I feel like every new thing I read, and every new class I teach informs how I approach my classroom. Sometimes new reading alters my approach radically. In the first year of my PhD coursework, I’d say radical alteration is an overarching theme. So this is how I’ve stabilized my teaching philosophy for the moment, in broad strokes and with wet paint– subject to new layers and new highlights as learn and read and experience more.
My approach to teaching begins with the idea of threshold concepts as articulated by Jan Meyer and Ray Land (2005). Threshold concepts are core principles that shape ways of knowing and meaning making within a discipline. Understanding a threshold concept is experiential, transformational learning. Students acquire threshold concepts through application, practice and discovery. That process of discovery can be “troublesome” in that students get stuck, slip back into old patterns, and make tenuous sometimes faulty connections to previous knowledge as they experiment with different approaches to understanding and applying a concept. This tricky, difficult, often frustrating space is where teaching and learning happen.
Thresholds invoke both a doorway and a crossing into new spaces.These metaphors inform how I design writing assignments, give feedback, and ask my students to develop and reflect on their own writing processes. I focus on task-based projects that allow students to identify real audiences beyond our classroom. I emphasize scaffolding and transfer, continually asking my students to talk and write about how they are making connections between new concepts and previous knowledge. This explicit scaffolding strategy where I explain connections to students, while also asking them to make these connections for themselves is how I model habits of thinking and writing. Ongoing reflexive discussion is also how I approach assessment and differentiate instruction for my students.
For an illustration of this philosophy in action, read about my Spring 2015 FYC course, or look at the rationale, detailed schedule, syllabus and assignments from that course.