Classroom Pedagogies and Prep Time

In a recent conversation, a friend/colleague made a passing comment about Reacting to the Past appealing to me because the class sessions are somewhat scripted. Indeed, I do like to map things out and anticipate future steps, when possible. Reflecting on his comment, though, I realize that the pedagogy may be deceptive to teachers who haven’t used it before; at it’s core, Reacting might be described as role play of past events, so it’s easy to understand why colleagues might think that Reacting teachers can predict how the lessons will unfold.

In reality, when I teach with Reacting pedagogy, the games never take the same path from semester to semester. Students’ unique dispositions lead them to research different cultural-historical factors, in turn changing how they prepare for specific sessions. One semester a metic might take an active – and unchallenged – role in shaping Athen’s government; another semester, the metic may be too apprehensive about pushing boundaries or more hesitant about public speaking – or may be challenged about the legitimacy of his participation.  One semester the labor faction might quickly establish its centrality in Greenwich Village, while in another semester, the suffragists might organize more quickly to sway the indeterminate villagers.

As a result, Reacting is the most time-intensive pedagogy I use in the classroom. Students email to ask about implementing new strategies that aren’t covered in game books and role sheets; they stop by office hours to request feedback on speeches and writing assignments; and they often extend the game beyond class spaces and hours. As a result, my teaching prep time also expands, sometimes exponentially.

My students’ learning outcomes make the time and energy investment worthwhile, but I do limit myself to only one or two reacting games a semester in order to balance teaching activities with other career responsibilities. My colleague’s comment reminds me, though, that as academic developers work with faculty to identify appropriate pedagogies to support desired learning outcomes, we must be transparent and upfront about the hidden time commitments of high-impact pedagogies. Helping faculty anticipate the “costs” associated with using these teaching techniques may lead to implementing them in more sustainable ways.