A Handbook for Student-Centered Learning and Teaching Practices
The Graduate Center Learning Collective
Edited by Hilarie Ashton
Authors: Arinn Amer, Hilarie Ashton, Zebulah Baldwin, Joshua Belknap, Erica Campbell, Cathy N. Davidson, Michael Druffel, Iris Finkel, Lisa Hirschfield, Nicky Hutchins, Kelly Lerash, Danica Savonick
This work is licensed under the Create Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.
A HASTAC Publication. A collaboration between the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and HASTAC@Duke
Published with Generous support from the Teagle Foundation
Table of Contents
The experience of editing this volume has taught me so much. As a doctoral candidate, I write constantly, and as an assistant editor for the journals Harlot and Kairos, as well as a freelance editor, I edit constantly, too. Much of my writing ends up being collaborative on a variety of levels, from actually working together to providing solidarity and emotional support (as in my writing group) to lending editorial and collegial attention (as my dissertation committee does for my evolving chapters). Much of my editing, however, is solitary, unfurling inside my own brain and drawing on my own experiences as a writer, a teacher, and a person with an eye for grammatical detail. The experience of working with ten graduate student authors, assisted by eight undergraduate student editors, has helped me think even more deeply and seriously about the always useful, often unexpected power of collaboration within the writing process. When you write or edit collaboratively, you are always learning, always absorbing, always adjusting your existing analysis, always thinking about your audience.
I think of editing as both singular and duetted forms of motion. You first enter into the author's argument, via their paragraphs, sentences, and words, and you try to see a bit beyond what they saw when they were writing. You are uniquely suited to do so, because you are outside their consciousness; their words aren't your darlings. So you explore the argument they're making and look for tweaks that will reveal the argument that could be; you help elaborate partial meanings and point to needed context and excise unintended repetition. You help reshape their work while deeply respecting it. The duet part of the dance begins when the author has read your comment and they reply - you then move back and forth with them. For me, that part is often the most generative and surprising; it's where I learn the most about the work the author has produced. Importantly, I believe that the duet is also an ethical exchange: editing allows one (even requires one) to step into someone else's thinking, to translate, to shape anew, to think beyond, and both author and editor participate in these actions, from their different sides of the curtain.
On a more practical level, editing is an interesting beast because it involves taking in an author's hard-worked words and turning them a little more outward. As writers, so much of the initial meaning that we make is internal: we know what we've read and what we want to say about it, and sometimes we forget that other people haven't necessarily had those experiences too. The audiences we want to reach are not only out there but imaginary, most of the time, and so an editor's primary jobs are, as I see them, to catch things the author can't be expected to catch, to bridge the psychic gap between author and audience, and to help the author present their ideas in the clearest, most accessible way possible. The graduate students who wrote these chapters entered so open-heartedly into the editing dance with me, taking my suggestions with grace and teaching me more about their chosen subjects as we went back and forth with comments and questions. I learn so much in my work, too, with the whole Futures team, as I have from the class I took with Cathy and Bill Kelly and from the student mentor pilot program. Cathy's particular commitment to equity, creativity, participation, and generosity are so helpful and warm and, I'm convinced, will change the scope of public higher education.
The most powerful part of editing this book was, for me, my collaboration with the undergraduate student editors. I met them in July when I dropped in on their mentorship training to offer an editing workshop to the whole mentoring group, after having helped train the students in the pilot mentoring program in the summer and fall of 2015, and I am so impressed with the work of the Futures team in bringing the current crew together. There, in a subterranean Grad Center meeting room, I was knocked sideways by their engagement with what I often semi-self-deprecatingly refer to as "nerdy grammar stuff." My writing and lit students at Queens College know that standard English grammar is a tricky concept for me as a teacher and as an editor: I respect its utility and usefulness while remaining deeply suspicious of the classed, racialized, and gendered expectations it foists on a reader and infiltrates into a society. This is a view of grammar that I often have to explain to students, but this group already understood it. The air crackled with their energy as they piped up with comments and questions. Their attention to other aspects of editing, and their insightful questions about this particular book project, were both heartening and productively challenging.
The smaller group who self-selected to work with me on the book's editing did so at the end of a busy summer for all of them. Sujoy Bhowmik, David Brandt, Cassandra Castelant, Cherishe Cumma, Yelena Dzhanova, Brenell Harrison, and Hurriya Hassan are all such sparklingly sharp thinkers and deeply ethical editors. I expected a lot of them, given the rigor of the program they self-selected into, and they really blew me away. The conversations we had in our initial meetings immediately began building an editing community, and the ideas and questions people raised, from methods of commenting to citation systems to how to best to convey feedback to authors, are ones that enrich my editing work still. The virtual "conversation" of our work together in our shared Google Docs was vibrant and interesting. To return to the metaphor of motion, our duet was staggered, not always in the same temporal frame, with comments and questions left and answers and further questions given later, but it was no less powerful than the way this kind of conversation can play out in a writing classroom or in an editorial meeting.
Thanks again to Cathy, the Futures team, the fabulous student editors, and the graduate student authors. And to the reader: dance with us!
We would like to express our deep appreciation to the Teagle Foundation, who generously supported the editing and publication of this book.
This book is a collaboration between the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and HASTAC and HASTAC@Duke. We would like to thank the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University, The Graduate Center, and City University of New York for their institutional support, without which none of this work would be possible.
We would also like to thank the following people:
From Duke University, we thank Edward Balleisen, Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies, and Deborah Jenson, Director of the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute.
From the Graduate Center, we thank Chase Robinson, President; Joy Connolly, Provost; Louise Lennihan, Associate Professor of Anthropology and former Interim Provost; and David Olan, Associate Provost and Dean for Academic Affairs.
A note of acknowledgement from Lauren Melendez, Director of the Futures Initiative Peer Mentoring Program, and Michael Rifino, Futures Initiative Fellow and Peer Mentoring Co-Director: We would like to add a special note of thanks to the CUNY students who copyedited and proofread the final manuscript of this book as part of the Futures Initiative’s Peer Mentoring Program. It is truly an honor and privilege to work the such bright, talented and dedicated undergraduate students..
The mentors have expressed how important this editing project has been to their own development. We would like to give special recognition to The Teagle Foundation for funding this program and the publication of this book, and creating the chance for students to participate in meaningful and intellectual work that can be used in furthering their academic and professional careers. We would like to give special thanks to Hilarie Ashton for all her hard work in leading the book editing project with the mentors, and the editing work she has contributed to this book.
Introduction: How and Why to Structure a Classroom for Student-Centered Learning and Equality
Cathy N. Davidson
Finding Better, More Equitable Ways to Learn
What is the best way to learn? Clearly there are many methods, tactics, technologies, strategies, theories, and practices that can help us all to learn better, to teach better, and, in general, to improve what happens in the spaces of our classrooms and beyond. What is different about our book than many centering on teaching practices is that we are concerned with everyone learning.
The basic premise of student-centered, engaged learning is that, to make a truly equitable and democratic society, we have to begin with a form of instruction that is itself equitable. The title of our collection, Structuring Equality, comes from our central conviction that you cannot counter structural inequality with good will. You need to design structures that themselves are equal. If you do not, you end up replicating inequality, no matter how good your intention. Engaged learning must engage every student. That goal of structural equality must be part of the reflections upon which all pedagogical experiments are based.
This book explores some ways that we have found to be effective. It is intended as a useful and usable guide for anyone who is interested in improving the quality of undergraduate reading, writing, research, critical thinking, and creativity, and even the importance of movement for learning. It also offers insights into the best ways to improve evaluation of teachers, ways that truly help professors to become better at what they do.
“American Literature, American Learning”
This book itself is both a product of student-centered learning and part of that process. It was co-written in a course entitled “American Literature, American Learning,” in which ten students at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) spent the semester investigating some foundational American texts about the importance of learning and then looked more broadly at pedagogy, both in the American progressive tradition of John Dewey, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and others, and in the international tradition of Paulo Freire, Frantz Fanon, and Stuart Hall.
In this course, students spent the first weeks reading from a prescribed syllabus and responding to the assigned texts on a public course blog. Every week, one or two students wrote an elaborate response to the readings and the other students responded to the response, such that an energetic dialogue had begun before anyone ever entered the classroom. We then used the classroom to experiment with a range of active learning techniques: Think-Pair-Share, inventories, class stacking, and many others.
All of these techniques aim at what the American Psychological Association terms Total Participation: methods by which we structure equal participation by every member of the class rather than allowing anyone—whether the professor or a particularly extroverted or intellectually aggressive student—to play the dominant role. There are abundant researches that in the conventional classroom, the students who are most like the professor—in attitude, assumptions, language, and also in gender, race, sexuality, and class background—shine. If we are going to have equality in learning, we need to structure that into how we conduct our classrooms.
Midway through the class, we tried a more radical experiment in giving students an equal voice in the creation of the learning experience. Without an instructor present, students designed the last half of the course, constructing a syllabus of readings and planning the remainder of the semester, with different students working in pairs to design active learning engagements for all of the readings. We then decided, collectively, that, in lieu of ordinary term papers, students would instead write a handbook on the methods and practices we had researched and explored so that others could begin to initiate student-centered learning practices in a number of domains.
The Afterword to this book, prepared by Futures Initiative Fellow and English doctoral student Danica Savonick, who assisted in this course, provides meticulous and practical detail about how we ran each week’s classes, what we did, and how. One particularly noteworthy feature is that twice students were guided in their own student-directed process of project development, revision, collaboration, and completion by an expert in learning design, Dr. Jade Davis, Associate Director of Digital Learning Projects at LaGuardia Community College. Thank you, Jade, for your invaluable contribution!
So what is “student-centered learning”? It is a way of structuring learning that recognizes that students are human beings. That shouldn’t be so difficult, but it is often forgotten. It focuses on learning, not education or grades or credentials. It focuses on learning that will last after the course is over. It focuses on all the talents, skills, knowledge, and interests that a whole collective brings into a classroom, and finds ways to make the most of those rich resources, collectively. The professor scaffolds the experience, of course. The professor brings expertise, of course. The point of student-centered learning is not to show off the expertise of the professor. It is to help students learn how to learn, and to help students have the tools, ability, and confidence to do research, gain knowledge, and become experts themselves.
Learning how to learn is a skill that lasts long after the knowledge mastered in a class is forgotten or outmoded. In a rapidly changing world, learning how to learn is a survival skill. Learning how to learn lasts a lifetime. That is the motivation behind student-centered learning. It is, quite simply, a higher, better form of learning.
Structuring Equality in the Classroom
Our book, Structuring Equality: A Handbook for Student-Centered Learning and Teaching Practices, starts from the premise that you need to create equitable structures in the classroom in order to engage each and every student in active learning. Why is this important? I would suggest that there are two main reasons, one social and one pedagogical.
First, the social reason: for all the critiques of racism and sexism that have come out of academe, our profession embodies racial and sexual hierarchies and divisions that are roughly on par with Fortune 100 corporations. Some 85% of full-time full professors are White and some 75% of full-time full professors are men. Yet the students coming into our classrooms and graduating from our undergraduate and graduate programs are now majority female and increasingly scholars of color. Something is clearly misfiring if we have an ideology and body of intersectional critical theory that favors equality and yet maintain a system of apprenticeship—the training of undergraduates to go on to graduate school in order to become professors who teach undergraduates and other graduate students—that favors replication of the status quo. The system is not working.
While there are many institutional levels on which we can and must address structural inequality, the classroom is one arena in which each and every one of us can begin addressing it immediately. Ample research attests that both the lecture and the seminar tend to reward participation by students who most resemble the professor—in attitude, background, and, similarly, in race, gender, and other social factors. The methods we advocate go beyond the seminar to include simple pedagogical methods anyone can use in a classroom tomorrow, methods that result in Total Participation. It will introduce ways that each and every student contributes to the knowledge in the classroom, set up as a matter of equality and practice.
Second, the pedagogical imperative beyond equitable student-centered learning is that it is a better way to learn than either the lecture or the seminar. We know this from various researches, from the long development of professional school training, and we know this from our common, everyday life practices.
If I have to pass a test that is vital to my existence—let’s say a citizenship test or a driver’s test—I don’t just attend a lecture about the content or even a fuller seminar. If I want to pass, I most likely form a study group, test myself with my peers, give myself pre-tests, and quiz others too. I might also go back and re-read the material when I don’t understand the correct answers, and in other ways give myself formative challenges that help me prepare for the final challenge of the crucial test. This is basically the way medical school operates. The adage of surgical training is: See one. Do one. Teach one. This is active learning.
We have added a fourth component: Share one. By students engaging in an online “study group” before we ever enter the classroom, they have already compared ideas with one another, interacted, and tested their ideas before they come into the traditional hierarchical space. They are also writing for an audience of their peers but also for anyone else who happens to be reading. This is both formative, peer interchange and professional public writing.
Haunted by Eight Percent Learning
In one classic study, psychology students who took a course did only eight percent better on a test on that course content material four months after the course was over than parallel students who had not taken the course. This statistic, replicated numerous times, is often used to chastise the poor teaching or the poor learning (take your pick) of “students today.” Often the internet is blamed, of course, for this terrible crisis of learning. The problem is that this particular study, by C. Meyer and T. B. Jones, was published in 1993, the same year that the Mosaic 1.0 browser was released to the public and the "internet" was, for all practical purposes, a reality beyond a limited number of professional users. And there are such studies going back at least to the early decades of the 1900s.
Anyone who is concerned with learning beyond what can be measured in the standardized, summative score at the end of the course or the year is haunted by that eight percent figure. What we have more of, now, is data confirming that, one way or another, we rarely retain more than ten percent of testable content, even from the very best teachers.
Should we be alarmed? Well, it depends. If we want the brain surgeon to really master the subject, and know that “See one. Do one. Teach one” is the best method, why wouldn’t we also want that for critical reading and thinking too?
In this course on “American Literature, American Learning,” we asked the question, what if we decided that all learning should meet the standards we apply to the training of brain surgeons? What if we wanted historians and literary theorists and English Language Learners and everyone to take their lessons into the rest of their lives too? What would we need to do? How would we transform the classroom for this level of engaged learning?
We believe that education can be much better than it currently is if it adopts active, equitable student-centered learning practices.
Content May Not Be King
It turns out that actual learning of content in the one-way transmission or broadcast model (i.e. being lectured at) is not something that we do particularly well as humans. Why? Largely because we don’t really listen very well when learning isn't something we think we need to know. We don't do very well at learning what we don’t need to know. We do a much better job of mastering those things we need to succeed in the world. We do a very good job of sorting out and forgetting those things we don’t do well. The whole point of active learning is that it makes urgent and personal and important all kinds of things that are not “necessities” in an ordinary sense but that can be deeply, humanly important and necessary to one’s spirit, one’s intelligence, one’s deep sense of history, one’s deep store of information in helping to make wise and just decisions in the future, and so forth.
In other words, active learning helps us understand why seemingly non-essential information is actually essential. It helps us connect the dots between the facts, make our own personal connections to events or incidents of the past, helps us find our own interests and motivations, and therefore allows us to develop our own complexities and our own world view.
Most formal education does a very poor job at helping individual students to understand what aspect of what they are learning in school is vital and important to what they want to do outside of school. If you expect more, then you have to change the paradigm from credential-centered learning to student-centered learning.
You have to learn beyond the test and the credential. In other words, you have to turn the unnatural way one learns in school into a mode of learning more like the way we learn just about everything else important in life in life: by connecting it to what is relevant and important to our lives. That requires re-centering learning on the student.
Active learning requires teachers/professors to rethink their role and function in the classroom not as central but as facilitator to what the students achieve. It requires students to understand their goal is not only to get the A on the test but to understand the content that might well be crucial to their life, experiences, relationships, future learning, workplace, career, and everything else after the graduation date.
Structuring Equality: A Handbook for Student-Centered Learning and Teaching Practices
To write this volume, we had to transform ourselves from a class—with a professor, an assistant doctoral student, and ten Master’s and PhD students—into “The Graduate Center Learning Collective,” a coalition of co-learners and co-teachers writing a book together. This was a major decision as it required collaboration, constant feedback, many careful steps in which everyone gave everyone else suggestions and help, and then project development, both for individual and collective contributions.
Most graduate students at the Graduate Center are also teaching courses on the CUNY’s twenty-four campuses, both four- and two-year colleges. Graduate Center students teach some 7,700 classes a year to over 200,000 CUNY students each year. In our Graduate Center Learning Collective, several people are working full-time while earning their degrees. There are not only full-time professors but administrators in programs, who carry out many responsibilities even as they are working towards their degrees.
Several of the essays below wed the theory we read in “American Literature, American Learning” with the professional work members of our Collective do every day in their jobs. We hope you will find this book to be helpful in your own work, as college professors and as college students. We also hope you will use the “Comments” sections to let us know what you think, to offer your own ideas and responses, and to provide any helpful suggestions to our readers about other articles, books, or websites that might be useful as we all explore student-centered learning.
If the goal of education is not only a degree but learning that will help to shape the rest of one’s life, then active, equitable learning is the key. Helping students become active, confident agents in the world is the goal. We hope these essays will do a small part in working towards that goal.
Meyer, C. and Jones, T.B. (1993). Promoting Active Learning: Strategies for the College Classroom. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
Our Students: Learning to Listen to Multilingual Student Voices
Local Context: Monolingual Assumptions, Multilingual Dialogues
“Help me come up w/a plan?” read the email from my department chair; “ESL students are getting short-changed.” Beneath this terse entreaty, she had forwarded along a message written by a professor in the Music and Art Department to his chairperson:
This semester, I have three classes of respectful students who absolutely cannot write. I have sent most to the Writing Center Or english tutors.....they are telling me that the people at the WCenter are not helpful even though they are well-intentioned. Same with the English tutors. Usually, I have a handful of really good writers who I team up with those who cannot. This semester I am not able to do this.
These students NEED help with English construction, spelling, everything! Critical thinking does not even play into it at this point. Have a lot of chinese students who are struggling with the English language anyway. Any advice?
I oversee a staff of writing tutors and an English as a Second Language (ESL) language and computer lab under the aegis of the Department of Academic Literacy and Linguistics at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC); a large urban 2-year college in the City University of New York (CUNY) system. The above email is emblematic of an ever more common kind of referral to our tutoring center, similar to the one from Professor X, from many others across the disciplinary spectrum who include writing in their curricula. Professor X’s classroom is imagined around monolingual Standard American English (SAE) as the medium of instruction and around native English-speaking (and White) students as the norm, whereas in fact, he is confronted with the reality of teaching three multilingual classes full of plural nationalities, races, languages, and cultures. What further struck me when I read Professor X’s message is the fact that this instructor simultaneously exhibits what might be called “monolinguistic deficit-model” assumptions about the writing of his multilingual students, yet also himself deviates from SAE in the language of his email. Were I to critique Professor X’s writing from a similar deficit-model of idealized SAE, I would note that the message includes sentence fragments, for example, and poor adherence to usage rules of punctuation and capitalization. Of course, writing tasks are situated and context-specific: email is informal and often hastily composed, and collegial familiarity might also frame this kind of code-switching in this correspondence. More troubling to me, though, is degree of unequivocality of Professor X’s monolinguistic condemnation of his students: three classes full of students who “absolutely cannot write,” and “NEED help with… everything!” Moreover, this is not a small percentage of aberrant students; they are most or all of Professor X’s students.
This professor is very likely a well-intentioned, dedicated educator, and his opinion of the multilingual students in his classroom is not an anomalous one, but rather represents the norm among faculty and tutors across disciplines. Moreover, his assumptions concerning his students almost certainly do not arise from hostility or indifference, but rather from hegemonic cultural and language-oriented notions that pervade both academic and public discourse. As educators, we all need to pause and reflect on the assumptions we bring into our classrooms when encountering multilingual students, including assumptions about the definition and nature of “critical thinking” and “language proficiency,” as well as what we mean when we say a student “cannot write.” These phrases may well be descriptions of our students. However, they may also be illustrative sketches of our own reflexive cultural and linguistic misapprehensions, as well as descriptions of our own struggles with rendering or effectively communicating complex pedagogies within classrooms in which the English language is the norm. This normative standard of monolingualism is not conducive to effective pedagogy at BMCC, within CUNY, or, for that matter, within any higher education environment that shares similar values of pluralism and linguistic diversity.
