Teaching Philosophy Statement 2020

In the book “Activating your Teaching-Learning Philosophy” the authors encourage revisiting teaching philosophies regularly, iteratively observing, communicating, and living into one’s philosophy. Thus, I update as I go! Here are prior teaching philosophy statements: 2019.

?I love production?

I have always been a producer. I recall organizing plays as a small child and being assigned me “production manager” of our 6th grade class opera, then studied stage management in college. I love to organize people and events towards a specific end and within a specific climate – whether that goal is a production or a class of independent applied GIS projects. While you rarely see the producer when you see a play, their guiding decisions create the experience for you to have from the moment you consider your ticket to the time you leave the theatre. I put the same thought and intention into my classes to create an inclusive course climate, scaffold student learning, and empower independent inquiry.

I believe that teaching is that it is not a transmission of knowledge or a particular directional relationship between teacher and student, but is rather the broader process of learning, which can be facilitated and directed. From the perspective of a producer, I emphasize the following core ideas which guide my teaching decisions:

  • Like in theatre, class should be a place to take risks within purposeful scaffolding and supports.
  • The best plays speak to people of all walks and life moments; learning should augment and acknowledge where students have been, where they are, and where they are going.
  • Finally, maintaining motivation and curiosity captivates an audience and hooks a learner.

?Support positive risk taking?

I believe that every student who wants to learn should have the opportunity to learn – even if they are late to the game, encounter personal challenges during the semester, or struggle to keep up with the material. Even plays have standing room only, accessible seating, and late seating policies. On the first day of my undergraduate class, students respond to a question answered by the syllabus with a skit about what to do in a certain situation. Students voice the intents of assignments and requirements – learning, growth, development, accommodation, support – and my confidence that they will achieve them. I know that this is working because students say it back at the end of the semester in their course evaluations: “She is that rare type of teacher that the student feels completely comfortable in being honest and forthcoming about any questions or issues with the course because of the inclusive and trusting environment that has been created.”

I strive to create an inclusive classroom environment that enables all students to learn while being supportive of whatever else is going on in their lives. Using an “Assignment 0”, students are prompted to familiarize themselves with the technology required for participating in class and course website. Assignments specify the purpose of the exercise, resources, and clear rubrics indicating quality of expected deliverables. If a student must step away of class to address something else in their lives, all course elements include scaffolding so they can start up after a pause. I also recognize that courses need to flex to accommodate the actual experiences of students. After a time-tracking exercise revealed that students were spending too much time on required assignments, I adjusted the workload. And when we went online early in the Covid-19 pandemic, I adapted the classroom environment to support the emotional needs of students. A student commented on their course evaluation that: “This was the only class that I actually spoke to my classmates the way I would have during in–person classes.”

Producing a learning experience involves reducing cognitive load so students can practice isolated tasks without getting bogged down in complexity or perfectionism. Like a spotter in the gym, as a teacher, I am there to relieve weight if necessary, so they can focus on rallying the force necessary to lift it without concern for physical harm. In my class, this takes the form of regular revisions on assignments – there is room to take risks because the outcome will not be a failing grade. In discussion classes, this includes scaffolding sessions with pre-work, supporting discussion through small-group review, and pausing for student reflection, intention setting, and redirection. This reallocation of work – from teaching through lecture to teaching through feedback and frameworks – gives students agency and an active role to play in their learning experience. Walking into my classroom, you’ll often hear student voices more than mine.

?Everyone’s a human?

Have you ever felt that moment when watching a movie or a play that the illusion created by actors or designers became reality for you? I recall the enjoyment of being ‘in the zone’ and absorbed in my work as I encountered my most challenging coursework, and I foster fun and encourage flow in my classroom and in assignments. Formative assessments and activities in my class may look like a game, take the form of a competition, or challenge students to collaborate to apply a concept they will encounter in an assignment. Summative assessments are posed as challenges to be achieved. I use a scavenger-hunt style midterm to challenge students to find objects and places, then evaluate their findings against a set of criteria. An open-ended assessment, students find their own ways to address specific competencies and develop independence in evaluating their own work.

Student motivation is enhanced when students have a role in directing their own education and setting their own goals. I’m experimenting with giving students a say in how they fit my course into their lives. This semester, I’ve experimented with grading contracts and flexible weekly, midterm, and semester deadlines. During the second week of class, students contracted for a grade, due dates, and stated the steps they would take if they were falling short of their contracted. At the most recent contract check-in, most students are on track (or an hour away!) from their desired grades. Course attendance remains high, office hours attended. Flexible resubmission policies mean that everyone leaves class having achieved mastery of the subject matter… even when it takes a few tries.

So that students can be “producers” on their own flow later, I require short reflective activities to keep students actively reflecting and refining their own learning, work habits, and task and time management. Unprompted comments like “I feel pretty good about this” arrive with completed midterms, demonstrating their own metacognitive engagement with material. When prompted to reflect on how an assessment went, they point to their own growth “I enjoyed thinking through it, but it was definitely the hardest. I may have some semantic errors…just still getting my sea legs with spatial language.”

?Be captivating! (don’t take captives)?

Even though my name is Shakespeare, I have dozed through many boring productions of Romeo and Juliet. Maintaining curiosity, pacing special effects, and providing enough information to remain engaged keeps audience members awake until the final curtain… and students motivated through the end of the semester. The producer strategically sets shorter-term goals, smaller practice sets to hone specific skills, and intentionally reassembles these until they are all connected. The way I implement this is to focus assignments and tasks on scaffolds, building up to the next skill or building mastery to then move on to an adjacent practice. Before discussions of new texts, I prompt students to recall where we have been with guiding questions for students to relate current topics to prior ones. I prompt students to bring their experiences to bear on their work and remind them to think of their own dreams when selecting their own assignments. Finally, I incorporate a variety of independent and group activities in many class sessions – so even a sleepy student can remain engaged.

As every theatre-goer is also a critic, I require students to engage in many forms of assessment – formative feedback from instructors, peer review and coaching, and self-assessment. I coach TAs to provide formative feedback on even the most exceptional assignment submissions, signalling that further refinement is possible, if chosen. I facilitate “project teams” and “book clubs” to foster collegiality and give students structured opportunities to provide feedback to each other as they engage with independent projects and reading. Finally, I create regular opportunities for students to evaluate themselves: this semester’s two midterms had one question in common; for the second, they were prompted to reflect on how their two answers were different. I did not have to tell students how their knowledge and thinking had advanced – they said it themselves!

While the specific learning process may be different for each class and cohort, I ultimately see my role as producer: creating inclusive learning environments, novel experiences, and clear structure for students to advance their own learning goals.