Department of Integrated Studies in Education, Faculty of Education
What are some of the strategies that you use in your courses to engage students?
Our master’s degree students are often working teachers, so I try to pick things that will translate easily into practice in the classroom. We also have full-time PhD students in some of the same classes, and they’re much more interested in theory and research, so I try to find a balance.
I believe very strongly that students need to talk their way into understanding, so I like to put them in small groups for discussions. I ask them to take five or six points from readings that jumped off the page for them. Then they share those things in their groups, and then I ask each group to briefly report on the nature of their discussion and what really captured their interest.
The other thing I often do at the beginning of a class is something called “inkshedding,” where I present them with a statement, and then they just write for a little while. Sometimes I have them show what they have written, and sometimes they just put it in their notebook and move on. I think this process engages the mind and allows students to begin putting their ideas into words. It allows them to say things that they might not be ready to say publicly yet. I also do mini-writing workshops around assignments and get them to do a fair amount of free writing in class.
How do you evaluate your students’ learning? What kind of assessment strategies do you use?
I give a ton of feedback. I like track-changes, and I tend to fill up the margins and write a fairly long note to each student. Occasionally, I get the students to do assessments themselves, usually using some kind of a rubric that I developed. It helps the students to make judgments about what is working and what is not. They will also read each other’s work and give feedback to one another.
In the past, I have also asked students to bring in a paper that they really liked and have them do an analysis of what makes the paper good. I also give them a fairly lengthy handout on what makes a good paper. In it, I try to explain my values because they are the values that the students have to live up to.
What is the most important thing students in your discipline learn when taking a course with you? How about students from outside your discipline?
I would say that students come out of my courses more questioning and more critical, but not negative. In my writing course, I’m very concerned that they learn that the ways in which we write are culturally and disciplinarily determined. If they come to understand why it is that people use writing, what ends they’re after, then they’ll begin to understand why writing is done the way it is. The key lesson is that writing is a social action and that it gets particular things done depending on what kind of community or disciplinary culture you’re in. So they should pay attention to that.
And because at least half of the students in the class are teachers, I want them to become more sensitive to the ways in which their students are involved in multiple kinds of literacies, such as electronic and digital ones. The print literacies that have primacy in schools are not the most important kinds of literacies to our students anymore.
How do you help your students understand what research and/or scholarship is in your discipline (including findings, methodologies, etc.)?
In class, I might just talk about research. In the higher classes, I will often bring in some of my own research to exemplify something we’re working on or to link the kind of work I do to issues that are arising in class. As a supervisor, I try to demystify research. I try to help my students unlearn some notions about what research is and relearn respect for this inquiry.
Our graduate students are often consumers of research but don’t see themselves as researchers. I think that’s because there is a disconnect between a lot of educational research and classroom practice. So, with the students who are working as teachers, I try to bring in research and talk about how they might pull stuff from this research that will help them in the classroom.
What are your recommendations to new faculty members to help them develop in their teaching role?
My advice to faculty members is to self-reflect: What is it that allows you to do the things that you do well? How did you get to where you got? What happened when you were struggling with some area of knowledge? What has worked for you as a learner?
Also, vary the ways in which you teach. Don’t just lecture, mix it up! You can ask students to bring in a draft of something two weeks before the final is due. At the beginning of class, while they’re doing something, just check it off, make sure that they’ve all handed a draft in, give it back! Everybody who hands it in that day gets 5%. The people who didn’t hand it in lose 5%. They have two weeks to revise it now.
And the most important thing would be to go to Teaching and Learning Services. It’s an amazing service that I think is not used enough.
What advice do you have for undergraduate students about how to get the most out of your courses?
Read and write and think! You’re in this amazing place, so absolutely soak it up as much as you can! We’re in an amazing community that is full of really interesting people and really smart stuff. Take chances. Get outside of your area and maybe take a course in another discipline. Also, try to get a sense of the history of the discipline that you’re studying in. Develop a kind of sensitivity to why the discipline is the way it is. Not just what it talks about, but why it talks about those things.
Why do you teach?
I feel that I’ve had some great teachers, who have had a huge influence on me. And I think I’ve been inspired by that. I also like to engage students on different levels. I think it helps to be comfortable in front of people and to feel that you can amuse, you can inspire, you can challenge, you can provoke, and I like that. I love getting engaged by ideas and having a good discussion—one where there is a certain respectful disagreement. I think it pushes me, and it pushes the other people as well. So, I like engineering situations in which students find themselves engaged by their own ideas and the ideas of others.