In northeastern Pennsylvania, we expect to lose a class day or two to weather at the beginning of the semester–the spring semester. Losing two days in early September is something else entirely. The flooding did tremendous damage to many homes and businesses upriver and downriver from us. In light of that, it can seem trivial to devote much thought to the cancellations’ effects on our classes’ schedules. Still, there’s no denying that losing class days does affect how we will teach, and how and what our students will learn, the rest of the way. No, it isn’t a life-or-death issue, but no one reads this blog looking for discussion of those issues, anyway. (At least, I hope not.)
Faculty now have to address the humble matter of how to make up for lost class time. College closings matter because, as one professor at Yale said last February (and Yale proudly has not had a snow closing in 30 years), “Semesters are ridiculously short as it is. Every day counts.”
So how do we catch up? Do we pick up today where we left off on Wednesday, forcing us into a late-semester content crunch? Do we forge ahead with the schedule, giving last Friday’s material the short shrift? Do we use Moodle creatively to hit some of the missed material? Do we even attempt to cover the same amount of material in an abbreviated semester?
Obviously, it’s hard to cover everything you’ve planned to cover once you lose a class session. But maybe teaching isn’t supposed to be entirely about coverage. If coverage were the sole aim of our teaching, then we could simply conduct class about three percent faster for the rest of the term and “cover” the same amount of material.
Moving more quickly solves the coverage problem, but as anyone who has ever tried to keep up with a fast lecturer knows, it doesn’t do wonders for students’ learning.
Maybe classes aren’t primarily about coverage. Over at the ProfHacker blog, Mark Sample discusses his approach to teaching, which is less about coverage than it is about “uncoverage.” To teach for “enduring understanding,” says Sample, you have to set up conditions in your class conducive to students making important insights. As he describes it, doing so isn’t easy.
The difference between coverage and uncoverage, at least as Sample talks about it, runs parallel to the difference between instructor-centered (or perhaps topic-centered) and student-centered learning. “What am I going to cover today?” is a different question from “What do I hope students will discover today?”
Of course, you can’t recover the lost class day through any means short of calling students in on a Saturday. But by taking Sample’s approach, maybe a missed day doesn’t matter quite as much. If the goal is to train students for lifelong discovery, then the real value of a class is projected beyond the semester’s schedule anyway.
What do you plan to do, to make up for the missed class days? Will you sacrifice coverage in any way? If so, will you sacrifice material at the beginning, middle, or end of the term? Could an “uncoverage” approach to teaching get past the problems caused by snow/flood days? Let us know what you think, in the comments.
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