With an ever-increasing number of referrals from instructors in multiple departments at BMCC, I decided to create materials for and facilitate professional development workshops for tutors and faculty to investigate multilingual issues in student writing and to share pedagogical strategies for working with English Language Learner (ELL) students. A necessary approach to writing instruction and tutoring, particularly with multilingual writers, is collaboration: the idea that teaching and tutoring is a dialogue, not a monologue, and that ELL students need a definite personal stake in the agenda of a tutoring session. To respond to the increasing linguistic diversity of student writers at U.S. colleges, writing tutors partnering with ELL students best serve their needs by being aware of and responding to the kind of pervasive monolinguistic “English Only” ideology (Horner and Trimbur 1992) that Prof. X displays, in which the ideal model writer is thought to be a monolingual native speaker of an “ideal” prestige brand of Standard (Written) English. Tutor and faculty exposure to (at least some) recent developments in transnational and new literacy scholarship can help facilitate tutor sensitivity to the diverse literacies that multilingual students bring to the classroom and to the tutoring table from an array of cultures spanning the planet, all of which will encourage and cultivate dialogic relationships between ELL writers and instructors/tutors.
(Trans)National Context: Multilingual Students = Our Students
An increasing number of scholars from various disciplines have been examining and publishing work about global/transnational, cross-linguistic, and cross-cultural questions resulting from the cultural, political, and economic spread of globalization. Transnational scholars in my field, rhetoric and composition, contend that since its inception, the discipline has been U.S.-centric, exclusively nationalistic in its pedagogical approaches, medium of instruction, and curricula. It is no surprise to anyone working in U.S. higher education that the number of multilingual students—students studying in learning environments in which coursework is not in their native language— has increased dramatically in recent years. According to the Institute of International Education, 819,644 international students, most of whom come from non-English speaking contexts, studied in the US in the 2012-2013 school year (“Fast Facts” 2013). This represents a 40 percent increase from the previous ten years and a record, all-time high. Moreover, in the 2014-2015 academic year, 974,926 international students studied at U.S. colleges and universities, an additional increase of 155,282 international students, or 19%, in the last year alone (ibid.).
Because of this dramatic increase in international enrollment and the growing number of multilingual students who are permanent US residents or US citizens, “it has become increasingly clear that students’ language needs can no longer be relegated to the 'experts' in specialized courses or tutoring centers” (Hall, quoted in Worden et al. 2015). All faculty will teach multilingual students, and thus all faculty need to understand their unique linguistic resources and needs. All faculty and tutors will teach and work with multilingual students, yet few faculty or tutors have received specialized training to prepare them to work effectively with the multilingual writers in their classrooms. Even among writing teachers, few have received specialized training to prepare them to work effectively with the multilingual writers in their classrooms (Cox 2011). As a result, tutors and faculty can often feel overwhelmed and confused when faced with student writing that does not conform to monolingual expectations. Given this confusion, “some may be eager to learn new strategies for negotiating language differences in their classrooms” (Ives et al., quoted in Worden et al. 2015), and others may need to be persuaded that they have a role to play in improving writing instruction, particularly for multilingual students (Walvoord 1992). These challenges are particularly pressing for multilingual writing (Cox 2014). In light of all of these factors, it is clear that there is a significant need for professional development for faculty and tutors across the disciplines to work with multilingual writers.
As noted above, the increasing numbers of multilingual students in US universities, whether international students or multilingual citizens and permanent residents, have made it clear that students’ language needs can no longer be outsourced to the “experts” in specialized courses or tutoring centers. Increasingly, we as educators must realize that the multilingual student is not one that deviates from the norm, but rather is increasingly becoming the standard student, comprising nearly half of the student population. In short, this is not an unusual or irregular student population; these are simply our students. While there is a need for professional development efforts designed to help faculty more effectively teach multilingual writing, institutional divisions between first language (L1) and second language (L2) writing instruction pose challenges for the organization and delivery of such professional development efforts. One way to overcome such challenges is through grassroots forms of collaboration across institutional boundaries. This chapter suggests one such grassroots effort, the creation of a tutor/faculty development workshop designed to help teachers and tutors across the disciplines work more effectively with multilingual writers. This chapter describes ideas for the creation and curriculum of such workshops, and also proposes ongoing adaptations of the workshop for new audiences. I will also consider tutor and faculty responses to the workshop, and reflect on the challenges and rewards of such grassroots collaborative efforts.
Reorienting Monolingual Pedagogy: The Need for Translingual Workshops
One consequence of privileging an “ideal” Standard Written English is that other dialects and, more generally speaking, other linguistic and cultural resources are dismissed as unacceptable (or simply ignored) in tutoring sessions or classrooms. Transnational, transcultural and multilingual considerations in the writing classroom and/or tutoring table can profoundly shift thinking about how tutors and instructors implement writing pedagogy, in that multilingual process writing (if one may call it that) is not intended to produce an object to be passively consumed and judged on its grammatical merit by a discerning reader. Instead, writers and readers co-construct meaning in written texts together, and thus conversation becomes “an intellectual movement to see languages not as discrete entities but as situated, dynamic, and negotiated” (Matsuda 2013).
The BMCC ESL Lab tutors serve the needs of multilingual students registered in remedial ESL writing courses at the college, focusing both on higher order and grammatical or sentence-level language issues in student writing and on discussing aspects of, and preparing students for, a high-stakes writing exam that they must pass in order to register for credit-bearing mainstream English courses. ESL tutoring sessions at BMCC consist of small group or one-on-one consultations between students and tutors, set as weekly appointments for the entire semester. Certain structural and institutional realities at the school, as well as changes in the Academic Literacy and Linguistics department, have motivated me to rethink the interactions between colleagues in various departments to more clearly reflect the dialogical practices used in tutoring sessions with ESL students.
When college administrators began promoting new priorities and a new mission, including streamlining and combining levels of remedial English/ESL courses, encouraging greater collaboration among departments and programs, and increasing faculty research productivity, I decided:
- To develop multilingual-sensitive faculty/tutor training materials for WAC/WID (Writing Across the Curriculum/Writing in the Disciplines)
- To reach out to colleagues across disciplines to establish grounds for more substantive collaborations, in order to avoid unidirectional monological discourse (such as, for example, merely distributing informational materials about the resources and services ESL Lab/tutoring program offer without actually speaking with faculty from other departments).
At least partially responsible for the increasingly numerous referrals of multilingual students to our lab and tutoring area was what Paul Kei Matsuda (2006) calls the tacit “policy of linguistic containment” that prevails in many universities and colleges, whereby programs and institutions work to contain language differences by sending or outsourcing students to writing centers or specialized courses to work on their language needs (641). While specialized instruction and tutoring can be very helpful for students, who get the benefit of learning from an instructor trained in second language pedagogy, these practices can also have unintended negative consequences. One of these consequences is that linguistic containment contributes to English Only/monolingual ideological assumptions, such as that there is a static “proper” ideal English, and that students’ language issues in writing should be separated, quarantined, and outsourced to specialists in ELL, ESL, or Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).
The implication of monolingual assumptions reinforced by linguistic containment is that faculty who are not ELL specialists or applied linguists are not (and should not be) required to engage with multilingual/ELL issues in student writing. Monolingual notions of static, ideal English classify the linguistic problems of multilingual/ELL students as “abnormal” and situate them “out there” somewhere, outside the mainstream classroom, sequestered and separate from disciplinary writing tasks, to be referred to and dealt with by applied linguists and TESOL specialists, as a general practitioner would refer an extraordinary patient to a medical specialist. The type of divisions between first language (L1) and second language (L2) writing instruction and tutoring at BMCC is neither a recent development nor unusual– most higher education institutions maintain some sort of separation between these types of courses, whether by creating separate sections of writing courses within one department or by giving responsibility for the two types of courses to different departments. Though the English and Academic Literacy and Linguistics departments have much to offer each other and the college more broadly in terms of our collective expertise on writing and second language development, the institutional division between our departments made any potential contributions more difficult to coordinate. This departmental divide also reflects what several prominent scholars in both composition studies and second language writing have noted: the limitations of the long standing division between L1 and L2 writing research and instruction, and the need for greater interdisciplinary conversation and sustained collaboration (Horner et al. 2011; MacDonald 2007; Matsuda 2013; Horner et al 2011).
The Tutor Workshops
Workshop 1: Getting our Multilingual Bearings
In the first workshop, tutors, faculty, and facilitators will begin by thinking about and sharing our own history and experience(s) with language acquisition and study, in order to potentially reorient our thinking about the ways our students deploy translingual practices and navigate and negotiate multiple literacies and fluencies. We will then discuss how multilingual writers’ language abilities can be conceptualized as both a linguistic and cultural topic to help tutors and faculty understand and appreciate multilingual writers’ specific challenges in academic (and other) writing practices. We will then discuss how tutors and teachers can strive for transparency of expectations, goals, and writing tasks, and how a writing assignment can be designed so that multilingual writers’ L1 knowledge and cultural background can be used as a resource (Canagarajah 2006; Horner et al. 2011; Lu and Horner 2013). As practice, the faculty and tutor attendees will analyze instructions for a sample writing assignment and discuss their critique of the assignment’s accessibility for multilingual student writers. At some point in the workshop, we will share our own strategies for reinforcing principles of accessibility and clarity such as using graphic organizers; making a connection between the assignment and what students are already familiar with; using a model essay and analyzing it in class using a color-coding scheme; and modeling our own reading practice by thinking aloud. Each of these strategies will be briefly introduced with a sample activity that the attendees can carry out in their own classes.
In preparation for the series of workshops, I will draw on research from both applied linguistics and rhetoric and composition to try to identify the best practices for responding to multilingual student writing (see Appendix). From my perspective as a Writing Program Administrator (WPA), writing instructor, and researcher, I will consider my own pedagogical and tutor training methods and attempt to situate them within research from each field. Knowing that instructors in all fields who assign writing have to provide students with feedback, I see this as a pedagogical topic that crosses disciplinary divides. Based on experience working with multilingual writers in classrooms and writing centers, I also see this as an area of pedagogy that many tutors and instructors—myself included—struggle with when working with multilingual writers. In the workshop, we will use sample student writing along with samples of tutor/teacher feedback to model our practice alongside the theoretical approaches we will employ.
As a WPA, I have attended and participated in (somewhat) comparable workshops for faculty and tutors in the past, and thus I will be able to build off of similar existing frameworks in creating this workshop, with the added advantage of knowing how tutors and teachers have responded. I will integrate perspectives on feedback from writing center theory and practice into the workshop, relying on the work of Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth (2004) in ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors to find clear guides for responding to multilingual writing. With this foundation, we will stress feedback as interactive social action, emphasizing the importance of context and clear communication. To do this, the curriculum will model a scaffolded method similar to Ferris and Hedgecock’s 2005 triad of "approach, response, follow-up" and it will provide students with feedback, separated into 1) contact 2) comment, and 3) follow-up.
Workshop 2: Grammar Feedback
In the second workshop, I will present strategies for addressing grammar in multilingual writing (Ferris and Hedgecock 2005; Bruce and Rafoth 2004). While grammar correction is a fraught issue both within L1 and L2 composition, we will acknowledge that multilingual student papers may contain, by the standards of their English-speaking professors, excessive grammatical and lexical inaccuracies. Our goal, therefore, will be to provide a framework for approaching grammar in multilingual writing that is as simple and straightforward as possible, to ease use in the classroom. We will emphasize the importance of limiting faculty focus to errors that seemed frequent, serious, and treatable (Ferris and Hedgecock 2005), and second, introduce the distinction between errors and mistakes (Bruce and Rafoth 2004).
However, understanding that tutors and faculty attending the workshops might not be teaching/tutoring language courses and also might not be qualified or desire to provide grammar instruction, we will also be careful to remind workshop participants that grammar correction should be integrated into their courses and tutoring sessions and should be in line with their overall instructional and pedagogical goals. We will emphasize that if improving grammar was not a pedagogical goal, and if students’ mistakes did not seriously impede overall comprehension, it might be appropriate to simply “read through” grammar errors rather than correct them. The workshop will be focused on how to use feedback on writing to help students succeed, and we will concentrate on options for marking errors and mistakes within a student paper. There will be materials in the workshop packet (see Appendix) that will address specific feedback questions such as how much and when to correct, differentiating between mistakes that impede reader understanding from relatively minor errors, et cetera.
Workshop 3: Dialect and Code-Meshing
Another area of multilingual writing that translingual workshops can help sensitize tutors and faculty to is code-meshing, “a communicative device used for specific rhetorical and ideological purposes in which a multilingual speaker intentionally integrates local and academic discourse as a form of resistance, reappropriation and/or transformation of the academic discourse” (Michel-Luna and Canagarajah 2007) in the interest of “strengthening pedagogies of language difference” (Ray 2013). Code-meshing can also be an approach to communication (including writing) “not as something have or have access to but as something we do” (Lu and Horner 2011). A consequence of privileging Standard Written English, or any standardized form of a language, in the classroom is other dialects, or strategies such as code-meshing, are dismissed as unacceptable in the classroom and in student writing. We will propose an approach in the workshop that instead “shifts attention to matters of agency—the ways in which individual language users fashion and refashion standardized norms, identity, the world, and their relation to others and the world… writers are seen not in terms of their degree of proximity, mastery, or adjustment to dominant definitions of exigent, feasible, appropriate, and stable “contexts” or “codes,” but as always responding to and shaping these” (Lu and Horner 2011) As Canagarajah (2006) writes,
Students and teachers who are expected to adopt English only (or monolingual) pedagogies practice bilingual discourse strategies that enable them to develop more relevant classroom interactions, curricular objectives, and learning styles […] Literacy practices of codes meshing are also not unusual—students mix codes to negotiate the meaning of English texts and to compose stories or journals in expressive, creative, or reflective writing (Hornberger). Much of this research literature demonstrates that rather than hampering the acquisition of English, the negotiation of codes can indeed facilitate it (601).
Although it seems difficult to reflect upon the workshops before they have actually occurred, there are some themes and possible outcomes to hope for as I plan for and schedule them with tutors and faculty. The first theme is the importance of making use of professional networks to create a platform for the workshops. Faculty and tutor buy-in for these workshops is necessary for any semblance of pedagogical efficacy and cultural change within the institution. Also importantly, the professional connections I will establish in the course of creating the initial workshops will, I hope, enable me to pursue opportunities to conduct similar sets of workshops with faculty from other disciplines in the future. I also hope that they will enable me to begin to partner more closely with the WAC/WID coordinators at the college to incorporate bi/multi-lingual/ELL education and awareness into WAC/WID workshop materials and resources in a permanent way.
A related theme is that we expect our experiences in the workshops to speak to the difficulties and rewards of interdisciplinary conversation. As we design the workshops, present them, and perhaps subsequently adapt them for different disciplines, a goal will be to mindfully respect faculty members’ disciplinary expertise and their experiences with multilingual writers, even when, or perhaps especially when, they contradict our own approaches and beliefs. This collaborative and open attitude, which we hope to actively cultivate in our conversations with faculty, will not only help us to counter resistance and gain faculty investment (Walvoord), but will also allow us to learn from faculty ourselves and incorporate these new insights into future versions of the workshops. The interdisciplinary nature of the workshops will also require anticipation of what faculty already know and believe about multilingual writing, and to be specifically mindful of their potential resistance to the strategies and information presented in the workshop. It will involve distilling our disciplinary knowledge in ways that avoid jargon and are not predicated on ideas that are unfamiliar or anathema to those outside of the discipline of rhetoric and composition, but that still remain true to the field and professional knowledge of multilingual writers and writing pedagogy.
For example, in the workshop we might present terms such as “disciplinary culture” rather than “discourse community” and “text type” rather than “genre,” as these might be more accessible to our participants. In addition, we will likely decide to include in our presentations practices which we have found effective but which we anticipated might be considered radical or even problematic by our participants, such as teaching strategies for student writers to include their L1s in the research and composing processes, and, as previously mentioned, “reading through” grammar mistakes if they do not impede understanding and are not central to the purpose of the assignment.
How effective might these strategies be? One potential problem could be that the content of our presentations, drawn as it is from literature in the rhetoric and composition and TESOL fields and our own tutoring/teaching experiences, will be too focused on writing in the humanities. As I discussed earlier, there is a need for further collaboration across disciplines during the planning and/or execution of such workshops, to better address participants’ concerns with technical and scientific writing. Faculty might appreciate more focused workshops that target specific disciplinary writing. Workshop presenters should also conduct follow-up surveys and/or classroom observations with the participants, to determine how they have transferred the techniques to their tutoring sessions/classrooms.
Overall, the hope is that the workshops will foster rewarding interdisciplinary interactions, which will benefit both the tutors and the faculty members who participate. As a WPA and tutoring coordinator, I anticipate improving and refining discussions about multilingual writing with faculty from different disciplines and gaining a broader perspective on writing instruction at the university, while providing a service which will empower faculty members and tutors to work more effectively with their multilingual students. These efforts can always continue to be enhanced to be more responsive to participants’ needs, and, hopefully, the dialogic power of collaboration will eventually be a means for tutors and faculty to more effectively address the needs of multilingual writers in a more structured, “official” way within the institution. The overarching goal, of course, is that these workshops will reflect a reconceptualization and reassessment of monolingual tutoring and teaching approaches as well as curricula, which is vital to adequately address a rapidly increasing global, translingual student population. This diverse body of students brings multiple writing styles and literacy traditions to the classroom, many of which could be viewed as cultural and linguistic assets/resources rather than as linguistic deficits/liabilities merely because they deviate from Standard American English.
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Appendix: Tutor-Faculty Workshop Handouts
MULTILINGUAL TUTOR PRE-WORKSHOP QUESTIONS TO THINK ABOUT....
1. Have you studied abroad? What challenges did you encounter—academic, social, cultural, language-related?
2. Have you written extensively in a foreign language? What were your greatest challenges?
3. Have you tutored a multilingual/non-native speaker of English here at CUNY? If so, did this experience differ significantly from tutoring with native speakers? In what ways?
4. Have you been tutored or taught by an international scholar? Describe that experience.
5. What strengths and resources do multilingual (ESL) students tend to bring to CUNY?
WHO ARE MULTILINGUAL STUDENTS? (aka “non-native speakers” or “ESL students”)
Immigrant/Generation 1.5 (most CUNY) Students
International (few CUNY) Students
(linguistic, cultural, academic, personal)
ASSUMPTIONS/GENERALIZATIONS ABOUT ESSAY ORGANIZATION ACROSS CULTURES
One (very general, incomplete) way to think about how languages differ in their conceptions of audience is to consider the range from writer-responsible to reader-responsible within a framework of contrastive or comparative rhetoric (e.g. Hinds, Connor, and Kaplan’s Writing Across Languages). Writer-responsible languages presume that it is the writer’s job to “connect the dots” for readers, by ensuring that all main points are clearly explained and exemplified, and relevant background information is offered explicitly. Reader-Responsible languages place more importance on the reader’s ability to infer from or “make sense” of information, and assume that readers may not need as much explicitness from writers. This can have many variations, as can be seen below.
Adapted from Robert B. Kaplan, “Cultural Thought Patterns in Intercultural Education.” Language and Learning 16:15.
STRATEGIES FOR SUPPORTING MULTILINGUAL (ESL) STUDENTS
VARY TUTORIAL APPROACHES
BE AS VISUAL AND EXPLICIT AS POSSIBLE
KNOW YOUR RESOURCES
GRAMMAR 101/Pick Your Battles: Clarity vs. Correctness & Educating vs. Editing
How concerned should you be? What can/should you do?
Verb tense/form (incorrect or shifting)
If housing prices expecting to fall, there___ many reasons would cause to raise in stock prices. Is he speak Spanish?
