Monday, February 13, 2006

Getting to Know Them

On the first day of class at The Art Institute of Chicago I was asked to participate in this introduction project entitled Windows. It was interesting then as a student as a way to get to know where my classmates were coming from and took the edge off a little of the scary unknown. This experience has stuck with me and I thought it would be nice to incorporate it into my own teaching.

On the first day of class I explained that in this class we would be discussing a wide variety of topics and many of them will not be neutral. To prepare for this it would be nice to get to know each other a little better and hopefully feel a little more comfortable around strangers. I am sure for these students a corny getting to know you exercise is standard fare and what they were expecting although they seemed to engage the project and when talking were very open and honest.

On an 11 by 17 piece of paper folded in fours they answered the following questions..."Something you've accomplished that makes you proud", A challenging moment you have faced in your life", What you would do with all the money and time in the world", and One hope and one fear you have about the next four months". I asked them to respond to these questions visually and if they must use words to limit them to a few key words.

As a student I know how much I enjoyed this introduction activity, as a teacher I found in uniquely helpful and an absolute must for teaching. It was important for me as an instructor to see where my students were coming from. It helped ground the class a little to see students who for the most part were most proud of high school achievements but whose challenging moments ranged from driving cars to the loss of a loved one and all that is in between.

I teach two sections of art appreciation, one consisting of mostly freshman first time college students, the other consisting of working adults, returning students, and enrichment students. Their experiences differed greatly but it was the final question of fears and hopes the became the most intriguing and impactful on my role in these two classrooms.

The younger first time students across the board were concerned with grades. Every single one had a fear of getting an F and the hope of getting an A. In my own pedagogy in the classroom I like to get away from grades and focus on participation and seeking knowledge. While this is not ruled out I must as an instructor modify my pedagogy to meet the needs of my students. For this class I make sure that grades and expectations are clearly defined. As the semester progresses they will have a bigger say in what the expectation are and how they can be met. This allows for a better distribution of power in the classroom as well as engages the students to be more involved and a part of each assignment.

The older students and returning students while still concerned with grades were also concerned with the content of the class, Would they understand the readings, Like the art works, See new things, and be ready for the rigors of school (again). For these students I make sure assignments are given far in advance and that there is appropriate class time for projects. I structure discussion time less for them as they tend to have stronger opinions and therefore more lively debate. While I would in my own pedagogy like to move away from right and wrong answers this group often requests them. To work with this and not let them feel everything is abstract I show more examples and turn questions over the class more often.

In my own schooling I find it very easy o get up in the trap that if as an instructor I engage in critical pedagogy in any form my studetns will feel magically free to engage and will prefer this type of teaching. Teaching is a good remedy for this kind of thinking. I cannot undo teaching methodologies learned in 12 years of school and on the job training. While I attempt to deconstruct some habits of looking to me for concrete answers and focusing on grades without knowledge to show for it, I must help them reconstruct something in its place. And so getting to know them better helps to adapt my own pedagogy which helps to make it truly critical.

As I am just beginning to take baby steps to remove power from myself and redistribute it among the studetns I find the process to be a valuable one. There must be relationship building and trust building to truly decenter the power and they (the students) have to be in on it. Is there one process to get us there no, it the process important...YES!

1 comment:

dsgran said...

I just stumbled upon your blog.

What I find very interesting about it is your reflections on the practical application of critical pedagogy. It is something I struggle with as well, and often find that it is difficult to merge the 'ideal' approach with the practical.

If you haven't found her yet, I have to highly recommend Maxine Greene. Especially her book The Dialectic of Freedom.

Anyway, good stuff. I look forward to reading more!