Teaching in the 21st Century

For this final blog, I want to reflect on the mission of teaching in light of Parker Palmer’s article “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited”. I think Palmer raises one of the most important questions we, as instructors, have to consider. This question is two-fold: does our educational system humanize us; if not, how can it be redesigned to do so? Palmer, as his point of departure, brings up a case in which a healthy man was let down by a dehumanized healthcare system and as a result, died.

Even in the analysis of negligence concerning the man’s preventable death, Palmer finds a dehumanized, detached perspective that ultimately allows such injustices to continue. Palmer writes, “The report assigns culpability to common nouns, not people. When systems analysis is our only approach to situations such as this, it becomes a sophisticated way to know what has occurred but not recognize its meaning.”[1] By this, I take Palmer to be gesturing towards the manner in which, in the final analysis, institutions are not outside or beyond human interaction. In the words of Hannah Arendt, the ‘rule-of-nobody’ characteristic of a totalitarian bureaucracy is always the rule by somebody.

I think that this case study has an extremely important lesson for anyone who is interested in being an educator, which is to reflect on how our pedagogy may create more reflective and empathetic human beings that are willing to take action and responsibility.

Palmer calls on us all to consider with him the idea of a ‘new professional’ who is “in but not of” the institutions which may house them.[2] By this, Palmer seeks to bring attention to the fact that institutions may in reality function to the contrary to their professed values. The goal of education, then, is to create subjects who will actually act in accordance with these lofty goals and take action to do so, even at the potential cost to themselves. Palmer writes, “I am talking about acting ethically and courageously in the moment, while there is still something to be salvaged, instead of waiting for a review board to ask what went wrong.”[3] I think this is ultimately what we strive to do in the classroom, as difficult as it may be.

Palmer continues to offer five points that may help us get there. I want to reflect on the first. Palmer writes, “We must help our students uncover, examine, and debunk the myth that institutions are external to and constrain us as if they possessed powers that render us helpless – an assumption that is largely unconscious and wholly untrue.”[4] Recalling the above passage on the report of the man’s death, Palmer again emphasizes that the goal of a proper education system must instill in students that no matter how seemingly powerful, abstract, mechanistic, or totalitarian an institution may seem, it is never outside human action. As such, it is always in practice alterable. I think this is one of the most important lessons that we can incorporate in a number of potential classes, as it is nearly as close to a universal human experience as imaginable.

References:

[1] Parker J. Palmer, “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited,” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 39, no. 6 (January 1, 2007), p. 8.

[2] Palmer, “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited,” p. 9.

[3] Palmer, “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited,” p. 8.

[4] Palmer, “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited,” p. 9.

How do We Practice Critical Pedagogy?

This week I want to reflect on Paulo Freire’s concept of  “banking” in education and what it means to practice a critical pedagogy in the classroom. For Freire, this “banking” approach to pedagogy means treating the student as an object to be filled with ‘correct’ information. It assumes that the student is passive, only a spectator, who needs to regurgitate what is already known (Freire, p. 70). Ultimately, the shortcoming of such an approach is that it annihilates the students’ curiosity and interest in learning. It turns education into memorization and never encourages the growth of their intellectual capacities.

 

On the other hand, Freire understands a critical pedagogy as being very holistic in nature. Critical pedagogy concerns encouraging autonomy, freedom, as well as increasing one’s political consciousness and learning ethics. Part of this includes learning one’s limits to freedom, which gives our freedom substantive content. Antonia Darder expands on this as well that a critical pedagogy must be a problem solving one that refuses to accept the present as well as precludes the possibility of a “predetermined future” (Darder, p. 102). In other words, critical pedagogy is ‘demythologizing’, it attacks ‘common sense’ in order to cultivate in the student a reflexive and attentive self who will learn for themselves, taking nothing for granted. One could perhaps summarize a critical pedagogy as one concerned with ‘learning how to learn’, with the ‘teacher’ themselves aware of their limits to know everything. Still, as both Darder and Freire note, this does not mean the teacher completely abdicates their responsibility in running the class, they must still use their authority without being authoritarian. Many who are interested in practicing a critical pedagogy feel guilty about how much they may lecture, as they understand this as potentially reproducing the banking educational approach they seek to avoid (Darder, p. 111). Admittedly, I have wondered this myself at times. However, I think that even if one seeks to practice a critical pedagogy, lecturing at times will be necessary. In practice, I will often ‘lecture’ such as by providing historical context, before asking questions about the text that I would say are problem-solving in nature.

