Teaching sample: Narrow but deep or shallow but wide?
April 6, 2015 5:13 PM   Subscribe

I have a job interview coming up for a community college (full-time, tenure-track) position. As part of the interview, I have been asked to do a 15-20 minute teaching demo on an assigned topic. I have a question about how to approach that assignment.

The topic is very broad--broad enough to be several weeks' worth of teaching, even in an undergrad survey course. In that situation, it is preferable to: 1) use the time to do a very broad overview of the topic at hand or, 2) after a very brief into, focus on some narrower aspect that certainly would be addressed in the course but, by necessity, leave most of the specifics of the topic unaddressed? For example, if the topic were 19th century Western literature, I could either do a 20 minute introduction to the major literary movements, or I could mention them briefly, then focus on Romanticism, and then use 1-3 Romantic poems/literary passages to illustrate the themes of Romanticism. My tendency is to do the latter, as it would be a more interesting teaching sample and it lends itself to more engaging activities (an activity is required in this demonstration). My fear is that if I go that route, the hiring committee will start off with "We told you to cover 19th century Western literature. All you did was the Romantics!" Do some of you with experience in academic hiring have a feel for what the usual expectation is? (My topic is not 19th Century lit. Literature isn't even my field. Example is for illustrative purposes only.)

P.S. Yes, this means I didn't quite get the job my last question was about. Apparently I was a close second.
P.P.S. I've done plenty of teaching demos before--I just haven't had a topic assignment to me like this in the past.
posted by cute little Billy Henderson, age 4 to Education (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IAAP, albeit not a CCP. It seems safest to ask for the committee for clarification. Is the demo in someone's class, or are you just performing for the committee?
posted by thomas j wise at 5:52 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just for the committee.
posted by cute little Billy Henderson, age 4 at 6:03 PM on April 6, 2015

I would always argue depth over breadth (I'm a HS/MS English/History teacher) because showing that you are aware of the bigger periods/movements in literature and then focusing on one shows that you can do both and also that you are doing something that is helpful regardless of what level/era students are at.

I'd also provide a formal lesson plan and give context for where the lesson would be in a scope and sequence for the class in question.

But fundamentally, doing close-read/close-analysis of a few pieces shows a whole lot more teaching ability than doing a lecture on the history/themes/style of Romanticism.
posted by guster4lovers at 6:11 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have done a number of these things for adjunct jobs and I find the more specific I get, the more praise I get for the lecture. I teach sociology and instead of giving a broad overview of inequality, I talked about a specific ethnography that addresses inequality. None of them had ever heard of the research and they did not want me to stop talking. (It was on Unequal Childhoods, if anyone is interested. So, there's that.

But my real advice would be to not over think it. Presumably everyone has the same topic. I would do what you want and start out by saying something like, "Given the topic of x, I picked y to discuss." And then just do it.

I don't know if this is relevant in your field, but in mine, there's more and more concern about plain old lecturing and how much it sucks for the students and how little they actually learn from it. The last interviewer I had expressed concern that lecture was my primary mode of teaching. She's an English teacher and uses the whole flipped classroom thingy. (I got the job anyway).
posted by orsonet at 6:15 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd go with the narrow piece of the larger topic. Obviously you cannot engage students in discussion, but maybe you could add an aside to the committee that if you were actually teaching this to a class you would engage them in thus and such manner. Also bring props, slides, whatever, if appropriate.
posted by mareli at 6:21 PM on April 6, 2015

Yes, go focused, narrow and as deep as you can in such a short time.
posted by umbĂș at 6:42 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Academic (not CC) but have seen plenty of job talks & teaching demos.

DEFINITELY the latter. 100% no question. Brush up on your overview just in case somebody asks you a question along the lines of "Can you tell me how X poet fits in with the Z movement" or whatever, but yeah, but if you're in the literature field they absolutely want you to take them through a close reading.

EDIT: urgh, sorry, misread. (Some literature academic! In fairness, see my bio re: wine, etc.) Still think the nuts & bolts equivalent of what a close reading would be in your field is what they're looking for.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:24 PM on April 6, 2015

I would do whichever allows you to show off your repertoire of teaching techniques. I find that I teach best when I have the time to go deep, starting with survey and factual questions, but then going for more thought-provoking questions with no one true right answer.

I avoid acting like it's a simulation - telling the observers, ok, so I would ask the students this now... etc.
I act as if they are the students and involve them. It makes them feel smart, and it seems less forced and unnatural.
posted by ctmf at 9:59 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would choose a particular lit theory concept and track it through a bunch of activities that are centred on learners' experiences and come up with a conclusion that allows them to demonstrate some original thinking, deduction and extrapolation.

I supervise and assess teaching in my professional life and it's amazing how little varies in teaching 'from the front' - lecturing a bunch of stuff at students privileges the force of personality of the presenter, but the low level pedagogy skills expected is, to me, a great shame. Learners deserve better of our institutions and tutors/lecturers/teachers need to do a lot more to imagine all the best ways we know people learn - mainly by privileging the experiences of the learner. I'd be asking myself how to show an experience of learning that helped your viewers see the world and the works you are looking at within in a text/context panorama. I might choose to look at the thread of theory concerned with the place of the author (where/who/what is the author in different eras) or 'what is a text' or 'intertextuality' or 'what is 'literary'?' You can do a broad survey of differing time periods, and you can show rigorous knowledge of theory. Making it logical, interesting, experiential and entertaining and 'a ha!' for students is the strain of your pedagogical task. I agree with ctmf above about avoiding simulation and go for the observers being your students in every respect.

I've recently studied first year architecture, and what I have loved about watching architecture lecturers is the amount of times the lecturer had items, photographs of failed buildings or sites and models in front of her that she tested, asking us to deduce outcomes related to force etc. Her lectures lead us to figure out stuff ourselves, even though she is arranging a series of experiences that are leading us there.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:40 PM on April 8, 2015

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