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class planning

Megan Betz

This semester, I'm teaching the first course for which I've determined all content and class structure. While teaching English in France, I created my own lesson plans, but my role was to support the content of the other half of the course. I was often teaching the TP, or practice/conversation portions, while the tenured faculty taught the TD, or lecture portion. 

Now, fully on my own, I almost didn't know where to begin. The course, G306 (a topics course on community gardens & community orchards), is a second eight-weeks class that meets for 2.5 hours at a time. How do you keep undergraduates engaged, eager, and challenging their own perceptions? What's the best balance of reading and other forms of content? How do I not just spend most of the time clicking through pun-filled PowerPoint slideshows?

Last semester, my department implemented a monthly professional development seminar. For the fall, the seminars focused on pedagogy. I admit that I'm not often thrilled to sit through an extra lecture. But there were great nuggets that I put to work, and I feel far more confident: 

  • I am utilizing the first day of class. It'll be filled with discussion, to see where students are coming from and give me a way to learn about them (without those take-away surveys professors often hand out). I'm also using that day to introduce concepts from the first week's readings. (From Virgil to Barthes, we're digging into myth.)
  • I made assignment sheets with rubrics, so there's no ambiguity when I ask students to do work.
  • I made slideshows, as a way to embed video and put up guiding questions--but I won't teach from slides. (This is more of a reminder of myself. Do. not. make. loads. of. slides.)
  • Finally, I'll mix up large group discussion with smaller, think-pair-share-inspired, discussion. 

In the end, I decided to alternate between readings and speakers + film. We'll be talking about the narratives of community-based food projects by watching The Garden and Food Fight, then reading Cultivating Food Justice. We'll have conversations with leaders from Mother Hubbard's Cupboard, Bloomington's Community Gardening Program, and the Bloomington Community Orchard.

Other things I'm looking forward to:

  • I'm excited to discuss the pastoral, with several readings that analyze Leo Marx's The Machine in the Garden
  • We'll read Clark and Nicholas's "Introducing urban food forestry". Kyle presented this paper when we were on a panel together at the Yale Food Systems Symposium, and it has interesting things to say about urban food forestry projects.
  • We'll watch Julie Guthman's great discussion about how we can best approach local food and food justice projects.
  • We'll talk about the body's role in all this, which I think will be the highlight of the class. No more just saying, "Oh, we like to put our hands in the soil." What are we really saying? What are we doing? Why are we driven to it?

Now, I just have to wait about a month for the class to start.