Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Myth 4: My story is only worth telling if I describe everything I do in my entire class.

[This post is the continuation of a thread begun on 12/15]

Wrong. The more you try to describe with your story, the more complex it becomes and the harder it is for someone to learn from it. I realize that effective teachers usually plan classes as complete and distinct constructions, where exercises and field trips connect logically one to the other to support overarching themes and standards. Yet this does not mean that the component parts of the class are not useful or important on their own. Other teachers could easily incorporate a single new exercise into their own class construction to support their own educational goals.

I experience this regularly in my own school. I am blessed with colleagues who teach classes on other taxa and with other conceptual emphases than I do, yet who share my interest in natural history. We commonly talk with each other about what we do with the students in lecture, field, and lab, and more often than not, we each find aspects of what the others do that we want to incorporate into our own class. This does not change the taxa we focus on or the concepts we emphasize, but it provides for steady improvement in the quality and effectiveness of our instruction, whether it is something as simple as how to keep a field notebook or as complex as how to introduce students to a statistical technique for interpreting behavioral observations in the field.

The truth is that you make more of a contribution, not less, if you focus your story on one simple thing: an exercise, an activity, a discussion, a technique, a field trip. Here the dictum “Minor est magis” (Less is more) is relevant: tell a detailed story about one thing. The fact that you have many such stories to tell simply means that you can write several different articles; it does not mean that you need to find a way to compress all your stories into one.

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