 

As I have asked in some of my previous posts, though, is how to actually practice such as critical pedagogy. While I would say I have many common commitments as Freire, and I also seek to cultivate in students a critical capacity that will exceed whatever class materials we may cover, this is a difficult task without any clear prescriptions. And, unfortunately, it oftentimes seems short-circuited by embarrassingly mundane problems, for example, two-thirds of the students may not have read the class text, at 9:00 AM students may not have any interest in talking, and so on. In other words, I would like to hear what others do practically in class for constitutes a critical approach to pedagogy. For instance, I learned early on never to ask questions that were simply “What did you think of the text?” For far better results, I found that asking questions that were closer to “How does this concept work throughout the text?” Such questions forces students to have to reflect and apply the concept. Typically, I usually end class with questions that seek to apply whatever text we are reading to the current moment or to their daily lives. This is all structured through a more or less Socratic dialogue in which I may begin with a more philosophical question “Is there any power higher than national interest?” that may be followed with short 5-10 minute lectures that flow into open-ended discussion between students. It is oftentimes difficult to assess after class if it was a ‘successful’, as I am not assessing their knowledge, but seeking to cultivate an orientation to the world that will be able to form questions and answers on their own.

 

To return though, I am interested in the more practical tips on what students do that may fit what Freire is calling for. What are the types of questions that get students interested and make them question what they have learned?

 

I have also received from time to time the comment that my class does not offer the practical learning they desired (this is usually from students seeking to work for intelligence agencies). Some students will think they have not learned as much as they hoped since now they are questioning what they learned previously and since I offer no conclusive answer in my course. Instead, I offer multiple theoretical approaches to political inquiry that are oftentimes incommensurable. For many students, they seek pre-given answers and I have to take time throughout the course to explain that I fundamentally disagree with this pedagogical approach and instead seek to get them to find answers for themselves in various ways. In other words, this oftentimes a quite real tension in my experience, and I am admittedly still struggling to come up with sufficient answers for myself.

 

In any case, I look forward to hearing what other practices others employ or are experimenting with that may constitute a critical pedagogical orientation.

 

References:

Darder, Antonia. Reinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy of Love. New York: Routledge, 2017.

Freire, Paulo. The Paulo Freire Reader. Edited by Ana Maria Araujo Freire. Translated by Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum Intl Pub Group, 1993.

Reflecting on the Role of Technology in the Classroom

 

This week I want to focus on the question of technology in the classroom, specifically how a critical pedagogy may integrate various types of technology in the classroom. It has regularly been my experience, both as a student and now more recently as an instructor, that students feel a certain attachment to having technology in the classroom. Specifically, their laptops. I want to reflect briefly on how my technology policy has changed and how teaching research methods in class requires increasing attention towards navigating the Internet. That is, I have expected students to have proficiency navigating the library website and procuring sources for research from reputable journals; however, I am usually left quite disappointed.

One of the most difficult decisions I have made with my class concerns my technology policy, specifically as it pertains to cell-phones and laptops in class. It has long been my experience as a student and instructor that laptops are often sites of distraction. Sometimes it is the more innocuous email check, which admittedly I have done myself, to scrolling through Facebook, to even seeing students watching Netflix. As a student, seeing this was usually a distraction for me and I think worsened class, as it often felt like the material we were discussing was not being taken seriously. As an instructor in my first course I allowed students to use laptops, but regularly a handful of students would sit in the back and I noticed they regularly were writing emails or on spreadsheets for other coursework. Jesse Stommel writes, “I am uncomfortable with ‘bans’ because my philosophy and values bend towards a privileging of student agency and responsibility. They have the right to make bad choices which may result in poor grades or a diminished intellectual experience. That right does not extend to harming others, but this is why I frame the classroom as a community with an ethos including responsibility to others.” While I agree with Stommel that ultimately if it only hurts the individual student it is up to them to figure out habits that work for them and suffer the potential consequences, I felt in this course it dramatically changed the discussion component of the class, as these students rarely had anything to contribute and discussion centered on fewer students.

