Thursday, March 5, 2015

Everybody Up!

After my lecture at ScienceSoft
Teaching in Belarus presents plenty of opportunity for improvisation. Take today, for example. This morning I asked my Communication and Cultures students to prepare skits that will enable them to demonstrate their understanding of "contexts" by which we attempt to coordinate meaning: episode, identity, relationship, and culture.

The scenario calls for one participant to be the professor, the other to be a student who seeks an extension on a late assignment. The context is "episode" - in this case, the episode we commonly label "office hours." In our scenario, the professor is leaving her office. Problem is, the student expects the prof to answer her question in the hallway, outside of office hours. How will they coordinate their meanings of the event?

Both students are stuck in abstraction: "So, the professor would say this… Then the student would say this." They can't quite get into the scene. And neither seem to have grasped the notion of "episode." The meaning isn't attached to the words but rather where and when those words are uttered.

Both students are frustrated. "What in the hell is this guy asking us to do?" I imagine them whispering. The rest of the class awaits some clarity too. This is a smart group, all of them. Smart and interesting and willing to take chances. But the way I've set this up is just too theoretical. I'm edging near the doorway.

"OK, friends, everybody up, we're going outside to the hallway. Yep, really, everyone up."

We're outside of the classroom now, lined up along the radiator under the windows. It's sleeting and cold outside. It's warm here, though.

"Now, you two," I say to my increasingly nervous players: "You're the professor; you're trying to leave." I point to the door through which we just departed the room. "You're trying to walk out of this door."

Shifting my gaze, I adopt a conspiratorial tone: "And you're trying to convince the professor that she ought to hold office hours here. You're the student; you need help, and this is the place. For you, at least."

Back to the professor: "So how do you feel about this, right now?"

She gets it.

My students dive into their roles and soon master the concept of "episode." I wonder if another prof will bust out of their class and cast me a dirty look; the dialogue gets loud. But, hey, we're learning out here!

Eventually we return to the classroom. I don't want to annoy my colleagues. But my favorite moment is outside that door. Once more the lesson is for all of us, professors and students: Sometimes the best learning takes place when our old tricks fail us.

2 comments:

AMT said...

A great story! Nice haircut! Glad to hear more about what's going on in the classroom!

Andrew Wood said...

Oh god, the haircut. There's a story there too. Just can't bring myself to write it. Fortunately my hair grows fast! :-)