1. Defining and tracking learning goals

Intro: As a teaching assistant in the department of history, I typically plan my discussion sections by providing 4-6 questions about the weekly reading to my students in advance of class. Students have selected the most appealing questions to write 150-300 word discussion board posts. I value discussion posts because they spur students to complete at least some of the reading and to analyze historical argument. Still, I have also received negative feedback that this method concentrates too much control over how the course is run in the hands of the TA. This spring, I intend to test how a discussion section would proceed if I ceded more control to students---both in the preparation for and the facilitation of a 50-minute discussion.

Goal: Using a debate format, I hope to move students away from passively receiving pre-made questions to actively creating their own questions. By providing the structure, I hope to see if students can teach themselves key concepts in the reading on the causes of the Civil War. I hope to teach myself that it is beneficial to provide students autonomy within a structured environment to advance their learning goals. The observation will take place during week 6, after three prior discussion sessions.
  • Instructor's learning goal for the evaluated class session or assignment
    • Students will understand the problem of American slavery as the fundamental cause of the war
    • Students will cite readings in support of their argument:
      • Students will situate their argument in relation to the arguments of John Ashworth's The Republic in Crisis, 1848-1861, Eric Foner's The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, and Manisha Sinha's The Counterrevolution of Slavery
      • Students will substantiate their argument using primary documents related to the lead-up to war in William E. Gienapp, ed., The Civil War and Reconstruction
    • During the post-debate discussion, students will understand the historiographical significance of the reading assignment
    • In light of the debate, students can distinguish between the history and memory of the Civil War
    • Students collaborate to present arguments

  • Instructor's vision of how students will step towards that goal
    • During the first week of section, discussion leaders for each week will be assigned and the discussion leader for the debate will also be selected
    • A week before the debate, students will be assigned to teams in support and opposition to the statement: "As of 1861, John Brown did more than Abraham Lincoln to further the cause of anti-slavery."
    • Students will use their weekly discussion post to ruminate on Sinha's argument in Counterrevolution of Slavery
    • The discussion leader/debate facilitator will have 48 hours to prepare her moderator's notes
    • In the intervening days before the debate, I will provide one-on-one support to students who have questions about the reading
    • The day of section, I will preface the debate by acknowledging the leader and laying down the time breakdown to emphasize the need to reconvene and synthesize
    • During the debate, students will use their prior preparation and the pressure of time to quickly collaborate and three assigned spokesmen will open, rebut, and close the argument
    • Following the conclusion of the debate, I will thank the week's leader and ask students questions related to their experience with the debate and their thoughts on whether it helped them better understand Sinha's argument

  • Observer's understanding of what exactly he or she is tracking
    • Ratio of student-student and student-instructor interaction---"Is George ceding control to students while managing classroom dynamics and time management?"
    • Connection to either the week's or prior concepts/readings during: a) the debate and b) the concluding discussion---"Are students citing the reading in their oral arguments? Have they identified the thesis statement? Are they identifying problems in the scholarly analysis? Are they thinking about the reading in relation to the past week's or vis-a-vis the lecture? How much prompting do they require from George?"
    • Dynamic among students---"Are students collaborating? Do students feel comfortable to speak out loud? Do students challenge one another with contrary ideas?"
    • Classroom dynamics---"Is time used economically? Is George focused on the main points of the reading or is he digressing? Is there an inordinate amount of silence and how does George/the students handle this?"

  • Observer's understanding of how the tracked session or assignment will be measured
    • Tallying the number of references to the assigned reading during discussion
    • Calculating the student-student and student-instructor interaction ratio during Thursday's routine section to collect baseline measure for future analysis; unfortunately, due to corrupted audio, comparisons will not be drawn between the debate day and regular discussion section

2. Timeline

In addition, please produce a brief sequence of the events of this observation (see sample time line here).

1/27: Pair meeting to draft observation plan
1/29: Submission of observation plan
1/30: Teagle Fellow group meeting
2/3: Pair meeting to revise observation plan
2/18: George meets with Nisa Bakkalbasi, Assessment Coordinator for Libraries, to discuss survey design
2/19: George assigns students to affirmative and negative debate teams
2/23: George submits draft of survey questions to Nisa
2/24: Students post their reading response/questions; debate moderator prepares; George receives revised survey design from Nisa (attached)
Civil War Debate Survey_George Aumoithe.pdf
Civil War Debate Survey_George Aumoithe.pdf

Civil War Debate Survey_George Aumoithe.pdf

2/26: Discussion section debate on "The Crisis of the Union, 1860-61" in IAB 402B from 5:10-6pm
  • ~5:00pm: Holly and David arrive
  • ~5:10pm: Holly and David themselves to the class; George provides general timeline; discussion section begins and discussion leader facilitates debate
  • 5:15pm: Teams have 5 minutes to plan opening; instructor available to assist
  • 5:20pm: Teams present 2 minute opening statement
  • 5:24pm: Teams have 3 minutes to plan rebuttal; instructor refrains from assisting
  • 5:27pm: Teams present 90 second rebuttal
  • 5:30pm: Teams have 2 minutes to plan conclusion; instructor unavailable to assist
  • 5:32pm: Teams present 1 minute conclusion
  • ~5:35-5:50pm: Class reconvenes to discuss the debate in relation to Manisha Sinha's The Counterrevolution of Slavery and primary documents in William E. Gienapp's The Civil War and Reconstruction; instructor wraps up major themes culled from discussion and asks students what they learned from the experience of debating
  • 5:50pm: Videorecording ends, anonymous paper survey distributed
  • 6:00pm: Surveys collected; class ends
3/6*: Due to corrupted audio during video-recording of the debate, Holly will observe the Thursday section in person to conduct a qualitative assessment of the section's discussion of Eric Foner's The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, paying particular attention to the effectiveness of student-led discussion and the use of the reading during discussion
Observation Notes_Georeg Aumoithe.pdf
Observation Notes_Georeg Aumoithe.pdf

Observation Notes_Georeg Aumoithe.pdf

3/10: George meets with Nisa Bakkalbasi to conduct survey analysis
3/11: George and Holly meet to discuss survey results from Wednesday section's debate and to discuss peer observation of Thursday section
3/27: Holly observes Thursday section - drill on identifying argument and defining structure of secondary source; Holly and George discuss observation after class
3/28: George leads session for Graduate History Association in 611 Fayerweather at noon about designing a quantifiable, mid-semester survey, creating an observation plan, and conducting a peer observation; shares information about how to apply to the Teagle Fellows program

5/6 or 5/7: Presentation of results to Teagle Fellows