Friday, August 26, 2011

Soundings: Uncoverage and mosaic coverage

Like Dame Eleanor and Dr. Crazy, I'm tired but pleased after the first week of classes. I've also been thinking about the recent post at Profhacker on "uncoverage" as opposed to "coverage."

I've heard arguments against the coverage model many times, and the "uncoverage" model does sound attractive. Take, for example, the "mom and apple pie" idea implied by this sentence: "Taken together, depth and breadth mean moving away from the prepackaged observations and readily digestible interpretations that go hand-in-hand with coverage." Who could argue with getting away from "prepackaged observations" and the rest? It's like shooting arrows into the much-maligned five-paragraph essay.

Logically, however, this presupposes that either (1) you as a teacher are teaching these preconceived ideas by rote to a bunch of parrots or (2) the students need to be disabused of these rigid ideas since they already know them. I think the situation is more complicated than that.

The thing is, students don't necessarily know this stuff. They don't always have preconceptions that need to be shaken up about, say, what a metaphor is or what Romantic poetry might be, because some of them will never have heard of it to begin with. They can't tell obvious points from nonobvious ones, or logically sound points from crazy ones, because they don't have the frame of reference necessary to make those judgments. In short, they can't question a conventional idea and rebel against it if they don't know it exists in the first place.

That's where the idea of "soundings" comes into play. What we're doing, especially for the first few weeks, is taking soundings into the depths of their knowledge. What have they heard about the Romantics? What do they know about Dickens? It's only by uncovering what they do know that we can address what they don't know.

Maybe they have some good ideas, or maybe they have some misconceptions, or maybe they have limited conceptions, or maybe they have some combination of all these. What we need to do is provide a mosaic of "uncoverage" with enough "coverage" so that they can put the pieces together themselves.


Anonymous said...

Soundings, yes.

I'm very big, though, on not "covering" everything. Contextualizing, yes, but there's something to be said for not letting students take a survey course, especially one set up in a traditional way, until they've already taken a specialized one.

undine said...

That's what our department wants, profacero--specialized courses first and surveys after. I like the idea of getting them interested with the specialized stuff, but I worry that they won't know how to contextualize the materials unless they have a broad understanding.

I'm talking as someone who never took survey courses as an undergrad, only specialized ones, and it came back to bite me later on. Maybe that's why I hesitate.

Anonymous said...

The thing is that you get your broad understanding over a series of courses, not from these courses that try to do everything in one semester and end up superficial. I am guessing I had a really good undergrad program overall. But the lang/lit department at my school that had the smartest curriculum was French. They had a lot of reading and comp classes at the junior level that were pegged to genres, and you picked the ones you liked. Then there were a lot of courses that were on centuries. So while in SPAN we had rapid panoramas of early and late Spain, early and late Lat Am and learned a lot of names and dates, in FREN you got a kind of accretion. *And* you could take specialized courses at each level if you wanted, but pegged to that level. It was much less of a scramble.