Teaching Great Students #1

I have stated on this blog and to colleagues that I have the best job in the world; I get to teach great students everyday I arrive on campus. I have decided to devote a blog post every Friday to teaching. I hope to address a lesson, a discussion, or introduce my students and their interests — which I am sure is just history. In preparing to converse with my most excellent students, I get to read books, draft notes, and review journal articles that address the most recent trends in the field. I also get to travel to professional meetings and conferences where others much like myself participate and exchange ideas. Furthermore, many of the papers I write derive from a particular question or conclusion from my classes.

This is the advantage of teaching bright students who, for the most part, enjoy participating in a discussion about history. My teaching style is Socratic: I ask questions in hopes that students will seek answers from each other before I inject my thoughts or take on the matter; many students do not mind my historical take…. Though, at times it is different from theirs. Moreover, my students are willing to give me a chance to challenge the works that we read or the historical notions they have about matters of class, race, historical romanticism, and status; I too have worked to allow them the same voice in our conversations. As one student pointed out about my classes, there is only one method of instruction… though I will mix that method up with various activities: Discussions.

Below are pictures taken by Shelby See of the yearbook staff and a great student in my AP European History class; I teach two sections of AP European History, three sections of AP US History, and a section of World History. All of my classes are conducted around a table. After visiting a number of elite private schools that use the Harkness Method, I concluded years ago this is the best way to teach a class. (read about the Harkness Method here and here and here)

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46 thoughts on “Teaching Great Students #1

  1. Maybe I should try somethin different with the hair……….I never noticed how stupid it looks from the side……lol.

  2. Wow! I like your class and your students seem so smart. Your class looks interesting and I love the action takes. So, what are you guys talking about?

  3. Carson,

    You look right at home. I know we havd had this conversation before, but what are your long term plans? Will you be in Houston and at your current school for a while? I suspect there is a great demand for one of your talents. Are you the only African American teacher there? Do students realize the significance of having an African American instructor or your status in fron of them? I recall a time when the pictures you present here did not exist. Conservative parents feared black academics like you because of the bent you offer.

    Being a Christian school, are academics stressed like they are at non religious private schools? I still hope to visit and observe. But, you keep putting me off.

  4. I look forward to taking your classes. While you look very Ivy League with your bow tie and coffee, I think you need a chalkboard and true harkness table to keep with the theme.

    By the way, remind your students that members of the opposite sex do not have cooties. Any particular reason for the segregation?

  5. Patrick, it’s amazing how sexy a lot of women find $3 billion. I wonder just how much of that money he could lose before all the pretty girls stopped fawning…

    Carson, with rare exception, I didn’t have teachers like you until college. It’s a shame more students are taught to memorize rather than to think.

  6. Dillon:

    I have been pushing for one from the powers that be; we shall see; I would like to see the entire dept with some. I am not sure why students seperate like that; I would much rather sit in class by a girl than a boy.

    justthisgirl:

    Thanks. I love what I do and have been blessed thus far with an atmosphere that allows me to do much (not all) of what I want to do as it relates to teaching. Think, I had your sister in my very first AP European history class back at CAC.

  7. I like the teaching Friday idea. I am not as versed in the classroom or on a campus as you so I think I will get the most out of you you relate to students.

  8. Confession of a former girl:

    When girls sit next to their girlfriends in a situation such as this it was (frequently, not always) to:
    a. have a better view of the boys.
    b. have access to your girlfriends for the sharing of interesting observations.

    When people start dating seriously and first get married the genders mix … then after everyone has been married for about 10-15 years …. they separate again … probably for the same reasons above … or at least reason b. Being married is amazing and my husband is my BEST friend … but a woman (or at least most women) never loses her need for girlfriends … (and I think my husband would say that a husband never loses his need for his wife to have girlfriends … otherwise he gets to do way too many girlfriendish type things.)

    ~Staci Brown, former girl, current member of the married more than 15 years crowd

  9. Thoughts on this method of teaching: There’s a school in my city that uses it, and it’s very much like the Socratic method, if you’re familiar with that. I myself haven’t used it, but our upper level students do. From what I gather from talking to some other teachers, there are pros and cons. I’m not sure how it affects student achievement, other than I know that our students often test out of high school subjects, and they go to very selective high schools.

