Tag Archives: pedagogy

You are not your grades.

Image from TeachHub.com

A re-post from the Chronicle … I wish someone had told me this when I was an undergrad. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t have listened:

“You are not your grades. I want my students to avoid defining themselves in terms of a grade. I want them to know that grades represent nothing more than someone’s assessment of one or more instances of their academic performance. Given the nature of the grading process and the limited purposes for which it is designed, the grades they receive are in no way a reflection of who they are as people or even what they are capable of achieving in the long run.”

Read the whole article: Grading and Its Discontents


So Many Trajectories for Study …

Some time ago, I talked about assigning a project in my rhetoric class that required students to look at historical figures in the field of rhetoric and to construct some sort of timeline (or anti-timeline, to resist chronological ordering) showing which figures they believe are most important to survey-of-rhetoric type endeavors and what the relationships between those figures are. This came after we read several historiographic pieces (especially focusing on Aspasia), so students were purposefully engaging in historiography in this project.

They came up with some really awesome stuff.   Continue reading

(Literature) Pedagogy

The literature students at my school don’t have too many options in their coursework to focus specifically on literature pedagogy. As a result, a couple of smart students have created a summer mini-conference on this topic. This is its third year, but the first I attended, and I was happy to discover that much of what I learned was very relevant for rhetoric/composition pedagogy as well. I’m including some of the most important notes I took here. If any readers are interested in something below, let me know and I can hook you up with whoever presented on that topic.

Teaching Difficult Topics led by Chris Desantis, Julie Jung, Oren Whitesell

  • When discussing oppressive institutions–we’ll use race as an example–start by talking about the historical context. Don’t open discussion until after students have this common ground established. (In this phase, be careful to create a common vocabulary and to consider how themes circulate in language.)
  • Next, introduce social construction. (Note: It’s OK to “shut a student down” if she or he refuses to buy into the basic premises of the class. You can think of this less as silencing a student and more as eliminating an obstacle to other students’ learning. Hopefully it doesn’t happen often.)
  • Open discussion: Possible topics in this example include the collective silence on whiteness, connections between texts and student lives, and implications of physical spaces that produce whiteness and blackness, etc.
Ogbu’s definition of education: systematic eradication of viable alternatives (I’m not sure what I think of this. It sounds a lot like bell hooks’ definition of oppression)
Helpful readings:
Summative comments:
Teach not what to think, but how logic works
Always consider power relations in and out of the classroom

Teaching Digital Texts led by Cheryl Ball 

Remember: A 10-page paper is not nearly equivalent to a 10-minute video. A proficient producer of video typically takes 200 minutes for every minute produced. Consider a 2-3 minute video equivalent to a 10-page paper.


Sample digital project outline for a themed class – Using wiki technology to interlink all student work
  • Establish common key terms
  • Have an individual draft due by midterm
  • Have students read others’ drafts during second part of semester
  • Links/revisions/additional pages due by finals
Linguistics led by Aaron Smith
  • Consider that linguists study speech communities; historical linguists must use written texts (literature)
  • Take care not to apply sociolinguistic understandings from modern times to historical contexts
  • Consider how linguistic usage is used to construct literary characters. This may include elements like the a- prefix (I’m a-goin’) or h-dropping (‘umble beginnings).
  • Remember that ideology is shown in language
  • When teaching, narrow the focus. First, select a form to focus on, then prove to students that they know a grammar (disrupt their belief that we’re in some sort of historical grammatical decline), then choose texts with appropriate linguistic variation.
Making Sense of Evaluations led by Claire Lamonica
  • The most important different in evaluations is understanding the purpose of formative vs. summative evaluation. Summative evaluation happens at the end of the term; formative evaluation can be used to improve teaching.
  • 360-degree evaluation: Collect evaluations from self, supervisors, peers, students
  • For student evaluations, collect early so that you can learn during the class. Consider doing a 1-minute paper at the end of each class. This is where students quickly write the most important thing they learned and the muddiest point from the day’s work. Also consider incorporating weekly reports and/or a midterm chat to get mid-semester evaluations.
  • Frequent evaluation teaches students to think and write evaluatively; it’s not just for the teacher.
  • Take into account, when reading summative evaluations, the things that students are and are not really qualified to comment on
  • When working through evaluations, first categorize responses into positive, negative, suggestions, and other. Then synthesize results, count and a rank them, reflect, and prioritize. Remember to work on only one or two things at a time so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
Teaching with Film led by Sally Parry and Bob McLaughlin

