"Universal Design For Learning" by Giulia Forsythe.
Guest Visitor, Dr. Jay Polish facilitates our class on Universal/Accessible Design. Dr. Polish is a scholar of disability studies and an author of YA books.
- Dr. Jay Polish on Critical disability/inclusive pedagogy
- Jessica Murray, GC Graduate student organizer, activist (look what difference a student can make!): “Pick up Bickford’s Accessibility Baton,” NY Daily News, Jan 25, 2020.
- Jay’s “Accessible Syllabus Design” document in our HASTAC group: https://www.hastac.org/blogs/ckatopodis/2019/10/07/dr-jenn-polish-accessible-syllabus-design-content-assignments [hastac.org
- More about Jay Polish: https://jpolish.com/
Jay: “If people would be comfortable inputting their first name and pronouns into the display name so we can make sure we’re gendering each other correctly, that’d be fantastic! Thank you :) If that is difficult, you can also indicate pronouns in your comments in the Google Doc below.”
2–3pm: Written assignment: Before we meet as a group from 3-4 pm on Thursday, April 23, please write out one or two sentences that encapsulate your thoughts from the exercise below.
3-3:10: Class Business. Any questions?
Group 3: Ready to go? Anything you need from the class?
Groups 1 and 2: Working on posting to our HASTAC Group? How is that going?
3:10: Class discussion with Our Distinguished Visitor, Author and Scholar and Professor, Dr. Alex Polish
Pre-discussion Exercise: Make a map of the priorities in your mind when you think of what a course should look like.
- If you're thinking about this from the perspective of taking a class, what appeals to you when you sign up for a course? What makes you want to learn while you're in a classroom?
- If you're thinking about this from the perspective of teaching a class, these are the things that you actively think about and prioritize when you're designing your syllabus.
- "Making a map" can look however you want it to - it can be a literal drawing, or a bulleted list, full sentences and paragraphs, a list of words in different sizes depending on their importance to you... however you can represent it best for yourself.
- Take a look at your map -- your list of priorities, whether they're ethical, political, pedagogical, aesthetic, learning styles, personal, or a combination of all of the above and more -- and reflect on the most recent course you took or taught. Do your priorities, your learning values, match up with what you see in the course syllabus? In how the course is taught?
- Where does your course/syllabus meet your values and priorities? Where does it not?
- What values and priorities do you think the course syllabus you're thinking about represent? How did it get that way?
- What would you like to change about it? What's your favorite part about it?
These things don't have to be written beyond whatever scribblings will help you keep track of your thoughts and the summary you add to the Google Doc!
Add responses below!
[Responses excerpted anonymously from our collaborative Google Doc.]
Learning Community Considerations When Taking a Class:
- Course topic, title, description.
- Transparent grading policy
- Availability of resources (e.g., readings, software, support, … etc.)
- Application to my research and teaching interests
- Novelty of topic
- Scaffolding of topic — does the lesson align with homework? Do I need to spend extra time learning materials outside of class (e.g., using Google to help learn the software because the class assumes familiarity with the software)?
- Time of class—(duration) -vs- Travel time (how long will it take me to be on time for attendance AND return home?) -vs- Transportation Schedule (which intervals work for me in order to adjust/calibrate for the appropriate headspaces?)
- Course description aligns with my academic focus/discipline/interests
- Wording is especially important, as I am doing closer readings on language that is inclusive, considerate, and approachable
- Commute is my major concern when it comes to registering for new courses.
- Instructor’s “credentials” and if I am comfortable or “open-minded” to working with them.
- Since I am bringing my heritage into the work, I want to be able to voice my experiences and perspectives, as those have shaped my intellectual approaches to academic work
- Syllabus structure, from literal formatting of the page to plausible scheduling and workload
- I am very keen on visual outlines: charts and lists; font styles (italics, bold, underline); font sizes for headings and texts; use of punctuation marks, parentheses & brackets
- Blocks of text within one bullet point give me the tendency to skip over the point
- Number dates help me to keep in mind of my own schedule planning
- First 2-3 weeks of class help me to determine the “feel” of the room
- Would I be given a chance to speak up or to just listen, of my own volition?
