From Seminar to Study Group

So how do you start? Where do you begin?

I start my graduate seminars with “intellectual autobiography.” I ask my students to write a couple of pages about who they are, how they came to where they sit in my room. We share these stories of who we are and how we came to be.

I start with mine: I mix up the personal and the academic, as it is in my life, making it comfortable for them to do the same if that’s what their lives are like and what their work is like. I keep copies of the autobiographies they give me. They’re my crib sheets for going back and figuring out what a student is doing when they go off on some odd tangent in class, or as I read their later work for the course. —Barbara Katz RothmanFrom Seminar to Study Group (Chronicle of Higher Education)

This author is talking about graduate students, but I like the sound of “intellectual biography.” This term I’ve started each of my three main classes with a brief reflection paper on why the student is taking the class (some are honest — they need a few more credits, it’s required for their major, the time slot fit their schedule). At the end of the term, after students have finished formal reports and oral presentations, I’ll ask them to reflect again.

I’m always intrigued by the responsfges I get… the English major who confesses she hates to read, for example; or the chemistry students who feel completely out of their element (no pun intended).