Challenge: Getting students to engage films as texts instead of passive consumers
Advantage: FIlms are able to fill in more historical context
  • Remember to teach film conventions, often comparing them to parallel conventions in printed texts
  • Incorporate historical context. For example, study the Hayes Code and teach students to know what signals meant what sort of action (to get around the censors)
  • Defamiliarize students with film media by starting with (or only showing) black-and-white films
  • Teach and complicate themes. (For example, in film noir, the bad guy is often a veteran. Why? What does this mean?)
Some films to consider, taken from a WWII culture class
  • Snafu
  • Iceland
  • Miracle on Morgan’s Creek
  • Casa Blanca
  • The Best Years of Our Lives

Pedagogy and Oppression

The following is a partial response to readings in Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Teaching to Transgress done for a seminar class on pedagogy …

Investigating “the people’s ‘thematic universe’—the complex of their ‘generative themes’” through dialogic means seems to me a really smart place to start thinking about teaching (96). Whether it’s teaching to a group of peasants, potential revolutionary leaders, or a class at a public school in the Midwestern U.S., an investigation of the group’s guiding generative themes will help the teacher learn about the context of the class and adjust accordingly. I think most teachers (at least most teachers in our department) do this unconsciously, or perhaps just without explicitly talking about it. I know I’ve done it, without realizing it, in past classes that I’ve taught. After all, it’s hard to work at disturbing entrenched ideologies in, say, a critical inquiry class unless you first have taken the time to “investigate people’s thinking about reality and people’s action upon reality” (106). The difficult part of this process, I think, is to remember to involve the students—explicitly—in uncovering the generative themes of a group. If we forget to involve the students, and instead just study them IRB-style, as we have been conditioned to do, we are engaging not in Freire’s problem-posing pedagogy, but in an antidialogical model that perpetuates the teacher’s domination of the students. This requirement for student participation has always seemed to me to be the weak link in Freire’s ideal pedagogy. What is a revolutionary leader to do if the oppressed simply don’t want to be liberated? I suspect Freire believes he answers this question in his final chapter when he says that the oppressed must be awakened to their own position as victims of conquest, division, manipulation, and cultural invasion. He says that, “the leaders go to the people in a spontaneously dialogical manner. There is an almost immediate empathy between the people and the revolutionary leaders: their mutual commitment is almost instantly sealed” (164). I don’t buy this, even a little. Maybe the problem here actually is transference to an institutional classroom in the U.S., but I’ve never experienced this phenomenon as a teacher or as a student.

Though I love most of this book, and I can fully get behind the general attitude it espouses, I do encounter a number of difficulties like this in putting it to use. Perhaps what I’m feeling is a dissonance between the kind of open education Freire is actually theorizing and the institutionalized education system here in the U.S. It seems that there are just too many problems with picking up the “pedagogy of the oppressed” from the countryside of Brazil and plopping it down in the middle of Illinois. Are my students here really oppressed? But maybe this dissonance is the result of my subject position as a middle-class, apparently white, heterosexual person of privilege. bell hooks doesn’t seem to encounter the same problems that I do with this transferance, “Because the colonizing forces are so powerful in this white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (in the U.S.)” (47).

In an effort to make some meaning from Freire’s work that is relevant to my own teaching context, I’ve been searching out works that showcase the usage of his pedagogy of the oppressed in classrooms in the States. In doing so, I found myself relying also on hooks’s interpretation of Freire, largely because her words on his work—especially her thinking about “a generous spirit, a quality of open-mindedess that I feel is often missing from intellectual and academic arenas in U.S. society” (54) and her point that “ … notwithstanding that there is so much that remains liberatory … Freire’s own model of critical pedagogy invites a critical interrogation” (49)— have been so influential in my own understanding of it.

Teaching Philosophy Statement – revised edition

I haven’t read too many teaching philosophy statements, but I have to put one together for an application I’m submitting in a few days. I’ve been working on this one for a while. Suggestions/critiques welcome!


“Is this some sort of test?”