- Will I feel pressured to speak?
- How are others carving the space for active listening and exchange?
- Are the discussions moderated smoothly and thoughtfully?
- Do I see myself being “happy” in taking this course for the next few weeks in a row?
- Will I look forward to this class every week? Or is it just something to help keep me productive every week?
- As a student most of the courses that I’ve taken I’ve chosen because they help me meet a requirement and they fit into my schedule. The electives that I’ve had the opportunity to take, I’ve chosen because I’ve found the topic interesting. I find that there is usually very little access for students to know what to really expect unless they’ve heard from other students about an outstanding professor. Syllabi are not available until you start class and course descriptions are often vague or nonexistent.
- The courses that I’ve enjoyed most have been the ones where I’ve connected with the instructor. If the instructor approaches the class in a non hierarchical fashion and shows true interest for students, is fun and approachable, and presents the material in a way that speaks to students’ lives, then my full attention organically shows up. When I’ve had professors with internalized oppression, or that mainly want to “impart knowledge” onto students, I tend to disconnect and can even feel stomach pains when even thinking of the course.
- Reflecting on the classes I’ve taken so far at the Grad Center, I’m pleased to report that my much of experience aligns with my mental map of how I believe the educational process should unfold. Professors have on multiple occasions placed students at the forefront of their classes by inviting commentary on their syllabi, by remaining open and flexible to our shifting educational landscape, by making concerted efforts to enable a democratic agenda in the classroom. The way in which my professors have responded to our ongoing crisis serves only to validate this impression of mine: they have been so kind, so understanding, so willing to acknowledge the humanity of their students, that I can’t help but be inspired to emulate their sense of compassion in the classroom.
- One thing that appeals to me when taking a course is collaborative flexibility. I have seen this much more in the independent studies and graduate courses I’ve taken than in any of the undergraduate courses I’ve taken at CUNY. I find it engaging to have the syllabus evolve over the semester as we find new and exciting areas to study, yet none of the undergraduate courses I have taken have used this model. Perhaps this is due somewhat to a misguided notion that undergraduates lack the ability to design their own education, but it may also be due to the very real structural obstacles of teaching at CUNY. At our university (beyond the GC), professors (particularly adjuncts and community college faculty) may be teaching 4 or more courses in a single semester at multiple campuses, and these classes may have too many students enrolled (I took a class once at Brooklyn College with 35 students but not 35 chairs, so students were standing against the wall and pulled up chairs in the doorway). How does racialized austerity limit the possibilities of radical and critical pedagogy? What are the structural impediments to CUNY students accessing certain pedagogical innovation available to students at SLACs?
- I bring up these issues, because I grew up around Hampshire College, a small college where the academic life is truly driven by everyone in the classroom (which often extends beyond the physical space of the classroom, for example there is a psychoanalysis course which involves lambs being born in the middle of the night). When I went to college, I chose CUNY because of its diversity in so many respects and the possibility that it creates for deeper learning than in a more homogeneous institution. As I prepare to begin teaching at CUNY in 2021, I am grappling with how to bring critical pedagogy into the classroom, while acknowledging that the institutional location creates challenges, in addition to possibilities, for learning when compared to Hampshire or Brown. As someone with no college teaching experience, I look forward to hearing what my classmates think about this and how they have navigated teaching at CUNY.
- Time: does this class fit into my schedule (days & hours per week)
- Content: does this class interest me & meet my academic requirements
- Requirements: what am I being asked to do in this class
- Format: does this class meet in-person, online, or is it a hybrid
- Utility: how does this align with/fit into my overall educational/career goals
- Taking a class ----- Subject, title --- expertise of the professor --- the syllabus, readings --- trying to get a sense of what the professor is trying to do. Once in the classroom, I’m looking for how self aware the professor is - and if they actually have something to teach (most don’t), as opposed to rotely going through a syllabus and readings.
- We have to be mindful of our degree requirements in our course selections – in part, because of time restricts, or other factors. Utility is also a factor, I think, in your overall course selection – so few students really have the luxury of taking courses “just for the fun of it”. I think we forget (a lot of the time) that higher education is about exploring and/or expanding our interests and discovering new things that may excite or inspire us.
