From a recent teaching statement. One thing on Socratic method, rhizome-style, and one on letting your beautiful construct go, when ya gotta.
On democratizing Socrates
The student presentations are really ongoing improvisations in co-teaching. Students meet with each other and with me ahead of time to discuss angles of approach. I pay special attention to the design of their lesson plan – which I say should be fluid, responsive to the facts of the moment in the room – and to orienting them to Socratic method. You should have, I say, with each question you ask, an issue you want to bring to the fore, and a thought of how to get there – but also know that students’ responses might propose many alternative pathways there, or might open a different, equally fruitful line of inquiry.
You will be thinking on your feet. When to stay the course, when to let digress? when to reflect and extend a comment? when to lean into a term or a notion and interrogate it? when to leap to something seemingly unrelated, and how to make, eventually, the bridge? I don’t answer these questions for them ahead of time, of course, I just alert them they’ll be facing them.
Also, I’m modelling Socratic method all quarter long myself, and sometimes reflecting explicitly on it. It’s teaching that keeps me on my own toes, for at any given moment, I need to decide whether to let be, or to step in as a discussant, or to step in as one of the co-teachers, or to step in as teacher of the co-teachers. And all these strata are part of one fabric, a rhizomatic classroom.
The point here is to democratize Socrates – to hand the role of teacher over to every interlocutor. Evidence of success? Start of the quarter, discussions were hesitant, needing much help from me. By the end, they were running themselves, question, point, follow-up question, counterpoint, dialogue, as I listened and took notes.
Scruffy, unpredictable, co-teaching is implicitly political, a surrender of control and dispersal of authority much in the spirit of the rhizome.
On letting the beautiful construct go
The meetings where we work out each rhizome one-on-one are important. Late in fall quarter a student came for a second such conference. She’d changed her idea. She wanted to do a rhizome “about” life and death, or maybe death and rebirth. Was that specific enough?
I checked in with my sense of this student, her fondness for arranging schemes – her book proposal in my Editing and Publishing course had been for an encyclopedia of all pagan faiths – and compared that to the sharp little momentary poems she’d started making, with no grand designs, just edgy perception and a brave unfinishedness.
This assignment could be bad for her.
I said, maybe you should just drop the whole rhizome thing. Make five to eight poems, like the ones you’ve been doing. And write something about them and a couple of the readings, you know, but no big deal. She said, I like the sound of that. I said, then you could look at the poems you’ve made, see what they have to tell you, maybe there’s an idea for a rhizome in them. But trust their intelligence; don’t push them around.
She looked relieved. My teaching philosophy is, only connect.