Can seriously impede understanding. Ask students to explain what they wish to say orally. It may also help to ask about “who does what” (agent, verb, object).
It is importance to investment money for the retirement.
Often inhibits understanding. Offer another word form, telling them which part of speech they need (n, v, or adj, in most cases).
Rich people try to protect their wealth which are deposited in offshore banks
Often impedes. Worth pointing out and asking for clarification.
Plurals (count/non-count nouns)
They have ordered lab equipments. She fed several gooses and sheeps at the zoo.
Sometimes obstructs understanding, but often not; worth pointing out but perhaps not correcting.
Syntax (sentence structure/word order)
I asked my teacher what would be the date due for the written second assignment.
Sometimes impedes. Worth pointing out and asking for clarification.
General “awkwardness” or incorrect idiomatic expressions
“On the third hand…”
I wish that we will have more time to work on this essay.
Seriousness depends on severity. You can start by telling the student whether it’s a content issue (i.e. “I don’t understand this part”) or simply a style issue (i.e. “This just seems strange”). If the latter, you might ignore it. Expect some “written accent.”
“Marked” non-SAE (Standard American English) errors
He don’t know…
What do you think? (Depends on course, genre, audience, student goals, etc). Code-mesh/code-switch discussion is possible.
[ : . ? ‘ “ ! ]
Rarely if ever hinders understanding. Proceed as you would with your other students.
Incorrect/missing article (a, an, the)
The individuality is [ ] important aspect of American culture.
Almost never impedes understanding. Many tutors correct directly or ignore.
Wrong preposition (to, from, about, by, etc.)
The essay from Montaigne is for many important issues.
Almost never impedes. Many tutors correct directly or ignore.
The goal of feedback is to make better writers, not just better papers!
It may be helpful to think of writing feedback as a three-step process consisting of:
Contact, Comment, and Follow-up.
Contact – Before you comment
- Let your purpose for the assignment guide your commenting
- What is important to you? Match your comments to your
- Is this draft graded or ungraded? Can your students revise? Are there more papers like this in your class?
- Do everything you can to get better first drafts
- Address common problems in class before the paper is due
- Provide detailed assignment sheets to clarify your expectations
- Include grading criteria, rubrics, and checklists when you assign writing
- When possible, provide model texts and help your students analyze what makes them successful
- Identify possible feedback points
- Goals of the assignment
- Grading criteria
- What has been covered in class
- Difficulties you have observed in previous writing assignments
- Share your principles and strategies for commenting with your students
- Explain to your students why and how you comment
- Model your commenting process on a sample paper
- Provide students a paper with comments from a previous class and ask them to make suggestions for how the writer could address the comments
Comment – While you respond
- Select 2-4 feedback points based on the assignment and the student’s needs
- Too many comments overwhelm students and you
- Focus on fewer, high-quality comments
- Be specific
- Respond as a reader
- Explain reasons behind your suggestions
- Give students choices about how to revise
- Address both strengths and weaknesses in the paper
- Avoid jargon-filled and vague comments
- Avoid making changes for the student
Follow-Up – After you comment
- Give students opportunities to ask questions about the comments you have made
- If possible, allow your students to read your comments in class
- Choose a few of the most common issues from the papers and explain them in class (with good and bad examples)
- Make students responsible for addressing your comments
- Require written revision plans or revision reports in which students explain how they have considered and addressed the comments they received or why they chose not to address them
- Require that students summarize the feedback they received and explain how they might apply it in the future
Dealing with grammar – If, when, and how
- Decide whether or not to mark grammar
- Can you understand what the student has written even with grammatical problems?
- Is correct grammar an important part of your instructional goals for the assignment?
- Expect and accept a written accent – non-idiomatic does not necessarily mean incorrect or inappropriate
- Focus on problems that are frequent, serious, and treatable
- Frequent – What errors are most common?
- Serious – What errors impede your understanding?
- Treatable – What errors can the student reasonably be expected to improve on?
- Common “less-treatable” grammar problems include
- Idiomatic expressions and word pairings (on the other hand not in the other hand; take a test not write a test)
- Prepositions, especially when used in abstract ways (i.e. difference in meaning between think about, think of, think over, think on, think through)
- Articles (when to use a, an, the, or nothing before a noun)
- When possible, distinguish between errors and mistakes
- Error – Consistent misuse of particular grammatical structures, usually the result of a lack of understanding of the linguistic feature, a natural and necessary part of language learning.
- Mistake – Typo, or the writer not consistently or consciously applying a grammatical pattern that the he/she does understand
- Addressing errors
- Do not try to address every error, as this will overwhelm
you and your students
- Provide short, narrowly focused grammatical explanations
and lots of practice noticing and correcting the errors in their own writing
- Addressing mistakes
- Be aware of external factors that make it harder for your students to catch their grammar errors
- Time limits on writing
- Challenging content
- Unfamiliar genre/writing task
- Teach self-editing strategies
Time limits on writing
- (reading out loud, reading from the end of the paper to the beginning, thoughtful use of spell-checkers, etc.)
- If you choose to comment on mistakes, do not edit papers for your students - this is work you don’t need, and it reduces your students’ opportunity to learn
- Provide implicit feedback to help students notice the
mistakes and gradually reduce the support you give them – for example:
- Round 1: Mark and label mistakes. Student edits.
- Round 2: Mark mistakes but do not label. Student edits.
- Round 3: Mark lines that contain mistake. Student finds and edits.
- Make students responsible for using your editing feedback
- Web Resources
Purdue OWL ESL https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/5/
Lingolia - http://english.lingolia.com/en/
Student Body: What Happens When Teachers and Students Move Together?
Michael Druffel and Kelly Lerash
Here’s a challenge: for the thirty minutes it takes to read this paper, step back from your desk. Stand up off the couch or away from the coffee table. Stretch out your legs. Lift your computer or tablet, and try to read this essay from beginning to end standing on your feet. If you’re a product of the typical American education system, this is likely going to be an unusual experience for you. Decades of institutional thinking have taught us that physical movement and knowledge acquisition are like fire and ice. Typically, schools assume that if your body is engaged, your mind is wandering. If your mind is active, your body should be anchored to your chair. We usually learn only with a handful of our body parts—such as our eyes and ears and occasionally our mouths, but almost never with our arms, legs, or torsos. But the standard educational model, of only teaching to the student’s eyes and ears, isn’t the only way to teach and learn, nor is it the most effective way for everyone. Engaging the whole body in the classroom can help students learn more than the traditional model allows. We believe that any classroom and any teacher can employ a few simple techniques to engage student’s bodies, and that will improve student’s understanding of academic concepts, create more interest in the lessons, and make the classroom more fun. Are you still standing?
Recently, we spent time in a middle-school math classroom in Harlem, New York. The classroom’s floor is linoleum tile—the kind you expect to see in a middle school, checkered like a chessboard and flecked with years of scuff marks. The walls are painted pastel purple and yellow, and dotted with with student artwork and motivational posters. Thin metal bars crosshatch the windows, which don’t open more than five inches. This is a stereotypical classroom recognizable to most who spent time in the American educational system. Yet despite the classroom’s standard appearance, the teaching and learning techniques were anything but standard. The two motivational teachers use a cutting-edge system simply by requiring students to use their bodies. The teachers used three movement-based techniques to create a learning atmosphere as sophisticated as a classroom which is equipped with DSR (clickers), as pioneered at the University of California, Berkeley. They 1) taught students to associate math vocabulary with simple hand motions; 2) conducted class polls by asking students to stand or to stomp their feet to show support for an answer choice; and 3) instituted a policy of snapping their own fingers or stomping their feet in a rhythm that students would echo back to maintain order and attention in the class.
During a seventh grade geometry class that we observed, these same teachers wanted students to learn how the cross-sections of geometric prisms relate to their base. To get to that conceptual standpoint, the teachers needed students to understand the concepts “horizontal,” “vertical,” “parallel,” and “perpendicular.” They tied the vocabulary words to hand gestures, creating an improvised sign language. Every time students said the word “horizontal,” they made a single horizontal chopping motion with their right arms. When they said the word “vertical,” they made a vertical chopping motion with their right arms. Similar motions accompanied the words “parallel” and “perpendicular.” At the beginning of the lesson, a few of the students mismatched hand gestures to words, but as the lesson progressed, they became more and more accurate. By engaging the students’ entire body, the teachers made every student into a teacher.
To explain how the base of prism related to its cross-section, the teachers used multiple choice questions combined with embodied response from the students. For example, the teachers would ask, “Is this cross section perpendicular or parallel to the base? If you think it’s perpendicular, stomp your feet twice, now. [They pause and listen.] If you think it’s parallel, stomp your feet twice, now. [They pause and listen.]” The teachers gave the students thirty seconds to find someone who disagreed with their answer choice—who had stomped for a different answer—and to try to convince the other person. Then they asked the question again, and the classes accuracy improved. Essentially, they had constructed an embodied clicker system with students able to see how others voted, contemplate the answers, debate, and rethink. This model of guessing and reflecting transformed a standard class into a Freirian class—all students using their bodies to join the conversation and co-teach the math lesson.
To our surprise, the class never got out of hand with the stomping, standing, and debating. In fact, it was orderly from the time the 13 and 14 year-old students took their seats to the time the dismissal bell rang. The teachers maintained classroom order by having students snap their fingers to signal that it was time to regroup. When the thirty seconds to debate expired, the teachers called out, “Snap your fingers twice if you can hear me.” A third of the class snapped. “Snap your fingers if you can hear me.” Two thirds snapped. By the third time the teachers said this—in less than five seconds—the class had finished its discussion and quietly faced the teachers. With three embodied teaching strategies, the teachers created an active learning classroom that used all the students as teachers—teaching vocabulary, teaching math problems, and restoring quiet—through three basic movements.
Benefits in Any Learning Environment
For the remainder of this paper, we will explore the benefits of using an embodied style of learning and teaching not only in the K-12 classroom but in any learning situation, including in the college classroom, and even in advanced graduate study. We were pleased to be able to insert a movement break into every two-hour class session in our own graduate course, “American Literature, American Learning,” and even began writing these brief breaks into the class agenda. It allowed for natural breaks in thinking, focus in direction, mood, meta-cognition, and other pauses, and refreshers that enhanced the class. In this paper, we will focus on the research supporting the importance of movement in learning. We’ll focus on physical health, improved learning outcomes, and even ways that embodied learning helps combat racism and sexism in the classroom.
Kinesthetic learning (or embodied learning—we use the terms interchangeably) can be applied to any classroom from elementary school to college, and we believe it can benefit all types of students. We’ll try to offer some suggestions about how to implement different strategies in a classroom and offer solutions to potential problems. We think kinesthetic learning carries all the benefits of digital student response systems and more. It can be done anywhere with any kind of space. We hope we’ll be able to convince you too. Stomp twice if you can hear us.
There are a variety of self-reporting assessments that can assess the primary learning style of an individual. Researchers Griggs, Barney, Sederberg, Collins, Keith, and Iannacci (2009) conducted a study of 167 students in variety of disciplines around their learning styles and how it affected their classroom competencies and study habits (57). The researchers asked students to complete an online Multiple Intelligence assessment developed by Dr. Howard Gardner, which divided the student’s learning styles in eight categories: self, social, body movement, nature, musical, language, logic/math, spatial (57). The top three strengths for a majority of students were self, social, and body movement, which contradicts the typical college learning environment of lecture and note-taking that is predominantly used in the majority of college classes (57 and 60). This study suggests that for students to perform at their greatest abilities, the classroom atmosphere needs to be adapted to better suit their learning styles. The lack of interaction and movement in the current techniques used in the education of students is not compatible with the students’ strengths. VARK, another multiple intelligence questionnaire used to determine learning styles, categorizes learning as visual [V], aural [A], reading/writing [R], or kinesthetic [K].
In a study by Sinha et al (2013), "Learning Preferences of Clinical Students: A Study in a Malaysian Medical College," the majority of the 176 participants at Melaka-Manipal Medical College were multimodal, meaning that multiple learning disciplines applied to them, and kinesthetic was the highest preference in most categories (61). Additionally, in the mono-modal category, or one preferred learning style, kinesthetic learning was the strongest learning style (62). This information shifted professors lecture style from “teacher-centric” classrooms to “student-centric” classrooms, the latter meaning that learning was more focused around the students doing the heavy lifting of content instead of teachers lecturing (62). The study found a correlation in learning style accommodation and final grade, meaning if the teacher adapted the coursework to better accommodate the learning styles of the students in their classroom, course scores were higher (62). For students who are kinesthetic learners to be successful, they need more hands-on learning and movement to be incorporated into the classroom.
Obesity is a growing problem in the American school system, according to Benes et al: “43 million preschool children worldwide are estimated to be overweight or obese and 92 million are at risk for being overweight” (1). While high body mass index (BMI) contributes to such physical problems as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers, high BMI in children also correlates to poor academic performance and carries over into young children’s adult life (1). Why is obesity a growing problem? Many students are not getting enough physical activity (PA). PA reduces sedentary time, which is any time a person is not sleeping or participating in movement. Currently, many high school-age students are not participating in enough, if any, PA during the school week. Less than 30% of students are participating in the recommended PA levels and up to fourteen percent are not reporting moving at all (1). People who do not incorporate PA in their day put themselves at risk of potential health problems that are challenging to overcome if not addressed at a young age.
Movement should be integrated into the classroom to help combat some of these inactive tendencies and to benefit students’ health in their youth and into adulthood. According to Wester, Russ, Vazou, Goh, Erwin (2015), “Increases in PA are associated with improved health through reducing risk factors for chronic diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease” (692). PA is also proven to improve muscular strength, bone strength, self-esteem, anxiety, and depression (ibid.). Furthermore, movement integration (MI) activities that reduce sedentary time in the classroom “positively influence body mass index, reduce weight in girls, increase health-related fitness, improve on-task behavior, enhance cognitive function, increase academic standardized test scores, increase enjoyment and positive affect, and increase perceived competence and effort in the classroom” (693). Children and adults are often not moving enough outside of the classroom, which can cause long-term negative effects on their health.
According to Morgan, Barnett, Cliff, Okely, Scott, Cohen, and Lubans (2013), people who do not develop their fundamental movement skills (FMS) at an early age could delay their motor abilities (2). FMS are developed and maintained through PA regularly throughout a person's development (ibid.). Studies have shown that if there is PA throughout many lessons per week, the person is more successful at maintaining FMS (12). Therefore, it is crucial for educators to incorporate some sort of movement into their lessons to ensure all students are developing their FMS. Speaking of FMS, be sure to stretch your knees while standing for such a long time!
Movement in the classroom is important in a variety of classroom types and settings, but it might be even more pertinent for schools and classrooms serving a low socioeconomic (SES) population. According to Mitchell, McLennan, Latimer, Graham, Gilmore, and Rush (2011), children from low SES homes perform at a lower decile in FMS (e232). Additionally, children from a low SES background perform lower than children from a higher SES background in locomotors skills (e233). If a school places mandatory interventions PA, there is improvement in motor abilities (e233). Therefore, it is critical for all to be moving in the classroom, but teachers need to be be aware of the students they are serving to ensure they are meeting all of their PA needs and addressing their learning needs. PA in the classroom can be used to better serve a variety of learning styles.
Improved Learning Outcomes
Another measure of multiple intelligence and learning styles in the classroom, both relevant to students' different ways of learning and processing information, is having individuals complete a learning styles inventory. Woeste and Barham performed a four-year study of learning styles of the students in their classroom “have been approximately 15 percent auditory, 40 percent visual, and 45 percent kinesthetic” (2007, 63). The majority of people in their classrooms considered themselves kinesthetic learners, or learners who learn better with physical activity. Woste noticed that by implementing new tactics based on their findings with two lab students, one who identified as a kinesthetic learner and the other who identified as a visual learner, and by moving lab discussions to the lab which allowed the kinesthetic learner to have a hands on approach to the topics they were discussing, that “this approach works so much better” (64). Further, when the students needed to present their research, Woeste and Barham had them roleplay the questions before hand, incorporating kinesthetic learning practices. When the students presented their work, the kinesthetic learner used a variety of movement and hand gestures which he had practiced; they helped him with his presentation and put him more at ease in delivering his findings (2007, 65). Woeste and Barham conclude, “The focus has shifted from concentrating on the constructs of intelligence and processing of information to an increased interest in the students’ active responses to the learning task in the learning environment” (65). This research demonstrates that when professors take the time to understand their students’ learning styles, the outcomes improve for both parties.
Turner, Narayan, Whicker, Bookman and McGann (2011) conducted another study using VARK to assess pediatric residents to better understand their learning preferences and to best use their prolonged hours in order to optimize their time (494). The study found that kinesthetic learning and interactive learning are by far the preferred learning styles for these pediatric residents they include “interactive learning, irrespective learning including simulation-based education, standardized patient interactions, interactive case-based discussions and hands-on patient encounters (494-495). This study concludes that if the curriculum is modified to best fit the needs of its learners, trainee education will be improved and a new educational paradigm will be created (495). In the study it appears that medical students overall learn better with hands-on methods and that they will better serve their patients if they are taught through hands-on learning and will have a better conceptualization of the processes they are executing when they have the opportunity to actually do them.
We know that people possess multiple intelligences. Teachers need to understand the learning styles and the multiple intelligences of the learners in their classrooms. Particularly at the undergraduate college level, students enter the classroom at different levels and competencies. To reach all students, the professor must be able to communicate with students who possess a variety of different types of intelligence (Woeste and Barham, 63). With general education classrooms housing more and more types of neurodiversity and with higher education classrooms including greater numbers of special education students, teachers must teach to the variety of learning styles in the classroom. But this is not just a special education issue. According to Cummings (2016), “Children and adults learn best when taught through their strongest learning modality or combination of modalities” (307). To best educate a person, it is ideal to teach in their primary learning style and follow up with their secondary preferred learning style (ibid.). Based on this, we believe that kinesthetic learning is one of the multiple intelligences teachers should use to reach students. Often, however, kinesthetic learning is not added into the curriculum, harming a large number of learners who could otherwise flourish if their learning preferences were met.
Another self-reported learning style assessment is the Learning Styles Profile, created by the National Association of Secondary Principals, which reports learning styles as auditory, visual, tactile/kinesthetic, analytical, and global. Rebecca Finley Snyder found that despite GPA, 81% of high school students she surveyed considered themselves kinesthetic learners, “they learn best by actually doing things in class, not just by listening and watching. They need to be actively involved in constructing their own knowledge about the subject they are learning” (18). She also found that male students, particularly, self-reported benefited from kinesthetic learning and working with others (18). The studies mentioned above demonstrate that high school students prefer to have hands on learning as opposed to lecture style learning. If there were more kinesthetic learning options for them, they would likely be performing better and enjoying their classroom experiences more. For example, when introducing a new concept in a history class, you can use a gallery walk: students can walk around the room to explore and learn about a variety of material via posters with pictures and written information. This not only gets them out of their seats, but it also gets them to physically engage with the material.
Yet despite the clear physical and educational benefits of kinesthetic learning, most classrooms do not embrace movement as a way to learn. Unintentionally or not, this leads to other problems besides a less effective classroom. The focus on a mind distanced from its body actually can perpetuate unfair structures of racial and gender inequality. Hui Niu Wilcox (2009) notes that in Western thinking, White males are the only people noted purely for their “brilliant objective minds” (106). Wilcox argues further that women and other minorities are thought not capable of understanding science on the same scale because they are too closely tied to their bodies (106). Only the White male is able to move in the classroom unmarked by his body. Because of this privilege, only the White male is seen as the ideal subject for non-embodied learning. His Cartesian duality makes him the only subject who can leave his body at the classroom door and flourish in a system that dismisses embodied forms of knowing.
