My recent silence in the blogosphere is a reflection of moving to a new school and attempting to shift my pedagogical mindset. I will be starting, this fall, at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville, which has a great reputation and many qualities that encourage a great educational experience. It also has several qualities, like easy access to beaches, that made it particularly appealing to me, coming from landlocked Ohio. Among its many appealing qualities is a heavy focus on student-centered education. My thoughts about teaching had been heading in this direction, but I hadn’t fully headed down this path or thought very deeply about this path until I attended an Institute for New Teachers hosted by the Southern Association of Independent Schools and until I talked to other teachers at ESJ.
During these conversations, that seminar, and my transition from teaching at a university to a middle and high school setting, I have really pondered what the different drivers of a course are and what each looks like. I think it comes down to these:
- A curriculum- or text-driven course. There are some courses, like math or world languages, that require you to go in a, more or less, specific order. After all, students are not going to translate purpose clauses well if they do not know the subjunctive mood. In these courses, you follow the order of the textbook to a greater extent than English courses where it may not really matter what poem, short story, or novel is read first.
- A teacher-driven course. These courses rely heavily on the sage-on-stage or lecturing model of teaching, or they are focused very much on the teacher’s interests or research questions. For example, my Roman history course in the spring was focused on the theme of empire. It seems as if these courses are much more common in universities, and they are also more reflective of historiography and good settings for introducing the most helpful theoretical models for answering specific questions (often posed by the professor).
- A student-driven course. These courses are driven by students’ abilities, interests, and curiosity. Project-based learning and very flexible assignments are great examples of this type of course. For example, students could also choose which texts to read first if it does not matter as much.
This year, I am trying to shift how I structure my courses. I have leaned heavily on the curriculum-driven and teacher-driven styles, but I want to shift away from my interests to my students’ interests. In my Latin 1 and 2 courses, students will choose the next cultural topic that we discuss alongside Wheelock’s grammar curriculum. We will also be going through this curriculum based on my students’ pace. My Latin 4 course is a survey of Latin literature, and many of the texts will be chosen based on genres and topics that my students enjoy. The culture topics will, then, be dictated by the texts that we are reading so that they understand them more.
Who or what drives your courses? Which seems to be best for student learning? Which seems best for your students’ age group?