I use what Conquergood referred to as a “round robin”/“potluck” method in lieu of quizzes in my small lecture/discussion courses to evaluate how thoroughly students analyze and keep up with course readings day-to-day. On the day reading assignments are due, I require students to give a three-minute “offering” of thoughts, questions, and/or issues raised by specific passages in the texts. I encourage them, in the interest of time and precision, to make notes for themselves, mark passages of interest, and outline what they plan to say. After this “round robin” approach, I help fill in the gaps, pose additional questions, and press us toward further analysis. Once everyone has spoken, we spend the remainder of the time with a general “potluck” discussion in which anyone may place any relevant intellectual offerings on the table. I find that this practice allows more reserved students as well as their outgoing peers equal space to voice their analysis and opinions. It also serves to remove any temptation course participants might feel to “hide” behind the strengths, talent, or hard work of another.
Another approach I have espoused in the classroom is to convene and facilitate student-learning communities. I establish the ground rules for these learning communities by laying the foundation for classroom culture that includes helping students understand how to succeed within it by being responsible and accountable citizens. I measure students’ success not only by their aptitude with course materials on their individual projects, but also by their ability to give constructive feedback to their peers using course vocabulary and their willingness to work effectively on group projects. I use the online classroom tool “Sakai” as well as course blogs as a means to productively extend and expand our discussions. I also use them to link course material to current events as represented in relevant on-line newspapers and blogs.
I encourage students to connect course materials to the events, experiences, and observations that animate their everyday lives in order to see their course work as part of their broader engaged citizenship. I also encourage them to connect what they learn in-class to their outside talents, interests and hobbies. In that vein, of my classes include the creation of an “art object” in conjunction with a final analytical or research paper as the culminating assignment. This assignment allows students to demonstrate their mastery of course concepts and capacities using a medium that reflects their individual interests and passions. My goal is for students to leave my classes able to think more critically about culture as produced and consumed by all of us. Further, they should be able to carry with them a basic knowledge of how to create performance projects as analytical tools, how to talk about literary and performance arts beyond subjective tastes, and how to engage with art as part of a social justice agenda.