Wilcox also asserts that “the key to dismantling such a system is to develop alternative models of knowledge production that challenge the interconnected dualism and hierarchies (mind/body, male/female, white/other), and that recognize the body’s capacity to know. The body is not just another thing or object to be controlled and studied. It is in and through our bodies that we experience the world and develop consciousness (106).” White male privilege is reinforced in the classroom by having students sit and listen as the primary means of absorbing information. This system needs to be transformed into bodily movement, she argues, to change the balance of power (106). Further, educators need to explicitly use embodied pedagogies in their classroom; embodied pedagogies can be dance music and theater performance (106). These activities will help women and other minorities who have felt oppressed in the classroom become a more powerful force, not only in the classroom but in other environments where they feel marginalized (107). Further, Wilcox contends that “a learning space that acknowledges students as bodily beings can become dynamic, invigorating, joyful, and even healing” (116).
Movement in the classroom is not only important to ensure that a variety of learning styles are being reached, but it also allows for classroom dynamics to be shifted in a way that allows other, previously educationally oppressed groups to be valued and celebrated in classrooms. To incorporate bodily movement in the classroom, it is not so much that educators must be comfortable with movement themselves, as it should be a shift in mindset for all. Even more importantly, educators should be taught how to make a moving classroom beneficial for all.
Implementing kinesthetic learning in the classroom can be daunting. It is scary to attempt unfamiliar teaching methods, especially when teachers and professors are given very little instruction in how to use them. Most educators don’t have a model for this style of instruction, particularly if they were not taught how to use movement in their own classrooms while in undergrad coursework. Yet we believe it is important to try and there are a variety of ways to incorporate movement integration (MI) and physical activity (PA) into the classroom. Getting students moving in the classroom is vital for their learning and helps combat potential medical issues, while at the same time increasing their learning retention. With a variety of learning styles and diversity in the classroom, it is important to adapt to the vast range of learners. With such a high number of self-identified kinesthetic learners, Woeste and Barham show us that it is appropriate and necessary to incorporate movement and activity into the classroom. The following are some strategies to improve any lesson—whether math or English, middle school or college—by including movement in the classroom: stretching breaks, stand up / sit down, four corners, music and movement, poetry, and a human timeline.
The most basic way to add movement to a classroom is to add a stretching break midway through class. Even a brief stretching break can expose students to more physical activity, stretching is a worthwhile use of class time. In fact, as Sumathi Reddy reported in the Wall Street Journal, experts recommend that for every half an hour of sitting, we should stretch for two minutes. Even this brief break, Reddy writes, is believed to lower the chance of chronic diseases caused by excessive sitting. Thus, a five-minute stretch break in an hour-long class is a healthy choice. Experience has also shown that students can only focus for so long, and a stretching break can help refocus attention. A skeptical teacher might dismiss this as a waste of time, but the time used to stretch can be made up if students are made awake and alert by the break. The added blood flow can also make students quicker and more eager to answer questions. This is especially true in long college classes.
Stand Up / Sit Down
“Stand up / sit down” is one of the easiest ways to use movement to enhance learning. Like the middle school teachers we observed, a teacher using “stand up / sit down” simply asks students a multiple choice question and instruct students to stand for the answer they like. After the students see which of their colleagues agree and disagree with their opinions, the teacher gives them a set amount of time to discuss the issue with one person near them. The teacher then has the class regroup and repeats the exercise to improve accuracy. As mentioned before, this exercise is effective because it cuts to the heart of Freire’s strategy of turning students as co-teachers. By making each student’s opinion embodied, students can learn from each other. They learn what their classmates believe and why they believe it. Besides the utility of this Freirian engagement, “stand up / sit down” can be used in any type of classroom. The activity is just as applicable in a college calculus class (“Stand up if you think the function is continuous; stay seated if you think it is not”) as it is in a high school literature class (“Stand up if you think Gatsby really loved Daisy; sit down if you don’t”). While some educators might think the multiple choice format stifles critical thinking, we disagree. We think that the fact that students get to debate and interact with each other directly, without the usual mediation of the teacher, actually encourages critical thinking. The teacher’s biases are not engaged in the discussion and all students get a chance to learn from their colleagues.
Again, some educators might be nervous to implement this strategy because they are afraid that they will lose the class’s focus. This is a valid concern, but careful planning will prevent or greatly minimize the risk of a class getting out of hand. If teachers employ the snapping or stomping strategy used in the example at the beginning of this chapter, they can more easily regain the class’s attention. The key is for the teacher to discuss the activity with the class, clearly stating that students will have a given amount of time to discuss the question, after which the teacher will snap or stomp. Using a timer or a stopwatch will make it easier for the teacher to maintain order. As the students discuss, the teacher pays attention to the timer, waiting to snap or stomp when time expires.
“Four corners” works like “stand up / sit down.” The teacher asks students a multiple choice question and instructs students to answer by moving to specific corners of the classroom corresponding to specific answers. One way to effectively use this strategy is to group the students using notecards. For example, a middle school biology teacher could teach animal classification by passing out cards to each student containing the name of one of four animals: horse, turtle, tuna, and sparrow. Each corner could be labeled “mammal,” “reptile,” “fish,” or “bird.” The teacher would then tell the students to move to the corner that matches their animal. If everyone is in the right place, all the cards will match. Like “stand up / sit down,” this could be used in any class. College English classes could match lines of poems to the proper meter (“if you have an iambic poem, go to the iambic corner”). Middle school math classes could match angle degrees to terms like “acute,” “obtuse,” or “right.” “Four corners” can also be used in any classroom, regardless of technological options. The key is that once all the students are in the proper corner, all their cards match up.
Music and Movement
Music and movement can be combined with literacy to create a dynamic classroom. Sara Winstead Fry and Georgia Newlin (2010) present their ideas in Using Music to Engage Children in Literacy and History by explaining how to use music and movement in history lessons to bring children’s understanding of their historic readings come to life (12). In a game called Freeze / Shapeshift / 360, Fry and Newlin suggest playing time/culturally appropriate music to set the tone while children are reading, then the teacher yells out a scene from the reading that they should begin to mimic, cuing “Freeze.” After calling “Shapeshift,” the teacher announces another scene that students should act out. Finally, the teacher can say “360” and students will spin around to see what others look like (12). For example, if students were reading about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the teacher could play Cuban music from the 1960s to set the time and place in students’ minds. Once students had commenced reading, the teacher could announce that students were to act as though they were part of the military blockade preventing any missiles from going into Cuba. After a minute or so, the teacher could announce 360, in which students could rotate their feet in a circle without changing their position, so others could see what their classmates were posed as. Next, the teacher would announce “Shapeshift! You are in a negotiation meeting between the United States and the Soviet Union;” the students would immediately begin shifting themselves to fit the scenario.
Another kinesthetic learning activity is called Tableau, introduced by Fry and Newlin (2010). This activity is very similar to Freeze / Shapeshift / 360, but students work in small groups to create the image they are acting out. Before the activity, students should talk about specifics, but during the activity the image the student create should be silent with a focus on facial expressions, physical body expressions, and a clear direction of where the audience is expected to look (12). These activities are effective because they encourage students with multiple learning styles and multiple intelligence styles to be successful in the classroom. They also work to reduce the amount of sedentary time, a shift that can have health benefits over extended periods of time. Hey, reader, Shapeshift! Are you getting any strange looks from other patrons of the coffee shop or from your roommates?
Kinesthetic learning is a very effective way to teach a difficult subject like poetic meter. In her article “Moving Poems: Kinesthetic Learning in the Literature Classroom” (2002), Virginia Zimmerman describes her lesson plans for teaching poetry to college students. She starts each lesson by collaborating with her students to create a movement for stressed and unstressed syllables. This could be steps and hops for unstressed syllables or kicks and punches for stressed ones: students can decide. The students then read the poem out loud, matching the movements they devised to the syllables in the poem.
As students become more comfortable, the teacher can add more restrictions, team activities, or competitions/races to challenge the class further. For example, a class could move to the quad or gymnasium and play Capture the Flag using the poetic movements the students devised: one side could only hop in iambs, the other could only skip in trochees. While a game like Capture the Flag might appear purely silly and not intellectually rigorous, we believe it is actually a very effective pedagogical tool. When students dodge and juke, they will inevitably break the metrical pattern. The teacher should call attention to these moments of chaos, pointing out (in a good-natured way) the students who cheated the metrical form. This could then lead to a discussion of how metrical poetry will break the form at points of emotional intensity. Having cheated the pattern themselves, students would then be more aware of when poets do it, and will be able to do powerful close readings based on insights gained from metrical chaos in an otherwise orderly poem. Alternatively, the assignment could be to create a dance that shows the meter while also showing the mood of the entire poem; this is more challenging, but also allows students to rise to the challenge of demonstrating their deep understanding of a poem. Thus, kinesthetic activity allows people to get out of their seats and move, but it is also a very clear visual for the instructor to see their understanding of meter. The immediate feedback can benefit both students and teacher and help ensure everyone is doing their best learning.
Interactive kinesthetic learning does not always require getting out of the classroom to go to a park or intricate planning by the instructor; it can be a simple activity like having students create a human timeline. History teachers can give notecards to students describing historical events and, as Wolfe describes in her article “Human Timeline: A Spatial-Kinesthetic Exercise in Biblical History” (2009), “ask the students to line up so that their cards are in chronological order, with the earliest events at the left and the latest at the right” (33). This lesson can be adapted, Wolfe continues, by having students space themselves according to how much time is between each events, having extras as chronological order placers, not allow speaking, or making them dance through the timeline (35). This type of activity can be translated into many different forms. It can be used in a literature class to depict changing literary periods, in an art class to visualize different artistic periods, or even in a biology or chemistry class, in which the cards could describe stages of a reaction. This activity gets people out of their seats without feeling intimidated. It is a low-level interaction that allows a large population to participate without the intimidation or fear of doing it wrong. Timelines can also be used as an icebreaker to get a group of people moving and getting to know each other. For example, a teacher could have students line up according to their birthdays. To make it more challenging, have them line up silently.
Working with Students with Physical Limitations
Obviously more demanding physical activities like Capture the Flag are not for all students. Some students have conditions that make engaging in complicated movement difficult or impossible. Recognizing the physical limitations of their students, some teachers could be tempted to abandon kinesthetic learning entirely. At the same time, exercise is for everybody, at whatever level of ability. Everyone needs movement and far too often, people with physical disabilities are deprived of situations where appropriate movement is enjoyable and beneficial. Of course, teachers should never force students to do something the students can’t do or find excessively uncomfortable. But just because some students have physical limitations, it doesn’t mean teachers have to throw out all attempts at embodied learning. If students have conditions that prevent them from running to play meter tag, for example, teachers can focus on simpler forms of embodied learning, like the idea of pairing new vocabulary terms with hand gestures. If students have a hard time stomping their feet as a sign to return focus to the teacher, teachers can instead employ a clapping or a finger-snapping sign. Because students with disabilities may lead less active lifestyles, it’s even more important that educators structure PA into the classroom. The Government of Hong Kong's Leisure and Cultural Services Department recommends a series of stretching motions through a variety of videos that target specific muscle groups. Educators can pick appropriate exercises from these videos for their students. Even though these exercises are created with people who have disablilities in mind, they benefit everyone in class. Still, teachers should always calibrate their lessons to their students, and this can include replacing difficult physical activities with less difficult ones.
Just as educators can be apprehensive adding movement to their classes, so too might some students might feel apprehensive or embarrassed to move in class. This is understandable. For decades, our educational system has taught students to ignore their bodies while learning. Bodies are unfairly stigmatized. Naturally, students who have spent their lives in the American educational system might balk when their teachers encourage them to learn using their whole bodies. But apprehension is no reason to abandon the project. It might be scary to try kinesthetic learning at first. To solve this problem, a teacher must clearly explain that the class will try something new, but the teacher believes movement will help the students. If the project doesn’t work with a particular group of students, a teacher can abandon it. The important point is to get students to try it. If students try playing “stand up / sit down” and someone strenuously objects, a teacher can discontinue it. But teachers should try new strategies—especially strategies that have the benefits that kinesthetic learning does—and should not be afraid to gently force students out of their comfort zones.
The Teacher’s Comfort
It might not only be the students who are apprehensive to try a new activity. Teachers themselves might be nervous to experiment with a new method in a class. Yet teachers can also overcome their apprehension; all it takes is careful planning. If teachers are nervous about the timing of a lesson or about how to present the instructions to the students, they can role play with colleagues or discuss their ideas on an internet forum like HASTAC. By reaching out to other educators, teachers can build their confidence and work out kinks in lesson plans ahead of time, so that when it’s time to introduce kinesthetic lessons to the students, the lessons will run more smoothly. As long as teachers have spent ample time preparing the lessons, movement-based activities will likely run smoothly. Some teachers might object to the extra time it takes to prepare new lessons. However, we argue that the benefits to the students are worth it. And a well planned lesson requires less work in class. If a teacher has timed out how long an activity should take, they need not focus on those issues in class and can be more present for the students. If teachers are still nervous about trying a new strategy like embodied learning, we recommend using exit tickets in class, first introduced to us by Cathy Davidson. Using an exit ticket is this easy: at the end of class, teachers can pass out notecards for students on which students can offer feedback. This strategy will help teachers improve their movement-based lessons and boost confidence.
Learning and physical engagement work together. As we’ve shown, most people say that they learn best by moving. Adding movement into a lesson plan doesn’t have to be a burden. It can be as simple as having students stretch in class and asking them to stand up more. But this basic movement redistributes the teaching load in class. Able to learn from each other’s bodies—by standing or moving their arms to express answers—all students take up the task of teaching and reinforcing concepts. It makes learning easier and more fun. And as you’ve learned by standing and reading yourself, you can engage your body and mind at the same time. Snap once if you are convinced it is worth trying kinesthetic learning in your classroom, twice if you aren’t.
Benes, Sarah; Finn, Kevin E.; Sullivan, Eileen C.; and Yon, Zi. 2016. “Teachers' Perceptions of Using Movement in the Classroom.” The Physical Educator, 73(1): 110-135.
Cummings Persellin, Diane. 1992. “Responses to Rhythm Patterns When Presented to Children through Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic Modalities.” The National Association for Music Education, 40.4: 306-315.
Griggs, LeeAnne, Sally Barney, Janet Brown Sederberg, Elizabeth Collins, Susan Keith, Lisa Iannacci. 2009. “Varying Pedagogy to Address Students Multiple Intelligences” Human Agriculture: Journal of the Sociology of Self Knowledge, VII: 55-60.
Fry, Sara Winstead and Newlin, Georgia. “Using Music to Engage Children in Literacy and History.” Kodaly Envoy, (2010): 12-14.
Mitchell, Brooke, Stephanie McLennan, Kasha Latimer, David Graham, Janine Gilmore & Elaine Rush. 2011. “Improvement of Fundamental Movement Skills Through Support and Mentorship of Classroom Teachers." Obesity Research & Clinical Practice: e230-e234.
Morgan, Philip, Lisa Barnett, Dylan Cliff, Anthony Okely, Kristen Cohen, and David Lubans. 2013. “Fundamental Movement Skill Interventions in Youth: A systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Pediatric. 132. 5: 1-20.
Reddy, Sumathi. 2015. “The Price We Pay for Sitting Too Much,” The Wall Street Journal. 28 Sept.
Sinha, N., Bhardwaj, A., Singh, S., & Abas, A. 2013. "Learning Preferences of Clinical Students: A Study in a Malaysian Medical College." International Journal of Medicine & Public Health, 3(1): 60-63.
Snyder, Rebecca Finley. 1999. “The Relationship Between Learning Styles/ Multiple Intelligences and Academic Achievement of High School Students.” High School Journal, 83(2), 11.
Turner, David, Aditee Narayan, Shari Whicker, Jack Bookman, & Kathleen McGann. 2011. “Do Pediatric Residents Prefer Interactive Learning? Educational Challenges in the Duty Hours Era." Medical Teacher: 494-496.
Webster, C.A., L. Russ, S. Vazou, T.L. Goh, and H. Erwin. 2015. “Integrating Movement in Academic Classrooms: Understanding, Applying and Advancing the Knowledge Base." World Obesity: 691-701.
Wolfe, Lisa. 2009. “Human Timeline: A Spatial-Kinesthetic Exercise in Biblical History.” Teaching Theology and Religion, 12.4: 366-370.
Woeste, Lori and Beverly Barham. 2007. “Undergraduate Student Researchers, Preferred Learning Styles, and Basic Science Research: A Winning Combination." The Clearning House, 81.2: 63-66.
Zimmerman, Virginia. 2002. “Moving Poems: Kinesthetic Learning in the Literature Classroom,” Pedagogy, 2.2: 409-412.
The Atlanta Compromise, Reacting to the Past
"No republic is safe that tolerates a privileged class, or denies to any of its citizens equal rights and equal means to maintain them."
- Frederick Douglass
The year is 1895, and you are one of a select few who have been invited by Booker T. Washington to listen to him rehearse the speech that he will be delivering to a large audience at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta in a few days. After Frederick Douglass, who passed away earlier in the year, Mr. Washington is the leading African American figure in the South and beyond. You anxiously anticipate what the founder of Tuskegee will say, being acutely aware of the consequences his message will have on the future of the “Negro race.“ Your parents, former slaves, support your progressive views, but they remain comfortable in the roles they were left with after abolition and they accept Mr. Washington’s sentiment on conciliation. They wonder about the young W. E. B. Du Bois of whom you have spoken. Dr. Du Bois will also be among those who will listen to Mr. Washington rehearse his speech. Later, you will have a chance, with others in attendance, to give your honest perspective on the speech. You are excited to take part in what is expected to be a historic event.
The “you” in the previous paragraph is a role in a classroom game. In this game, students are participating in one of the most critical incidents in African American history, one that some believe was responsible for securing Jim Crow laws in the South for another 60 years. The people involved in these incidents were larger-than-life historical figures with views of what was best for African Americans and the recognition and the support of those in power for them to carry out their goals. While acting in these roles, students learn to understand how we make choices and the motivations for those choices, and how to communicate views effectively. They get to experience the many forces and tensions of the time, and recognize how those tensions continue to influence American history today, particularly African American history.
Reacting to the Past
The Atlanta Compromise Game, which I developed, is modeled in the style of “Reacting to the Past” games. In these games, students research and then take on roles of people of the time, attempting to carry out their agendas and persuading others in the process. Through this pedagogical model, students learn a host of skills—speaking, writing, critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, and teamwork—in order to prevail in difficult and complicated situations. They must communicate their ideas persuasively in papers and in-class speeches and meetings, pursuing a course of action they think will help them win the game.
The Reacting to the Past games (RTTP) were conceived of and pioneered in the late 1990s by Mark C. Carnes, professor of history at Barnard College. Professor Carnes learned from observations and discussions with students in his first year seminar courses that students were not comfortable discussing course content in class for fear of being judged by their classmates and teacher on a possible lack of comprehension. He also found that students felt a lack of connection to the required texts; they viewed the texts as “intellectual hurdles to be cleared” (Carnes 2004). Carnes concluded that if students were inhibited by their insecurities and not connecting, they might engage more if they assumed the identity of a participant in an event and if he took a more passive role in the process.
Scholars at Barnard College conducted a study on RTTP pedagogy from 1999 to 2005. Steven J. Stroessner, Laurie Susser Beckerman, and Alexis Whittaker, all of Barnard’s Department of Psychology, invited students to participate in a survey on first year seminar courses in general, without revealing the intention of the study. The scholars were looking primarily at psychological factors and writing and rhetoric skills. Their survey results revealed that students had higher self-esteem, greater empathy, and the belief that people can change over time when participating in RTTP courses (617).
Carnes, Mark. “Setting Students’ Minds on Fire.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 8, 2004. Web.
Reacting to the Past. Barnard College. 2016. https://reacting.barnard.edu/curriculum
Stroessner, Steven J., Laurie Susser Beckerman, and Alexis Whittaker. “All the World’s a Stage? Consequences of a Role-Playing Pedagogy on Psychological Factors and Writing and Rhetorical Skill in College Undergraduates.” Journal of Educational Psychology 101, no. 3 (2009): 605–620.
