April 04, 2004

Ex tempore

A little while back, Blinger wrote an entry about the importance of being over-prepared for teaching, a sentiment I certainly agree with. However, there are times that improvising in the classroom can be very effective.

Last week I gave a lecture (acually part of a lecture) that I thought was quite good, which was done without full preparation. In my Old English class (as I’ve mentioned before), we were looking at a passage from the poem Judith. I’ve been working on the poem in my own research recently, and I had done some additional work with the aim of making some introductory remarks on the poem in class, but I decided that there wouldn’t be time for a lengthy introduction, so I never actually wrote up my notes for class, opting only for some brief remarks.

As it turned out, we finished the passage from Beowulf more quickly than expected, so there was a good 20 to 30 minutes or so at the end of one class for me to do my introduction for Judith, so I just improvised on the subject off the top of my head. I think it was one of my more successful recent lectures actually. It even inspired one student to change his essay topic. Admittedly, I had done a lot of research beforehand, but I wasn’t working from a set of notes. Perhaps the best method is to make the notes and then throw them away. In any case, I certainly couldn’t do a lecture by just reading from a set of notes. I much prefer actually talking to my class and being able to read the expressions on their faces as I go.

Well, I’ll finish off this entry with the Beowulf joke I told my class last week (not my joke originally, by the way): “Beowulf is the story of how the hero Beowulf comes to Heorot to stop Grendel from eating all the Danishes.”

Posted by Mark at April 4, 2004 09:28 PM

I too agree that ad libbing in class is good - provided you are not just making things up on the spot. I have extended or changed the focus of classes based on verbal and non-verbal feedback from students.

I’m glad the class was successful and influential(to at least one student) - always very rewarding to see that happen.

Unrelated: I’ve never read Beowulf and am interested, could you recommend a good translation?

Posted by: Blinger at April 4, 2004 10:44 PM