Sunday, April 6, 2008

Debbie Drama From Duluth Posits That It's the End of the World. Haven't You Been Paying Attention?

A colleague and I were recently discussing the value of students working in groups, as well as employing more constructivist approaches in our classroom. It's got me thinking about how much more I lecture today than I did ten years ago.

When I began teaching, I would tell my students that I expected them to read the assigned pages and come to class prepared for activities that would apply what they read. I would also assign groups, and give each group a topic they had to "teach" the class, in addition to other types of presentations and in-class activities.

However, over the years, the quality of student work continued to decline and it became harder and harder to expect students to do any of these things at a level that made it worthwhile. I suppose we could blame the k-12 system, and most certainly the NCLB mandate that places more value on test scores than actual learning so these students come to college only knowing how to take tests with answers they've been given, but I can't help but think that I have also contributed to the decline.

Instead of tackling this lack of preparedness and thinking, "I'm not going to let you slide through. You're going to learn how to do this," I found it easier to just spoon feed the material. It became less stressful for me to just come to class, plug in the PowerPoint, and talk away, than to cringe as the students, obviously having not read the assigned material, sat and stared at one another.

This decline in student performance (and their seeming lack of concern about it) has made me become very bitter. Sometimes I feel (as do my colleagues) that we in the college teaching profession are actually first-hand witnesses to the decline of civilization. Melodramatic, I know. Please convince me otherwise, I beg you.