I intervened and asked them to put their laptops away, but ultimately it was clear that the damage was done and these students never really caught up with what they missed. For the following semester, I banned laptops entirely, instead asking students to print out assigned readings and bring them to class. I explained my reasoning and past experience, and while all did not agree, this was widely accepted. I found that class discussion improved dramatically as a result and students were most focused on what their peers were saying and did not have ‘tunnel-vision’, even if they were taking copious notes. There is a digital disconnect even with the students who are using technology for class purposes where they are not engaged with the entire class discussion. Importantly, I do allow students to use it if they need to, such as for potential accessibility issues. I do not ask them to ask me for permission, but I make it clear the policy and act them to respect it if at all possible.

However, now with Zoom, I feel this is an aspect I can no longer control. The most common response I get is an overwhelming Zoom-burnout. Many students complain of having trouble focusing for more than 30 minutes on the platform. I institute breaks usually halfway through and utilize breakout groups, but I have no ability to control or really tell if they are paying attention or using other platforms. As much as I try to maximize the capabilities of the Zoom platform and adapt my pedagogy to the digital, I find it excessively difficult to recreate close discussion and get a clear sense of how students are receiving material.

 

Finally, I want to focus briefly on integrating more specifically digital methods in courses. I wholeheartedly agree with Kirschner and De Bruyckere that the myth of the ‘digital native’ is just that: a myth. It has been my experience that students are startling ill-equipped to do academic research, with over three-quarters of my students voicing that they do not know how to access library databases and journals to find sources for papers. I teach a 3000 level course that is populated overwhelmingly by juniors and seniors. I now am working on prepping for next semester an entire day that covers how to get the most out of the university’s resources, as well as how to navigate the internet more widely for pertinent sources. It is strange since I know it is common practice that librarians are asked to show students how to do these practices, but maybe they just never pay attention. In short, I think it suffices to say that it is absolutely the case that the vast majority of students are not ‘digital natives.’ Despite receiving training, they regularly fail to conduct even basic research methods in their work.

 

In short, I find the question of technology in the classroom an ambivalent one. I err on the side of having less technology in the classroom, as it oftentimes impedes close conversation between peers, although I see its potential necessities. Despite their attachment to having this technology, I have found students to be on the whole very inadequate at utilizing technology for research purposes. I am interested in hearing how others approach this issue and how they make their decisions. The basis of my decision to limit technology in the classroom (at least in terms of students with laptops) is to focus their attention on each other and to talk to each other, as well as to ensure they are printing out readings (I have received feedback that most students only skim on electronic pdfs). Alternatively, I seek to spend more time in class discussing digital research methods, since most students admit they are new or unsure about navigating the Internet for academic research.

 

References:

Kirschner, Paul A., and Pedro De Bruyckere. “The Myths of the Digital Native and the Multitasker.” Teaching and Teacher Education 67 (October 1, 2017): 135–42. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2017.06.001.

Stommel, Jesse. “Decoding Digital Pedagogy, Pt. 2: (Un)Mapping the Terrain.” Hybrid Pedagogy, March 5, 2013. https://hybridpedagogy.org/decoding-digital-pedagogy-pt-2-unmapping-the-terrain/.

 

Thinking about ‘Teamwork’ in the Classroom

This week I am going to reflect on the concepts of problem-based learning (PBL) and case-based learning (CBL). PBL is defined as an “active learning pedagogical approach” that concerns producing and resolving a “challenging open-ended problem.”[1] This pedagogical approach is contrasted to more traditional classroom orientations, such as the lecture form in which the Professor, designated as the one with knowledge, bestows knowledge on the students who receive, memorize, and internalize that knowledge. PBL, on the other hand, is conceptualized as being more applicable to the real-world, better suited for larger groups, and, also, in its very design, incorporates student participation. The largest upside is this last point, as it is student participation or “teamwork” that is a skill that has to be modeled and practiced in the classroom, in order that students, when they reach the workplace, are productive employees capable of working beneath, alongside, and in charge of others. Thus, there are seven further characteristics associated with increasing teamwork capabilities: creating a common purpose, defining a clear goal, generating psychological safety (which is closely tied to making risk palatable and thus increasing innovation), defining clear roles for each member, instituting proper, respectful communication, practicing conflict resolution when it arises, and encouraging accountable interdependence. My interest with this post is to reflect on how problem-based learning can be applied to the social sciences and humanities, instead of engineering projects. It seems to me that the task, at least as I approach the classroom, is slightly different. Without denigrating teamwork and its associated skills, I aim to cultivate critical thinking, skepticism, research skills, as well as what it means to engage in political conversation with others. These skills are surely crucial in Engineering projects as well, however, it seems worth reflecting on a bit more how this might work in practice.

