Everything I believe about teaching, and everything I do in my better moments of teaching, is based on the philosophy articulated in Paulo Freire‘s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire’s work has profoundly influenced contemporary educators to move beyond the “banking” model of teaching where the instructor deposits knowledge into the students’ mental bank accounts. For Freire, education must be contextualized within students’ lived experiences in order for them to develop deeper understandings and to make a difference in the world. He developed a pedagogy of hope designed to empower the powerless. Beyond Freire, my teaching consists of strategies poached from a variety of sources that are far too numerous to remember, and I was blessed with many wonderful teaching mentors.
This page is a semi-ranting, semi-preaching list of teaching thoughts, tips, and feminist pedagogy. It includes some links, plus worksheets and exercises that I have used. I regularly find myself stumbling through teaching. This stuff isn’t the truth. It’s just my truth, at least most of the time. As they say, take what you need and leave the rest.
1. …creates room for students who have different learning styles. (Pick your typography: VARK; Kolb.)
2. …creates room for students who are at different cognitive levels. (Pick your typography: Belenky, et al.; Bloom.)
3. …makes your teaching methods transparent. Students might not understand the connection between an in-class exercise and the material it is designed to cover; they might not automatically see the value of the exercise or its connection to their performance in class or their real lives; they might not see the teaching objective/goal or the pedagogy behind what you’re doing. It’s important to explain the connection. Explanations make work meaningful to them, and of transparency feels like busy work. If you cannot explain why you’re doing something, then rethink the exercise or the assignment because you might be doing it out an obligation to tradition, or as a mechanism for classroom management, in which case, the students might be right — it is busywork.
4. …emphasizes critical thinking skills. Many people mistakenly believe – based on the words “critical” and “thinking” – that the notion simply means getting students to criticize and think, i.e., to do more than merely memorize. To others, critical thinking actually entails pushing students up along Bloom’s taxonomy from lower order to higher order thinking skills. Ideally, if you use the language of Bloom’s taxonomy in class exercises, exams, lectures, and discussions, then the students will move beyond “will this be on the test?” Many taxonomies/models of critical thinking exist, and using the language of these taxonomies while teaching the students invites greater success in achieving critical thinking. “Metacognition,” or making transparent the stages of thinking, makes how to think easier for the students.
1. …teaches to where the students are. Bad students are like bad dogs; it’s not their fault, it’s their owners’ fault. Remember that by the time students enter college, they’ve been through twelve years of constrained, high-stakes-testing, “No Child Left Behind,” K-12 education, where intellectual curiosity is drained out of them. It is unfair to expect students to behave any differently without showing them something new. Note: This is not about K-12 teachers, but about a problem endemic in the US K-12 educational system that beats down teachers and most administrators as much as students.
2. …gives students as much ownership and responsibility for the class as possible, while also giving them boundaries and guidelines for doing things. The more decisions they can make about learning and evaluation, the more invested they will be in the process, and the more empowered they will be as learners and thinkers.
3. …gives students as many options as possible: Options for learning, grading, participating, and speaking. The academy puts teachers in “power-over” positions with students. Giving them options helps decenter that position. Also, options create an openness in the class. Examples include individualized grading contracts, choices of exam type, an option to make up essay questions, choice between making an assignment pass/fail or graded, choices between submitting certain exercises as anonymous or self-identified, and the ability to opt out of disclosive activities.
4. …validates all students’ experiences and feelings (regardless of how wrong-headed you think they are). But feminist pedagogy likewise means challenging students on their experiences without invalidating them.
5. …encourages students to move beyond their experiences and opinions to voice arguments and reasons.
6. …emphasizes process not product. Conversely, remember that evaluation and assessment must reflect what you teach, so if you emphasize process, evaluation should focus on process, or else you’re setting students up for unfair grading.
Respecting the First Day of Class
After reading Harry Wong’s writing, I have learned the importance of the first day of class. Even though Wong writes about K12, specifically elementary school, his lessons apply to higher education. Now, I am passionate about respecting the first day of the college class.
University Teaching Enhancement Centers
Stanford University’s Center for Teaching and Learning – Articles on active learning, test writing and grading, multiculturalism, cooperative learning, etc.
Center for Teaching Excellence – University of Maryland’s center. Resources for using active learning in large lecture classes.
National Institute for Science Education – University of Wisconsin hosts this organization’s website. The website has a great section on collaborative learning and most of the information can easily translate from science classes to other kinds of classes.
Center for Teaching and Learning – University of Minnesota’s center. This site has tons of resources for virtual classrooms as well as some useful material for surviving being an adjunct, becoming a new assistant professor, etc.
Syllabus Tutorial – University of Minnesota Center for Teaching and Learning.
Developing Goals and Objectives – Roundworldmedia.com; for developing on-line courses, but still useful for offline courses.
Teaching Goals Inventory – On-line test to help determine teaching goals and teaching styles
Facilitating Classroom Discussion
Despite the importance of effective class discussion, many of us stumble through it it, working on intuition and what we remember from undergraduate education, regardless of what we felt about the effectiveness of that model. Here are some links with excellent advice about facilitation skills in the classroom. Note that these discussion techniques from the University of Oregon’s Teaching Effectiveness Program assume an understanding of critical thinking as defined along Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Sliding Groups – Sliding up and down Bloom’s Taxonomy
Feedback Discussions – teach effective discussion skills
Nominal Group Technique – uses anonymity to promote open discussion
Other Useful Resources
Rage and Hope – A website about critical pedagogy, its primary theorists and major tenets, etc. A good introduction to postmodernism and to Freire.
Henry Giroux – Homepage of critical pedagogy theorist and writer.
Radical Pedagogy – An interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal devoted to the analysis of teaching and learning.
Critical Thinking and Critical Pedagogy (Nicholas C. Burbules)