Saturday, April 5, 2008


I teach a section of 100 and a section of 110. My 100 students are always more than willing to put their two cents in about an essay we read in class or an upcoming assignment. I am not so lucky with my 110 students. As I stated in an earlier blog, it is something akin to pulling teeth and then forcing them back in without anesthetic. It is not a fun time trying to get them all to speak up and share their thoughts. My usual modus operendi is shame. I tell them that there's no excuse for keeping their mouths shut. Some people say they are quiet because it's Monday, or Friday... or Wednesday. I tell them that if they call me up at 3 a.m. with a question about anything, I will have an opinion on that topic. They all have my cell phone number, so they can feel free to call me on it, but, I assure you, I am not bluffing.

Some of you might remember the debacle last semester when I held a discussion with the Frederick Douglass essay. It did not go well. I ended up defending Martin Luther King jr Day, February and BET all in a golden afternoon. The opposite happened this semester.

Silence. I was going to make a Hamlet joke there, but I decided against it.

I asked what they saw in the essay that jumped out at them. nothing

I asked why he brought up the founding fathers and the Revolutionary War. nothing.

I stood up. Those of you who have seen me teach know I never stand up, putting myself in a seated potition makes the students more relaxed. I drew two people on the board with a line between them. "Communication takes two people... a listener," indicating one of the two stick figures, "And a speaker. These two people are divided by language." I pointed to the line. I then went into a 5-10 minute lecture about how a speaker has to sift through ideas, words, reasoning, argumentation, grammar, punctuation, diction, diplomatic rhetoric, persuasive techniques, pitch and tone in order to adequately communicate their ideas. I explained how this is much the same way they will be writing their argumentative essays in the coming weeks. I sat down.

"So, you see, your ability to communicate your ideas is not merely a biological gift, nor a right endowed to you by the First Ammendment. It makes you a better person. People who can argue adequately and communicate with others are... better... people. So, I ask you, why do you think Frederick Douglass brought up the Founding Fathers?"

It was quiet for a moment then hands started shooting up. They either wanted to prove they were good people or make sure I wasn't going to get even more annoyed. Either way, I think it worked swimmingly.


smm933 said...

Oh, to have your powers of articulation.

Hannah said...

I second that.
It's good to hear that being very open and explicit with your students helped in this instance. I would be nervous to try to "have a talk" with them in this way, but it sounds like it really helped.
Thanks for the inspiration.
And I think changing things up, like standing up, for instance, when you have always sat down, really does make a positive difference sometimes.