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Group Teaching Project, Spring 2005

What It Is

Each of the groups we created during the first two weeks of classes will be responsible for teaching to the rest of the class for at least a half hour of their class period what they see as the most important relations between their novel and the first novel in the unit. Hence, the group project entails forming a group, choosing a date and topic related to the readings for that date, formulating a research plan, dividing your labor when putting it into action and running 30-45 minutes of a class period, and writing a report on, reflection on, and assessment of your group's work in the project.

Groups will have great latitude in choosing their research topic and mode of running the class. However, each group must meet with me once (preferably at least one week before its presentation is scheduled) and keep in touch with me on its plans and progress. For our preliminary meeting, the group should come with possible focuses for research and preliminary teaching ideas for the class, along with questions about any aspect of the project. During that meeting, I'll answer questions you have, facilitate your process of choosing a research topic, offer suggestions for research processes, and give feedback on teaching ideas, goals, and strategies. After that meeting, the group should feel free to modify its plans without feeling the need to run every little thing by me for approval. But if you want to change something major--like your research topic or your goals while running the class--please let me know, so I can give useful feedback and suggestions.

No later than one week after running its class, each group must turn in a dossier of sources used for its project (either in the form of an annotated bibliography or by attaching a note to a copy of the actual sources used that explains how you used each), along with an introduction (on your goals and objectives) and group-authored group assessment (of what happened during the class period and its relation to your expectations and plans, as well as of your mode of working together as a group); students will also email me individual self-assessments on what they contributed to the group and self-reflections on what they learned by doing the project.

Each student will be graded individually, although a good part of his or her grade will include how successful the group's teaching was and how well the group worked together. As 20% of your final grade, this is one of the most significant assignments in the course, so take it seriously and start working on it early!

What It's For

It's a truism that you don't really learn something until you try to teach it to someone else, but there is nevertheless a good deal of truth to this cliché. Being responsible for teaching anything makes you pay a lot more attention when you're learning it, since you'll be in the position of setting goals for the half-hour (at least) of class time you'll be running, designing questions and activities, and trying to anticipate and to answer your peers' questions. And because this particular project is not just an individual endeavor but something you have to work on with others to make it work, there's an added dimension of cooperative learning and decision-making in the mix, as well. Given that you all are relative newcomers to the academic study of science fiction, I thought each group would better understand where potential sources of confusion or frustration might be, as well as how to engage the key relations between the later and earlier novels in the unit--probably much better than I would. Hence, you all have the opportunity to "peer teach" in a way that could well be more effective than my own teaching at times. At the very least, you all will be exposed to a variety of teaching styles and methods over the course of the semester and, when teaching, have the opportunity to draw on what you feel are the most effective and appropriate teaching strategies for the material you all will be wrestling with.

So the main goal in assigning a group project in this course is to have you learn more about some aspect of the works and writers your presentation falls on, mostly through your research and planning for that thirty-to-forty-five-minute portion of the class period your group will run. Another goal is to get you in the habit of using the resources available to you-our relatively vast library holdings, the links on the web site, and above all, the works on reserve in Reed Library--when doing research with a purpose. The assignment thus gives you the opportunity to get out of "book report" mode--out of simply finding something out about something and summarizing it. Rather, the purpose of your research is to help you shape your objectives for your class presentation/discussion/activities. Another major goal of the group project is for you to gain proficiency in "oral communication skills"--not simply lecturing in front of a group (if you choose that mode of running the class), but also the kind of communication that's essential to the success of your group collaboration, to directing a class discussion, to running a particular activity, and to crafting a group-authored document. This is where the final goal of having you work together on this project comes in: by reflecting on the relation between your plans for the class period and what actually happened during it, by considering where the class period went well and what you'd most want to change in either your plans or the way you tried to implement them, and by collaborating on a three-part written reflection and assessment, you are meant to develop and improve your critical thinking and writing skills.

So there's a lot you can learn from the process of completing this project: from your experience of the challenges, frustrations, and satisfactions of research, from your experience of "being responsible for" a portion of our class time, from your experience working together as a group (about setting goals, dividing labor, and reaching consensus), and so on.

Furthermore, I'm hoping that the things you learn in and from this project will carry over into how you approach subsequent classes--about preparing for class discussion, about being an active reader and learner, about what it means to gain some degree of expertise on a particular topic, about how you and your peers might appear from the perspective of someone "running a class." Hopefully the experience of being responsible for a portion of a class period and learning from how other groups handle that responsibility will raise serious questions for you about what it means to take responsibility for your own learning.

How To Do It

I don't want to limit the creativity of your group's approach to running a portion of a class period by laying out a step-by-step approach. So much is dependent on your individual interests and interpretations, your beliefs about the most effective modes of teaching, the way the people in your group interact with each other, and the process by which you narrow down the many possible comparisons/contrasts between the two novels down to your top one or two, that it's probably impossible to create such a list, anyway. But what I can do is offer some examples of kinds of things you might consider doing when running--or getting ready to run--a portion of the class period.

At most one week after the conclusion of your teaching segment, your group must turn in a 500-1000-word group-authored assessment of the experience of planning and teaching the key relations between your novel and the first novel in its unit. In this group-authored essay, you should describe the planning your group did, explain and justify your original lesson plan, comment on what actually happened in the class, and comment on whether and how you'd rethink any aspect of the pedagogical project in light of any differences between your plans, expectations, and experiences in it.

As well, each group member must also email me a 250-500-word self-assessment of his or her contributions to the group's plans and actions, and self-reflection on what he or she learned by doing the project. This is meant to be a more informal, individualized email in which you assess how well your group worked together in preparing for the pedagogical project, how well your group dealt with the unexpected during the project, how well you contributed to both, and what you learned from the process and project.

Let me end this overview by reminding you that you don't have to wait to ask me questions until the time your group is scheduled to meet with me in person. Feel free to stop by my office during my office hours or email me if you have any questions about the group project that haven't been answered on this page.

Grading Criteria

Your grade for this segment of the course will be based on a combination of factors: my overall assessment of your group's lesson plan, teaching effectiveness, and commitment to working collaboratively; the quality of the group-authored reflection on your planning and teaching; the honesty and thoughtfulness of your own self- and group-assessment; and my overall assessment of your individual contributions to the group's efforts and success.

M A I N * N E W S * L I N K S * R E S E R V E S

ENGL 216: Science Fiction, Spring 2005
Created: 1/25/04 10:44 am
Last Modified: 1/25/04 10:44 am