Lesson Plans: I’ll show you mine if you show me yours
Ed note: This week’s guest post comes from Nancy Ross, founder of Experiments in Art History: Teaching with Digital Tools.
So I have a confession to make. I don’t use lesson plans. Sometimes I plan out a few classes at the beginning of the semester, just to get the ball rolling. It is not that I’m against them, but they aren’t part of my preferred teaching method. I do standardize the format of my survey classes. A typical 50 minute class looks like this:
Assessment (5-7 minutes). I ask my students a question and they have to respond in writing. These questions generally have to do with the artistic conventions of the movement we are studying. I usually allow them to discuss the answer with each other and to use whatever tools or materials they have with them. Doing the assessment first thing forces my students to do the reading and show up on time. Scores for the daily assessment count for 40% of a student’s grade, so they have to show up (this is a problem at my college).
Presentation (5 minutes). This semester, my survey students each had to sign up to give a presentation, with one presentation per class period. The presentations start one quarter of the way through the semester, so they can get to grips with survey-level art history before they have to present. I focus on one work of art during each class period, so they sign up for their favorite work of art. These presentations serve as an introduction to the work of art and they have a clear idea of what is expected for these. So far, so good. I don’t feel too bad about requiring presentations. When I was an undergrad at the University of St. Andrews (Scotland), we had to give a 20 minute presentation each semester, starting in the first year. Terrifying and a tremendous learning experience.
Slides and discussion (35 minutes). I start my audio recording, to post later on Canvas as an mp3, and we review answers for the daily assessment question. This leads into the slides and first slide is always a map, followed by the key work of art for the day. I prefer to teach by facilitating discussion, so I ask questions and students answer. I usually bring out a comparison to illustrate a larger point. My high school used the Harkness method of teaching and I like to think that I’m doing Harkness on a large scale in my classroom and without the Harkness table. Students also ask questions, which other students and I answer. Two sections of the same class will cover the same material, but in a different order. I steer the questions to make sure we’re covering all of the bases.
Review (5 minutes). I ask students why this key work is important and I want them to come up with three reasons. This serves as a review and also places the key work in a larger context. Knowing three reasons is required for tests and essays. I end the audio recording.
I started this post by telling you that I don’t have a lesson plan, but perhaps that isn’t really true. I have a very clear plan, but I don’t write it out.
When I first started teaching at Dixie State College, which just became a university, I thought I had to model the teaching that I received at St. Andrews and observed at the University Cambridge when I was a Ph D student. Those lectures were thoroughly prepared and then read. I tried to do that during my first few weeks, but it was extremely frustrating and time-intensive. I wrote overviews and visual analysis, trying to write out every word of the 150 minutes I lectured each week. It wasn’t working for me and I was pretty sure it wasn’t working for them. It felt artificial and I had no idea what my students were learning. I also required my students to write one essay each week, for the entire 15 weeks of the semester. That was standard for Cambridge undergraduates and I thought I was helping my students at Dixie by holding them to the same standard. I figured that the complaints would stop eventually.
After the difficulty and failures of that first year, I realized that I needed more feedback from my students, which I would be able to get through discussion. I also needed to compel them to attend class and do the reading, and so I implemented daily multiple-choice quizzes that later turned into short writing assessments. More recently, I learned that my students will produce higher quality work for other students than they will for me. Now I require presentations. I love to hear my students teach other students and have been surprised with the high standard of work.
So there it is. I’ve shown you mine…