Oftentimes my pedagogical practice is far less about construction than deconstruction. What I mean by this is that the most common starting point in an undergraduate course is getting the students to identify themselves in the reading. How are they positioned in relation to the text, where do they stand in the world, and, also, how do they engage in conversation with others who are located differently? This is not to say this is a static process but constitutes in some ways what Antonio Gramsci refers to as taking an ‘inventory’ of oneself. In a political conversation, then, the first step is not the construction of a common goal, but perhaps recognizing the impossibility of a common goal. Put slightly differently, what if there is no political ‘we’? What ‘we’ am I a member of? What does it mean that my ‘goals’ might be incommensurable with others (in the classroom or the text)? These questions may all have answers, or they may not, but in any case, it is difficult for me to abide by the fact there can be assumed a priori a common goal in-class discussion.

Through discussion, then, goals will be more elusive and changing. As students engage with the texts, and I may interject and guide discussion as a participant, students will practice skills of close reading and be attentive to the conversation (at least this is what is hoped for). Psychological safety is assured through mutual respect, although this is not equated with comfortability (see my last post on the concept of safe spaces). Class is typically designed so that students are at times listening, speaking, writing and taking notes, or presenting. Accountable interdependence is one of the seven characteristics that I think is important as well for my classroom, as this sort of class structure that I am describing requires that students do read the text closely before class. I do not ask that they ‘master’ the text, but if it occurs that half of the class (or more) has not read the class, the class discussion will surely suffer. In other words, I think PBL is not at odds with the type of pedagogy that I am describing, but I think it is slightly different.

Now, another line of inquiry one could pursue would be what would it mean to generate a PBL exercise for my classroom? I recall at a previous institution we simulated the invasion of Iraq, with some students taking the perspective of the CIA and others the State Department. Many of my peers quite enjoyed the opportunity to ‘role-play’ and ‘play-out’ the institutional tensions between the two bureaucracies conflicting goals. The simulation was thus designed to ‘apply’ the reading in order to exemplify how ‘real’ these tensions were. Surely, this is part of priming students for when they occupy positions in similar institutions as well. This might be an example of PBL in which students are divvied up into groups, given a problem, and then tasked with coming up with a ‘plan’ to ‘solve’ the problem. However, while I see the pedagogical objective in such exercises, I am not sure they can, or at least oftentimes, risk failing to cultivate critical thinking. Another, quite different, example may help draw the contrast between potential approaches to PBL. In another class, we students were tasked with creating an ‘Archive’ of our readings. The Archive was quite welcoming of our interpretations. During our readings, we were asked to write down lines that spoke to us, as well as the thoughts we had while reading. We were tasked with not only reading lines of text but reading what was outside the text, so to speak. How were we in the text? What lay in between or just outside what was written? We kept our own individual Archives and after a number of weeks, the Professor cut off a long strip of white construction paper, maybe 25-30 feet in length (about the length of the entire classroom). He put the paper down in the middle of the classroom and we started writing entries of our Archive on this collective Archive. We then had a conversation about the readings and reflected on this collective work. I think both these examples can roughly be called PBL exercises in which various aspects of ‘teamwork’ are cultivated, but the latter operates on a principle of deconstruction, but which ultimately ‘constructs’ many lines of inquiry. I do not mean to suggest PBL is not worthwhile, but I do think it is worth reflecting on how pedagogical orientations travel across disciplines and towards what ends.

References:

[1] Homero Murzi et al., “Working in Large Teams: Measuring the Impact of a Teamwork Model to Facilitate Teamwork Development in Engineering Students Working in a Real Project,” International Journal of Engineering Education 36 (January 8, 2020), p. 275.

 

What Constitutes the ‘Classroom’?

This week’s readings concern an issue I continuously grapple with, which is how to create a space for cultivating critical thinking and, simultaneously, how to make it inclusive for all students. I want to put into conversation Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens reflections on the problems with safe spaces with Paulo Freire’s provocation that there is no clear division between teaching and learning. As an aspiring ‘teacher’, two of the things I grapple with most are: 1) how to get students to engage closely with the text, including putting themselves ‘into’ the text and 2) how to get students to enter into critical dialogue with each other.

