Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Individual Approach in Teaching

Because I'm a sucker for punishment (a.k.a a very responsible educator dedicated to the intellectual well-being of her students), I allow students in my literature courses to send me rough drafts of their essays as many times as they need before handing in the final version. I go over the rough drafts and make extensive comments on how the essays can be improved. This, of course, makes the end of the semester particularly brutal for me. However, when all that pays off, I feel really fantastic.

There is a student who, for the longest time, couldn't understand what it meant to write an essay in a literature class. Over the course of 4 rough drafts, this student regaled me with statements of the "La Celestina is an interesting work of literature" variety. With every new version of the essay, I kept nudging and pushing the student towards engaging with the text critically, towards learning the difference between describing and analyzing. And this morning, finally, the student sent me the fifth rough draft that has actual analysis of the text. This version of the essay is still not perfect, of course, but it is engaging, lucid and free of trivial observations and annoying generalizations. 

It is my firm belief that all you need is to awaken students' critical faculties once. Just one single time. The moment when a person has their first taste of what it means to become free of the constraints of received wisdoms and produce a critical opinion of their own, they will never go back to regurgitating boring platitudes. This is what my role as an educator really is.

I feel very happy right now. 

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