Learning Community Considerations When Teaching a Class:
- When adopting a syllabus from the department, how much can I change?
- Adding homework assignments to match content
- Changing the aesthetics of the syllabus (e.g., headings, bold, underline, highlighting text)
- Updating resources
- First consideration in teaching a class is usually content and relevance to “my subject.” Because my subject (env humanities and public humanities) is also a method or approach to education that encourages social cohesion and equitable collaboration, the ethics/politics of the instructor and the class organization/structure is a very close second consideration. Because ideas of access underscore all efforts to transform education/society through our encounters in a classroom, I was moved by the series of questions that Dr. Polish outlined in universal/accessible design. A teacher once told me that “the soul responds only to kindness,” and I treat all students (or “people who are students in a room,” which I constantly quote) like souls first. One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is how “school” and the GC in particular and CUNY more broadly is a big part of who I think I am. I work there, my colleagues are my chosen family, we are incredibly driven by what we get to do for work. I am also a student here, etc etc etc One thing that I’ve been trying to think though is how “who we are” gets expressed more fluidly through the ways we are supported in classrooms.
- Maximize what students are doing in-class - I spend most of my time thinking about what students will be doing during class and how I can structure this time to maximize students’ interactions and create opportunities for students to practice key skills while I'm with them (I am a huge fan of Think-Pair-Shares and worksheets)
- Clear communication - after every class session I try to send a notification telling students where to find materials and what they need to prepare for next time (departmentally-mandated syllabus structures can seem really daunting to follow)
- Transparent grading - for every paper students write they bring in a draft to peer review using my grading rubric, so there are no surprises
- Scaffolding - I try to build up students' skills through repeated practice and guidance, for example, when reading primary literature, I give students guiding questions and we go over answers together as a class
- Gathering student input - I collect student input at the beginning, middle, and end of the semester to get a sense of how they’re feeling about the course and what I (and they) can do differently
- Consistency - same rubric for all papers, same reading questions for all literature, similar in-class structure (start with question of the day on a notecard, at least a few TPS/worksheets, etc.) - I want students to feel like they know what to expect from the class and can rely on the class and my expectations be consistent throughout the semester
- For me, teaching starts with the principle my colleague Kandice Chuh put so well. We should not think of our “students” but of “the people in our classrooms who are students.” Until we know who are students are, what they are thinking, where they are, what they want, why they are in college, what material and social and educational and other conditions mediate and moderate their lives, we cannot begin to create a “syllabus” that truly engages, that seeks to transform. We are all co-learners, all teachers, all students, and all human beings with complex lives. Preempting--shift the burden from student to prof.
- Because I’m teaching my first class next term, I’ve been thinking a lot about what a class would look like when it aligns with my values, practices, and ethics. There are… a lot of things. So much about how classes are structured now are inherently participating or promoting the colonial project, creating barriers that further marginalize the already-marginalized, and make accessibility an after-thought with a result of having so-called “accessible” options no more accessible than the class itself. So, things I’m thinking a lot about:
- Flexibility on my part, as the instructor. That means a lot of things, from not requiring doctor’s notes (when many people don’t have health insurance and, even if they do, perhaps cannot afford a copay), to being flexible about tardiness and/or leaving early, to being open to extensions and revisions for any and all assignments, not requiring DSS to meet the needs of dis/abled or struggling students… The list goes on. It’s difficult, too, because you don’t want to put yourself in a position of being taken advantage of. But I think a lot of that can be circumvented by:
- Having community guidelines which we decide on as a class, some of which must be approaching everyone with good faith whenever possible, honest and open communication, and recognizing that we’re all in the room because we want to be. If you don’t want to be in the room, that’s okay – you can leave and there’s no value placed on that. If you can’t leave, maybe we can figure out a way where you can be present without affecting the learning and engagement of the rest of the class.
- Setting expectations at the very beginning of class that demand honesty and integrity in the work we’re doing together and individually. Assuring students that I’m not there to look for a way for them to fail. Everyone will be “graded” individually, compared only to their own work, with an eye towards progress: have they been putting in the work to the best of their abilities, given their own constraints? Have they learned something? Have they been open to learning, changing, and challenging their own beliefs as well as others?
