Lecturing is So Much Easier than Leading a Discussion

Lecturing is So Much Easier than Leading a Discussion (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)

I’m still shuffling along with a virus (or whatever it is that’s laying me low). I trudged into the classroom and plopped into a chair in the front of the room, which felt very unnatural to me, since I like moving around during class.

Today we were scheduled to talk about chapters 4-6 of The Great Gatsby, which is when all the pieces are in place and Fitzgerald starts deepening our understanding of their relationship. Enough students had finished the book that sometimes the discussion was a little strained because those students who had finished the book didn’t want to spoil the ending for their peers. But that’s a good thing, and we had a brief discussion about the value of taking a novel section by section, rather than all at once.

At any rate, when I saw an appropriate opportunity to introduce the Claim, Data, Warrant (CDW) structure, I forced myself to my feet and started typing in notes and examples in MS-Word at the front of the room, taking questions, and doing the usual teacherly thing.

While not all the students “got it” right away, I don’t think they’d have gotten it any faster if I hadn’t been sick. My goal was to introduce the concept, so that they could have some time practicing it and perhaps internalizing it before their first big paper is due a few weeks from now. After the students had a few minutes to try writing out a sample claim, supporting it with textual data, and explaining the warrant (that is, why the data proves the claim), it was time to return to The Great Gatsby.

And suddenly I felt what little energy I had managed to muster just slip away.

No, it wasn’t quite like that… I didn’t suddenly get more tired, I just realized that the mental capacity that had been sufficient to get me through a lecture on CDW just wasn’t sufficient to sustain a classroom discussion on a complex literary text, and I became aware once again of just how depleted my mental processes are.

Because part of me feels guilty that I don’t have the time to produce the masterful 45-minute lectures that were a big part of my own undergraduate education, I have to remind myself each year that running a class discussion is exhausting work. You’re constantly figuring out polite ways to say “No, that’s not where I was going with this,” if you want to stay on topic, or making a mental note of what topic you’re leaving behind if you want to follow the class into a new area… You’re observing who hasn’t yet contributed, whose facial expression suggests she has a point to make, and figuring out whether I already covered “point of view” in this class last week or whether it was a different class.

I’ve developed the ability to resist jumping in when I see the student is teetering on the edge of making a connection, and instead of announcing the connection myself, prodding them gently to see it for themselves (though sometimes I fall into the old patterns and gleefully make the connections myself). All this while also trying to remember whether Gatsby asks Daisy whether she ever loved Tom in chapter six (which I did assign this week) or was that in chapter seven (which the students aren’t supposed to have read yet), whether the owl-eyed gentleman in Gatsby’s library is later given the name Klipspringer or whether the two characters are completely separate, and who the character Catherine is.

Lecturing is much safer — especially if you have the luxury of sticking to topics that you already know very well.