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Saturday, April 21, 2012

notes on utopian thinking

One day, I'd like to run my College Composition course like this. In the initial week, the students huddle in groups of five—talking, listening, writing, reading, questioning—with the goal to nominate a group leader by the third meeting of class. In a room of, say, 25 students, five group leaders will emerge. I will then spend the next week conferencing with those five individuals, who will then conference with their teams. As group leaders meet with me, they will share their team's learning goals; I will respond with how I see my role in facilitating those aims. Next, I will meet with each group, doing my best to clarify our objectives, expectations, and standards for the following 14 weeks.

Each group will produce a team-specific syllabus—and spend class efficiently pursuing the goals and tasks and assignments therein. My role is to float from group to group, helping students, offering bird's eye observations, etc.

Of course, there will be times when I'll deliver whole-class instruction. And, importantly, there will be times when it makes more sense to deliver instruction to just the team leaders (that is, training the trainers). Whatever the case, I just want to create a classroom that functions more like, well, a classroom—which, in my mind, is place where we come to experience, participate, engage, discover, change.

As of now, this "class" remains purely theoretical and, thus, a million unforeseen challenges (and rewards?) await should I ever get the chance to put my vision into practice. And yet, I've always run a sort of process-workshop type of class, even if I've never tried something with this much explicit group structure, with this much student agency. If you have experience in this type of learning environment (formal schooling or otherwise), please share your thoughts.

Bottom line, I think people learn best in groups—but, at the same time, no one learns best in a milieu of persistent chaos and confusion. My goal, then, is to encourage as much group work as possible, while also providing as much support and scaffolding as necessary.

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