My biggest fear is that the easiest part is now done and the difficult work lay ahead. I know I want to keep open communication between the students and myself. I’m planning to have the students write a memo to me this week via our class blog (the fourth week of class) giving their interpretation of what was decided in our one on one conference. That way, I can easily see if there’s a disconnect between what I’m hearing and what they’re hearing. Likewise, I want to keep an open dialogue about the project so that they feel comfortable about it and begin working toward putting it together – I don’t want them to look at the project as so overwhelming that they do not know where to start. For many, I can see this being their biggest hold-up. I’m asking them to do something that they have never been asked to do before. I’m asking them to look at themselves and their education in a new light. Some embrace this challenge and they have told me in their conferences they wish every class would be approached this way, they wish learning was the focus instead of grades, they are looking forward to taking some risks, and they love the freedom of learning without boundaries. Others, though, thrive on the structure of being told how an assignment should be done. I’m asking this type of student to take a big step out of their comfort zone in the hope they’ll realize the potential that lies within them if they listen to their own ideas and give themselves the freedom to take risks. I hope two more conferences with each student will make this easier for all of us. What has also been encouraging is the number of colleagues who have commented on how impressed they are with the depth of the conferences and the questions I’m asking my students to consider. No one else is giving all their students A’s yet, but at least I have them curious and pondering.
Another uncertainty I’m feeling is what to do with those students who have chosen not to set-up a conference? If I have no idea what their Final Project will look like, how will I know if it’s a stretch for them or if they’re merely going through the motions? Also, if a student has done little or nothing all semester, but cranks out a decent final, is that still an A? I think I’ll have a difficult time giving an A to someone who I see as taking advantage of the system – do I still have to give that A then? Will the parents and administration demand the A that was promised on the first day of class?
Additionally, I need to find the balance between focusing on American Literature as “normal” and making the Final Project the focus. What do I want them to take away from the class? How will I ensure that they’ll still be successful in more challenging upper-level classes? Am I making this too easy on them since they do not have to “earn” their grade?
Yeah, I feel overwhelmed, but it’s an excited overwhelmed. I don’t want to fall into the pattern of teaching as usual. I want to challenge my students to look beyond the four walls of the classroom and into a future only they can determine. I want them to make connections between literature and life by going out and actually living the life they choose (not the life chosen by their family or friends). I want them to begin seeing the connections that are made among all of their classes; see that there’s connectivity to their education and to realize that learning is not compartmentalized. I want them to embrace new challenges and be open to taking risks. I want them to be alive to the possibilities that surround them and for them to see themselves as unique contributors to the world. And, more than anything, I want to light a spark that encourages life-long learning and an inner search to figure out who they are and what they truly believe.