Today, I teach my first discussion section of the new school year. I'm a TF for First Nights, a gen-ed course at Harvard that introduces non-music majors to classical music through the lens of five significant pieces: Monteverdi's Orfeo (1607), Handel's Messiah (1742), Beethoven's 9th Symphony (1824), Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique (1830), and Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps (1913). The course asks students to attend one discussion section per week, and each TF is responsible for teaching two sections.
I've always found the discussion section to be a strange "genre" of class. In theory courses, sections are often devoted mostly to aural skills (as they were at Wisconsin), or they supplement the lecture by giving students opportunities for guided practice (as they are in the courses for majors at Harvard), or in some cases they're a place for primary, direct instruction (Music 2, the theory for non-majors course that I'm on to teach in the spring). But I'm less clear what to do with them in a music history for non-majors setting. How much is it information delivery, how much is clearing up questions from lecture, how much is asking students to discuss the music itself among themselves?
I'm going to chronicle my teaching process throughout this semester, right here. My sections meet Tuesdays at 4pm, and then Wednesdays at 10am. So each week, I'm going to post my rough plan online before the first section. After the first section, I have the evening to reflect on how it went (which I may or may not post about), and then the second try in the morning, after which I'll definitely post a reflection on the week's teaching. [It's an open question to me whether to tell my students that I'm doing this. That's something I'd welcome input on. Obviously, this is public, so I'm not really hiding it from them, but at present I'm not planning to tell them, "Oh, you can go on my blog and read about yourselves..."]
A centerpiece of my teaching this semester is going to be the inspiration I've taken from Chris Friend's recent essay in Hybrid Pedagogy, "Learning to Let Go: Listening to Students in Discussion." I'm starting a Google Doc for each section, on which I'll sketch out the skeleton of each section, and pose some intitial questions. I also may pre-load it with some bullet points from the short assignments that students have to do every week in preparation. I'll assume the notetaking role that Friend describes, hoping to motivate my students to take an active role in the discussion themselves.
In a few minutes I'll post my first section plan, for today's discussion on Orfeo.