Feb. 18th, 2017

aryanhwy: (Default)
If Thursday was the day for reveling in my advanced seminar, today I want to put in a few good words for my 1st years. Friday afternoon from 1pm to 2pm when I have a tutorial with 13 people from my intro logic class is the highlight of my week.

The thing that's fun about intro classes is that you get a bunch of people who don't know each other, but also don't know anyone else, and you put them together in a situation which is easy for some and stressful for others, making it natural that they turn to each other for support. And then you kick back and watch friendships develop, friendships that you can tell will last. A week or two ago, they were already talking about having a "reunion" in two years time by taking my advanced logic course! (Which would be awesome.) Yesterday, I heard all about how Hugh proposed to George at the Philosophy Ball the night before, and that while George's first response was "maybe" he eventually capitulated and said yes. They then spent the opening minutes of the tutorial, while everyone was filing in, planning their wedding. :) Years from now, 10, 15, 25 years, these people will get together and their "do you remember when"s will involve "do you remember when we met and became friends in our logic tutorial", and it's such a privilege to be the facilitator of a space where this can happen.

I love how comfortable they have gotten with each other and with me, though it is tremendously amusing when they apparently seem to either forget I am there or that I am their teacher, and they start gossiping about their other courses and lecturers. (A bunch of them were distraught when the lecturer changed with the change of terms in one of their classes: "Andrew's hair was the only reason to wake up on a Friday morning!")

But not only that, they are a really smart group of people. They are invested in this course, they work hard, they help each other, and not a single one of them is afraid of making a mistake in front of the rest of the class, or to admit "I didn't understand how to do that exercise so I didn't do it". This is partly a product of my teaching style for tutorials, something which I've only been able to implement for the first time, really, this year, because of the nature of logic tutorials vs. philosophy ones. From week one there was the strong expectation that they come having done the work: I started learning people's names by going around the room, selecting a person at random and having them give their answer on the whiteboard in front of the rest of the group. For one or two people, it took only once of being called upon and then having to admit that they couldn't because they hadn't done the work before that never happened again. But the only way that this sort of arrangement works without putting a lot of pressure on students is to make not having an answer, or having the wrong answer, simply not an issue. If I call upon someone, and they can't answer, I simply move on to the next. They know there is no shame in not having the right answer, because this is difficult material that is foreign to them and I expect it to take work to get through it. The only shame comes from not having an answer because you didn't bother to work, and even then, the shame only comes from having to say that you didn't do the work in front of your classmates -- it's self-imposed, if you know what I mean. I never pass judgement on it.

The first few weeks, I would call on people either in order of how they sat, or randomly (to help me learn names), but after that I started taking volunteers -- among other things, I told them, this meant that if they didn't have answers for all the questions, or had answers they felt more (or less!) comfortable with, they could choose to answer something they were confident in answering or to answer something where they were uncertain and wanted my explicit comments. As a result, I usually am getting volunteers before I can even ask for them.

Most of the time we stick pretty closely to the nuts and bolts mechanics of doing logic; the exercises for tutorials are closely linked to examination questions, and are designed to give them practice with all the concepts I'm introducing in lecture, so there is a lot of simple practice and comprehension going on. Due to the nature of the subject, there isn't much up for philosophical debate in an intro logic course (there are of course philosophical questions relevant to topics in basic classical logic, but they are not the focus of this course), so when there is actually discussion in the tutorials, it's because people don't understand why the right answer is the right answer, and it's just a matter of talking through the right answer. But yesterday something special happened. We were doing English -> predicate logic formalization exercises, and the questions came up regarding how to know whether something is a constant or a predicate; how to treat definite descriptions; whether proper names were disguised predicates or definite descriptions; and whether something like $2.00 is a constant (the name of a number/amount) or a predicate (a property of an amount or a price paid). And all of a sudden the room erupted into discussion, with almost everyone having a particular view (there was definitely no consensus!), and people giving reasons for their views, and others countering with counterarguments or alternatives, and back and forth and without having read any of Russell, Quine, or Kripke they generated -- on their own! -- basically all of the important points of their discussions, and I pretty much kicked back and grinned for about 10 minutes as they just took it and ran. This is the sort of discussion you are always trying to generate in a philosophy tutorial, and if you get maybe three people out of the ~10-12 to engage in this fashion without any guidance from the tutor, you feel good. But this discussion involved EVERYONE, and sprung up completely without any nudging or guidance from me, and it was just amazing to watch.

I'm very proud of them.


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