Moving teaching out onto the front stage

Posted by on January 31, 2010 
Filed under Reading logs

“In one’s teaching a problem is something you don’t want to have, and if you have one, you probably want to fix it. Asking a collegue about a problem in his or her research is an invitation; asking about a problem in one’s teaching would probably seem like an accusation.”

This statement from The Scholarship of Teaching:What’s the Problem? made me think about the “front stage/backstage” divide outlined in Goffman’s sociological writings. He called it the dramaturgical analysis. Without getting into too much detail, Goffman meant that all of life can be analyzed like a play, with people taking on their roles and acting out their performances. He also pointed out that we attempt to create impressions of ourselves by keeping some things “backstage” and offering up some things “front stage”. While research is something to be discussed and public between academics (front stage), teaching is something to be only between that teacher and their students (backstage from other academics). So we perceive any inquiry into our teaching as someone in the audience trying to sneak a peak behind the curtain.

The article also did a very good job of outlining what the author called the “Reverse Pyramid” technique. I learned this technique from “The Joy of Teaching” by Peter Filene. While it does seem backwards to start from learning outcomes and plan a course, it really makes for a better class design. I had always started from “what do I want to cover this semester”, but this approach fails to even consider the overall point of the class. Randy Bass phrases it as making every course component intentional.

Finally, I thought the article outlined a better process than pre/post tests to measure student learning. Having students answer questions the first and last day of class allows the teacher to monitor student growth and brings the student into the process to see the results. I missed this semester, but next semester I will be adding this exercise to my courses. Even if teaching is seen as a private activity, too backstage to be published in the form of complete course portfolios, we can at least attempt to promote self reflection and the monitoring of student outcomes beyond student evaluations.  

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