Arao and Clemens touch on a really important problem with commonly held interpretations of ‘safe spaces’ in classrooms, which is that this is often equated to making students comfortable (Arao and Clemens, p. 135). As someone who engages in political inquiry, it has been my experience that most students hesitate to engage with each other directly, preferring instead to direct their questions or points to me, the instructor. This creates difficulties when the desired engagement is for students to have conversations with each other and put into play their own assessment of assigned texts in a critical manner. In other words, rather than too much political disagreement, one of my main difficulties is too little. This obviously is not to say that I desire ‘disrespect’ or combativeness in a classroom, but it is to say that more often than not the difficulty is getting the conversation going in the first place.

The encounter with this difficulty most often materializes as silence. I will frame the reading, usually historically and contextually in relation to other texts we have read, then I will ask a pertinent question, which oftentimes does not have a ‘right’ or ‘correct’ answer but is meant to get students to engage with the main arguments. Usually, it is the case that conversation will follow and students will respond, but my main difficulty has been then getting students to respond to each other’s differing points and to get them to have a dialogue.

A common practice I do around the 5-6 week mark in a course is to have the students anonymously write-in how they view the class is going. I do this so I can have a sense of how they are experiencing the class, obviously, but I also ask them to provide suggestions of what they like from other classes, which may entail any number of things. I promise I will review their collective comments and we will reconvene to have a conversation about potentially changing various things about the class. It has been my overwhelming experience that students appreciate this and feel afterward they have more design over the class. However, one of the most common comments I get is that the class structure is unusual: they are not used to being asked to discuss the text. In addition, the most common comment is a deep anxiety that they do not have the ‘right’ answers. I think that this speaks to what Freire means when he writes that students conceive of themselves as objects who will receive ‘knowledge’ and who will then go on to regurgitate said ‘knowledge’ which usually amounts to merely ‘facts’ and ‘information’ (Freire, p. 30).

One of the most difficult things I confront, then, in nearly every class is challenging students on what their conception of what constitutes an education. Are they merely customers purchasing a piece of paper that provides them professional accreditation? Or, are they actively engaged in learning a series of practices which they will take with them, and which will transform them as people? If students understand the answer as the latter, they usually are far less anxious about having the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer and understand themselves and their participation as being crucial to the class. It is also my experience that if students are less concerned about the ‘grade’ at the end of an assignment and are more focused on the skills the assignment seeks to practice, they usually are more likely to get the grade they desire. What oftentimes gets in the way of ‘education’, then is the students’ expectations (which is certainly not only their own individual expectation) that their knowledge is measured by a ‘grade’ rather than the grade being an, admittedly, incomplete measure of what they learned.

I think this speaks in many ways to Freire’s provocation which is: how do we use our classrooms to cultivate an ‘epistemological curiosity’ that students will take with them wherever they go and exceeds whatever class material may be assigned? I am very curious to hear what others do in order to produce this epistemological curiosity, as well as the practices which gets to what Freire is gesturing towards with producing a particular “relationship with the text” (Freire, p. 34). So often it is my experience that students do not see themselves in the text and/or they see the text as separate from their daily lived experience. How do we bring this knowledge into the classroom in such a way that students are self-reflexively questioning their own presuppositions in conversations with others and the text? These are the sorts of questions I have when doing my class prep. Finally, I think this gets at what I was signaling with during my last post, which is how does this alter our understanding of the location of the classroom? In other words, how does encouraging the students to bring in their own experiences, and putting them into critical dialogue with others in the class, as well as the assigned text, alter how we approach, experience, and understand the classroom as a space of ‘learning’?

References:

Arao, Brian, and Kristi Clemens. “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice.” In The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections from Social Justice Educations, edited by Lisa Landreman. Stylus Publishing, 2013.

 

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage. Rown and Littlefield Publishers, 1998.

 

Discovering My Authentic Teaching Self

As a current graduate student and undergraduate teacher, I find myself oscillating between the two poles of student and teacher. I find myself constantly wondering how to approach the classroom and what I consider to be the most valuable aspects of teaching. I often ask myself what worked in my classes and how can I attempt to adapt the classes I have taken to the courses I now teach. I wonder what is the most significant aspect of teaching. Do I emphasize critical reading skills, writing, discussion, or, something else entirely? As a teacher, am I simply a conduit of the ‘correct’ information, or am I also modeling a type of inquiry and orientation to the world I want students to consider for themselves?