- My goal as an instructor isn’t to “rescue” anyone or even necessarily to impart knowledge. Rather, it is, or will be, I hope, to encourage students to bring their full self into the classroom and engage with learning and knowledge in a way that feels true to them, in a way that feels enriching and exciting, in a way that they care about.
- Writing and reading will obviously be part of what we learn, but I think there’s a way to do that without alienating people or making students feel helpless or hopeless. Maybe that’s something that we figure out as a class.
- Maybe I have a class that just Doesn’t Care. That’s my biggest concern. If I have a class that just doesn’t want to learn, what can I do? Whatever it is, it will have to align with my values, no matter what. I suspect this will be one of my biggest challenges as an instructor.
- I don’t have all – or, really, any – of the answers, but these are the things that have been tumbling around my head whenever I think about teaching or classes. These are all very optimistic, but I think that’s okay. In fact, I think that’s ideal. If I approach my very first class with the bitterness of the instructors I had when I was in community college, I’ve already failed. I’m not under the impression that things will be easy or that I’m going to pull off some sort of Dead Poet’s Society life-changing class, but maybe I can model a way of engaging that, in and of itself, can teach something. Maybe if there’s even a single student who does care, they will feel seen. Maybe if there’s a single student who does care but is afraid, because academia and school do so much damage, they can feel seen, can know what it is to have a handhold amidst the ruins.
- Emphasizes equity, access, and inclusion in an effort to facilitate student agency
- Foregrounds egalitarian values by embracing a democratic model of dialogue
- Enfranchises marginalized, underrepresented, or disadvantaged communities of students
- Remains aware of power structures and dynamics throughout the classroom setting
- Presents a compassionate space of mutual respect and reciprocity
- Privileges learners as human beings before students
- Explicitly acknowledges and endorses the multiplicities of student identity
- Provides learners with the means of negotiating ideas on their own terms
- Pedagogical Practices & Learning Styles
- Locates students at the center of their own learning process
- Positions myself as the instructor in a position of facilitation and advocacy
- Engages the classroom environment as an open space of reflection and self-discovery
- Affords agency to the class as a whole to negotiate learning outcomes and goals
- Privileges the educational values of process and revision over product and completion
- Enables students to design their own generative and co-constructive learning practices
- Maintains a flexible set of expectations for student work and knowledge production
- Takes as a starting point a mixed-methods, multimodal approach to blended learning
- Presents students with an array of pedagogical modes and learning pathways
- Offers learning practices that challenge students through fun, collaborative activities
- Adopts guidelines prescribed by the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework
- Recommendations from other students who share my values and community, reviews of professors that talk about them as affirming or supportive, I will take classes outside of my research areas if I know a professor is warm and thoughtful! Encouragement and understanding makes me want to learn as does classes that center creative thinking and learning.
- Accessibility, scaffolding assignments, Plan Bs for students, modeling how to navigate bureaucracy for students, allowing and encouraging students to take space and narrate boundaries as they need to (in adult literacy).
- Here are some Learning Outcomes I wrote up last class which were before I realized that they were meant to be learning outcomes for our class, not an imaginary class. But I stand by them:
- Understand the power imbalances and systems at work in your life, society, and the world as a whole; understand the ways in which you are complicit and the ways you can resist.
- Foster the skill of interrogating your own practices in all aspects of your life; foster the skill of recognizing the need for growth in yourself as well as others; approach yourself and others with generosity when possible, but with the expectation of growth and generosity returned.
- Learn to be comfortable with stepping up as well as stepping back; understand when you are silencing or otherwise masking the voices that most need to be heard in that moment; understand your positionality in relation to the positionality of others and respond accordingly.
- Move towards an academic practice that interrogates the concepts of knowledge (what is considered “knowledge”, “valuable”, or “worthwhile”) that undergird our academic system and expectations; move towards an academic practice that holds in reverence the knowledge of others.
- Collaborate and determine the direction of the class, the curriculum, and the syllabus as a community with shared goals; collaboratively create and adhere to “community guidelines” which helps each of us approach each other and the material in good faith.
