My teaching practice begins with an understanding of how people learn. I approach all students with a fundamental belief that they are able to learn what I teach them, that their learning is a collaborative and social experience, and that they come to the classroom with background knowledge and skills that deserve respect and will serve as the basis for their learning. That is why I start every semester with a discussion where students and I articulate personal and class goals; this enables me to assess where my students are coming from and where they would like to go. It also establishes that we as a group are at once a collegial body that works together to help each other learn and grow, but also a class that is organized around differing roles that signify knowledge expertise and responsibilities. Students know best about how their background knowledge and goals will fit into the class as a whole; as a teacher, I know best about how pedagogy might be implemented and adjusted and how the curriculum might be understood and applied to help students meet their goals.
The tension and negotiation of these aspects of the classroom are unique to each class, and at times one identity defines the group more than the other. I have had classes that worked wonderful as collegial bodies, and others where my authority as a teacher was an important aspect in student learning. In all classes, my focus is on student-centered learning and transfer of students’ knowledge that shows progression on accomplishing their individual goals and our goals as a class.
My pedagogy is centered around differential scaffolding based on student knowledge. Drawing on strategies from the Sydney school genre pedagogy, I generally organize my teaching in three phases: first, I establish a base of background knowledge and provide guidance in developing an understanding of a topic. Second, we as a class work jointly on a problem that will be solved by using this knowledge. Finally, the students work on a similar problem individually with guidance from me. I have used this format effectively for several years in my first-year college composition courses, where students learn to compose in specific genres as a class and then transfer their knowledge to composing individually in the same genre on a topic of their choosing. Students have reported that they find the approach to be practical and that it slowly gives them confidence to write in new genres. The general principle of guidance and scaffolding leading to independent demonstration is not limited to writing, however, and is part of every unit that I teach. For example, when I teach functional grammar as a part of first-year composition, I begin with an introduction of the material, then guide students through practice in working with the grammatical concept before having them apply the concept in their own writing and analysis.
While this format works well at the unit level in many situations, I adjust my instruction as the students and situation demands. I often lead one off discussions, probing my students’ understanding and challenging them to think critically about a topic. This is particularly effective when discussing common readings; in guiding discussion of literature with students, I pose critical thinking questions during read-alouds, allow time for students to think, and let them drive the discussion. While I often have an idea of where I would like a discussion to go, I have learned through experience that my best discussions happen when I let the students’ ideas and my own knowledge to meet in a natural way, rather than artificially steering the conversation towards a curricular goal. This approach respects students by meeting them where they are and often leads to insights into texts and theories that inspire new learning and ideas.
My approach to curriculum development is concept-oriented and frequently backwards-designed. I strive to push my students to reach high goals, drawing on their own aspirations, my knowledge of the field, and institutional directives and mission. In developing curriculum, I keep in mind not only the target concept for my students to learn, but also their own progression and background knowledge in the subject area. I want my students to succeed, and so I extend my scaffolding from instruction to curriculum, ensuring that the content is appropriate developmentally. For example, when introducing functional grammar in composition, I stage the lessons so that simpler constructions, like Theme and Rheme, are learned first, thus providing students with a solid basis for delving into more complex constructions, like Processes and Participants. Furthermore, at the beginning of the semester, I always attempt to begin with a common experience all students can share–either from the experience in the particular academic program or in the class itself. This not only makes the curriculum meet the students where they are, but also ensures its relevance and increases engagement.
In developing curriculum, I also draw from institutional standards, which helps ensure student learning in the context of the institution meets a certain quality. In teaching pre-service teachers, I would draw on relevant professional standards as well as the education standards the teachers will need to work with when they begin their service. I prioritize engagement at the individual class session level; where the curriculum seems abstract, I attempt to render it understandable and engaging through participatory activities, graphic representations, and other technological media that allows students to make connections to the material in more tangible ways.
As an educator, technology is and has always been both a tool for learning and a part of the curriculum of every class I have taught. Technology is not supplemental to the curriculum–it is and always has been a part of the curriculum because students regularly develop and express their knowledge through the technology of the era–from pencils and paper to keyboards and touchscreens. I regularly make content and resources available online for students via education websites like BlackBoard. I also regularly guide students through ways to access these resources and ensure that their access is meaningful and conducive to their learning. In addition, as a Teaching Assistant, I have made use of recent developments in online video to support conferencing with students during study sessions. Because technology is a tool for whatever it problem it needs to solve, I have found ways to innovate with the technology I have access to. On one occasion when I was away at a conference, I meet with students via BlackBoard instant messaging to discuss research papers they were writing. Because the time the class was scheduled coincided with my travel time to the conference, I managed the instant messaging discussions on my laptop via mobile hotspot on the highway while a colleague drove. This demonstrates my commitment to supporting students by leveraging the power of technology to meet them in any way possible and imaginable.
In developing online curriculum, I hold to a principle of frontloading, which provides a conceptual path for the students to understand where their learning will take them. Frontloading also ensures that students and teachers both have access to all the resources they need when they need them. In supporting students understanding and use of technology, I have developed a number strategies for online research that I share not just with students, but also patrons of the Purdue Archives where I offer reference assistance. I meet students and patrons where they are in terms of understanding the technology and scaffold learning to the next step, providing hands-on practice and guidance along the way.
My philosophy of teaching is grounded in respect for every student and their background; support through scaffolding, expert guidance, and building community; and engagement through common goals and experiences in the classroom so that all students can learn and achieve their potential.