    Pros:
    – Students learn by sharing thoughts/ideas
    – Develops higher-level thinking skills
    – Sparks interest
    – Students must be well-prepared

    Cons:
    – Difficult to evaluate
    – Some students do not prepare
    – The teacher must also be very well prepared.
    – The teacher must develop questions/topics for discussions

  10. Carson … to be perfectly honest about the seat I would have preferred … I always liked the one where I would have had my favorite girlfriend in the class on one side and my favorite guy friend in the class on the other side … probably has a whole lot to do with my weird left/brain-right/brain-not-totally-an-extrovert-not-totally-an-introvert-conservative/liberal
    -let’s-not-force
    -a-false-dichotomy-but-search-for-a-third-better-way-personality that is always looking for balance in the room. (I used to think this made me some chicken person who could not make up her mind about things until I realized that this is really who I am … and it is not a bad thing … sometimes it is really a useful thing.)

    I don’t know if I was born that way or if my parents did something horrible to me by accident in my up-bringing … but, yep … I would want to be that person in the middle … so that I could get another female perspective of what was going on in the room and a male perspective … because there is a whole student subtext in any class to which we, as teachers, are no longer privy, except occassionally in bits and pieces … which is a good thing … but, when I was a student and when I am a student, I like to know … and not just from my own perspective. (Remember, my M.S. is in Educational Psychology … so I am one of those psych people … which, again, a math person and a psychology person … yep … balance … I was also an English major for a long time … and would love to have a fine arts degree … and, then there is the part of me that wants to chunk it all and go sell sea-shell jewelry on a beach on an island and give my brain a rest …)

    ~Staci Brown

  11. Anonymous – it seems as if your primary concern with the Harkness method is that re instructor has to put effort into making it work. Forgive me if I sound rude, but the students should not have to do ALL the work.

    Mrs. Brown – you are a trip! I can relate though, I am creative and artsy yet very right-brain, and LD. It is an odd combination. Hopefully I will be able to find a career that allows me to use all of those gifts.

  12. Dillon, forgive me for asking, but you have mentioned your learning disabilities numerous times on this blog. Do you mind me asking what you have?

  13. Dillon: Save it for an interview; I will be doing a few “student” features and I think this topic that Patrick brought up will make a very good one. If that is cool with you Patrick? of course Dillon must agree to do it.

  14. By the way,

    I have not talked about it too much, but when I have mentioned my learning disabilities, it is not because I want to make it known so everyone can feel sorry for me. Rather, I have noticed that there is a lack of understanding of learning disabilities among the elite Academic community. Since one of Carson’s interests is elite educational institutions, it has been appropriate for me to mention it a few times. Actually, I can only think of one other time when I mentioned it, but you get the point.

    Just wanted to put that out there…

  15. … Dillon, for what it is worth … I think you have done it in a matter-of-fact way not a feel-sorry-for-me way …

    Mrs. Brown

  16. Carson –

    Yeah, I’m cool with that, I think that you have an interesting idea. By the way, I have a piece that I plan on submitting to you within the next couple of weeks if you need any space fillers.

    Dillon –

    I wasn’t asking a “pity me” question. Learning disabilities have affected some of the greatest minds of all time and are nothing to be ashamed of. They simply mean that someone thinks differently than others, heck….that’s the kind of insight that the world needs more of today. When you think of all the great minds that have spawned from those kinds of differences; Einstein, Agatha Christie, Winston, Churchill, how can anyone possibly think that there are learning disabilities rather than learning differences (Thank you Mrs. Metoyer!).

  17. P.S. perhaps numerous wasn’t the correct word. I toy around with my memories and thoughts so many times in my head each day that sometimes it feels like something has happened more times than in reality. You probably did only mention it once………..I just remembered it a bunch more times………..sorry :).

  18. OK, changing the subject … I really wish math lent itself to a more discussion-type format … I’m kind of jealous. I do get to run a Statistics classroom with more discussion … there is still quite a bit of “here is how I would work this problem” on my end … but I do require pre-reading and there is a great deal to discuss about knowing when to do what … and there are many interesting contexts for the problems.

