Patrick and I have been talking a lot about what makes education ‘sticky’. The reason being that we keep working through analysis discussions with both our groups of students, to where they seem to be ‘getting it’, and come back next time to find that we’re basically starting from scratch. I actually find this process so mentally exhausting that I don’t have much more to say about it right now.
Speaking of mental exhaustion, at least part of the problem is that they’re not doing the reading. This may be some playing limpy, but even when they do the reading, they don’t understand it. It’s hard. Which creates an obvious vicious circle. And a further problem is that the readings are in some ways deeply unfamiliar to the students, even when the conceptual level is not forbidding. And a further problem is that because these are history classes we can’t pause too long on a familiarization strategy to create interest and comprehension (‘this reminds me of me because…’) – time, place, and change matter in history. It’s how they’re NOT like us that we’re after, in large and essential part.
In my introductory World History classes I handle this by turning the bug into a feature and doing very close readings of very short texts in class, to get the process of critical reading, uptake, and analysis fairly well ingrained before getting too fancy with coverage. It doesn’t feel like I should have to do this as much in upper-division classes – these are ‘more advanced’ classes, more ‘in-depth’, and I want to be able to dive into a more extensive and conceptually rich content without grinding through the skilling preliminaries. But once again it’s not working very well. Eventually I may even learn from my experience about this. Apparently I need to think about what has made my own education in this area less than sticky.