This was one reaction the first time I invited my freshmen composition students to critique my teaching and their learning and to suggest better methods for the rest of the semester. Despite some initial confusion, a half-semester of built-up trust convinced them to participate in this difficult discussion (often known as a Midterm Chat), and the class benefited from the frank self-appraisal that resulted. As a new teacher, this was a terrifying project to undertake. Now, after several years of using this method in both composition and technical communication courses, I know that periodic critiques of class progress are highly valuable. I make space for these kinds of discussions at several points—and at any point students desire—throughout every semester, and these critiques have become an important part of the proactive pedagogy I strive to enact.

By proactive, I mean that I invite students to be aware of my pedagogy and the implications of my authority in the classroom. Others have used the term transparent to this end, but I believe proactive is a more accurate term because true transparency is impossible to achieve; using the term proactive acknowledges this without sacrificing the goals of transparency. This distinction is often helpful to students who are unsure what I’m asking of them. I want students to see the underlying structures by which the class is governed, and I want them to understand why those structures exist and what they mean. This proactive approach dovetails nicely with my research and investment in feminist and decolonial theories, which I use to enrich my classroom practices.

Universities set up the teacher as the ultimate authority, which runs against the grain for some feminist and decolonial scholars who wish to promote a common movement among their students. However, this provides an excellent text for students’ perusal. In order for them to see the authority-based structure they are working within in a critical light, I try to break through their “trained incapacity,” which is to submit wordlessly to the configuration of the traditional classroom (Burke). As the oppressed parties, they “have adapted to the structure of domination in which they are immersed, and have become resigned to it,” and thus “are inhibited from waging the struggle for freedom so long as they feel incapable of running the risks it requires” (Freire 29). My goal is to show students that there is a struggle for freedom that can be waged—by being rhetorically informed, they can influence how they are perceived, addressed, and even assessed—and to provide as many opportunities for them to engage in this manner as I can.

As the semester progresses, students begin to understand why I call such an approach critical and proactive. This method serves as an ideal vehicle for introducing feminist, decolonial, and other critical methodologies to students who might otherwise be intimidated by or resistant to such terms. Specifically, I model feminist approaches by using the classroom structure as a meta-text for students’ investigation. Not only does this help demystify feminism for students in ways that often are highly productive, but it also makes for an organic transition when I invite students to perform similar critical research on their chosen subjects. Having learned what a critical approach looks like first-hand through my critique of traditional classroom structures, students then find it much easier to apply critical theory to the subjects of their own research. The importance of a transition to this sort of practical application is paramount for undergraduate students.

I have learned to use this sort of practical approach based on enthusiastic response from students when they see that they can choose their own texts and can interact with the world outside academe; I often encourage students to do this sort of critique through social media as a means to also engage technology. We then develop together a deeper understanding of societal and technological influences on composing and communication processes. In the same vein, I encourage community involvement as a means to promote citizenship and social awareness. In my experience, successful community-oriented classrooms provide new experiences for students as well as promoting goodwill, increased learning, and enthusiasm for future studies.
In one recent course, I asked students to study the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and to enter some sort of public discourse about that text. Many of them posted questions on their Facebook profiles, several of which sparked heated debates. My students were excited to share these debates in class, and they spontaneously began to critically analyze the political perspectives of the debaters.

This successful lesson for my students also was a learning experience for me.  My pedagogy now consistently incorporates spaces for this sort of application, and these spaces come with their own set of goals. By utilizing such methods, I encourage students to use their critical awareness to become savvier citizens, to develop enthusiasm for social learning, and to apply their learning to their lives through public discourse.

This lesson also lead my students (and me) to a deeper understanding of societal influences on the composing process. This same group of students later undertook a class project in which they studied social media outlets and how users’ communications were shaped by those outlets. Besides being intensely interesting in terms of content, this project reinforced the value of community work for my students. Although students often groan at the introduction of group work, class members in this case told me that the social media project was an unusual, educational, and enjoyable experience.

These are a just a few of the lessons my students have taught me over the years. I now begin each semester with an explanation of my proactive, practical, critical, community-oriented pedagogy. Whether or not students care about this presentation on the first day of class is hard to judge, but they seem to be invested in it once they start working within it. I believe my students benefit greatly from this model, and I continue to learn from their successes.

Works Cited

Burke, Kenneth. Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose. Third ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Print.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Tran. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1968. Print.