Teaching to Distraction
January 20, 2010 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I teach college. I have ADD. I have some kind of mental block against fully planning my courses.

Although we meet face to face, many activities are online. I'll schedule in all of the major assignment deadlines, but then I end up winging it (while still drawing on my experience) in-between those major activities.

I'm not sure what my hangup is, but it's like I'm afraid that if I over plan the course that it will become stale and rote, and as a result I underplan and the course loses steam by the last three weeks and everyone complains about my lack of organization. How can I do this necessary thing that feels so unnatural and off-putting? I am starting to hate myself.

In other words, what are some good tips for teachers with diagnosed attention deficit disorder?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (6 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I teach high school, and I also have ADD. I actually started making 2 sets of plans for each year. The first is on a regular monthly calendar. I block out the time frame for each unit or activity, with some basic ideas for each week. This helps me stay on track without going through material too fast or too slow.

The second set is on a day-planner type of calendar, with big blocks of space for each day. I fill this out as I go, about a week or so in advance. This is where I get really detailed and creative. As I make this one, I refer back to the monthly calendar to make sure I'm pacing it right. Both calendars are in the same binder.

The first plan is generally the same from year to year, but the second varies wildly as I get new ideas and flashes of inspiration. This keeps me organized and also allows me to keep it fresh each year.

Now.. if only could find a way to get my grading done within a decent time frame...
posted by SamanthaK at 1:54 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, Robert Boice advises young college faculty members to do exactly what you're doing (without the end of term meltdown, obviously). His research into the habits of successful TT professors showed that those who prepared most minimally and who drew on their generalized knowledge in the course of lecturing were the most successful over the long term. They tended not to waste time with over-preparation and were more responsive to student input during class time.

Is it possible that you're setting some absurdly high bar for what you need to accomplish during the term and then fretting publicly over your inability to reach it? Might your students be reacting to your own anxiety over how you think the course should be taught rather than responding to any actual, structural deficiency on your part? I ask because, in my experience, the last few weeks of a term are always a mess. It's best, in my opinion, to consider them a wash from a content perspective and to spend that time shoring up the topics already covered. In-class student presentations, final paper tutorials and final exam preparation are all a great way to adapt the class to the inevitable end of term fatigue.

Why not spend more of your preparation time reading generally to firm up your knowledge base, trust that you can wing a lecture like a pro, and stop apologizing for how you teach? More confidence and poise on your part will surely be interpreted by your students as a firmer command of the classroom. And I'll bet your evaluations will start to reflect that.
posted by felix betachat at 2:47 PM on January 20, 2010 [10 favorites]

felix betachat, what very sensible and calming advice. Speaking as someone who's currently preparing a new course, start date 2 Feb, I find it very reassuring.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 3:54 PM on January 20, 2010

I am not unlike you, I suspect. Here's how I cope: I let myself focus on making a beautiful syllabus, spending energy on spacing the assignments and logically sequencing the material according to what I'm trying to achieve with my students. This satisfies my tinkery/OCD side, and then also acts as a backstop when I get all procrastinate-y about actually preparing class-to-class: we have a broad road map that makes sense, and I can improvise or wing it with this structure.
In short, I'm suggesting you push yourself just a bit to shape the term, and then take to heart felix betachat's advice, especially about trusting yourself.
One more thing: if you can get to a solid plan that anchors the course over the term, it's a lot easier to trust the students as well, to be "student-centered" in how you approach the material--or so it seems to me. The times I've found myself really bloviating in class have often been when we lacked that overall sense of direction. If I know what the broad task is, I'm more likely to do a decent job of drawing the students out. Good luck!
posted by Mngo at 4:21 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Keep a plan for extra time. If you have one week left, do x. If you have two weeks, do y.

If you sneak in a little extra credit your students will love you. If you surprise them with extra assignments, major readings, or tests, they will hate you.

I had an excellent prof who dealt with this very gracefully.

When we had gone through all of the planned material, she would give us a practice quiz for a few points of extra credit. On the quiz, there was a space for us to write a short note about material we were uncertain about. She used information from the quiz to tailor a few days of review. In one class she used extra class time to meet with us individually and advise us about our final papers.

Or I guess you could be like my high school teachers, who made us spend a few days watching Disney movies. (Please, please don't do this).
posted by kathrineg at 5:05 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

See the time frame between each major activity. On paper or a map of some kind, see the time between the major assignments.
Mark how many days before the major assignment you tend to focus on just the major assignment material if so. Then, with the remaining days, just list the topic titles you want to talk about.

Now, don't assign the topics to days because that's where it seems it really bothers you. Use your flexibility and stimulation friendly mind and make mindmaps of the big heading topics so that you are allowing yourself to come up with really creative stuff as you brainstorm. And, if you want you can even use the mindmap as a guide for yourself, assisting to keep you on track. (But, remember you "don't have to" do this)

In fact, why not share it with the class over blackboard or what have you, giving them a glimpse of the stuff you'll talk about in week 1 or 3 etc.

At the end of the weeks, the students can always mark off what was talked about and what was not. remember it's a guide, not a rule book.

By using mind maps you're not constraining yourself to the typical boring outline that people tend to ignore but over prepare in making only to satisfy some folks. Students seem to be just looking for some direction/guidance and not some over planned freak.
posted by iNfo.Pump at 2:34 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

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