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NaBloPoMo 2010 -9

10 November, 2010

NaBloPoMo 2010 -9 Thinking about what works

Lots going on today, mostly catching up and marking. Lots more to come. One of the very few benefits of being so behind on things this semester is that I’m starting to see some things that the students just don’t get — and also how I am and am not teaching those things. So, for example, I’m trying to get them to do primary source interpretations. For years, I’ve focused more and more on getting the students to show how a historian could use the information in a given document. Sometimes, this is pretty easy — If I give the students a set of laws, then they can usually reach the conclusion that society X considered Y an important issue, and give examples of why. This year, I got some really good essays on Ancient Near Eastern societies, based on a couple of law codes, in which a coupe of students said that private property was one of the most important values of those societies — and they used examples dealing with land, slaves, and women to demonstrate this.

But sometimes, they don’t get it. Tonight, I realized that this might be because I’m choosing difficult documents, and perhaps also because what I haven’t been teaching well is to contextualize the documents. So next semester, i’m going to change one of the written assignments to have the students place the document(s) in context and discuss authorship. Maybe that will make their final written assignment stronger.

In the meantime, as I mentioned the other day, my students aren’t doing a great job with secondary literature. And I honestly don’t think any of us are really teaching it. Academic writing is a big step up from textbook writing, even when the textbook is much more a monograph, like Innes’ Introduction to Early Medieval Europe or James’s Europe’s Barbarians, both of which I have used. The students are reading for content, not argument. So I need to work on teaching that, too.

But for now, I need to go to bed.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 November, 2010 2:57 pm

    Yes to all of this. The authorship question is quite important but when I've been able to broach it in classes (and I miss seminar teaching, by the way) it's still quite hard to drive it beyond "well duh he thinks religion is important". The author has to be chosen really carefully so that what he or cares about reveals more than just her or his background. Let me know if you find a good one!As for argument, I think that is perhaps easier if you can find a good scholarly argument. If you're doing Feudal Mutation (and if you are, of course, please feel free to use my diagram 🙂 ) then the Past and Present cluster (online for free via FindArticles still I think) is one way into that perhaps: who's more convincing and why? But again, I might struggle to get this more than a step or two beyond. Poll them first perhaps, and then get someone from each results chunk to explain their choice?Lurking behind that: can you get your students to read five fairly dense articles for one class, and is it fair to ask that of them?

  2. 10 November, 2010 3:15 pm

    I was thinking of having them just read the first one and then one of the responses — probably White's. Since it's a voluntary class held on *my* Saturday, I think it's fair, though.Alternatively, I may have them read, "Tyranny of a Construct" and the Cheyette and Hyams responses at Medieval Sourcebook.

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