    It is really hard to have a great deal of discussion about an equilateral triangle. It IS very fair … every side is the same length and every angle has the same measure …

    ~Mrs. Brown

  19. I think the deal with math is that the model which exist has been one in which students know nothing or cannot read it to understand, which is different in the humanities. Of course I read that this is the format used at Exeter — the link above to this post.

  20. Eddie –

    Are you finding that kids generallhy come having read that assigned material? How much reading are you assigning per night? Is it just from the text or is it from other sources as well?

  21. If you will allow for a student perspective on the reading assignments Mr. Brown, I will give it. The reading isn’t too terrible, it comes out to about 10-15 textbook pages per night though there are quite a few times that we dont have homework at all. Carson also provides a course pack for student use that serves mostly as a DBQ material packet than anything else in my own opinion. We do take time to read out of other books though as well because the full focus of history cant possibly be described in only one book. So far, we are reading

    The American Political Tradition
    Selected Documents from Carson’s Course Pack
    Our textbook is A People and A Nation – 5th edition

    From my own experience, many of my classmates seem to spend more time trying to find ways around the reading than actually just sitting down and doing it. If the reading were terrible though, there wouldn’t be so many students with A’s in Carson’s class.

  22. I have found that a few pages of my AP World History textbook and a cup of tea make for a great sleeping aid. As much as I love history, and reading, I have not found my textbook to be a page-turner.

  23. Dillon, you should know, and I’m sure Carson will back me on this, that we had the most boring textbook in the entire world for AP Euro my senior year. I don’t know who picked the textbook, but it was by a man named Palmer, weighed about six thousand pounds and was horribly boring. Thankfully Carson supplemented our reading with things that were not less fun than watching paint.

  24. Y’all still use the same book from last year Dillon? yeah, that book wasn’t very memorable for me either…….probably why my test scores did not really reflect my actual knowledge of history. It’s a good thing that Metty was such a good teacher.

  25. Well, I’m always looking for interesting things for my kids and I to read. I have a reader to pull from and a text book that I like. I’m having to train them to read and I find I have to hold them accountable. I’m afraid that just not knowing the answers to my oral questioning or then being embarassed by not being prepared won’t be enough. I’ve had to answer, “Is this for a grade?” too many times. I’ll keep trying though. Odds are I’ll have many of these same kids next year so its in my own self interest to train them well. Most of them are not intrinsically motivated, but they do care about grades which is a plus.
    I guess my goal is to hope that one day, if one of my students does choose to learn more about history on their own or even read a hisoric novel, they will have enough background to know what they are reading.

    Kristi –
    I can see why you might have not liked Palmer. I was glad I read it though.

  26. Yeah, we used the same textbook but Worlds Together Worlds Apart was just a suggested reading………..wish now that I had taken the suggestion rather than just reading the chapters that Metty photocopied for us…..lol. A lot of people in my class suggested that she make it required reading for this year…….I guess you guys get to reap the benefits of our stupidity.

  27. Hey I liked the WHAP textbook. It was unbaised, to the point, and matched my view of history, its for knowing what happened before not analysing the reasons for the decision. No offense Carson but reading what Jefferson had for breakfast on some day back in 1803 which influenced why he bought the Loisiana territory isnt my idea of fun 🙂

  28. Attention Carson and the Proletarians – this is the most shocking video you will ever see and will confirm everything you ever thought about Obama. This could change everything you ever thought you knew about America and it’s government. You may never be the same once you see it. I just hope government operative won’t yank it off the web. Political dynamite!

  29. That video is probably one of the funnier things I have seen in a long time. If only we could see footage of McCain dancing…

    Carson – I sent you my revised piece on “Race Matters.” Let me know what you think.

  30. BTW Eddie – I’m trying a Harkness class tomorrow over the Mexican War.
    Get hold of me about this Saturday’s presentation. I missed Phil’s last Saturday.

  31. …. just when we all thought the whole “Rick-rolling” phenomenon had past …

    … next thing you know someone will come out with the Barack-a-rena …

  32. Pingback: Teaching Great Students #2 « The Proletarian

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