- Time: what days & times are most acceptable (best) for my students & are in alignment with my own needs/responsibilities, as well
- Content: what is it that they are interested in & how can I align that with what I am required to teach
- Capacity: what do I expect my students to already have under their belt before coming into my class
- Flexibility: how can I be open to the needs of my students while still meeting my goals
- Fun: how can I truly engage my students and help inspire them enjoy learning
- As a teacher: I try to be mindful of what my students’ goals are and what they are hoping to get out of my class/the experience. Additionally, I try to challenge them to go beyond those very limited ideas, too. I try to encourage and inspire them to look at education in a different way – not just as work or something to be dreaded, but as something that can be fun or exciting – no matter what the subject matter. I also believe it is important that they build their self-confidence, by reflecting on their accomplishments – even when things seem difficult or like they are not going very well. In a lot of cultures, we have been taught to equate our self-worth to academic performance – simply because of the pressure and importance we place on them. And, that has numerous historic influences; but that is a paradigm that we can work to change and redefine for ourselves – once we are aware of it and our eyes are open to it. We can release the pressure, let go of the stress, and hopefully, find our own inspiration in gaining new knowledge and learning.
- Teaching a class --- is there something specific I want to communicate? Skills - like writing (comfort expressing ideas,what goes into expressing an idea so that it’s understandable to others, developing skill of understanding what an argument is)... I want to know what the students in the class actually want - what their context is, like are they taking the class as a requirement? Are there other things more important for them at this time? There’s a tension between the subject of the class and the way a class is taught. Most of the things I’m interested in teaching or exploring in a class would have to do with basic skills of reading, writing, communicating, listening --- the subject, say ‘sociology’, just becomes a vessel to work on those skills... Is there anything about the subject itself that matters?
- Some values, experiments: source of idea doesn’t matter, so a lot of anonymous contributions of thoughts that we can discuss; so ideas aren’t so much about ‘who gets credit for the good one’ ---
- Most recent course - TA for intro to sociology. Minimal relationship between my priorities and the course. In a section students were primed to care only about grades, and the assignments are so fixed (2 papers, mid-term, final) - so grades was dominant way that interested students engaged. Assignments themselves (which were created by the professor) were generic, so didn’t ‘test’ anything, but were being done because that’s the convention.
- I think the values my course would represent is much more input from the students - and input about the conditions of the class. The things that are taken for granted about school. Maybe because my own experience with learning is that an important prerequisite to a lot of learning is having some ability to communicate what you actually know and think. So dealing with the class itself and its conditions is a good way to have people say what they know and think on a level playing field since there’s nothing right or wrong about anyone’s thoughts about it… In other words: learning how to brainstorm freely… And learning how to communicate thoughts and feelings… And then applying that to a particular subject… (like sociology)...
- Four Social Ideals - non-discrimination, non-violence, equal access to opportunities, and environmental health. These will guide how course content is interpreted in relation to current events and prior research. The hope is that any student, myself included, will gain a better understanding of how the society we live in is informed by how we live and how truth and fact are essential to achieving those ideals.
- As I begin to imagine what I will be like as a teacher I want to stay connected to what works for me as a student and to be open to learning. I see this as keeping the following in mind:
- Remembering that everyone in the room is a person with a world of knowledge.
- Being fun, funny, and inviting levity into the space.
- Creating a loving and welcoming environment.
- Presenting information in a variety of forms.
- Providing options for assignments.
- Requesting feedback often not just at the end of the course or the middle of the course.
- Student input into what they’re looking for
- Teacher presents clearly what the purpose of the class is from their perspective
- Explanation of how the class fits into the school; how everything relates and how the school bureaucracy is laid out
- Input from students about how they want to be graded - address and discuss structural elements of the class - grades, assignments, evaluation ---- ideally through writing so that everyone gets an opportunity to express their ideas - (meaning: not state what the elements are, but open up a discussion as to how the students would want these things to happen)
- Issue is this could take weeks to get a handle on - fully discuss
- Alternate approaches to grading
- one grade for the entire class?
- Students grade one anothers papers - and the teacher evaluates their grading of one anothers papers…
- Welcome to be curious.