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Reading in a Sociology Class

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When I began teaching Sociology of Education, there were certain skills that I was assuming my students would have acquired by now. These were basic skills of reading. But after my second class, I realized that my students are not used to reading in fact they have been spoon fed till now and are used to rote-memorization of guide books. A huge challenge was facing me as my students were finding reading classics a difficult task. I assured them that I will spend enough time on each original text but I will not dictate notes. Now I had to think about strategies to build their reading skills. Till now I had assumed everybody devises his or her own ways of reading. Imposing one way of reading takes away the independence of a reader, which is against constructivist approach to reading.

By reading I mean, an active engagement with the text. A reader attempts to establish a dialogue with the writer through the text and construct meaning from it. Once the meaning is constructed, the reader then, reflects on the text. This is the process of reading for me. This process requires certain skills such as awareness, curiosity, questioning and reflective thinking. Now I had the task of initiating the process of reading in my class.

I began with thinking about how I read and what steps do I follow while reading? I realized that I read a text minimum of three times before going to my class. Following is the description of these three readings that I often do:

First Reading: I read the back page of the book first. Then I read the text in its entirety in one go. I try to focus on the introduction and conclusion in this reading.

Second Reading: Before reading the text second time, I read up on the author, her area of specialization, her other publications and her biographical sketch. Then I read slowly for the second time trying to understand how the author has constructed her argument. What are her philosophical leanings?

Third Reading: I read for the third time only to take notes.
Following the third reading, I summarize the text.

This requires time, therefore, I began my preparation for a class at least three days before it is scheduled.

My students gave me an opportunity to think about reading as a process. I had always taken this skill for granted. I explained my process of reading and asked them to see it just as a suggestion. They should try out different strategies of reading to develop their own most helpful reading strategy.

This class certainly helped as students begin to engage with the text and not leave it after one reading. But I understand that reading is a long and continuing process.

First Day of University Teaching

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I was born and brought up in a political capital of my country, now I took a decision to shift to a small town for a job. It was difficult but I wanted a slow-paced, peaceful life for myself which my home city could not offer. First job at the university in a new town was quite challenging.
However, filled with energy and enthusiasm, I began climbing the hill on top of which my department’s office was located to start my first day. Eighty step climb felt easier. I reached my scarcely furnished office to take a breath and revised my plan, I began to remember all advises my teacher had given me. Now that I was going to be in their shoes, I felt anxious as I didn’t want to let him down. I wanted to give my best.

This was my first teaching hour at the university as well as the first teaching hour for our newly opened School of Education. So this was our first M.A. batch and together we were all beginning a new phase of our life.
At 10:29 AM, I left my office to reach the designated classroom revising my plan for the hour. I ignored all the gawking from the male students while managing my saree that I was still learning to drape.

I found three students waiting for me as I entered the small classroom with no fan on a humid monsoon morning with a non-functional cooler staring at us. We introduced ourselves. It was our first interaction. I enquired about the status of their boarding-lodging and other logistics such as internet login; library cards etc. My students were in their early twenties hailing from two small towns in Uttar Pradesh. They appeared excited.

I informed them that I will be teaching Sociology of Education in this semester. Then I gave them an overview of the course beginning from Durkheim, Dewey to Education in Modern technocratic society. I explained that during the course students will be given a set of readings which they will read before coming to the class. In class we will have discussions on these readings. Each reading will be summarised by the students.

After listening to this introduction, a young female student asked me how will I dictate notes-with headings and sub-headings or without headings? I was shocked. I was certainly not going to dictate notes. That’s not how I learnt and that’s not how I will be teaching. I firmly replied that no notes will be dictated instead if they wish they can jot down points from class discussions.

Now I understood the challenge I am faced with as students were used to spoon-feeding. Anyway, I gave them a very short 4 page article to read. It was written in simple Hindi language. With this began a new phase in my life.