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2016-17 Graduate Associate Teaching Awards
…in my classes the study of Spanish becomes also the study of English and American culture, or any other culture and language. This allows students to do three things: connect more personally to the materials of the class and therefore engage in their learning process with more enthusiasm and curiosity; reflect about their own reality, assumptions and points of view; and, bring the “foreign” culture closer to them by avoiding seeing it as a far distant reality disconnected from their own reality while at the same time representing the world as an interconnected web.
My overarching philosophy of teaching Chinese language as a foreign language towards this goal comes from two Confucian philosophies: “xue er shi xi zhi, bu yi yue hu? (To learn and at the right times use what one has learned, is this not pleasure?)” and “zhi xing he yi (Learning and doing are one).” To bridge “learning” and “doing,” I use performance as the key concept. My students do not merely learn Chinese vocab and sentence structures through mechanic drills, but enact meaningful exchanges in my designed Chinese cultural contexts.
The habits of critical thinking—suspending quick judgments, supporting claims with evidence, embracing diversity and difference, and becoming comfortable with interpretive difficulty—have real world consequences. Our classroom community is a test-site that enacts and performs the moves of meaningful civic discourse. The skills we learn will help us navigate a world of diverse peoples, opinions and ideologies. I always integrate free-writes in which students introduce fair and well-reasoned objections to their own arguments in their writing. In class I stage “mock-trials” in which students defend different interpretations of a passage or theme (not necessarily their own) and must present evidence for their perspective—the result is a more sophisticated interpretation enriched by the interaction of evidence and counter-evidence.
To me, teaching is an iterative process, that is, I want it to be an ongoing conversation with my students so that I both understand how well they are grasping the material as well as measure the effectiveness of my teaching. For this reason, I do not rely on end-of-semester evaluations, but I am rather trying to be in constant dialogue with my students regarding their experiences in my classroom.
During my first two years at The Ohio State University, I was greeted every morning by a faded yellow poster that hung outside the TA coordinator’s office on the third floor of the Math Tower. It read, “Teaching…It’s about learning.” I first dismissed the poster as nonsensical, and then I found myself reasoning against it. Had I recognized sooner the signs of denial, I would have arrived more quickly at the truth: teaching really is all about learning. I understand why new teachers have a hard time digesting this. I helped train two classes of incoming mathematics graduate students on the basics of teaching: know the material front–to–back, speak and write clearly, and stay organized. These skills are difficult to master, especially in front of a group, making it easy to believe that they define great teaching. The truth is, however, that they are but prerequisites to the much more important and nuanced aspect of great teaching: getting students to learn.
…it is essential from the outset of the class that that the students feel a personal relationship to the academic subject that we are studying…I want them to realize that while my knowledge may be broader than theirs is, I am not the final authority on the meaning of the texts that we engage with…I suggest that students interact with [film] theory as a part of an on-going, dialogic process, rather than as a litany of set-in-stone understandings of the way that motion pictures work; as a class we always relate theoretical questions back to contemporary media examples in order to simultaneously illustrate and problematize theoretical assumptions.
As standing by the pool watching others cannot turn one into a swimmer, it is through doing mathematics one gains better understanding. Thus I take every opportunity to foster critical thinking and problem-solving ability of students by engaging them in doing mathematics. In classroom, I guide students through carefully chosen examples surrounding key points in a treasure-hunting style: instead of directly showing steps to finish a specific problem, I first ask students to identify what “treasure” the problem wants us to discover; once the target is clear, I further encourage students to brainstorm what previously covered knowledge can help to achieve the goal; after gathering all ingredients to use, students and I set up a road map that leads to the “treasure”; then it is time to implement the steps to harvest the desired result, with possible digression about useful techniques. Through such interactive presentation, I get students involved in organizing ideas in a logically coherent way, which is important to independent problem-solving.
As pedagogy, kid culture has a profound potential to teach us how to think—to inculcate ideas about race, class, gender, and sexuality, and to assimilate us to normative worldviews. Using children's texts as a foundation for developing critical literacies, my students do not merely learn to interrogate hegemonic codes that perpetuate inequalities; when they encounter injurious ideologies, they can transmute intellectual inquiry into participatory activism…
The theory I believe in most is ridiculous on the surface: if something embarrassing happens to me the first day of class, that class is sure to be a spectacular one. This has happened to me twice…The circumstances of both first days forced me to exercise humility in front of my students before I could do anything else—certainly before I could establish my credibility and authority. Yet they respected me and produced some of the best work of all the students I’ve ever had. I’ve realized that, besides making a fool of myself right out of the gate, these classes were exceptional because of the balance I was able to strike throughout the semester between good-natured self-deprecation and confidence—my first-day blunders having freed (forced?) me to do so. I’ve come to see that such balance is the pillar of my teaching practice. I set high expectations, but offer patience and tutoring whenever a student needs help reaching them. I think students should have fun, but not at the expense of getting important work done. And I ask my students to learn both what&srquo;s practical and necessary and also what feeds their souls and makes them citizens of the world.
I guide my students towards a new perspective by teaching them to observe themselves and the world, absorb psychological knowledge, apply their knowledge to personal experiences, and integrate their learning into their worldview. I believe this shift in perspective has the power to create a ripple effect so that they leave my course as more empathic and open-minded versions of themselves.