The Purest Information

This week I’ve been responding to a few early assignments from my Satire class. These assignments were all designed around a central goal: to help me to know, as quickly as possible, my new students.

In designing these assignments, I thought more about the mode of expression I was requesting than I did the actual questions or tasks. Why? Because, for me, when I’m getting to know a student, the purest information doesn’t come from a perfect sentence or a crisp analysis or something overly revised or processed. It comes from messy, raw, authentic, genuine responses.

So, early in a semester, I assign quick tasks that help me to hear my students’ voices, see their full faces (important during these mask wearing days), and observe their instincts in action. I assign tasks, too, that will encourage them to drift off script, away from any constructed narratives they may be carrying around with them.

(The tech all around us, admittedly, makes my information gathering easy.)

I ask them to respond to a Google form where some of the questions are highly relevant to our class and some of the questions ask them to share more openly.

I ask them to record and share with me a Quicktime video of them answering questions. One of these questions includes the story of their name.

And last, I ask them take a picture of a sample of their annotations and then send it to me.

All told, these three short assignments provide a small mountain of information for me. I hear voices and silences, fluency and disfluency, umms and ahs. I understand how each student approaches storytelling. I see which students like to elaborate on their ideas and which are more guarded. I see confidence or a lack of confidence. I sometimes see a bit of hubris, but this isn’t that common — high school students, generally, are pretty cool. Some students are funny. Some are serious. Most are in the middle. Some prepare too much and some too little. I see rhymes in the way they speak and the way they scribble. I see things that don’t rhyme but instead show possible forks in the road, possible roads not taken that, maybe, should be reconsidered. I see cross outs, stutters, start overs, stops, and let-me-take-this-from-the-tops.

I see becoming, and my job, maybe the best job in the world, is to stay out of its way, amplify it, encourage it, cheer for it, coax it, and then wave goodbye and wish it well when, a few months from now, our class ends and another one begins.

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