Will a form like this – filled out in the last five minutes of a class period, and then compiled and resubmitted in a portfolio — help students recognize and develop the critical thinking skills necessary for participation in college seminars? Or will they blow it off as busywork?
Last term in my freshman composition class, I put more than the usual amount of effort into making sure that each student contributed to each class discussion or workshop. I’d call on students, asking them to share the “agenda item” they had prepared for the day’s discussion, or to share an interesting agenda item they read on a peer blog. I’d help the student get a discussion going, and ask a few probing questions of my won. Then I’d jot down a mark from 0 to 4 (to be factored into the class participation grade), and move along.
I didn’t always get through the whole class each period, but the students who were regular contributors (and who might otherwise have dominated the conversation) learned to hold their thoughts until I had called on a good chunk of students, after which I would usually throw the floor open for general discussion.
I had students blog their agenda items before class started. Shortly before class started, I would check the blogs, noting who was actively participating in an online discussion and who hadn’t yet posted their agenda items. That helped focus our discussion time, though it didn’t exactly result in riveting blogging. And that’s OK with me… I have plenty of other opportunities to focus on blogging as a subject of academic inquiry, and they will more frequently be called upon to produce traditional college essays.)
Given that I deliberately tried not to sound too enthusiastic about blogs in this class, I was surprised that, in response to an open-ended question such as “What assignment or class activity helped you the most?” students mentioned the agenda items most frequently — followed closely by the comments I made on their rough drafts.
I’d like to think that my comments on their drafts helped them more than they realized; and I’d like to think that my attention to getting students to bring agenda items to the floor was also a useful strategy. They did perceive value in the blog/agenda/discussion interactions, so naturally I’ll try to emphasize it a little more this term. Still, I wouldn’t want create an environment in which students only contributed when the structure calls for it.
Being the blog geek that I am, naturally I’d be happy asking them to use their blogs to reflect on their classroom participation, but I don’t think it’s fair to expect students to criticize themselves in a public forum — hence the old-fashioned paper worksheet.