to a practice run with it. I’d then do a Says/Means/Matters chart for the class and do perspectives that way and discuss family dynamics or socioeconomic obstacles for Cinderella. That way, when we do “Girl” students will have a better idea of what I mean by What Does it Matter? Then again, I won’t get as honest, for lack of a better word, answers for Means/Matters… Hmm… maybe that’s worth it for high school students?

Where I felt the weakest with this lesson was the part where I categorized student answers to what does it matter? into Perspectives. I’m weak with critical theory anyway, but that’s also why I love the idea of this lesson–it’s a challenge, both for me and for students. I felt like that with freshman grammar my first year!

Overall, I loved this project. It proved to me that when I do get back in the classroom in a few years, I will be ready to ride that bike! Thanks everyone for being such a great audience.



Gut wrenching, yet overwhelmingly positive.

One of the chief differences between my current job and teaching is my audience.  Every time I prepare for a class presentation, such as the micro-teach lesson, a wave of anxiety hits.  My pulse quickens and soon I’m asking myself, what’s the big deal.  This is the best audience I could hope for.  Why do I get so caught up in my performance in this space when I am so completely at ease in front of my occupational audiences?  That settles it.  I calm down as I recall cranky lawyers, dissatisfied clients, demanding CFO’s, and straight bitchy IP legal assistants jaded by their long days of feeling under appreciated and under paid.  I remind myself I am teaching what I want to teach to the audience I want to teach it and I smile inwardly, thankful for this opportunity.

I was prepared for this scenario as I stepped up to the computer on Wednesday night.  I was excited to share one of the most gut wrenching poems I know with individuals whom I knew might in the very least appreciate the art of it.  I wasn’t prepared however for their overwhelmingly positive feedback.  Was I the only one continuously saying thank you?  Gratitude.  That’s what I was feeling.

As for the poem, we only scratched the surface.  In a longer class I would’ve likely told the groups to pass their stanzas to the right and practice the same activities with a new stanza.  Perhaps bring the group back to a guided discussion of how these stanzas could be woven back together as a whole.  I’m still on the search for an audio recording of DiPrima reading her own work (not sure this ever occurred).  Many of her contemporaries have a dearth or recordings that would be enjoyed if incorporated in a given class period.

There is something still very out of body that occurs for me in front of the class (possibly it’s the nerves).  All space and time except the classroom, the students, and the text cease to exist.  My mind can only focus from image-to-image, interpretation-to-interpretation, as critical engagement supersedes everything else.

For the past couple of years I have been focusing much of my graduate inquiry on research that supports teaching as an adaptive pedagogy whereby the teacher embraces their dual role and student learning from their students.  Similarly, adaptation of goals, identities, and reflection corroborate the learning that occurs within and outside of the classroom.  The finicky thing about it is that there is no magic generalization that unlocks it all.  We will forever be adapting our teaching methods to our students, the situation, the text, and so much more.  But perhaps that is the draw for me, the challenge is never ending and continually diversifying.

No Cliffs Notes, kiddos!

I’ve been a fan of “The Second Bakery Attack” since I first read it four years ago.  There are so many layers there, and this made it difficult to plan for the microteaching lesson.  Where to begin?  I initially wanted to jump to the heart of the matter—the “HUH?” reaction everyone gets from it.  “What is this cinematic image? Why is the wife a secret robber/burglar/thief/ninja and how did the husband not know?”  But, in planning my lesson, I thought jumping straight to those points would be very difficult if some of the smaller bits hadn’t been considered by the class.  So, I thought starting with the historical context would be the best approach to understanding this story, to unlocking the story.  I believe students think, “Just tell me what the point is,” but they need to get there much more slowly than they want.  Sorry kiddos, no Cliffs Notes with a concise summary for you!  Understanding and unraveling a piece of literature takes time and finesse.  It’s not all about one, concise message.  This is especially true of this short story.

The purpose of my lesson (to look more closely at the pop culture references) was actually just a small seed in my literary analysis paper earlier this semester.  I surprised myself tremendously that I took one small comment in that analysis and blew it up into this lesson plan.  And boy could I have gone on and on and on about it!  Fifteen minutes almost isn’t fair!

Things that I feel went well: Timing – this was the only time throughout my practicing that I actually got it all into fifteen minutes.  Phew.  I also feel that the entrance and exit tickets went especially well.  Asking the class to reflect on themselves (what brands did you encounter today? How are brands cursing you?) made the story suddenly very accessible. The group discussion portion was also great, though I wish we had time to discuss the answers / reactions.

Things that I feel need work:  Nerves in front of groups of my peers.  As others have noted, it’s very easy to stand up in front of teenagers each day, but it’s a different ball game to speak to one’s peers!  Not sure how to work on these nerves, but you all were terrifically receptive and kind. I also am an over-planner, trying to squeeze in as much info/discussion/questioning/awesomeness as possible.  Especially in this context, overplanning worked against me.  I wanted to share all of the cool teaching strategies I had thought of, but only had time for a quarter of them.  Sometimes I have trouble cutting the possibilities down and identifying the most essential and effective techniques.

It’s been a wonderful journey this semester.  I leave with pockets full of techniques, strategies, and ideas that I’ll be using soon!

Teacher in Training: Learning How to Juggle the Variables

Micro-Teach was a valuable and difficult experience that I will long remember.  Clear instructions for the assignment and the positive culture in our classroom were extremely helpful stage setters that I will take away and try to apply in practice.  The class was so kind and receptive!  I believe Professor Sample established a tone and expectation of professionalism, creativity, tolerance and constructive participation.  High morale is an intangible that makes a big difference.  

Yet, the exercise remained difficult, and I can only begin to imagine how such a challenge is compounded when a classroom consists of less responsive and unevenly prepared students with varying attitudes.  The comments that many of you have provided on such realities provide clear warning.  I have more work to do to continue to understand what works in the classroom.

Micro-Teach was a humbling experience.  The assignment taught me as nothing else quite could that one must think very concretely about timing, audience levels, entry points for stimulating interest, a framework of enduring objectives, and all those other steps and techniques that the teacher needs to thoughtfully devise in order to engage students and help them reach higher learning levels without risking over-reach and confusion.  In the process, the teacher needs to be prepared to accommodate detours, keep her eye on the overall design (without seeming to do so too consciously), and to shift the game plan around on a slippery dime according to class dynamics.  In a way, I bet that’s what Billie Holiday did, and Mal Waldron, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and maybe even Frank O’Hara.  ENGH 610 has showed me – and made me practice – many ways to approach teaching as its own art.     

I look forward to hearing from anyone adventuresome enough to do my homework or to otherwise comment on the challenge of “Lady.”  Thank you all sincerely for making this experience so worthwhile and lasting in my mind.  It is exactly why I decided to go back to school.  Yours, Mimi