The Atlanta Compromise Game
Reacting to the Past documents typically include an instructor manual, a game manual for students, and role sheets. The following is a composite of these in the form of an instructor guide for the Atlanta Compromise Game. This section can be excerpted and adapted for students. Brief roles for up to fifteen players are included here, or students can make up their own roles as part of the game. The game is appropriate for students in an upper level advanced placement high school history course or in a first-year college seminar. It has been developed to take place over a series of four one-hour class sessions.
The famous speech that Booker T. Washington gave in Atlanta in 1895 is a critical part of American history with repercussions that reverberate today, over one hundred years later. The speech marks the beginning of the temporal setting of the game. Two major events set the stage for two counterfactual events played out in the game. The first of these is a meeting among a group of people invited by Booker T. Washington to provide their views on a rehearsal of the speech that he intends to deliver in a few days at the notable Cotton States and International Exposition in 1895. The second is a meeting called by W.E.B. Du Bois to discuss the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson ruling less than one year later.
Students acting in roles of personalities of the time, most historical and some fictional, are interacting with one another without formal instruction. After the first class, in which the instructor sets up the game, discusses the historical context, and hands out roles and the first assignment, students will take over in their roles to discuss the speech in the second class session. Continuing in their roles, students will discuss Plessy v. Ferguson in the third class session.
In Reacting to the Past games, the instructor takes on the role of gamemaster, operating as a participant and secretary, handing out roles and assignments, announcing voting, and collecting the votes. As instructor, you are a passive observer the rest of the time. In the fourth and final class, you facilitate debriefing and discuss contemporary events that relate to issues raised in the game.
The objective of the game is for students acting in the roles they are playing to persuasively defend the faction they are aligned with in order to win the votes of those who are undecided.
The roles that students play in the game align with one of three factions: support, oppose, and undecided. Supporters accept the separate but equal mindset perpetuated through Jim Crow laws. Those in opposition are against the laws and do not accept that African Americans can live equally if separate. Finally, those who are undecided are between whether to accept Booker T. Washington’s message of conciliation and acceptance or to join the opposition. The support faction and the oppose faction work to persuade the undecided faction to join them.
The roles of those in the two decisive factions are historical figures. Personas of fictional students attending Tuskegee Institute, like the “you” introduced at the beginning of the chapter, represent the undecided. One student character is based on a young man, William F. Fonvielle, whose account of travelling through the South in 1892, “The South as I Saw It,” was published in the A.M.E. Zion Quarterly, a magazine established in North Carolina in 1890 that was, from its full title, "Designed to Represent, Religious Thought, Development and General Character of the Afro-American Race in America." Fonvielle is aligned with the opposition faction, but this information should only be known to the student in that role. Those in the decisive factions know only that they must persuade the students to take their side.
There are brief bios for up to 15 roles provided later in this chapter. For larger classes, students can create roles that will be voted on for inclusion in the game. An unequal amount of players is needed for voting to not result in a tie.
Primary sources serve as the research materials. A suggested reading list is included after the game play section of this guide.
Blank index cards
Pens or pencils
Class blog or Google document for students to post their opinion piece for peer review.
Prepare to play
- Start the class by introducing the Reacting to the Past role playing approach. Explain that students research and then take on roles of the people of that time, attempting to carry out their agendas and persuading others in the process.
- Follow with a discussion of the historical background and the setting for game play, encouraging student participation (40 minutes).
- Hand out the typed version of the speech and role sheets, and play the recording of the the beginning of Booker T. Washington reading the speech (10 minutes).
- Transition to role of secretary to hand out roles and give the assignment for the upcoming meeting.
In 1856, Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation as an executive order, declaring freedom for over three million former slaves. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution formally abolished slavery: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to the jurisdiction." The 14th Amendment granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” which included former slaves recently freed. In addition, it forbade states from denying any person "life, liberty or property, without due process of law" or "deny[ing] to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The 15th Amendment went further, granting African American men the right to vote, declaring that the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
Reconstruction went into effect to aid four million newly freed men by providing education, workforce training, and land, as well as to encourage African Americans to live as equals. However, state governments in the South, dissatisfied with the change of status for all, established their own legal “black codes” that enforced separation of the races. This was under the guise of equal rights for all, separately. These codes, known as Jim Crow laws, disenfranchised blacks.
Booker T. Washington, born a slave in 1856, persevered through financial hardship to attend Hampton University. While there, he befriended the white founder of Hampton, General Samuel C. Chapman. Recognizing Washington’s potential, General Chapman appointed him head of a new school in Alabama. In 1881, Washington became the head of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, adding to his developing reputation as an African American leader.
By 1895, Washington was an established representative for African Americans in the South. He was writing and speaking widely about the evolution and progress of his community, but less on the unceasing oppression that southern African Americans still suffered. In the spring of 1895, he was invited to accompany a committee of nearly all White men from Atlanta to appear before a committee of all White members of Congress to appeal for help for the upcoming Exposition. During his time speaking, as he recounted in Up From Slavery, he announced that that “the Atlanta Exposition would present an opportunity for both races to show what advance they had made since freedom, and would at the same time afford encouragement to them to make still greater progress” (101).
Two years after an 1890 Louisiana statute that provided for segregated “separate but equal” railroad accommodations, Homer Plessy, a fair-skinned African American, was arrested for violating the statute; he had deliberately tested the law, convinced that it was unconstitutional. He was found guilty on the grounds that the law was a reasonable exercise of the state’s police powers based on custom, usage, and tradition. Presiding at the trial was John H. Ferguson. After the verdict, Plessy filed a petition for writs of prohibition and certiorari in the Supreme Court of Louisiana against Ferguson, asserting that segregation stigmatized blacks and was in violation of the 13th and 14th Amendments. When Booker T. Washington delivered his speech, this important case was still pending.
- Develop your role using primary source materials, when available. In your role, think about the motivations behind your alignment to your faction.
- Read and reflect on Booker T. Washington’s speech.
- Write a position from the perspective of your role. Respond to the following prompts.
- Do you support the speech? Why or why not? What would you suggest that Mr. Washington add to or remove from the speech? Why? If you are Booker T. Washington, why are you committed to the belief that conciliation is the answer? support Is there anything you would like to add or remove? If so, why?
- Do you support Jim Crow laws? Develop a persuasive argument for why you do or do not support segregation.
Day two will take place in a meeting room at the Tuskegee Institute.
- Arrange desks/tables and chairs to simulate a meeting room. Have name cards available for students to pick up as they enter class. They will seat themselves, placing the cards in front of them.
- The group convenes to discuss their views on the speech. Each person must state their position. Others can enter discussion to counter the position and then state their own. Booker T. Washington will state his position last.
- As gamemaster, you should take note of time and urge each person to speak, particularly if one person attempts to control the discussion. Allow most of the class time for group discussion. Fifteen minutes before the end of class, in your role as secretary, stand up to say that the meeting will be ending in five minutes. Call the end of the meeting.
- Hand out index cards for voting. Everyone will cast their (mandatory) vote based on the persuasiveness of positions represented in terms of separate but equal. Those aligned with a decisive faction are expected to not betray their faction. Undecided votes will determine which faction wins this round.
- Collect cards, count votes, and call out winning faction.
- Hand out assignment for next session.
“Wilberforce, 24, Sept., ‘95
My Dear Mr Washington: Let me heartily congratulate you upon your phenomenal success at Atlanta -- it was a word fitly spoken.
W. E. B. Du Bois”
The time is now eight months later. After the meeting discussing the speech that Booker T. Washington was to give at the Exposition, Washington thanked you in a personal note for your attendance and for your opinion. He added that the words he initially wrote were the ones he felt most deeply and that inspired him to deliver those same words at the Exposition on September 18, 1895.
The ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson is decided on May 18, 1896. Angered, W. E. B. Du Bois decides to invite all those in attendance at the meeting before Booker T. Washington’s speech to discuss the ruling.
- Look for an article to read on the ruling in a historical news source.
- As the role you are playing, write an opinion piece about the ruling for a newspaper, persuasively stating why you support it or oppose it. In this alternate version of 1895, a class blog will serve as the newspaper publishing your opinion. Each person will read each other’s opinions before class. Additionally, prepare notes on what you will discuss at the meeting.
- Write your comments on the ruling that you would like to discuss at the meeting.
Background on the case:
After Louisiana passed the Separate Car Act in 1890, enacted to allow rail carriers to segregate train cars, the Comité des Citoyens (Committee of Citizens) of New Orleans decided to challenge the law in the courts. On June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy, a fair-skinned “octoroon” (a person of one-eighth Black ancestry), purchased a first-class ticket and sat in white-only car. He was arrested and jailed for remaining in the car. The case was brought to trial in a New Orleans court and Plessy was convicted of violating the law. He then filed a petition against the judge in that trial, Hon. John H. Ferguson, at the Louisiana Supreme Court, arguing that the segregation law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbids states from denying "to any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws," as well as that it violated the Thirteenth Amendment, which banned slavery. The Court upheld the doctrine of "Separate but Equal" and ruled against Plessy.
Read the case here.
Day three will take place in a meeting room at Wilberforce University in Ohio.
- Your responsibilities as gamemaster will be the same as they were during day two, but you are now W. E. B. Du Bois’ secretary.
- End the game with a quote from Du Bois’ essay “Of Booker T. Washington and Others,” published in Souls of Black Folk:
“In the history of nearly all other races and peoples the doctrine preached at such crises has been that manly self-respect is worth more than lands and houses, and that a people who voluntarily surrender such respect, or cease striving for it, are not worth civilizing. In answer to this, it has been claimed that the Negro can survive only through submission. Mr. Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at least for the present, three things,—
First, political power,
Second, insistence on civil rights,
Third, higher education of Negro youth,—
and concentrate all their energies on industrial education, the accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South. This policy has been courageously and insistently advocated for over fifteen years, and has been triumphant for perhaps ten years. As a result of this tender of the palm-branch, what has been the return? In these years there have occurred:
- The disfranchisement of the Negro.
- The legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the Negro.
- The steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the higher training of the Negro” (53).
Write a reflection on your participation in the game, including:
- Your general feelings about portraying your role.
- Your connection to the motivations behind the person you portrayed.
- Your connection to the motivations of your faction.
- Your perception of the historical events viewed through the role you played.
Read the following:
Du Bois, W. E. B. 1903. "Of Booker T. Washington and Others." Souls of Black Folk. Project Gutenberg.
Brown v. Board of Education ruling. 1954. Topeka 347 U.S. 483.
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. 2009. “The Tragedy and Betrayal of Booker T. Washington.” The Atlantic. 31 Mar 2009.
Day Four -
Debriefing and discussion of readings.
Discuss reflections. Encourage everyone to participate in this discussion. Those who do not participate will turn in their reflection.
Discuss readings. Suggestion for discussion: Consider a potential catalyst that could have rid the South of Jim Crow before 1954, when the separate but equal doctrine was overturned by Brown v. Board of Education.
Optional: Timeline game
- For a class of fifteen students, create three identical timelines for three teams of five players. Use example below for increments.
- Write one event from list on individual sticky notes. Make three sets.
- Hang timelines around room, give each group a set of events. Each player takes two to three events to place on timeline.
- The first team to place events correctly along the timeline wins.
Booker T. Washington speech at Cotton Exposition (1895)
Plessy v. Ferguson ruling (1896)
Souls of Black Folk published (1903)
Harlem Renaissance (1920s-1930s)
Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
Montgomery Bus Boycott (1956)
Mississippi civil rights workers’ murders (June 21-22, 1964)
Civil Rights Act (enacted July 2, 1964)
Rodney King’s beating by the LAPD and subsequent LA riots (1991)
Barack Obama’s first term as President of the United States (2008)
Use of #blacklivesmatter hashtag on social media (2013)
Ferguson protests after Michael Brown’s death by a white police officer (2014)
Suggested Reading List
"The Atlanta Exposition: President Cleveland Starts the Machinery in Motion." 1895. The New York Times: 19 Sept. 1895.
"Separate Coach Law Upheld: The Supreme Court Decides a Case from Louisiana." 1896. The Washington Post 19 May 1896: 6. Available in ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Douglass, Frederick. 1866. "Reconstruction." The Atlantic Monthly.
Du Bois, W. E. B. 1899. "A Negro Schoolmaster in the South." The Atlantic Monthly.
---. 1903. "Of Booker T. Washington and Others." Souls of Black Folk. Project Gutenberg.
Fonvielle, W. F. "The South As I Saw It." A.M.E. Zion Church Quarterly (1894): 149-58. African American Historical Serials Collection. Web.
Wells-Barnett, Ida B. A Red Record Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the United States, 1892-1893-1894. Chicago: Donohue & Henneberry, 1895. Project Gutenberg.
Washington, Booker T. 1896. "The Awakening of the Negro." The Atlantic Monthly.
---. 1896. "Aims to Uplift a Race: Booker T. Washington as The Negro's Industrial Benefactor." The Washington Post 21 June 1896: 25. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
---. 1901. Up From Slavery. Project Gutenberg.
Washington, Booker T, and Du Bois, W. E. B. 1907. The Negro in the South, His Economic Progress in Relation to His Moral and Religious Development: Being the William Levi Bull Lectures for the Year 1907. Philadelphia: G.W. Jacobs & Co.
Washington, Booker T, Louis R. Harlan, and Raymond Smock. 1889. The Booker T. Washington Papers. Volume 3 1889-95. p 567-589. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972.
The following are role sheets to hand out individually to students. Students should not share their roles with others.
Booker T. Washington
Faction: Supports Separate but Equal
You were born a slave in 1856 on a plantation in Franklin County, Virginia, and were raised with your brother and sister by your mother in the typical log cabin. Your mother was the plantation cook. You were called to the big house to do chores on occasion; once you served as fly swatter on a warm day when a meal was served outdoors. You were a curious boy and you yearned for an education once you were free. You eventually traveled to Hampton, Virginia, working day and night to support yourself and pay the fees to attend Hampton Institute. One of the directors of the school, General Chapman, saw your potential, mentored you, and then recommended that you be appointed as the head of the new Tuskegee Industrial and Normal Institute, which you became in 1881. You condemn slavery, but you see the benefit of learning the skills slaves used in their labor. You see this in terms of the economic value of these skills, as former White masters are dependent and must pay others to perform them.
Thomas Dixon Jr.
Faction: Supports Separate but Equal
You are a white Southerner born in 1964 in Shelby, North Carolina. You were educated at Wake Forest University and Johns Hopkins University, and considered a career in acting and then law. After failing at those, you followed in the footsteps of your father, becoming a Baptist minister. You will soon be moving to New York to preach in a church there. You have also begun to write historical novels incorporating your beliefs of the inferiority of the “Negro race,” including The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan
(1905). You are an overt segregationist and believe that lynchings by the Ku Klux Klan are justified. You are not eager to meet with the radicals, but you think that Booker T. Washington is a Negro who acknowledges that limiting education to teaching fieldwork, home-building, and similar skills is the way forward, and you are eager to have your say.
Edgar Garner Murphy
Faction: Supports Separate but Equal
You were born in Arkansas in 1869, but moved to Texas as a young boy with your mother and sister after your father abandoned the family. You then moved to Tennessee at 16 to study at the University of the South in Sewanee. You are an Episcopal priest and advocate for improved child labor laws and public education. You served churches in Texas before you were ordained in 1893. You are now Rector of St. Paul’s Church in Chillicothe, Ohio. You are a vocal supporter of white supremacy, but are horrified by the practice of lynching. You now believe that is it up to the southern white upper classes to stop allowing that barbaric act to continue. You have visited Tuskegee Industrial and Normal Institute, considering it as a site for meetings with other advocates of your causes.
Faction: Supports Separate but Equal
You were born in 1863 on your parents’ plantation in Madison County, Mississippi. Your father was a wealthy plantation owner but suffered great financial losses after the Civil War. As a result, he was no longer able to afford the tuition at Canton Young Ladies’ Academy. You educated yourself and opened a private school in a room on the plantation to earn income. Although you are deeply committed to public education and are an advocate for women’s rights, you remain a firm believer in white supremacy. You are currently working on your autobiography, A Slaveholder’s Daughter.
Faction: Supports Separate but Equal
You were born into slavery in 1847 at Davis Bend, Mississippi on the plantation of Joseph Davis, the brother of Jefferson Davis, who was the president of the Southern Confederacy. Mr. Davis provided relatively good working conditions and encouraged literacy among his slaves. He relied on your father for cotton transactions as well as for his skills as a mechanic. After the war, your parents stayed on the plantation and prospered. They improved the land, diversified the crops and became major cotton producers in the region. Your father fostered a colony of freedmen on the property until he was unable to sustain it. After your father died, you furthered his dream of a segregated community for Negroes, founding Mound Bayou between the big employers for the folks in the community, the Memphis and Vicksburg railroad lines. Five years ago, you were the only elected Negro representative allowed into the Mississippi Constitutional Convention, formed to promote disenfranchisement of Negroes. You support this measure, believing in the good of a segregated Negro community, as evidenced at Mound Bayou.
John Sharp Williams
Faction: Supports Separate but Equal
You were born in Memphis in 1854. Your mother died when you were young and your father, a colonel in the Confederate army, was killed in the Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War. Your mother’s father took you and your brother to his plantation where his second wife raised you after he died. You received a law degree from the University of Virginia, and in 1893, you were elected to the United States House of Representatives. You proudly proclaim your views on the limitations of the Negro race.
W.E.B. Du Bois
Faction: Opposes Separate but Equal
You were born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1868 and raised in a racially integrated community. While you have not had to endure the racial upheaval in the south, you have had a fair share of bigotry aimed at you, particularly as an undergraduate at Fisk University. You very recently earned a doctorate from Harvard, the first African American to do so. As an undergraduate you attended Fisk University before transferring to Harvard, and studying abroad at the University of Berlin. You wrote to Mr. Washington to see there might be a place for you to teach there and received a curt offer of a position to teach math. You are currently teaching at Wilberforce University, Ohio but still not the areas of your specialty, History and Sociology, and therefore you are pursuing other teaching opportunities. You continue to write and are currently working on a monograph on the suppression of the slave trade. You are active in civil rights causes.
Ida B. Wells
Faction: Opposes Separate but Equal
You were born in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862, right before President Lincoln emancipated Confederate-held territory. Your parents, active in the Republican Party during Reconstruction, died from a yellow fever epidemic when you were a teen. To keep your remaining family together, you took a job as a teacher and later moved to Memphis to live with your aunt. You began your college education at Fisk University. You became appalled by the disenfranchisement of Negroes and felt compelled to speak out against it. The first incident that set you on the path of fighting for equal rights was in 1884, when you were ordered to a Jim Crow car where there were no first class accommodations, despite your having purchased a first class ticket. You hired an African American lawyer to sue the railroad company on your behalf, won the case in lower court only to have it appealed by the railroad company in Tennessee Supreme Court. The higher court concluded that you were not acting in good faith to find a suitable seat for the ride, reversing the lower court’s ruling. As co-owner and editor of The Free Speech and Headlight, a local Negro newspaper in Memphis, you wrote your own editorials condemning violence against Negroes, disenfranchisement, and failure of Negroes to fight for equal rights. In 1892, your friend Tom Moss was lynched after defending his store against an attack by whites. Outraged, you promoted an anti-lynching campaign. Your pamphlet, The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States, was recently published.
Anna J. Cooper
Faction: Opposes Separate but Equal
You were born into slavery in 1858 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Your mother worked as a domestic servant for a wealthy lawyer who you suspect was your father. When you were ten years old, you attended St. Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute. You thrived there, immersing yourself in classical studies and helping to teach younger students. You married at the age of eighteen and were widowed two years later. Your status as a widow enabled you to continue teaching. You soon applied for admission to Oberlin College in 1881, writing directly to the President of Oberlin requesting admission, free tuition and a place to stay in exchange for a commitment to teach summers. You were accepted and followed a rigorous course of study, eventually earning a Bachelor of Arts in 1884 and then a Master of Arts in college teaching in 1887, both degrees from Oberlin. You do not object to the industrial education that Booker T. Washington encourages, and praised his work in your book, A Voice From the South. You do object to industrial education as the dominant form of education for African American youths.
