“Don’t blather, but engage” nicely sums up my teaching philosophy. I define the learning process as not only transferring information, but giving students the opportunity to challenge their preconceptions, stimulate curiosity, develop critical thinking skills, and contextualize material as important to their “real world” experience. I hold myself responsible for adapting all material in my courses to discuss it across a variety of critical interpretations and for making complex information simple to access but rewarding to explore. Likewise, I hold my students responsible for engaging course material in a way that enriches the learning process not only for themselves but also their peers.
I approach these goals by using a variety of pedagogical tools. First, I facilitate a respectful but intense mixture of brief, engagement-focused lecture and Socratic discussion. In my past courses, students have found themselves intrigued by material but less fearful of experimentation or growth than in a traditional lecture-focused model. My lectures typically relay basic information such as theoretical principles, historical narrative, or outlining the guiding questions for the class session. I supplement this information by providing some material, typically a piece of media such as a song, video, or historical excerpt and having students discuss its relevance.
Such discussions might also take the form of “Jigsaw” discussions, whereby students are broken up into groups and each given an assigned reading to become an “expert” in, sharing relevant information and interpretations with other students who do the same with their own respective readings. Students will then put their interpretive “puzzle pieces” together to tackle multiple aspects of a relative topic, and then apply and adapt that approach to a greater question, sharing that approach with the classroom at large. To illustrate, based on assigned readings, I instructed students in my “Peace and Violence” course to come up with protest methods or policy responses their school might take towards institutional genocide, employment discrimination, or domestic abuse, before being asked to apply that policy to a scenario such as “U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced that all Canadian-born students/workers must receive sterilization procedures if they are to continue studying or working in the country. Virginia Tech has quite a few Canadian-born students. They’re worried”.
Both the lecture and discussion constitute an engagement process where I have students express and develop their own interpretations of course content, paying careful attention to the preconceptions they hold regarding the topic, the philosophies those conceptions rest on, and exploring the greater implications of that philosophy in terms of theory, historical context, and sociological impact.
I believe that the basic “toolkit” of philosophy, theory, and socio-historic context allows a deeper conceptualization of grand topics. I hold that when students analyze the values embedded in a concept, they gain greater insight in discussing why that concept holds logical consistency. Likewise, when students comprehend theoretical approaches, they understand how studies and strategies on the subject matter intersect and improve approaches to that subject. Finally, when students critically examine “real-world” examples, or the “when” and “what”, they can make informed decisions on praxis or policy after reflecting on the interaction between those examples and their philosophy, and their theoretical understanding.
Second, I implement an diagnostic-focused model of grading for assignments. I believe that assessments should not be prescriptive and punish students for learning differently from an arbitrary administrative model. As such, my classroom model typically uses only one prescriptive grade, the final one, to inform administration whether students ought to proceed to more advanced courses. I make all other assessments diagnostic in nature and do not follow the traditional A-F model. Instead, I rely on a feedback model which points out both strengths and weaknesses in various areas including memorization, critical thinking, and communications. I will then advise strategies accordingly. In the “Peace and Violence” course, this strategy took the form of five major writing assignments through the semester, each gradually introducing and then building on the toolkit’s three elements. I discussed with students where they needed improvement and negotiated strategies with them to do so. My strategy resulted in students finding continual improvement in both their writing and their engagement with course material, without the fear of one bad grade rendering future efforts pointless.
Beyond the above, my classroom environment consists of discussion and academic exercises including creative writing, independent projects, contextual historical or situational analysis, and group-based presentations which are based primarily on peer evaluation. Such an environment presents unique challenges and requires a deep commitment on the part of the instructor, but offers a far deeper and beneficial experience for students seeking instruction in sociology and criminology than traditional lecture models.
Graduate Teaching Assistant
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
- Introduction to Africana Studies
- Senior Seminar in Sociology
- Drugs and Society
- Social Research Methods
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
- Peace and Violence
- University 100
- Introduction to Sociology