Saturday, October 07, 2006

On teaching

So I signed up for a workshop at my job that teaches instructional skills; it's called, logically enough, an Instructional Skills Workshop, or ISW. The workshop involves four Fridays this October. We met yesterday for four hours, and we'll meet the next three Fridays for seven hours and learn about things like creating effective lesson plans, formulating learning outcomes, assessing student learning, and encouraging student participation in class.

On the one hand, all that sounds kind of boring and bureaucratic. Say the words "outcomes" and "assessment" to average academics and they will roll their eyes. On the other hand, though, today's workshop was fun, and I think I'll learn a lot. It's very practical, so what I'm learning will be directly usable in class. I'm guessing it's kind of like coursework you might do for a degree in elementary or secondary education -- where they actually teach you how to teach -- shortened into four days. And that sounds like a very good idea to me, since many, many college instructors don't get formal training in pedagogy. I got some training in how to teach writing, but very little in how to manage a classroom. My problem is that while I know some things about good teaching, my knowledge is kind of vague and nebulous, and this sort of workshop will help me be more consistent and systematic about doing the things good teachers do.

This kind of workshop works for me, since I'm more of a planner than a spontaneous teacher, and this way I'll learn better ways to plan. The things we're learning don't preclude some spontaneity anyway. This is one way the Hobgoblin and I are quite different; he's got a post on more spontaneous forms of teaching, which sound great but just aren't my style. I think I'm learning ways to play to my strengths as a teacher rather than trying to be a kind of teacher I'm not (the kind who can wing it successfully).

The main part of the workshop is a series of mini-lessons all the participants have to do: one a week for the next three weeks. I'm supposed to do a 10-minute lesson on whatever I want next Friday, so I'm wracking my brains for what I can teach. The workshop leaders recommend teaching something out of one's discipline -- a hobby or non-academic skill one has, for example. So I might teach something related to cycling. I'd thought about doing a lesson on how to watch a bike race; i.e. how to make sense of what's happening. But the lesson is supposed to be interactive in some way, and I'm not sure how to teach that lesson interactively. Then I thought of teaching the concept of the pace line -- what it is and why cyclists use them. I can be interactive with this lesson easily -- I can make everyone form a line and pretend we're riding and act out the paceline's movements.

Anything about cycling anybody out there has always wanted to know? I don't think anyone else in the group knows much about it, so I can get away with teaching the basics.

We'll get videotaped as we teach, but, thank God, we're not forced to watch ourselves. We'll get feedback on our teaching, which will be fine, but I can't handle the thought of watching myself on tape. And I don't even own a VCR, so I have no easy way to watch the tape anyway. What a relief.