John Wesley Gilbert
Faction: Opposes Separate but Equal
You were born in Hephzibah, Georgia in 1864. As a child you spent half of the year on a farm and the other half in public schools in Augusta. You were interested in the classics, and you learned languages easily. In 1884, you began your studies in the newly opened Paine Institute, later transferring to Brown University. Atypical for an African American, you pursued the classics as a scholar supported by a scholarship for you to live and study at the American School in Athens. While there, you relished the work you did at excavation sites throughout Greece and the Mediterranean Islands. You earned both an A.B. and A.M. degrees from Brown University. You returned to Augusta to teach the Greek Language and English at Paine Institute. You are actively committed to encouraging Negroes to pursue academic subjects, and to revel in the classics as you do. You believe in promoting goodwill among the races, but see that happening in ways that are different from those that Mr. Washington preaches.
William Frank Fonvieille
Faction: Opposes Separate but Equal
You were born in Salisbury, North Carolina in 1870. You graduated from Livingstone College, a fine private college for African Americans. You have recently started writing. Your article, published in the A.M.E. Zion Quarterly, about your summer riding the trains through the Jim Crow south has been read more widely than you imagined. The experience has opened your eyes to the harsh conditions imposed on African Americans orced to ride in railroad cars that are inferior to the cars for white folks. You strongly believe this is wrong but do not feel committed to applying yourself to civil rights activities. You respect Mr. Washington and are honored to be invited to meet with him and a select group before he is to deliver his big speech in at the Cotton States and International Exposition. From what you know of those attending, you guess that you will have most in common with the Tuskegee students. You guess that they might not be comfortable expressing their honest opinions either, but you acknowledge that anyone who read your article knows yours.
Fanny Frances Garrison Villard
Faction: Opposes Separate But Equal
You were born in 1844 in Boston, Massachusetts. Your father was William Lloyd Garrison the white abolitionist leader and editor/publisher of the Liberator. You attended a normal school before marrying Henry Villard, a German national who became wealthy as the publisher of the New York Evening Post and the Nation. He also served as president of Northern Pacific Railroad. You have been too busy raising your four children to pursue the civil rights and suffragist causes you support. It is an honor to be invited to the meeting with Booker T. Washington and others and are grateful for the encouragement from your husband.
You are a third year student at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. You were raised in Montgomery, Alabama. Your parents were born into slavery. Your grandmother on your mother’s side was a seamstress and made connections with sellers of fabrics and notions when she was sewing clothes for her masters. As a free woman, she tried to open a dress shop selling her own designs but she could not sell enough dresses to keep that business going. She followed that by establishing herself as a reseller of the the fabrics and notions she used to buy. You have her entrepreneurial drive and want to learn more about the inner workings of business and finances. You find that Tuskegee is lacking in the business courses that will help you succeed as a business owner. You would like to continue your studies elsewhere but there are not many options for African Americans. This has got you thinking about taking a stronger stand regarding civil rights, but you have great respect for Mr. Washington and want to believe in his approach to improving race relations. You are excited for the opportunity to join him and others in the upcoming meeting before he is to deliver what is sure to be a landmark speech at The Exposition in Atlanta.
You are just starting your studies at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. You were born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama and have had the good fortune to travel to New York occasionally to visit your uncle’s family. You have heard the stories about how your great uncle made his way to New York by escaping through through the “freedom train” and about the people he met along the way. You love to read and would like to foster that in others. Your goal is to be a teacher, but you aim to teach at the college level. You are aware of the northern African American professor, Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, and are looking forward to meeting him in a few days at the meeting you were invited to attend before Mr. Washington gives a speech at the The Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta.
You were born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but you moved to Birmingham, Alabama as an infant to live with your grandmother, who raised you after your mother died in childbirth. Your father stayed in Chattanooga and became a preacher at a small church there. You spent much of your childhood helping out at your grandmother’s store. Customers noticed the shelves that you built and hired you to do carpentry at their homes. You earned enough money to pay your way to Tuskegee. While you were a student there, Booker T. Washington hired you to do repairs on the fences outside the gardens and followed your progress as a student for your remaining two years. Mr. Washington hired you to teach carpentry as soon as you graduated.
The Value of the Non-Evaluative: Rethinking Faculty Observation
This project was inspired by my participation in the Teaching Academy at Borough of Manhattan Community College (CUNY). The program has encouraged me to look at my teaching practice as a source of scholarship, and has given me the opportunity to reflect and further grow as an educator alongside a cohort of generous colleagues.
Two years ago, I was in a second-round job interview for my first full-time teaching position. I deeply wanted this job, because I loved the idea of working in a college environment that privileged teaching over research. My interviewer was the Acting Dean of Academic Affairs, an older gentleman on the brink of retirement who had been everything from a faculty member to the president of a small college in his previous professional lives. At some point during our interview, I took a risk and shared something personal: I confessed that I had always felt academically unconfident as a college student; back then, I truly believed that my classmates had more intelligent and interesting things to say, so in turn, I hardly ever spoke up at all.
This confession arose as I explained my current practice of seeking out and attempting to connect with my quietest students in the classroom, a method I first learned about from a colleague before deciding to experiment with it in my own classes in the following semesters. After I finished my explanation, my interviewer began to open up about his past teaching experiences and his passion for experimentation in the classroom. He left me with two pieces of advice: first, to throw out my lesson plans every two years and start over from the beginning, even with the courses I regularly taught. His second piece of advice was to be as honest and objective as possible if I was ever in the position to observe another colleague. My interviewer told me that if more faculty members followed this advice, everyone at the college would benefit, including, most importantly, the students.
Reflections on Peer Observation
Currently, within the CUNY system, the purpose of faculty observation is twofold: “to encourage the improvement of individual professional performance and to provide a basis for decisions on reappointment, tenure and promotions” (Article 18). The first stated purpose of the faculty observation is, therefore, to strengthen the “professional” or teaching performance of faculty members – teaching being implicit due to the structure and setting of the classroom observation. However, after faculty members earn tenure (or, for lecturers within the CUNY system, certification) they are no longer required to be observed by colleagues. Similarly, adjunct faculty members are automatically exempted from the peer observation process after ten semesters of teaching. This is problematic in that it assumes that tenured and certified faculty members, as well as seasoned adjunct faculty members, no longer need to improve or strengthen their teaching practice after reaching a certain professional threshold. The need for ongoing reflection upon the “individual professional performance” of teaching faculty does not diminish with time. As faculty members achieve a level of consistency and continuity with their teaching, there arises a need for experimentation with new teaching methods as well as intentional and structured reflection upon one’s practice.
Creating a Culture of Pedagogical Professional Development
When college faculty refer to professional development, they often mean attending academic conferences, writing scholarly or creative work, publishing, peer-reviewing the work of colleagues, and/or participating in committee work. Teaching is only one of many duties that faculty must balance, and sometimes, it receives less attention among the myriad of other obligations. Whether at a community college, four-year college, or a graduate/research institution, teaching faculty should be required to hold teaching responsibilities as their top priority. One of the most effective ways to do this is to encourage consistent professional development opportunities around pedagogy and practice - specifically formative opportunities that allow for experimentation and reflection as opposed to evaluation or consequence. According to Koops and Winsor (2005), “[l]ifelong learning must start with educators. A formative evaluation process can encourage teachers to grow and develop in the profession. Thus, professional growth can contribute to a learning environment where pedagogy and practice are frequent topics of faculty discussion” (62). Another effective way to hold teaching practice to a high standard is to foster a departmental culture of prizing pedagogical excellence. Imagine an academic department that rewarded its instructors for a semester of strong, thoughtful classroom practices with the same fervor as earning a generous research grant. This is not an unrealistic or inconceivable goal. However, creating this kind of culture in higher education will require a cultural shift from the top-down within individual institutions. Specifically, it will require one that dismantles existing power structures that privilege summative assessment of teachers and teaching over more formative, reflective processes. In turn, this institutional emphasis on teaching excellence will help to foster the desire for further pedagogical professional development on the part of faculty.
The Non-Evaluative Observation and Formative Assessment
The creation of a non-evaluative observation process is a fitting example of a formative professional development tool. As Koops and Winsor further note, “evaluation must be a continuing, constructive, and cooperative process...aimed at the goal of providing quality instruction for students” (62). The non-evaluative observation outlined in this paper is a reimagined process that seeks to privilege professional growth over evaluative judgment. It is a fact that, as Carter (2001) states, “[p]eer review works best when it resembles formative assessment (intended to focus on improvement) more than summative assessment” (87).
Within the proposed non-evaluative peer observation process, establishing pairs of observation partners across rank is critical to establishing a formative and non-hierarchical dynamic. Pairing faculty across rank also validates the fact that adjunct faculty, which now comprise the majority of teaching faculty within some colleges and universities, often have as much teaching experience in terms of teaching hours and seniority as full time faculty. Essentially, establishing a horizontal relationship between observation partners credits all faculty members with having much to offer one another in the observation process, regardless of their rank. Additionally, the rank-blind peer observation process can serve as an opportunity for both parties to create a professional relationship that serves to connect part-time and full-time faculty members within a department. Similarly, newer faculty are offered further support and connection, while more seasoned faculty have the opportunity to reassess older practices and stay informed of current trends and challenges through the respective lens of their colleagues.
Beverly Black and Charles Bonwell (1991) discuss the imperative for further teacher training by using Teaching Assistants as an example of newer, untrained faculty that are frequently in need of guidance, and, like many graduates of master’s and doctoral programs who move on to academia, have had little to no formal pedagogical training while in graduate school. According to Black and Bonwell, the critical components in effective training for college and university instructors include “a structure for regular interaction” between faculty regarding teaching matters; access to opportunities to observe other faculty teaching similar courses; receiving “concrete instructions and training in using different methods of teaching;” and structured reviews that “provide feedback on how they are are doing on a regular basis” (441). While the aforementioned study focuses on untrained instructors, the steps they outline are just as applicable and effective in the ongoing training of more seasoned faculty members within an academic department. The process outlined below considers these factors and others, and seeks to apply them into a structured practice using a series of guided worksheets.
The following interview questions are designed to give each faculty member insight into their observation partner. The interview should be conducted in-person (or over the phone, if necessary). Record your partner’s answers to each question below.
1) How did you begin teaching?
2) What do you enjoy most about teaching?
3) What do you find most challenging about teaching?
4) How is your current semester going? Do you have any concerns in terms of:
· Course material?
5) What aspects of your teaching would you like specific feedback on during the observation? (Create 1-2 questions for the Observation Report form based on your answer.)
6) From the list provided, please choose one teaching method to experiment with during your observed class session (if you plan to use a method that is not on the list, please describe it below). Why did you select this particular teaching method?
7) Currently, how are you feeling about trying this teaching method?
Use the following page to create a visual diagram of the classroom that is being observed. Draw the position of students, the instructor, as well as any necessary objects or teaching tools in the room. During the post-observation meeting, it may be helpful to reference specific students based on where they sit. Also, this diagram can be used to inform the observed faculty member of how they use the space in the room while teaching. The suggestions below are examples of the kind of symbols and observations possible for this form:
· Circle any students who seem highly participatory/engaged in the lesson.
· Draw a triangle around students who seem distracted/disengaged.
· Draw an arrow to indicate the movements of the observed faculty during the lesson.
In the space below, describe the class session you observed. In addition, respond to the guided questions. You can use the information from this form during your post-observation meeting and share your findings with your observation partner.
1) Describe the class session you observed:
2) What was the focus or content of the observed lesson?
3) Describe the teaching method(s) used. (Lecture, group-work, pairs, etc.)
4) When did students seem most engaged?
5) When did students seem least engaged?
6) Which students participated most actively? (Show on the Classroom Diagram)
Observed Faculty-Created Questions:
7) Sample Question: How was the pace of the lesson? Did I move too quickly through the material? Too slowly?
8) Sample Question: Was I audible to students in the back of the classroom?
The post-observation meeting should be conducted in person. The observed faculty member should complete the top portion of this form in advance of the debrief meeting. The observer should complete and discuss the bottom of the page during the post-observation meeting.
1) How did you feel during the observed lesson?
2) How did it feel to experiment with the teaching method you used during your observed class? Do you feel it was successful?
3) Would you continue to use this teaching method? Explain your answer.
4) Describe 1-2 goals you would like to set for yourself regarding your teaching.
5) Based on the class session you observed, describe two specific strengths of your observation partner.
6) Describe two specific suggestions for your observation partner regarding their teaching practice.
7) Include any additional comments or questions:
Self-Reflection of Teaching Practice
Please complete this form in reference to your own teaching practice. Submit this form the the Observation Committee mailbox during week fifteen of the current semester.
- Reflect upon your experiences using your selected teaching method this semester. How did your first attempt compare to your later attempt(s)?
- Describe one thing you intentionally changed or did differently when employing your selected teaching method for the second time?
- Why did you make the change you described above (Question #2)?
- Would you continue to use this teaching method in the future? Why or why not?
- What kind of support do you feel you need from the department/college in order to be an effective teacher?
- In what ways has this semester’s observation process been helpful to you?
- In what ways could the observation process be more helpful/effective to you in the future?
- Please include any additional comments you would like to share with the Observation Committee.
Please complete the following forms with your observation partner and submit them to the Observation Committee by week ten of the current semester.
Each faculty member in the department will be paired with a colleague in the same department. The pairings are blind to rank and seniority. Each partner will take turns conducting a peer-to-peer interview before the observation, classroom observation, and post-observation debrief. All three aforementioned meetings should be conducted in person.
Before the classroom observation takes place, observation partners will schedule a time to meet and conduct a short interview. The observer will ask each question listed on the interview form, and will record the responses given by the faculty member to be observed. The purpose of the interview is to foster a level of personal/professional investment on the part of the observer. Essentially, this interview “allows the observer to put the observed class into a broader context” (Kohut, Burnap, Yon, 21). In further understanding their colleague’s personal/professional background and thoughts around teaching, the observer can better relate to their colleague’s need for growth. Also, the observer “should not make assumptions about what the instructor intends”, but instead, should “confirm his or her understanding of course goals and instructor strategies (Carter, 86). The interview process helps facilitate these conversations in a structured manner.
During the peer-to-peer interview, the observed faculty member will specify one teaching method they will commit to experimenting with at least twice during the semester: 1) during their observed class (Question #6), and 2) in at least one follow-up class before the end of the semester. They may choose from the provided list of suggested teaching methods, or they may use their own specific teaching method. Committing to using the same method twice will allow for comparison and revision which is particularly important for professional self-reflection.
Observation Report & Classroom Diagram
During the classroom observation, the observing faculty member will take detailed notes on the lesson. In addition, the observer will need to answer the specific questions on the Observation Report form. During the peer interview (see above), the observed faculty member will create 1-2 questions that will also be included on the Observation Report form.
The observer will also need to use the Classroom Diagram form as a way to visually represent the classroom during the observed class session. The purpose of the diagram is to provide the observed faculty member with information that he/she/they may not notice from their vantage point and while focused on teaching. This form is meant to help answer the question: what is happening in the classroom during the lesson? Student conduct is “a rich mine of information about how well the class is progressing” (Carter 87). Do students’ eyes follow the instructor as he/she moves? Do they stare out of the window or at their cell phones? Do they take notes? Does the instructor write on the blackboard in a way that is organized? The Classroom Diagram form provides visual feedback on the behavior and movement of both students and the instructor for the sake of constructive feedback.
Observation partners will schedule a final in-person meeting to discuss the classroom observation. In advance of the debrief meeting, the observed faculty member will complete the top portion of the Post-Observation Debrief form. During the debrief meeting, the observation partners will discuss the responses to those questions. Lastly, the observer will offer strengths as well as suggestions for the observed faculty member to consider regarding their teaching.
The post-observation meeting “allows an exchange of ideas between observer and observee” (Kohut, Burnap, and Yon, 21) and encourages the observer to “focus on helping rather than judging” (Carter, 87). Research shows the importance of the post-observation meeting in establishing a sense of fairness as well as support for the observed party, in particular. It allows for idea-sharing, constructive suggestions, and as Carter notes, compliments, which “are in order for things done well” (87).
Self-Reflection of Teaching Practice
During the last week of the semester, instructors will submit a Self-Reflection of Teaching Practice form to the Observation Committee. This form is completed by each instructor regarding their personal teaching practice over the course of the semester, and follows up on the selected teaching method they used during their peer observation process.
Once the observation partners have completed the process for both parties, they will make two copies of all forms. One copy is for their personal records, and the remaining two copies will be placed in the Observation Committee mailbox by week ten of the semester.
The committee uses the results of the observation to help inform the following:
- To frame the list of suggested teaching methods for the following semester
- To inform professional development workshops
- To collect information on the common challenges and concerns that faculty members in the department incur regarding teaching
- To publish a departmental report on professional reflection and self-evaluation based on collective findings from the Self-Reflection of Teaching Practice form.
Any questions or concerns may be directed to the Observation Committee. If any faculty member desires, they may submit completed forms using an assigned identification code (in lieu of their name).
Suggested Teaching Methods
Choose one method from the list below to try during the observed class session. Faculty may also choose to experiment with a method that is not listed, if they would prefer.
Pose a discussion question aloud. Instruct students to wait 15 seconds before they raise their hands to respond. This allows students who need more time to think to feel included, and can help equalize students with different abilities in the classroom.
Instruct students that everyone must raise their hands when a question is posed in class. The instructor may call on anyone. If a student is unsure or does not want to answer, they can either say “I don’t know” or can choose a classmate to answer instead.
After a question is posed aloud by the instructor, students are given 30-60 seconds to discuss in pairs. When they are called upon for an answer, they must share their partner’s answer aloud instead of their own.
The instructor poses a question on the board. Students are given a few minutes to brainstorm whatever ideas come to mind in response to the question (even just single word responses). Students then share aloud, and the instructor records their answers on the board.
Students are given real-life scenarios related to the course content. They work in groups to discuss and/or resolve these scenarios. For example, in a literature course, students who are reading Romeo and Juliet could respond to a case study regarding a real-life scenario of forbidden love between two people from different backgrounds.
Either at the beginning or end of a class session, the instructor poses a question about the course content, e.g. What is something you struggled to understand from the reading? What is something we did in class that you found helpful?. Students take a few minutes to write their responses (anonymously, if desired) and then pass them to the instructor.
The instructor posts large sheets of paper around the classroom with a different discussion question posed on each. Students walk the room and record their ideas/responses under each question. After writing their responses, students can then browse their peers’ answers and either comment aloud or in writing. When students have finished walking the room, the instructor can also read selected responses/comments aloud.
Small Group Discussion
The instructor poses a few questions on the boards. Students work together in small groups (3-5 students per group) to discuss their ideas in response. After an allotted time, students share their group’s ideas aloud. (Instructors can also assign roles, for example, the youngest person takes notes or the tallest person keeps time, etc.)
Similar to Answer Swap. When the instructor poses a question, students work in pairs to discuss their respective answers. They then try to collaborate by combining their responses and sharing the results aloud.
“Article 18: Professional Evaluation.” Professional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY).
Black, Beverly, and Charles Bonwell. 1991. “The Training of Teaching Assistants in Departments of History.” The History Teacher 24.4: 435–444..
Carter, Vicki K. 2008. “Five Steps to Becoming a Better Peer Reviewer.” College Teaching 56.2: 85–88.
Kohut, Gary F., Charles Burnap, and Maria G. Yon. 2007. “Peer Observation of Teaching: Perceptions of the Observer and the Observed.” College Teaching 55.1: 19–25.
Koops, J. Barry, and Kim A. Winsor. 2005. “Creating a Professional Learning Culture Through Faculty Evaluation.” The Journal of Education 186.3: 61–70.
Mento, Anthony J., and Andrea Giampetro-Meyer. 2000. “Peer Observation of Teaching as a True Developmental Opportunity”. College Teaching 48.1: 28–31.
Yon, Maria, Charles Burnap, and Gary Kohut. 2002. “Evidence of Effective Teaching: Perceptions of Peer Reviewers.” College Teaching 50.3: 104–110.
