Thursday, August 04, 2011

Team teaching bleg

This fall a colleague and I will be team-teaching a course of our own design, as well as running a related series of public lectures, readings, and other events. I expect it to be a breathtaking amount of work (during the same semester that I'm also getting married and going up for tenure!), but I'm really looking forward to it.

The course is keyed to the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, and it focuses on Early Modern readings, rewritings, and adaptations of the Bible. It's an exciting course largely because it's one that neither of us could confidently teach alone--he brings the Bible, I bring the Renaissance--but it's daunting for exactly the same reason that it's exciting. How do we mind-meld successfully enough to make this a coherent class? And how do we prevent this one course from taking over our entire lives?

This, dear readers, is where you come in. If you've team-taught before, what practical strategies did you use (before the semester began, during your weekly lesson planning, or in the actual classroom) that made your class work? Or what do you wish you had done that you didn't?


Ianqui said...

I team teach reasonably often, and I find it works best if each person is in charge of the whole lecture for a given week. It's much more time consuming for planning if you need to get together to prep each lecture.

squadratomagico said...

I've done it a few times, though not recently. We did as Ianqui suggests: we divided up the lectures and each were in control of planning and delivering half of them, rather than sharing the floor. I found that it was helpful to discuss, in advance, how to deal with on-the-spot decisions prompted by student questions. There always were a few unforeseen issues brought up by students, when we'd have to say, "I'm sorry, I'll have to get back to you with an answer on that after I consult my colleague," but having a ready answer for most inquiries about various policies was helpful.

Flavia said...

Ianqui: So you mean that you alternate weeks of lecture-prep and -giving?

That won't totally work for us (though I wish it did!), since we're teaching a more discussion-based class once a week, for three hours--and will be breaking up each class into at least two or three components. Our reading schedule also doesn't always divide neatly into his specialty/my specialty.

life_of_a_fool said...

I am so interested to read people's responses, as I find team teaching really frustrating.

I like Ianqui's idea of splitting the class sessions, though that also doesn't work (most weeks) in the class I've co-taught. I think the biggest challenge is competing teaching styles. Students are flexible with different styles, but when you get two in the same room, it can cause tensions/problems. e.g., when I co-taught with someone who is much more verbose and lecture-oriented than I am, it creates an imbalanced dynamic. Add in power and gender dynamics, and it's all the worse. Same with the person who was all laid-back surfer dude, while I am much more serious. Also, we've gotten comments back about tension and lack of communication between instructors -- some of which is justified, and some of which is a bad response to what I would characterize as healthy, appropriate, and respectful disagreement or debate.

A lot of those issues are minimized if both people aren't in the room at the same time, but it sounds like that's not possible for you, either. So, it's not only your actual interpersonal dynamic with your co-instructor but also how that dynamic will be interpreted by students. (note my lack of solutions or suggestions). And, the class planning is really time consuming and something to get used to. As much division-of-labor as possible makes it as easy as possible. Even if not entire class periods, different chunks, different activities, etc. A lot of out-of-class communication needs to be happening to make things run smoothly. Of course, with the right co-instructor that can also be an asset because you can actually talk about how the class is going and specific moments, etc., with someone who was there.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Maybe I'm lucky - my experiences team-teaching were fun and rewarding. (I team-taught once with a fellow medievalist in another department, and once with that medievalist and a chemist. Such a blast!) I'm not sure what we did to make it turn out that way - we often expressed our amazement at how it ended up looking like we had planned everything to go that well!

I will, however, second the suggestion that one person be "in charge" for each class session - that was how we did it (this was also important for us, though, because we taught it as an overload, so it reduced each individual's workload). If you can't have it be for each class session, given the structure of your class, I would still suggest dividing it up - you know, you run an hour, break, your co-instructor runs an hour, break, you run an hour. I think it can be very confusing to students to have two professors actually on at the same time. And it also helped a lot in terms of prep-time and autonomy. You could do this in the context of specific readings, I would imagine - you run discussion of reading X, your partner run discussion of reading Y, and so on. But in any case, it made a lot more sense for us to divide up materials/work, rather than have both profs be responsible for all the materials jointly, if that makes sense.

It may make a difference that we were all in different departments, so the point was to be interdisciplinary but we did that by each representing our disciplines, rather than by each professor trying to actually embody interdisciplinary-ness. But even if not everything divides up neatly into your specialty/his specialty, I would still suggest dividing it, so that there is always one person who is in "charge" of that material regardless of whether neither of you is expert.

