I believe setting high expectations and goals in my courses results in a better overall performance by the enrolled students. In other words, the courses that I design are rigorous in their curriculum, expecting students to engage with course material on multiple levels through assigned readings, in-class activities, and multimedia. Fostering a highly engaged classroom is critical to enhance students’ learning experiences. My goal is to encourage their ability to “see” difference and develop the ability to analyze these constructions of difference.
To encourage the development of their critical thinking and writing skills, I utilize in-class writing exercises, small and large group discussions, and short reflection papers. My commitment to developing these specific skills is exemplified in my pedagogical practice. In all of my courses, I clearly articulate essay expectations and provide concise grading rubrics. In addition, in ITC 100: Introduction to Intercultural Competence and Communication at Grand Valley State University students complete a research paper. This assignment requires students to complete a research proposal – selecting a topic of their choice that relates to course material, annotated bibliography, and final paper. Deploying a scaffolding (or tiered) approach allows students to receive continual feedback before the final paper deadline.
As part of my dedication to strengthening students’ critical writing skills, in all of my courses I encourage students to meet with me prior to paper deadlines. The meetings are invaluable as students can troubleshoot their ideas and are encouraged to expand on the goals they have for the course. This concrete teaching practice encourages students to deepen their understanding of the linkages between scholarly works and literary/cultural texts. I witnessed the success of this approach in Fall 2014 as a student in my LIB 201.02 Diversity in the United States course met with me as he developed his final paper. Providing feedback on multiple drafts of his work allowed him to increase his confidence in writing. To accommodate those who may not be able to meet in person, I hold Skype meetings on evening and weekends. I developed this strategy in response to students who were unable to attend traditional office hours, but nevertheless desired to meet “in person” to discuss their work. The success of Skype was confirmed in Autumn 2011 while teaching a 300-level course in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at The Ohio State University. One student’s final paper grade was a letter grade higher than previous papers because we discussed the paper’s organizational issues and how to deepen his analysis of specific examples within the essay over the course of a weekend. I believe that all students regardless of academic major should leave the classroom with holstered writing tools.
Even as I am focused on developing students’ writing skills, small and large group discussions encourage students to raise questions concerning the meaning of the text and intent of the author. Students may grapple with different questions in small groups and share their findings with the class. I also utilize the “two-minute pair and share” technique where working in pairs students will discuss the same question in class. This active learning strategy encourages students to summarize what they gained from a particular reading and allows for peer-learning. This method also increases student confidence in class participation as groups are asked to share their findings or key points with the larger class. I find that the combination of preparing students to intellectually engage with material through critical thinking and writing alongside discussions and lectures aids students overall growth as active university citizens.
The deployment of various techniques to enhance students’ experiences in the classroom speaks to my investment in a high level of engagement from students. I seek to further cultivate students’ active participation within the classroom through developing their leadership skills in groups. From these methods, students reexamine their worldviews, engage in peer learning, and learn to develop a cogent, well-defined position on a topic. In doing so, I find students actively engage in how “difference” is constructed and question assumptions and biases associated with identity categories, such as race, sexuality and gender. This approach enhances students’ ability to communicate their ideas and understanding of the course materials to one another, while also increasing their confidence to convey their knowledge to the professor.