Three Problems with Observation
By Arinn Amer,
Inspired by Erica Campbell
New York, 2016
The City University of New York (CUNY)
Once a semester, all non-tenured and non-certified members of CUNY’s teaching staff are observed at work and reports on their performance are submitted to their departments (Agreement). This procedure gives teachers a chance to reflect, receive feedback, and grow.
But it’s also problematic. All too often, observations become a rote bureaucratic formality.
Or worse, they leave those with the least formal teaching experience feeling picked on, helpless, and small.
THREE PROBLEMS WITH OBSERVATION
An illustrated essay by Arinn Amer
Inspired by Erica Campbell
1. Faculty observations are hierarchical.
Paulo Freire  saw the false dichotomy between teacher and student as one of the central problems with what he called the “banking concept of education”: “The teacher teachers, and the students are taught. The teacher knows everything, and the student knows nothing” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 73). The teacher’s authority, he argues, rests on this fallacy. Because the observer in faculty observations is always a superior, this hierarchical teacher-student dynamic can map itself onto the observer and the observed. When a faculty observer enters an observation assuming that they have nothing to learn from the instructor and only have corrective expert knowledge to impart, they re-enact the banking model of education. Neither the instructor nor the students participate in the observation. Instead, the individual who has spent the least time in that classroom is the authority tasked with evaluating it.
2. Faculty observations are disciplinary.
Michel Foucault  argued that assessment rituals like faculty observations are one of the ways disciplinary power functions: “The success of disciplinary power derives no doubt from the use of simple* instruments; hierarchical observation, normalizing judgment, and their combination in […] the examination” (Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 170). Like the exams also named for their scrutinizing function, faculty observations create norms by measuring departures from them. Instructors’ teaching is categorized on a spectrum from good to bad, instead of being merely permissible or prohibited. Their abilities are documented in HR forms—an example of Foucault’s “disciplinary writing”—so that they may be sorted according to future usefulness. Observations thus gather knowledge about individual teachers while producing knowledge about what good teaching is and should be.
3. Faculty observations are voyeuristic.
In a faculty observation, the observer is supposed to be a fly on the wall, invisibly bearing witness to a typical lesson. But as we know, observation changes the nature of the observed, and no such lesson exists. The assumption that seeing is equal to understanding treats teaching as a solitary event, a result instead of a process, which includes inevitable struggle and failure alongside exemplary performance.
How can we make faculty observations more helpful? Let’s relax hierarchical distinctions, so that both the observer and the observed become Freirian student-teachers.
Let’s undermine disciplinary surveillance, so that we can give and receive honest, open feedback.
Let’s continue to experiment with new methods for assessing, uplifting, and nurturing one another, so that we become better teachers and better students, living in a better world.
Agreement Between the City University of New York and the Professional Staff Congress. 2007. Article 18. New York: 34-36.
Campbell, Erica. 2016. “The Value of the Non-Evaluative: Rethinking Faculty Observation.” American Literature, American Learning. Futures Initiative, May 27, 2016.
Foucault, Michel. 1995 . “The Correct Means of Training.” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books. 170-195.
Freire, Paulo. 2006 . Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum.
Literature as a Learning Tool: A Lesson Plan
As a parent, college student, peer tutor, and future college professor, I want to address and solve an important learning issue. Within the late twentieth century, there has been an increase on the emphasis placed on elementary, middle, and high school educators and administrators to spend more time preparing their students for the yearly standardized exams and less time forming and building their students’ reading and language arts skills. This paradigm shift in the early years of a college student’s learning techniques and development has made me increasingly concerned that today’s youth can make it all the way to college and still struggle to read and write at the level needed to successfully apply critical thoughts to complex texts. I would like to address this problem by focusing on enhancing students’ methods of thinking, learning, and writing with the use of literature.
In addition to attending classes a few days a week, many college students are also managing other full-time roles and responsibilities. In order to succeed in college and in their professional fields, and even to enhance social images for personal and professional networking, all students need to be able to express their thoughts and feelings in a critical manner. They should also be able to write effectively to communicate their thoughts most clearly to their intended readers. According to the updated NCTE position on education issues, “Often, in school, students write only to prove that they did something they were asked to do, in order to get credit for it. Or, students are taught a single type of writing and are led to believe this type will suffice in all situations” (1). Texting, audio devices that can read to us, and YouTube and internet learning have changed the formal methods that children and adults use to read and write. School trips to the neighborhood library to hear the librarian read the newest children’s book of adventures aloud or to help grade school students obtain their first library cards are no longer a common occurrence. Now that the focus in elementary school is to prepare students for end-of-the-year core exams, storytelling time in kindergarten is reduced or obsolete.
When I was an elementary student, penmanship and developing my cursive handwriting and weekly reading comprehension quizzes were all part of my grammar school education, as well as curriculum requirements. Also, as part of our writing practices, teachers across the nation would exchange letters written by their students with other teachers in other states, creating a culturally and popular educational tool called pen pals. The ability to read closely and to write clearly about what you have read has practical values in addition to educational values. These skills can help a student succeed in their other courses and beyond. As Rebecca Moore Howard, Amy Rupiper, and Kurt Schick state in their article "Collaborative Pedagogy" (2000), “Scholars recommend the pedagogy of collaborative learning and writing not only because of its epistemological felicities but also because it offers students practice in common forms of workplace writing […]. For scientists too, collaborative writing is a familiar method […]. Even preachers engage in collaborative writing” (57).
As a way to restructure upper-level students’ reading and writing skills and in response to a 1997 resolution from the Board of Trustees, CUNY created the CUNY Proficiency Exam (CPE). It required all students who were either completing their associate degree programs or beginning their junior level college programs to take and successfully pass an exam that tested their writing and reading skills for proof that they were above college-entry level. CPE peer workshops and freshman and level two English literature classes helped students prepare for the exam and provided learning opportunities for students to build up their close reading and writing skills toward graduate-degree levels. In 2010, amid complaints that the costs of administering the CPE were more than it was worth, CUNY discontinued the exam. Though many students might have sighed with relief that this "ritual of passage," as we called it in my community of peer tutors, was no longer part of their academic program, its absence did not help get students up to par with their reading comprehension and writing skills.
Neither digital technology nor the discontinuation of the CPE exams and tutor sessions are entirely to blame for the lack of close readings skills that many college students exhibit. Even if we take into account the factor that many students also work full-time jobs, are full-time parents, and may not have full support at home for their higher educational goals, the problem could possibly lie in the lack of close engagement between professors and classmates in writing and reading classes. Because many incoming college students are required to take timed reading, writing, and math placement exams, the habit of doing hasty reading becomes an automatic procedure that they also use in their required course assignments. Assigning students reading material and asking them to write about what they read, as some freshman or remedial English class professors tend to do, is not an effective teaching method. As educators, we should change the practice of using basic assignments to simply pass students. Instead, we need to create lessons and assignments that will be more student-centered and engaging so that the writing and close reading skills they learn and develop in our classes and that emphasize their critical and creative thinking will become embedded and characteristic as they move forth in higher education and in professional development.
During my studies as an undergraduate, I was required to read, annotate, and participate in thoughtful discussions in three separate courses using three collections of readings: Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers, Philosophy: An Introduction Through Literature, and Readings for Diversity and Social Justice. Each book contained a diverse selection of literary works that integrated both classic and contemporary literature with discussions of current events and social interests that engaged students. As students, we were required to read and thoughtfully respond to the assigned readings via discussion board posts or write two page essays prior to the following week’s class. We would then submit our responses to our classmates and professors for review and in the next class, discuss our writings. By having to annotate reading passages, we were encouraged – even forced – to closely read the assigned material, especially since we knew that our responses were going to be reviewed and shared among our peers and not just submitted to the professor for grading. My experiences as an undergraduate student in the various English literature classes I took, and as a CPE peer tutor receiving feedback from my fellow students, were often more effective than the feedback from just the professor.
As college students, we tend to use the habits we acquired in elementary school in our writing. However, from experience I believe that once we reach the college level, we should be learning to write for our scholarly and professional peers. Many of the scholarly articles that we are required to read and use for our research papers are written by professionals in their fields primarily for their peers in similar fields to review and discuss. Therefore, based on what worked for me in college, my main instructional method for college students would be assigning short readings from an anthology of literature, requiring weekly reading responses to assigned questions to be completed at home, and mandating participation in classroom discussions. These combined activities would help students understand that their learning process is not just teacher-based but also student-centered, and that it is vital for their academic and professional success. My goal as an instructor would be to start training my students to write less to impress me as a professor and more to communicate ideas effectively to their peers in and out of the classroom settings.
For the remainder of this chapter, I would like to propose some specific and practical ways that faculty can use literature and peer reviews to help students develop their critical reading and writing skills. To begin this process, as I suggested above, I would have students read two to three assigned readings each week and write a one to two page response or reaction to what they have read. I believe that weekly assignments like this would assist with one of my goals, which is to get my students to adjust their writing behaviors from trying to impress their professors toward writing creatively and critically for their scholarly peers. I would also have each student email a fellow classmate their written response for a peer critique and annotated review. Each student would then receive their paper back from their peer with comments and then they would use the critiques for revision prior to the in-class discussions on the readings.
Since this might be the first time that many of my students are doing these types of peer writing exercises, I believe it would be best to have them first exchange papers with a couple of their classmates via email rather than using other types of collaborative writing forums, such as blogging and discussion posts on virtual blackboards which can be viewed by many. I want to create a safe place for my students to build their confidence. I also want to provide them with opportunities to learn how to accept and give peer-level critiques and annotations, and at the same time, assist with their developments out of their comfort zones of writing only to complete an assignment for grading by their teachers. According to Thomas Newkirk in "Direction and Misdirection in Peer Response" (1984), “When students are urged to consider their classmates as the audience for which they are writing for, then instead of writing to impress their teacher in order to earn a grade, the students’ writing styles and content will be more effective and appropriate for their audience of peers” (301).
The goal of peer review exercise is that students learn from each other how to critique, find overlooked grammatical errors, and build trusting relationships with their peers, while preparing and revising short papers during the beginning and middle of the semester. By the time the final and longer papers are due, the class as a whole will be better prepared and their thoughtful and critical reading and writing skills will be more developed than they were at the beginning of the semester. One of the many goals of using literary analysis and peer reviews of written assignments as open discussions in class together is to provide students with safe and comfortable opportunities to voluntarily read aloud their revised and corrected papers and to listen openly to feedback from fellow classmates. Another goal of this type of learning setting is to allow all students’ voices to be heard on various topics and subjects of personal and professional interests. A final important goal of this type of student-centered learning exercise is to encourage the quieter students who tend to shy away from in-class discussions to engage with their classmates more openly.
Literature can spark students’ curiosity to do further research on a particular topic. Making reading and writing assignments more engaging for college students will make learning feel less like they are being required to develop a skill that should have been developed before they graduated from high school. It will also build their willingness and enthusiasm to complete their assignments effectively and in a timely manner. In their anthology for readers and writers, In Making Literature Matter, editors John Schilb and John Clifford state that “examining literature is best seen as a process during which you gradually construct, test, revise, and refine your sense of a text. We think literature is most worth reading when it does challenge your current understanding of the world, pressing you to expand your knowledge and review your beliefs” (13). I believe that by assigning and using literature as a tool for writing exercises, it not only forces and encourages the student to read more closely to understand the points the author wants the audience to get, but it also provides many opportunities and discussion topics for the student to exchange insights with their classmates and teacher.
Traditionally, issues such as family relations, justice, love, and current events were the basis of the topics that students would read and write about for class. According to Schilb and Clifford, over the last couple of centuries, literary studies has turned to several new concerns, such as:
- Traits that significantly shape human identity, including gender, race, ethnic background, social class, sexual orientation, cultural background, nationality, and historical context
- Representations of groups, including stereotypes of others,
- Divisions, conflicts and multiple forces within the self
- Politics and ideology, including the various forms that power and authority can take; acts of domination, oppression, , exclusion, and appropriation, and acts of subversion, resistance and parody.
- Economic and technological developments, as well as their effects.
- Values---ethical, aesthetic, religious, professional and institutional.
- Desire and pleasure
- The body
- The unconscious
- Relations between ‘high’ culture and ‘low’ (that is, mass or popular) culture
- Relations between what’s supposedly normal and what’s supposedly abnormal
- Distinctions between what’s universal and what’s historically or culturally specific
- Boundaries, including the processes through which these are created, preserved, and challenged (39).
My first in-class lesson will be a combination of a few of the above listed literary topics with an introductory writing assignment that would allow the students to open up and meet the people they would be learning with for the next few months. Since this is an exercise I have done as a student in a few of my classes, I am sure this would be familiar to many readers However, I will also add a bit of a twist in the type of questions I will have my students answer and share. After distributing a set of index cards, I will give students three minutes to list as many descriptive terms as applicable as they answer the following questions: “Who am I now?” and “Who will I become in the next three years?” Depending on the size of the class, I will have them break up into groups of three or four and introduce themselves to their group members for three to five minutes. Afterward, each student will introduce their fellow group members to the class. I will also fill out a card and share my answers with the class. From my perspective as a student, when the professor shared a bit of themselves, it made the class setting and tone feel less structured and more open-minded for learning, and made the professor seem more personable and engaging; therefore, as professor, I would like to establish this type of atmosphere for my students in the beginning of the semester.
This writing exercise will also prepare the students for the first set of assigned readings, which are based on at least six of the new literary concerns listed above. The first two readings, which come from Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present, are James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son” and Edward Hoagland’s “The Threshold and the Jolt of Pain.” In his essay, Baldwin shares his account of growing up as a young black man in Harlem, and the effect it had on his writing career along with the impact of his relationship with his father. Hoagland’s essay also is an account of his relationship with his father, and the impact it had on his desire to be a writer. However, Hoagland’s childhood , challenges as a young white man obviously differ greatly from Baldwin’s.
This writing assignment will have two parts. First, students must compose a one to two page essay in which they compare and contrast the two authors’ points of view with respect to their relationships with their family and their race and class standings within their society, as well as the impact this has on their identities. Students will use the following set of questions as a guideline:
- What is the main point, message, or theme of this essay?
- Summarize at least three key points, specific details, or examples used in the essays that convey the author’s general message to the reader.
- What is your response to the main point? (Be specific in referencing passages, sentences or words as support.)
- Why do you think these two readings support the discussion we had in class today about our identities? How?
- What new information have you gained from this reading?
Since this will be the first set of assigned readings, in order to prepare for their future peer review critique assignments, students will first submit their essays to me, via email, by the deadline I set. They also must bring in their essays typed and prepared for a ten to fifteen minute peer review session by their classmates in the following week’s class. Students will also have opportunities to read their corrected essays out loud and discuss their reactions and thoughts about the readings with their classmates in the time remaining for this session. This type of assignments as well as the in-class discussion sessions will encourage and engage the students to start learning how to do a closer reading of literature in order to pick out the key concepts needed for writing a thoughtful and reflective essay.
These two autobiographical essays written by male authors will reiterate the theme of our first few class meetings: how the essays we will be reading, in the words of Maurianne Adams in Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, “places social identity in the broader context of identity development more generally and describes the ways in which one's identity develops through the interaction between a person’s internal sense of who one is (based upon one’s social groupings) and the views of oneself and one's group that are reflected back by others in the broader society” (7). All of the assigned readings will cover such a broad spectrum of social, historical, personal, and philosophical issues that each student should be able to find something to connect to and that will perhaps lead to their desire of wanting to do more research.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines literature as “familiarity with letters or books; knowledge acquired from reading or studying books, especially the principal classical texts associated with humane learning; and is also now a branch of study.” The image of a typical college student has changed since the OED was first published. However, what is still current is that by the time a student has entered college, they will have acquired and experienced at least a few life lessons. Digital technology and various forms of media offer people of all ages and from all over the world easy accessibility to information on various subjects. Today’s college student can vary from a young adult who is entering straight out of four years of high school to an adult who is in their mid to late sixties and may have a wider background of educational, job, and life experiences. By the time an incoming college student has begun their higher education career, they have likely already been exposed to a wide variety of topics.
Literature comes in many forms and genres, such as poetry, fiction, autobiography, and essays, just to name a few. It also covers an abundance of interests, points of views, topics, genres, and insights, from philosophical to political to religious to social. Having my students write, critique, annotate, and discuss assigned readings among their peers will provide them with opportunities to reflect on what they have read and teach them how to develop and critically apply their learning to issues that matter and that affect them personally and professionally.
Adams, Maurianne. 2000. Readings for Diversity and Social Justice. New York: Routledge.
Bruffee, Kenneth A. 1980. "Two Related Issues in Peer Tutoring: Program Structure and Tutor Training." College Composition and Communication 31.1: 76.
Delbanco, Nicholas, and Alan Cheuse. 2010. Literature: Craft and Voice. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Howard, Rebecca M., Amy Rupiper, and Kurt Schick. 2000 "Collaborative Pedagogy." A
Guide to Composition Pedagogies. Ed. Gary Tate. Oxford University Press. 54-70.
Kleiman, Lowell, and Stephen C. Lewis. 1992. Philosophy: An Introduction through Literature.
New York, NY: Paragon House.
Lopate, Phillip. 1994. The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. New York: Anchor.
"Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing." NCTE Comprehensive News. http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/teaching-writing/
Newkirk, Thomas. 1984. "Direction and Misdirection in Peer Response." College Composition and Communication 35.3: 301-311.
Schilb, John, and John Clifford. 2003. Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.
Topping, K. J. 1996. "The Effectiveness of Peer Tutoring in Further and Higher Education: A Typology and Review of the Literature." Higher Education 32.3: 321-45.
Orchestrating a Student-Centered Classroom: A How-To Guide
This semester, students in “American Literature, American Learning” explored the idea that you can’t counter structural inequalities (in the classroom and elsewhere) with goodwill; instead, you must build structures for equality. As educators, one place where we can begin structuring for equality is in the spaces we are in charge of namely, our classrooms, whether that’s a formal classroom or an informal one (a meeting, an activist organization, or a workshop). This afterword contains an annotated guide to the student-centered activities we explored this semester to try and structure our course around equitable participation. When possible, I’ve tried to give credit to the graduate students who designed these activities. For additional ideas, see The Pedagogy Project on HASTAC.
Student-designed syllabus 
After the first four class sessions, where the reading was assigned by the instructor, the remainder of the course was designed and taught by the students in the class. For their midterm assignment, they each designed their ideal syllabus for the remainder of the course. After reading and commenting on each other’s syllabi, they had a syllabus jam session during which they took ideas from each syllabus to design the remainder of the course.
- Midterm syllabus assignment: Design your ideal class. In other words, you do not need to know or have read all you assign. You just have to know enough to want to read it with a group of other dedicated, interested classmates. This probably means doing research of the kind that you might do for a short term paper, looking at bibliographies and other sources for texts and ideas. Contact your instructor(s) with any questions.
Here’s the basic architecture of the assignment: You will be creating 6 classes: March 9, 16, 30, April 13, 20, and May 4.
You will be writing a course description and goals, creating the assignments and activities for each course, and designing a final project (individual or group) that is some kind of public contribution to knowledge (a public blog, tutoring in American literature in a local high school, a poster and communications plan of free literary readings in New York, etc.). When you are finish you will post it to the website. Everyone will read every syllabus and make comments on each one.
In class next week, you will then have all these as your basic “ideas” and will build a syllabus for the rest of our course drawing from them. Our goal is for everyone to be represented in this class, so try to ensure that each person’s individual syllabus is represented somewhere, at least once, in the group syllabus. You will already be changed and have learned from reading the individual syllabi you’ve each constructed.
- Students posted their syllabi as a blog and categorized it under “student-designed syllabi” so they would all appear in one place on our course website.
- When some students felt like their work/ideas had not been represented in the initial syllabus, we did activities to structure more equitable contributions into the syllabus. Read more here.
- Read students’ syllabi and the final syllabus.
Read more about this activity.
