Thursday, September 30, 2004

Shadrone kindly asks if I’ve posted all of my VR story thus far anywhere. Oddly, I thought I had, but I can’t find the file anywhere. I’ve made a note to myself to post it when next I have the chance, and I’ll mention it here when I do.

My book o’ the week of about a month ago was Joseph Lowman’s Mastering the Techniques of Teaching, written primarily for college instructors but aimed at anyone who has to present material to a group over time.

I found it a bit difficult to read, despite Lowman’s straightforward English. Mainly, it’s because I’m not a college professor, so I don’t have to worry about establishing office hours or determining course objectives.

But to be fair, the book’s not about office hours or course objectives; it’s about improving teachers’ skills. The book advocates a holistic approach, encompassing the students, the environment, and the teacher itself.

Ironically, Lowman proposes that the best way for teachers to improve is for them to focus on their students. But understanding students’ perspectives and problems, the teacher can present the most effective material in the most effective manner.

I found the section on student types most interesting, as it listed a handful of common student attitudes so that teachers can better empathize with them. The attitudes are:

  • “The typical compliant student is notably teacher dependent, conventional, and highly task oriented. Unlike other types, tehse students are comfortable with being dependent and are content simply to learn what the instructor wants them to know. Compliants speak in class most often to agree with the instructor or ask for clarification. They rarely pos problems or question the teacher’s control.”
  • Anxious-dependent students…can be spotted early by their excessive concern about grades. Like compliant types, anxious-dependents want to learn exactly what the teacher wants them to know—but these fear that they will miss something….[they] distrust teacheres and expect trick questions or unfair grading practices. Their combination of high ambition, anxiety, and suspiciousness suggests that they feel angry about having less power in the educational setting than they would like.”
  • Discouraged workers…make comments in class that communicate a depressed and fatalistic attitude towards themselves and their education….Some may have worked so hard to earn high grades in the past that they no longer find learning pleasurable; they have burned out. Often they are older students coming back to school…who find it hard to regain their youthful enthusiasm. Some have jobs or families….”
  • Independent students take what instructors have to offer and pursue their own goals in equal measure. They are comfortable (perhaps even detached or aloof) in doing what is asked of them…high participators, make friends with instructors easily, and identify with them to some extent, much as many graduate students relate to their professors.”
  • Heroes…lack the detachment of the indpendents, and seem anxious to make the teacher notice immediately what great students and interesting people they are. Most critically, heroes routinely fail to deliver on their initial promise. They are the erratic, optimistic underachievers who initially excite an instructor with their intensity and grand plans for independent projects, only to disappoint later with poor execution.”

These are all presented in the spirit of identification, so that teachers can recognize the dynamics of the class early. None of these types are flawless, and of course there are innumerable variations on each.

Lowman does not focus exclusively on the students, though; a full forty-five pages are devoted to the instructor’s craft. How can the teacher most effectively utilize the drama inherent in lecture? The lecture hall is a dramatic stage, after all. Lowman spends twenty pages answering that question.

So, overall, it’s a good book. If I were a professor, it would be my bible; instead, it’s a solid discussion of a complicated subject.

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