Thinking about Structures

On Wednesday, over a dozen faculty and staff came to Conversations on Teaching* to talk about power and privilege in the classroom. Our discussion kept coming back to structures; what kind of structures are already in place, and what structures might we be reproducing, that put up barriers to students’ learning? It was a powerful conversation (pun partially intended), one that opened a lot of avenues of thought about what it is we do with and for our students. (You can access the slides from this session here: Language and Motivation, Privilege and Power, and the references and further reading are here.) In the spirit of continuing that conversation, this week’s links offer some resources, food for thought, and even challenges as we work to discern the structures in higher education that prevent us and our students from being as successful as we should be.  Continue reading “Thinking about Structures”

Surprise! It’s October!

SurprisedCatIs it just me, or is the semester going by really fast? (Note: I have posed this rhetorical question at the five-week mark of every semester in my teaching career.) As we stagger make our way toward midterms, our classes are finding their rhythms–their patterns and identity–as we and our students become more familiar with one another and with the work at hand. In many cases, this is a really positive development; students have gelled with one another, discussions have become less stilted and more open and honest, and we’re finally able to remember everyone’s name. But in some instances, the rhythm isn’t established yet. Or the class has taken on less-than-ideal characteristics–students are sullen, or belligerent, or just plain flat. If you’re in that spot (and, honestly, who among us hasn’t been?), the good news is there’s still time to turn things around. In some cases, the answer to our problems is to relax the reins a little bit, especially if discussion is the main area in which our class is struggling. It may seem counter-intuitive, but letting go may be the answer to regaining pedagogical balance. Have we over-planned? Are we creating structures that stifle students rather than empower them? Do they have room to try (and maybe even fail) to accomplish the course goals? In this thoughtful essay, Chris Friend explores what it means to “let go,” listen to our students, and let them wander rather than channel them into specific places. Sometimes the way to regain control is to give it up. Continue reading “Surprise! It’s October!”

Instructions Not Provided

When I taught my first class, I had that sinking feeling that everyone else had somehow gotten an instruction manual while I was left to drift on my own, awash in a sea of skeptical students. I had a similar reaction when I became a parent: where are the damn instructions? I don’t know what to do. Someone could get hurt here! Alas, as all you parents out there can testify, there is no instruction manual–and the books that present themselves as such are WRONG. We are left to figure things out for ourselves. Continue reading “Instructions Not Provided”

The Choices We Make

Are we unfair to students?

Can our decisions, no matter how good our intentions, hurt student learning?

Are we teaching for ourselves, or for our students?

These are challenging questions, ones that make me uncomfortable when I hear them. Part of this discomfort stems from defensiveness; how dare you assume I’m doing things intentionally to hurt student learning? How dare you question my assumptions? But another part of that discomfort stems from an awareness that maybe these questions have a point. Continue reading “The Choices We Make”

I, For One, Welcome Our New Robot Overlords

Fans of The Simpsons will probably recognize the reference in this post’s title; it comes from a 1994 episode where news anchor Kent Brockman is reporting on what he thinks is an invasion of alien ants: “I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords. I’d like to remind them that as a trusted TV personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves.” It’s a wickedly funny episode (as most early Simpsons were), but Brockman’s line has taken on a pop-culture life of its own since then. Continue reading “I, For One, Welcome Our New Robot Overlords”