I totally disagree that this is best managed by not having all the instructors in the room, though (again, this may just be a function of my own experience). For us, it was really important that we were all present for all the classes, so we weren't implying that only our own material was worth listening to, and so we could respond in our own weeks to what had been covered previously. That said, I think it is very important not to have the professors take over the class. I had a co-taught grad seminar that devolved into the professors swapping interesting observations about the readings while we listened. In the classes I taught, we agreed (without ever explicitly talking about it - we just all took the same approach) not to jump in with comments or questions unless explicitly asked by either the co-instructor or one of the students.

I just think that if three people had had to come to agreement on, say, how exactly we should teach Boethius on a given day, it would have been tons of work and much more contentious. Instead, my colleague covered Boethius in a given class session, and then when it was next my turn to run class, I could riff of that as I liked. Plus, this way each person could teach as best suits their own teaching styles (the other medievalist and I had very similar teaching styles, I think, but the chemist was very much more low-key and laid-back - none of us had to try to adopt the other person's teaching style. The students didn't have a problem with this, I think, because they're used to having different profs in different classes with different teaching styles.)

One practical note about grading - this was a seminar-style class, so the grade was based on participation and a final paper. We divided up the final papers for grading as well, based on what approach students were interested in taking or what they wrote about and faculty expertise. (When I co-taught cross-listed courses, we divvied papers up by which subject the student had registered for.) I remember we had one great paper where the student wrote a life of Francis of Assisi in Chaucerian verse style. Such fun!

(Of course all of this is based on the culture/students of that particular school, so, you know, YMMV.)

Anonymous said...

I found it useful to each be primarily responsable for different class periods, but both be in the room and actively commenting, at least from time to time. I also found that having the students listen to us both disagee with each other and defer to different types of expertise helped them discuss better.

It was also very useful to meet for about 15 minutes after each class (or sometimes each week) and talk about how things went and what we wanted to build on or redirect the following week.


dhawhee said...

I expected team teaching (in this case a graduate seminar) to be double the work, but it turned out not to be that at all.

We tended to confer on questions that we wanted the students to consider for the next meeting, and that always kicked off the discussion. My co-teacher and I would alternate leading the discussion, not in a planned way, but in a way that turned out to be quite equitable. And it was so great to sit back for 20 minutes or so while he worked. I learned more as a result--it was really great.

I think it would work really well too to alternate meetings (or possibly readings) on which one of you take the lead, as others have suggested. But touching base regularly will help ensure that everything both people want covered gets covered.

Susan said...

I've had good and bad experiences team teaching. They key is the dynamic between you. As long as you have worked it out in a way that satisfies you, the class will be fun.

The really important thing is that you plan carefully, and talk regularly. I always find that my colleague sees things that I don't, and vice versa. That means we are pretty much on top of the class.
Having one person "in charge" of the session -- keeping things flowing, etc. is important. But it's also great for them to see you thinking through problems differently!

Dr. Virago said...

Here's my experience in a nutshell...

A theater colleague and I did a medieval drama class (at the undergrad seminar level), so we were both talking about the same topic, but from different disciplinary perspectives (which sounds like what you're doing). Each week, I'd take Tuesday's class and he'd take Thursdays, and we were always there for each other's class. We planned the reading and writing assignments together the summer before the class. I gave him a rough outline of what I might address for each of my Tuesdays in terms of topics, so that he could plan his contribution around that (though, since he went on Thursday, he often just waited until after I'd done my Tuesday class). When we were present in the other's sessions, we acted more like advanced students than co-teachers -- since each of us had different expertise, that really wasn't far from the truth. In your case, you could easily divide the class meeting into two halves to do something similar.

We had a good rapport, though different personalities and slightly different pedagogies. We tended to be transparent about that, or else we chalked it up to different disciplinary styles, so the students wouldn't get too much teaching-style whiplash. But we graded together and made it clear to the students that we worked as a team, and that they couldn't play one of us against the other. And we joked frequently that the students were getting "two for the price of one!" because they really were -- a lit class *and* a theater class in one.

Oh, and we had one office hour *together* in the student union *$$ so that if any student wanted to get input from us both simultaneously, they could.

Flavia said...

These suggestions/examples from experience are really great, and working to relieve my mind considerably! The idea of trading off leading various parts of class makes sense to me, and I think will allow us the maximum amount of flexibility and cut down on irritation, awkwardness, and excessive prior planning.

life_of_a_fool said...

Oh, I like the idea of joint office hours!

cattyinqueens said...

"He brings the Bible." How heavy is it? (har)

Did you happen to see the KJB exhibit at the Bodleian? I enjoyed it quite a bit, especially Anne Boleyn's copy of the Tyndale (and yes, the naughty version that says "thou Shalt Commit Adultery." I should get over that, but it makes me laugh every time I think about it, because I'm like a child in that way).