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Monday, May 23, 2011

What Makes for a Good Comment in a Graduate Course?

*Preparation. The student comes to class with an idea already formulated. Not always possible, because the discussion might not be going in that direction.

*Relevance. The comment relates directly to other things said; it is part of the conversation. The student doesn't always make the same comment about everything. Relevant, improvised comments are even better than prepared statements. You can also prepare to improvise.

*Thoughtfulness. The student might not say everything that occurs to him/her, but will self-censor to a certain extent. Too much, and he/she will never say anything. Not enough, and you have the glibness syndrome. We encourage glibness when we ask for participation but don't necessarily have a structure that produces good student response.

The classroom discussion is a collaborative enterprise. The best discussion is not one to which you could go back, listen to the tape, and judge everything to have been perfect. Rather, it is one in which students responded to one another, developed ideas suggested by others and by the profe. There will be digresssions and even irrelevancies. You would have to go back and edit it to make even the best discussion a well developed essay, but that's not really the point, is it? It should be more jam session than recording session


Clarissa said...

How about a post for a professor who teaches graduate courses on how to deal with a grad student who keeps trying to participate and offers viewpoints that the professor does not expect?

This is a very good post that is aimed at a grad student who has trouble being successful in a course. However, there are also grad students who find a course to be under challenging because of a professor's expectations.

I came to the US from a Canadian university that really valued unconventional thought on the students' part. It was a huge culture shock to discover that, unless you channel a professor's ideas on a topic, you will be ostracized.

How do you deal with grad students who openly challenge your readings of the authors discussed in your classes?

Jonathan said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with a student disagreeing. Usually, you need to ask for evidence if you think the student is just making things up. If the student has support (which is rarely the case) then you have to concede a point. A student might change your interpretation of the text. The professor cannot anticipate every point a student is going to make, so "viewpoints that the professor does not expect" are expected.

My post if very partial in that it imagines ME as the professor and is aimed at students who want to do well with me or professors like me. I have written other posts about my frustration with my graduate education, where I was on the other side.

Professor Zero said...

Doesn't all of this apply to undergraduates as well?

Jonathan said...

Definitely, but I would phrase things a little differently for that audience.

Professor Zero said...

"It was a huge culture shock to discover that, unless you channel a professor's ideas on a topic, you will be ostracized."

That's interesting. It wasn't that way where I did my PhD (in the US) or at least I did not perceive it to be that way.

But students everywhere I've worked since have been convinced they had to channel the professor's point of view or fail - I never understood why - maybe it is true, but I'd say their professors aren't really competent then - ?

Anonymous said...

There are also, of course, ways to argue that are acceptable and ways that aren't. There's a world of difference between "You're wrong" and "I remain unconvinced...but I will keep thinking about this."

My experience with profs was that they liked when a student was thinking enough about the topic to argue and push the envelope a bit--and that was in theology, which is DEFINITELY not a field most people associate with unorthodox questioning!

I like this post, thanks for writing it! I made a point of never going into a class without at least 2 or 3 potential comments I could make; I didn't like to speak up or be on the spot, so I always made sure to get at least one of them in EARLY in the class, so I could relax and not feel like I had to jump in for the rest of the time...

Jonathan said...

That's a good strategy, to make sure you say something early on in the class period.