Public blogs with assigned commenting
As we explored in the course, blogging and commenting on readings before each session encouraged students to synthesize information and engage with the ideas of their peers. Students came to class not only thinking about the week’s readings through the lens of their own experiences, but also thinking about how the assigned texts had been read, perceived, and processed by other students. In addition, doing this in public allowed the course to extend beyond `the classroom to reach a larger audience.
Materials: A public blogging platform (we used the Futures Initiative installation of Commons in a Box, or CBOX).
- For each class, one to two students are assigned to write a public blog post in response to the readings.
- Everyone reads these blog posts, comments on at least one of them, and reads each other’s comments.
Private group forum
Readings for each week were posted to a private forum (part of CBOX). Students were also encouraged to use the private forum to connect with one another and plan their readings and activities.
Materials: Commons in a Box (CBOX) or another platform that allows for both public and private conversations.
Prior to the first day of class, all students introduced themselves on a CBOX private forum. They also commented on each other’s introductions.
Materials: Commons in a Box (CBOX) or another platform that allows for both public and private conversations.
Used in classrooms from kindergarten to medical school, Think-Pair-Share encourages everyone in the class to participate.
Materials: Index cards.
- Think: The instructor poses a question to the class and students have 90 seconds to write down their response on an index card. (Questions that ask students to list three possible answers work well. The small index card encourages immediate, initial reactions rather than a polished response, which helps relieve some students of anxiety.)
- Pair: In groups of two, students take turns reading their answers out loud while their partner listens. It is crucial for each partner to remain quiet, listen attentively, and not interrupt so that everyone feels like they have been heard.
- Share: Go around the room and each group reports their best answer to the class.
Read more about Think-Pair-Share.
Exit tickets are a way to discern the remaining issues, lingering questions, and/or points of interest and excitement at the end of a class session. They can be used in a small group or large lecture class to formatively assess what students are learning (and also to take attendance!). Instructors can use students’ feedback to structure the next class.
Materials: index cards
- On an index card, write three things you don’t understand, want to pursue more, or are curious about from today’s class. Sign your name and hand in your card on your way out.
Taking an inventory of the skills possessed by students in a class is way to understand the human resources, talents, and capabilities in the group (and areas where students can lend support and expertise to one another).
Materials: Post-it notes and a tool for collaborative writing, such as Google Docs.
- On separate post-it notes, write down three things you hope to gain/learn from your classmates. Stick these on the board for everyone to see.
- As a class, read through the post-its and have class members come up to the board and write their initials on post-its they think they can help with. This creates pairs of students who can help each other achieve their learning goals throughout the semester.
- Consider creating a class chart in which students record what they want to learn and what they have to share.
This activity builds on the skills inventory, and allows students to explore the various talents they have that can contribute to the course.
Materials: Index cards and collaborative notes document, such as Google Docs.
- Using Think-Pair-Share, have students write down and then share three of their super powers, which are the unexpected skills (editing, HTML, music, drawing, baking, etc.) that they bring to the class.
- Collect these on a collaborative notes document.
Each week, students were emailed a collaborative, editable agenda prior to class. Students in charge of the readings, discussion, and activities would add their plans to the agenda, and the rest of the class could offer comments, questions, and feedback beforehand.
Materials: Tool for collaborative writing, such as Google Docs.
- The typical agenda included the homework and readings assigned prior to class, a section for housekeeping/announcements about upcoming events, a schedule for class, and then a list of the homework for the next class.
Everybody raise your hand
Rather than asking individual students to raise their hands, science fiction writer and teacher Samuel Delany has everyone in the class raise their hands in response to questions. Students have the option to answer the question or call on another student who they think knows the answer.
“Don’t you realize that every time you don’t answer a question, you’re learning something? You’re learning how to make do with what you got, and you’re learning how not to ask for a raise…you’re learning how to take it. That’s not good! That’s not good! So, from now on, whenever I ask a question, everybody’s got to put their hand up. I don’t care whether you know the answer or not. You have to put your hand up…I’m going to call on you and if you don’t know the answer, I want you to say nice and clear: I don’t know the answer to that, Professor Delany, but I would like to hear what that person has to say. And we’ll pass it on... I don’t care whether you know or not…You need to teach people they are important enough to say what they have to say.” 
It may seem painfully obvious, but asking each student (or participant) to share a thought is one of the easiest ways not to leave conversation up to the “invisible hand” of the classroom.
Materials: Index cards.
- On an index card, write down the single most urgent idea from this week’s readings, blog posts, etc.
- Go around the room and have every student read what they have written on their card.
Read more about how this worked in our class.
Taking “stack” just means keeping a list of people who wish to participate—offer a question or comment.
- Assign someone in the class to take stack for a given conversation. The person in this role should change each time you do the activity so the same person is not always taking stack.
- Rather than anxiously waving your hand around and wondering if you’ll be called on, if you would like to participate, signal to the person taking stack (via a gesture, dance move, traditional hand-in-the-air, meaningful eye contact, etc.) and they will write down your name on the list.
- Those who have not yet had a chance to speak should be bumped to the top of the list.
Read more about taking stack and its origins.
Writing out, then reading quotes in class
Sharing everyone’s favorite quotes from the assigned readings is one way to have students begin the class conversation.
Materials: Index cards.
Part One: Go around the room and each person reads their favorite quotes out loud–no commentary.
Part Two: Pair up and each person chooses one quote and reads it to the other person while the second person listens. Then reverse. Each person interviews the other about why they chose that quote.
Part Three: Fishbowl: Two people talk out loud about their quotes, each representing the others’ quote. Then switch. Then invite questions from the class.
Secret comments & questions
Designed by Jade Davis
This quick activity allows the instructor to facilitate class conversation based on students’ responses to the readings.
Materials: Index cards
- Each student writes an anonymous comment about the readings on a notecard and passes it to the instructor, who reads them quickly and starts a conversation based on three or four random responses.
Designed by Jade Davis
Through this activity, students learn to work as teams and to negotiate how much time they each spend speaking. They refine their “pitch” as they go from group to group, including learning who talks too much and who talks too little, and learning how to respect one another.
Materials: Index cards
- The instructor gives an open ended question such as; “What is the cultural role of failure?” and students write down individual responses on index cards.
- The class is divided into pairs: half of the pairs are stationary and the other half rotate around the room to various partners, forming different groups of four.
- Each group of four has three minutes to present their responses to their partners, refining their response or “pitch” as they move around the room.
The goal of this activity is to better understand the assumption, rarely articulated, about what a course is and how each member will contribute to the class.
Materials: Tool for collaborative writing, like Google Docs.
- Everyone logs into a collaborative document with a sample constitution. Sample constitutions give students a model to work off of, remix, and adapt for their class, rather than feeling like they must begin from scratch. (Alternatively, hard copies can be printed.)
- Students can work alone or in pairs to adapt the constitution for their course.
- As a class, come together to discuss the changes each person/group made and decide which changes to make to the constitution.
- Vote to ratify the constitution and consider posting it publicly as an example for others.
Read the class constitution from “American Literature, American Learning.”
Student-led discussions of readings
Each week, two students were responsible for coming up with the readings based on the topics agreed upon for their collaborative syllabus. They would blog about the readings ahead of class and respond to each other’s comments on their blogs. In class, they led various activities to explore the questions raised by the readings.
Materials: A sign-up sheet, a method for sharing readings (we used the Futures Initiative installation of Commons in a Box), and a collaborative writing tool like Google Docs.
- As a class, students decide on the assigned readings for each week and circulate them to the class ahead of time.
- Towards the beginning of the semester, pairs of students sign up to facilitate one class session.
- Pairs of students coordinate their plans ahead of time, and add them to a collaborative agenda that the rest of the class can add to and comment on.
Student-designed class exercises and interactions
Each week, the two students who were responsible for assigning readings, blogging about the readings, and leading us in class discussion also came to class with different activities they had developed to engage the class. Many of these are detailed in this appendix.
Cosmo quiz: Are you a formative or a summative?
Designed by Erica Campbell
This activity involves the instructor translating complex material (in this case, formative and summative assessment styles) into an activity that is personal, engaging, and meaningful for students. It allows students to see how the concepts they are learning are related to their lives, and how their experiences might be used to challenge, nuance, or reveal gaps within existing bodies of knowledge (for example, how the formative-summative binary is too simplistic).
- The instructor designs a quiz that helps students see how difficult course material can be translated to their lives. Alternatively, the instructor may provide students with an example of one question and have them work in groups to come up with the others.
- After students have filled out the quiz and received your results, they get into groups to discuss them.
- As a group, come up with an additional scenario and three possible answers that relate to summative and formative assessment.
Read more about this activity.
Plotting the past: a collaborative, time-travel game
Designed by Iris Finkel
This interactive and collaborative timeline activity asks students to work together to accurately plot historical events. Because the post-its are large, students don’t have to recall exact dates, but are encouraged to see historical events in relation to one another.
Materials: Several identical timelines and sets of historical events (one for each group)
- Students get in groups and are given identical timelines (labeled from 1600 to 1900) and an identical set of seven cards with historical events. Groups race to see who can accurately plot the events the quickest.
- After the groups finish, the instructor makes corrections and asks students why they made certain mistakes and how they arrived at the correct dates.
- Another option: the instructor can let a group know how many of their post-its are correctly placed, and challenge them to use their devices (such as mobile phones) to discover which ones are correct and which need to be moved.
Read more about this activity.
Myers Briggs activity
Designed by Kelly Lerash
This activity uses the online version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to discuss group dynamics, which can be particularly useful if students will be asked to do extensive group work or a group project.
Materials: Online version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, large paper, and markers.
- For homework, everyone takes the Myers-Briggs assessment online and comes to class with their findings.
- Using the large paper, write up where everyone fell and break into small groups to discuss if they agree with their findings and how this can be useful to know when working in groups.
Mapping key concepts
Designed by Arinn Amer
The goal of this activity is to review key concepts from the readings by collectively mapping them on a chalkboard or whiteboard.
Materials: Chalkboard or whiteboard.
- We divided the chalkboard into four quadrants, each for one of the types of resistance in the Shahjahan article: undermining colonial narratives, subversion, opposition, transformation.
- Every student goes up to the board and places their initials in the quadrant where they felt their final project fell.
- In the follow-up conversation, we discussed the different styles of resistance in relation to the projects that students were working on.
Designed by Lisa Hirschfield
The goal of this activity is to explore the strengths and weaknesses of various viewpoints, and try to see a given issue from another point of view.
- Make a list of a few different viewpoints/opinions you object to or which got under your skin in some way, in one or more of the texts or films.
- Pair up with someone – share your lists with each other.
- Each person picks something from another person’s card and asks the other to explain the objection or issue.
- Play devil’s advocate (whether or not you agree), and keep asking why – try to counter those objections. Try to get the other person to seriously consider the issue from the opposing point of view in order to make a strong argument against it.
Final paper/project as public contribution to knowledge
For this course, students were required to present a final project that made a public contribution to knowledge (anything from writing public blog, to tutoring American literature in a local high school, or creating a poster and communications plan of free literary readings in New York, etc.).
Materials: Collaborative writing tool like Google Docs.
- At the beginning of the semester, students were told by the instructor that their final projects could be individual or collaborative, but that they would have to involve some kind of public contribution to knowledge.
- Early on in the semester, starting around the fifth class, students were encouraged to brainstorm ideas for their final project. They decided on a collective digital book based on Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies.
- As a class, we came up with a table of contents with multiple chapters, written individually or collectively. We then had to come up with a title that brought together diverse research projects on topics from incorporating physical movement in the classroom to rethinking faculty evaluations.
- As homework one week, students had to submit a short, 100-word abstract using the template above. The following week, they submitted an expanded 250-word version.
- Several weeks before the end of the semester, students submitted first drafts of their book chapters using Google Docs. For homework, they read and commented on each other’s drafts.
Midterm feedback evaluation
Halfway through the semester, students were given a formative, reflective midterm evaluation of the course: they were asked to reflect on what they had learned so far, how they’d been using ideas from course in any aspect of their lives, what was missing from the course, what improvements they wanted to see, and how we could structure the remainder of the semester to ensure a successful final collaborative project that made a public contribution to knowledge.
Materials: Midterm evaluation form.
- View the midterm we used.
- The instructor can also summarize and respond to student feedback, and use this to shape the remainder of the course.
Read more about reflection and formative assessment.
According to Cathy Davidson, metacognition is “the moment after learning has stopped, where you pause to think about what you think you learned, where you might even ask the co-learners if you succeeded and what was gained and what lost by the method you used, and you think (together or individually) about what you just did together.”
- We did this in each activity by debriefing about what worked and didn’t work, and how each class activity related to the theme of structuring equality.
Read more about metacognition.
"American Literature, American Learning Constitution." HASTAC. 2 Mar. 2016.
"Am Lit, Am Learning Midterm Evaluation." Available as a public file in Google Docs.
"American Literature, American Learning Recap 3/9." Futures Initiative, 10 Mar. 2016.
"American Literature, American Learning Schedule." Available as a public file in Google Docs.
Barnett, Fiona. 2014. "The Pedagogy Project." HASTAC. 1 Apr. 2014.
Davidson, Cathy. 2016. "A Reflection on the Importance of Reflection." HASTAC. 31 Mar. 2016.
---. 2012. "Single Best Way to Transform Classrooms of Any Size!" HASTAC. 8 Apr. 2012.
---. 2016. "Towards a Pedagogy for Everyone (Not Just the "Oppressed"): The Engaged Classroom Today." HASTAC. 26 Feb. 2016.
21st Century Collective: Cristiane Damasceno, Omar Daouk, Cathy N. Davidson, Christina C. Davidson, Jade E. Davis, Patrick Thomas Morgan, Barry Peddycord III, Elizabeth A. Pitts, Jennifer Stratton. 2013. Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies. HASTAC.
"Student-Designed Syllabi." American Literature American Learning. Futures Initiative. March 2016.
Arinn Amer is a doctoral student in history at the CUNY Graduate Center and a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Hunter College. Her research interests include visual and material culture, gender, and the everyday in early America.
Hilarie Ashton is a Ph.D candidate in the English program at the CUNY Graduate Center and a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Queens College, CUNY. She is also a Macaulay Honors College Mellon Writing Fellow at Hunter College. Her research interests include American studies, rhetorics of sound, pedagogies of embodiment, intersectional cultural studies, and composition and rhetoric.
Zebulah Baldwin is a second-year student in the English Ph.D program at the CUNY Graduate Center and a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Hunter College. His research interests include 20th century British and American literature, African-American texts and music, post-war politics and culture, cultural studies, postcolonial writings, and critical theory.
Joshua Belknap is a third-year student in the English Ph.D program at the CUNY Graduate Center. His research interests include translingual writing, transnationalism, writing program administration, TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), multimodal/digital writing instruction/rhetorics, critical pedagogy, the history of education, and composition and rhetoric. He is also the ESL Lab Coordinator at Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY.
Erica Campbell is a lecturer at Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY, where she teaches writing, developmental writing, and literature courses.
Cathy N. Davidson is Distinguished Professor of English and Director of the Futures Initiative and HASTAC@CUNY at the CUNY Graduate Center. She previously taught at Duke University for more than two decades, where she held two chaired professorships, the Ruth F. DeVarney Professor of English and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies. She is the recipient of many awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Teacher of the Year Award from the World Technology Network (with HASTAC cofounder David Theo Goldberg), and, most recently, the 2016 Ernest Boyer Award for “Significant Contribution to Higher Education.” In 2011, President Obama appointed her to the National Council on the Humanities, and in 2012, Davidson was named the first educator to serve on the board of directors of Mozilla. She is co-founding director of the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC).
Michael Druffel is a third-year student in the English Ph.D program at the CUNY Graduate Center and a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Queens College. His research interests include literature and labor, 19th century American writing and politics, and composition and rhetoric.
Iris Finkel is a student in the Master's in Liberal Studies program at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her research interests include material culture, fashion studies, and digital pedagogy. She is also a reference and instruction librarian at Hunter College.
Lisa Hirschfield is a student in the Master's in Liberal Studies program at the CUNY Graduate Center, with a track in Digital Humanities/Interactive Technology & Pedagogy. Her research interests include English and American literature, public humanities, and cultural history. She is also Development Communications Manager in the Office of Institutional Advancement at Lehman College, CUNY.
Nicky Hutchins is a second-year student in the Master's in Liberal Studies program at the CUNY Graduate Center, with a track in Psychology of Work & Family. She also works in the customer service department for Amtrak. Her research interests include English literature and developing ways to use it a teaching tool to enhance students’ learning practices.
Jeff Israel is a student in the Master's in Liberal Studies program at the CUNY Graduate Center, where he focuses on English literature, posthumanities, and education.
Kelly Lerash is a student in the Master's in Liberal Studies program at the CUNY Graduate Center, with a track in Urban Education. She is also an eighth grade reading teacher at Democracy Prep Endurance Middle School, a charter school in Harlem.
Danica Savonick is a Futures Initiative Fellow and a Ph.D candidate in the English program at the CUNY Graduate Center, and a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Queens College, CUNY. Her research interests include feminist pedagogy, 20th century and contemporary literary and cultural studies, and social justice.
Undergraduate Student Editors: Sujoy Bhowmik, David Brandt, Cherishe Cumma, Cassandra Castelant, Yelena Dzhanova, Brenell Harrison, Hurriya Hassan
 These students are referred to the lab for supplemental help with their written assignments in courses across disciplines (e.g. English, Social Sciences, Speech, Business, Music/Art, etc.) from faculty throughout the college, but progressively more students are also referred from other tutoring centers at the college, including the Writing Center and the various English tutoring programs, to the point that our tutoring program did not have the budget or tutor resources to handle the volume of referrals.
 Interestingly, especially when contemplating literacy and student writing in transnational contexts, ESL instructors at BMCC often use the (arguably outdated) terms “global” vs. “local” errors when referring to sentence-level problems in student essays. Global errors interfere with the intended reader’s understanding of the text (e.g. if an ESL student, attempting to describe her uninspiring teachers, writes “these professors are bored” instead of “these professors are boring”), whereas local errors (e.g. “those professor are boring”) do not.
 See appendix for tutor workshop materials/handouts
 While the teachers mostly asked students to stomp their feet, occasionally they would ask students to express their answer choice by standing up or sitting down. Whether standing or stomping, the important thing is that teachers used the students’ bodies to express their answers. The visual power of the moving body turned every student into an example for his/her fellows, allowing each student to learn how his/her colleagues felt and turning the class into a Freirian group of co-teachers.
 For further information about making kinesthetic learning suitable for students with disabilities, see http://www.lcsd.gov.hk/en/healthy/fitness/persons.html http://www.nchpad.org/14/73/Exercise~Guidelines~for~People~with~Disabilities
 Image of student designed syllabus reads, in four rows: "Rough Outline. 3/9 - Identity Politics -> Testing, Psychological, Sociology. 3/16 - Power + Race: Foucault vs Dubois, bell hooks. 3/30 - Games -> "active learning and assessment."
 This image is a blog post entitled “Translingualism: Linguistic Multiplicity as Asset Rather than Deficit.” Click the image for a link to the post.
 Image of a student’s exit ticket. The student’s name is Arinn Amer. She lists three things in the To Learn column: classroom tactics to increase participation, pedagogy theory and talking points to get people involved. She lists nine points in the To Share column: a healthy skepticism of the digital, drawing skills, knowledge of American history, film production, labor relations contracts, printmaker, SAG, proofreading and copyediting. And in the Exit Ticket column, she includes the question, “How can we think about the ways digital tools outside the classroom entrench power (even when open-sourced, etc.)?”
 Image of March 30th agenda for “American Literature, American Learning." It includes a list of materials and 30-minute slots of activities.
 Black and white image of a Seventeen magazine cover. Printed on the top is: “Are you a Formative or a Summative? Take the quiz!”
 Picture of a paper timeline with various sticky notes posted on it.
 Shahjahan, Riyad A. “From ‘no’ to ‘yes’: postcolonial perspectives on resistance to neoliberal higher education,” Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 35.2 : 219 – 232.
 Template for student’s final project. It includes an abstract, audience, method and scope.