Between learner and facilitator
Placing myself in a position to learn allows me to gain something valuable from the teaching experience every time. More importantly, it sets the example of leveling the investment involved among the members of the class, whether they are four years into graduate school or four weeks into a college education. It was at UC Berkeley, where I spent four years participating in student-initiated teach-ins and workshops that I learned the fluid definitions between a learner and a facilitator. Facilitating my own De-Cal (a democratic education program where students design their own courses) as a sophomore in college was one of the first experiences I had where, despite my position to assess, I still learned so much from my students and peers. In contexts where participation and conversations are privileged, from student workshops to language classes to critical discussions, the facilitator plays a crucial role in creating a safe space where participants can share and express themselves comfortably. This diffuses the responsibility among all participants, each finding themselves more invested and engaged. I am constantly experimenting with different facilitating techniques but you will find in this section some of the things that have worked best for me.
Engaging students to think beyond the classroom
When I offer a reading from Montaigne’s Of Cannibals, an essay that discusses the encounters of different cultural groups for the first time, the students are certainly challenged to read language written in the 16th century, but also to wonder at the continuity of Montaigne’s essay in today’s society : “Why do readings such as these matter, whether I am an engineering student or a French major?” As a scholar of the humanities, teaching involves sharing my own curiosity and critical thinking in a way that activates a consciousness of our place in society and the intellectual growth and contributions that can occur if such consciousnesses come into contact.
(My Writing Seminar students discussing the “Silsila” Exhibit at the Herbert Johnson Art Museum)
Lesson Planning to build on student skills
A successful class session, to me, is a micro exemplary of the semester-long learning objectives. In the same way that a course should have tangible and easily assessed assignments, a class session should also invoke a similar investment, at lower stakes. Despite the specificity of a course, I construct my lesson plan building on material the students will have already been exposed to. In the beginning of the term this means encouraging students to bring in prior knowledge and toward the end of the term, creatively applying what has already been covered. In a language or discussion based course, students dialogue and construct critical thinking questions in groups, often sequenced so that toward the end of class, they will be able to converse confidently in the target language or lead discussions confidently. In a writing course, students plan and write shorter assignments that can eventually be expanded upon for larger writing assignments.
Active Learning in any classroom
In both seminar-scale class sizes to those triple the numbers, I adhere to a teaching style that advocates active learning and student engagement. More than just percolating lectures with questions, active learning involves students within the very process of instruction so that they become consciously aware and accountable for their own learning, whether that is the practice of a skill or the absorption of material. Often this requires extensive preparation on my part to maximize diversity of materials and methods, but establishing such learning models early set expectations for involved student roles and accessible teacher/facilitator resources. Early in my writing seminar, for example, I like to introduce exchanging minute papers and paraphrasing peer work as that sets the example for collaboration while incorporating an important writing skill and an easy assessment. Other active learning strategies that I enjoy incorporating involve student-led discussions, along with the prediction, synthesis, and analysis of mixed media.