On October 11, four fellows from the Futures Initiative and Humanities Alliance joined the ACERT lunchtime seminar for a discussion of “Participatory Pedagogy and Connecting Classrooms to Student Backgrounds.”
The Futures Initiative (FI) and Humanities Alliance are housed at the Graduate Center, but work throughout the CUNY system. The initiatives embrace a far-ranging mission of advocating greater equity and innovation in higher education. This encompasses advocating for institutional change and reinvestment, conducting high-level research and connecting this to the wider world, equipping graduate student leaders, using technology to foster communities and improve access, and promoting non-hierarchical learning structures. If that sounds like an awful lot at once, it only takes a few minutes of discussion with fellows to understand exactly what this mission looks like in day to day practice.
The fellows combined telling us about their pedagogical practices, with showing us some of those practices in action.
Christina Katopodis shared a syllabus for a current English course. The first month of readings for this syllabus looked relatively standard, but from the beginning of October onwards, the syllabus was empty. Christina explained that she was working with the students to build the rest of the syllabus as the semester progressed (this also included course requirements). While she had used such a collaborative approach for smaller portions of syllabi in the past, this was the first time that she had started the semester with so much of the course still TBD.
Siqi Tu laid out two classroom strategies implementing student-centered pedagogy. One of these is to have students propose and vote on exam questions. The other is to have students lead discussion for some or all of a class (she found that students often ran with the role, leading the entire class). As Siqi related, this allows students to take more leadership within the classroom, and lets the instructor step back from being the main voice in the room.
Kahdeidra Monét Martin demonstrated a lesson plan in action, themed around making the classroom “multi” – multicultural, multi-faceted, multi-perspectival, and so on. She introduced a range of simple classroom techniques, and modeled some of these. One such activity was the Play Your Device Literary Game, a card-based game that brings a tactile element into classroom activities.
Gustavo Jiménez reflected on his experience of re-centering his teaching during the semester. When, by his own account, a Spanish literature seminar on magical realism was not going well, he realigned the course to focus on the students themselves. By doing so, he worked around some of the perceived barriers between the instructor’s “correct” Spanish, and the students’ “incorrect” Spanish. Magical realism became a way to engage with the “in-betweeness” of the experience and identities of the students.
The discussion clearly piqued the interest of the room, generating a rich conversation. A number of questions and comments considered the practicalities of opening up such standard academic forms as the syllabus or the exam to student input. Instructors in the room teach courses ranging from small literature seminars, to auditorium-sized introductory chemistry lectures, leading to a conversation about implementing some of these practices in different contexts.
The fellows also brought a range of materials and hand-outs with them. Kahdeidra shared her very own Martin Multimodal Lesson Matrix, which broke down lesson plans according to her TAPTOK rubric: Textual, Aesthetic-Pictoral, Tactile, Oral, Kinesthetic learning.
While there was a clear theme running throughout the seminar, the diverse approaches shared by the fellows demonstrated the range of pedagogical training and advocacy advanced by FI and the Humanities Alliance. As always in a system as immense as CUNY, it is easy lose sight of the fascinating work being done on other campuses (or in this case, just housed on another campus). The enthusiasm generated by this seminar suggests how powerful FI and the Humanities Alliance can be as a means of bridging these gaps.
Handouts from the October 11th Lunchtime Seminar: