Sigh. Perhaps it is just Pynchon, and that GR is a novel that demands re-reading. Because we’ve done the write-first thing, and I always begin with some small group discussion before opening things up to the class as a whole. And some days, when there are structured assignments (i.e., present what you’ve written, or report back on your conversation), it pays off — students do what I’ve asked them to do, and thus the majority of the voices heard in the room are not mine.
The problem is that these reportings-back don’t translate well into conversation — they become isolated reports, given in sequence. I’m the one that ends up doing a lot of the connecting.
If, on the other hand, the questions are more open-ended — if I ask not for a reporting-back but for thinking around and developing an idea — then my students are, more often than not, very chatty with one another, but totally mum when they turn back to talk as a large group. As though they’re willing to expose their confusions and take stabs at incomplete answers with one another, but not with me listening.
I guess I’m hoping to find a happy middle ground — a way to transition from writing or small-group discussions to full-class conversations, in which they talk not to me but to one another, and in which they take risks, speculating on what they do know and admitting what they don’t.
(And, incidentally, I’m fairly confident that the vast majority of the class IS doing the reading. They’ve got WTF??? written all over their faces; they’re just, for the most part, not willing to ask the questions out loud.)