The Old Ways Still Work

By flickr user angelic_shrek. cc licensed

By flickr user angelic_shrek

In Open Thread Wednesday last week, Doug wrote that “It seems like [the site]’s for the hip faculty who have iPhones and despise Blackboard for being too corporate and controlling.”  That sound you just heard is the 1000-odd students I’ve taught over the years laughing at the notion of my being hip.  I do have an iPhone, though, and I do hate Blackboard–but for its lousy design, not because it’s too corporate.

That reminded me of a story: Once, at Georgia Tech, while I was being observed, the students read aloud from the text–almost a page at a time–and the faculty member commented that it was “cute” that I still used such old-timey pedagogy.  And it is true–for all the wiki-and-an-iPhone goodness, I’m also profoundly traditional in many ways, and so I thought we could talk about traditional pedagogical approaches that still have value.

The two most traditional things we do in my classes are:

  • Reading aloud.  Boy do we do this a lot.  You can learn a lot from a text by hearing it voiced in different ways, plus it’s an easy reading check.  (Hint: if someone seems surprised by what they’re reading . . . they may not be prepped for class. But if they’re a little expressive–well!)  Everyone in literature departments has students read aloud a little, but my classes sometimes spend up to half a class reading.
  • Poem memorization.  Students in classes where poetry assigned have to memorize 40-odd lines of verse over the course of the semester, and recite it.  They can either recite it in my office, or in public.  They also summarize the poem and translate it into regular speech.  In survey courses, they also have to write an exam question about how their memorized poems fit the tendencies of the relevant period.  (I.e., is your Wordsworth poem all that “romantic,” or whatever.)  I’ve had students refuse to do this because “memorizing things is pointless,” which is true if you’re thinking of facts that can be looked up.  But memorizing poetry’s a little different, because you start to experience more intimately the ways rhyme and meter work on your tongue and brain.

So!  What time-honored–even, dare I say it, old-fashioned!–methods do you use? Or is it all iPhones and web 2.0 goodness all the livelong day?

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