I am writing this with contradictory midterm evaluation feedback floating around in my mind. “More small groups please!” “I hate small groups!” The one thing that came back as a consistent piece of positive feedback, however, was about one-on-one meetings. They like them. This semester I only have fifteen students, and while I only have one semester of co-teaching 34 students to compare anything to, one of the most rewarding things has been being able to have more one-on-one contact time with all of them. After feeling last semester like I only really got to know my students by the end of the semester, one of my main goals for this time around was to reach that stage quicker. I started the class with required office hours in the first two weeks in which I gave them feedback on their diagnostic in person and talked about their feelings about writing. While I remember little about the writing part of the discussions, there were so many other benefits. 1) I think they appreciated voicing their concerns. 2) They learned where office hours were held, and I got to put in a plug for coming back to see me. 3) I got a better sense of their lives, what they’re into, who likes nature documentaries, who has never seen a documentary, who is a potential Olympian (whaaat), who had tried to take an R1B twice before but dropped out each time, and who might be a film major. And 4) It honestly also just made getting up in front of all of them less intimidating.
I scheduled two more required one-on-one meetings across the semester (replacing our Wednesday back to back class and screening with three hours of meeting marathon). They correspond one per each major assignment, and the second one just happened. I read all their drafts quickly and marked major points to talk about with keywords to myself at the top of the page. This was much more pleasant to me than writing written comments and far more productive because they could get instant clarification on what they couldn’t understand. It also allowed the feedback session to double as a brainstorming session for those who needed to make major changes. And allowed me to reassure the ones who came in expressing doubts but had actually promising drafts. And to gently suggest that a lot more work (and office hours follow up) was needed for those who were struggling. In short, it was more human.
I’ve been thinking of “keeping things human,” as cheesy as it is, as a sort of guide star for my semester. On the spur of the moment I had them do a quick free write on Monday describing a scene they would film if they were making a documentary about the power outage. The variety of approaches was great, they had to think about formal choices and style, and everyone was amused. Perhaps it was just because it was top of mind, but a number of them asked for more in class free writing on their mid-term evaluation. And, of course, one of them said they thought it was pointless.