November 17, 1994
Reflecting on the morning's reading
As you read this morning, what you were mostly focusing on, we assume, was what the various reports had to say about the focus issue you're principally concerned with, and how it might fit with, contribute to, illuminate, or contradict other reports in the focus group. But it's also worth taking a minute at some point to reflect on what else you learned. There were extremely various approaches to the task exemplified in those reports -- different ways of thinking about a cover letter, different models of what sort of language and organization you might use for a report, different ways of structuring a group and working collaboratively. We presume that almost no one thinks her group hit on the perfect solution to any of these, and we hope that everyone's alert to the possibility of modifying and adjusting their own strategies and organization and language to take advantage of good ideas that seemed to work for other people. In other words, we are advocating that you approach the last three weeks of the term with as much flexibility as you can muster.
A further reflection is that when people choose their own directions and take on their own tasks, we all run the risk that some people will hit roadblocks and unanticipated difficulties, because of the nature of the questions they're asking or because of the luck of the draw (maybe the book you really need has been stolen from the library), or because their topic simply posed larger problems of definition or procedure than others. We need to bear in mind what we said at the beginning: this is not like coal-mining: you shouldn't measure your progress or learning by how much coal you brought up. If you worked steadily, and with commitment, and genuinely put 20+ hours a week of serious work and thought into the program, the fact that your report is thin or incomplete shouldn't bother you. You're learning, often things that go well beyond knowing about the Scopes trial or the Salem witchhunts or the Jonestown suicides. On the other hand, if you didn't put the time and engagement in (for whatever reasons), it's not really so important whether or not your report looks great. In some fundamental way, only you can really know whether you're working and learning in this situation, and only you can decide whether to be active and engaged or to wait for someone to tell you what to do.
Each workgroup should have a folder full of marked & responded-to copies of their report. We'll take a few minutes for people to look through their comments. As you do that, see if there are issues that could be clarified by asking the rest of the focus group (about, for instance, conflicting suggestions, unexplained explanations, illegible writing -- whatever is unclear).
We expect that this initial step will take fifteen or twenty minutes (not to absorb everything everyone's said, but to decide whether there are some obvious questions that need to be asked).
After the work groups have had a chance to do this clarifying, the three focus groups should find a place to meet (one or two can meet in 120, but three at a time is a bit much) to discuss any large changes or adjustments that need to be made as we work toward a final report from the focus group to the whole section. This may involve discussing the organization of your report, the way the sections relate, and -- especially -- what further work needs to be done by each work group.
Finally, the work groups should go and work. The schedule we set up says, about next Tuesday: "working groups submit completed reports of findings; using these completed reports, focus groups begin work on their contribution to the course book; [to do this the completed reports will have to be on shared drive q: by 8:00 am Nov. 22]." That seems reasonable right now, but we suggest that focus groups agree on that or on an altered schedule that will fit the specific needs of their work groups.