Outrageous as a sea, dark, wasteful, wild.

Try as I might, I've never been any good at course planning.  That's not to say I don't have a plan, because I do in an inexcusably intuitive sort of way.  What I don't have is a clean, clear course map with each activity exquisitely linked to a well-articulated objective. And for years I've felt secretly guilty about this (but apparently not guilty enough to actually change my sloppy approach to teaching).

This year, however, I decided to take myself in hand and actually do something about this scandal.  Instead of pre-planning and course mapping, I decided to just map what I did each day.  Every morning I sat down and laid out the logic of what I was going to do in class.  I wrote the objective across the top of the page and sketched out the day's activities for getting there.

The goal was to externalize my courses and unearth the subterranean logic that made them a coherent whole.  Once it was all on paper, I theorized, I would be able could look at them objectively and identify areas for improvement or revision.  The semester ended last Friday, so now I have year's worth of teaching--five courses in toto--fully mapped on paper.  All to the good, right?

You would think so, but I sat down to look at them this morning and it occurs to me that they don't especially bring me any clarity.  Instead they only seem to externalize the jumbled, dADa-ist messiness of my own mind.   No one stepping in to teach these courses would be aided by this pile of inchoate cocktail napkin doodles.

And I already can hear the sneering of the Grand Pedagogical Inquisitor: Where do these activities connect to your learning outcomes and how do you know the students are actually learning?

Me:  Um, well, they kind of connect here and sort of here and maybe here as well.  And how do I know learning is taking place...?   That's a good question.

GPI: And do you have an answer?

Me:  Yes, well, I ask the students and they tell me.

GPI: What do you mean you ask the students?

Me: I have them write a paper in which they tell me about the ideas that made an impression on them and evaluate the degree to which their thinking and writing have gotten stronger.

GPI:  Student self-reported data?  My, my, my...

Me: I don't call it that, but yes.  I ask and they tell me. 

GPI:  (Shaking his head wearily)  No, no, no.  That's simply unacceptable.

Me: Don't you think I know that, man?  Don't you think I know?

Okay, so where am I?  Has this little experiment imposed any order onto the chaos?  I think yes and no.  Yes, it's helped me to realize that I am in my own lost in a dark wood sort of way working toward the course objectives in creative ways that are often reflective of what cognitive science tells us about how the brain learns best.  But I would have to say no when it comes to providing objective evidence that learning is actually taking place.

I would really love to make a self-justifying analogy here between cooking and teaching.  It's possible to make a delicious pot of pea soup without knowing anything about the complex chemical reactions happening between the heat, the peas and the copper pot.  That said, knowing some damned chemistry wouldn't kill me, would it? 

Oh Grand Pedagogical Inquisitor, just give me an ambiguous kiss and go away!


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