While these questions are largely unresolvable and will take a lifetime to ‘answer’, there are a few points worth noting. I am now in my third semester of teaching, so I have had some experience to figure out how to present myself and how to connect with students. I also no longer have to concern myself entirely with the teaching prep, but can focus on creating new classroom activities to facilitate engagement and critical discussion. In terms of presentation, I feel I have managed to present an ‘authentic’ self by way of emphasizing the importance of class discussion.

One of the most difficult aspects of teaching I have found is creating a critical discussion between students based on the course texts. Common obstacles include: students not completing the reading, students feeling uneasy participating in large groups, students feeling that, despite having done the reading, they do not have the ‘right’ answer, as well as, sometimes, a few students dominating discussion. I have found a few things that largely work, such as: 1) keepings readings to about fifty pages or less a session, 2) providing reading strategies that help students to pick out crucial arguments, and 3) finally, prior to really beginning the discussion, having students discuss with each other in small groups of about 3-4. I have found that these small groups, assuming the students have done the reading, allow them to confirm and validate with each other common insights as well as questions that can then be discussed as a full group. In addition to this, this semester I created a new option so that students who do not feel comfortable ‘participating’ in the form of speaking in front of the class, can write me an email if they have specific thoughts pertaining to that day’s class session. Finally, I always encourage students to reach out at least once a semester for office hours. I have received feedback that these varied tactics allow for a more personalized approach that fits for each student.

One thing that students seem to like is that halfway through the semester I do a ‘write-in’ in which I ask the students a series of questions concerning the class, but essentially I ask them to articulate how they think the class is going. In other words, they write what they see as working and not working with the course. Common themes emerge and we discuss those themes the following class and discuss if the class format needs to change. While I do not compromise my basic teaching values, it has been the case every time that students report this practice is productive and gives them a sense that the course really is for them and that the course is designed to engage them and promote their curiosity.

This is not to say I have ‘everything figured out’. Far from it. One of the things I find myself returning to now is balancing the practice of critical reading alongside tying in issues to students’ own experiences and current events. Much of the material we cover is theoretically dense and the perspectives assigned are often completely new to students. This often leads to a common reaction that the readings are difficult since many of the theoretical concepts are unfamiliar and require precision. This necessitates that much of the class is concerned with practices of close-reading of the assigned text that is accomplished through class discussion. It is my pedagogical commitment that these practices of close reading are essential in class and are lifelong skills. However, I think one of the difficulties this practice raises is how to encourage students to make connections to their own life or to the world more broadly. In other words, there is a challenge to cover in the same class: 1) a close-reading of a theoretically dense text, 2) have the students discuss the arguments of the text with each other and evaluate the validity of the argument and its political implications, 3) connect the themes of the text to their everyday lived experience and the world more broadly. It is this third point that requires the students to really integrate the material in such a way that they are putting themselves into the text and allowing themselves to potentially see the world differently. This is easier said than done. This can be extremely difficult as well when the class size is forty students, which strains possibilities for close discussion. Especially over Zoom where I worry many students struggle to keep engaged (I know this is the case for me when I am in the position of a student on Zoom).

This last point resonates I think with assessments and papers. For the most part, my courses are heavily weighted toward analytical essays or research papers. I have had to wrestle with how to assess students, particularly when the essays encourage creative argumentation and outside research. Sarah Deel in “Finding My Teaching Voice” discusses this issue as well when she writes, “Different students are going to express their answers to these types of questions in a very personal manner, and assessing them equally by a common rubric is very difficult.” I really appreciate her discussion on this issue, as I often initially found myself reverting to grading on the formatting and technical aspects of writing. However, I have since grown more confident in my abilities and focus now on providing critical feedback and assessing the student’s arguments and their ability to maintain a logical structure throughout. I have found that many students are first and foremost concerned with achieving the A letter grade rather than creating work they are proud of and which they think represents themselves. I do not in any way blame them for this. However, it often feels like the looming letter grade actually results in poorer work, as students are mostly focused on achieving the desired grade, rather than learning proper techniques for writing and research. Ironically, I suspect if they no longer worried about the grade and were concerned with the assignment, they would do better work and receive a better grade. Thus, one thing I am continuing to negotiate in class is how to maintain a grading system while managing to encourage that students take joy in the work of writing and research and do not feel constrained or pressured by the grade.

I am curious to hear what other specific tactics teachers use to produce critical conversations in the classroom.