Friday, February 02, 2007

My Coach Taylor Moment

One of my favorite TV shows these days--besides 24--is called Friday Night Lights. An aspect of this week's episode involved an interaction between Coach Taylor and Smash. Smash is a very talented running back for the Dillon Panthers who had dabbled in performance enhancing drugs. After finding this out Coach Taylor decided not to expose Smash but to keep it "in house" and just discipline him--had he reported it Smash would have lost his opportunity for college scholarships; his football days would have been over. Well, the discipline was severe. So severe that it was taking Smash's spirit (one aspect of it was Coach bench him during final and most crucial game of the season). Coach Taylor's wife confronts him on his harsh disciple of Smash (I love this show in part because that kind of think always happens to me--Karla will tell me I am doing something wrong and she is so often right). Well in one of the final scenes of the show, Coach Taylor goes to Smash's house and apologizes for how harsh he had treated Smash and they go play some touch football with neighborhood children.
Well, this is my Coach Taylor moment this week. Today in class I went off on my students in my Gospel of John class for their lack of participation in the discussion. So, like Coach Taylor, I had to apologize. I realized only after class that the majority of my students were just trying to get the 153 pages of reading done for the last topic so you could turn in the reading report today. and hadn't even begun to prepare for today's topic. I also realized that they hadn't been asked to interact with me and the material in such a confrontational manner up to that point in the class. So my expectations of them were not clear.

For the class to work and to have a vibrant and lively experience, I believe it requires that the class together creates a space within which we can think about John's Gospel together. This requires that participants come prepared for our class sessions having read the Gospel passage and the secondary literature related to it. I don't like to "lecture" through a biblical book and I personally don't feel that it is the best teaching method for a book study. I have reams of notes and outlines of lectures on biblical books from college and seminary that are completely useless to me now. The best we can do is get students to think about the text for themselves with the help of good commentaries and our nudging.
I hope you have a great weekend and cheer on the Chicago, BEARS in the Superbowl. Mike you know the superbowl don't you??


Michael F. Bird said...

I used to think that it was a tournament about winning a soup-bowl or having a super-bowel movement. I learned only recently that it pertains to that barbaric and boring game you call NFL (although it's slightly less boring than baseball). Does NFL also have a world series that consists only of American teams?

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Unsolicited Advice Dept.:
When I was teaching seminary, and even college students, I designed the classes so that I did not lecture every time class met. I put right in the syllabus (and discussed in the opening class) that on X days I'd have lectures (and they could ask questions), but on Y days there would be no formal lecture at all. They would be expected to bring questions from their reading to class and we would interact about that reading.

In order to counteract bad teaching about reading in North America, I would constantly use the phrase, "Don't read like a sponge soaking up water. Read like a detective searching for clues! Ask questions of the text as you read!" I included a list of typical questions as one reads in the syllabus.
Since the equivalent of tutorials doesn't exist in most North American education, we have to teach them HOW to resist the "open up and swallow, then regurgitate" approach to learning. It's hard so late--they should be learning these skills by Middle School at the latest--and one has to be patient, though its hard.

Without patience for them as they try out what is often novel ("Someone really wants my critical opinion and not a regurgitation of lecture or book?" or "Critical reading is something different from just telling you I didn't like the book?"), you can get very low student evaluations. With patience, they not only learn more, but they reward your relatively demanding standards with positive student evaluations.

End of speech.