Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Like Irwin Leopando, I am at a loss as to how to classify my approach to teaching.  I'm not convinced I employ a single pedagogical style or, for that matter, any pedagogical style.  Unlike Rob Bruno, I neither majored in, nor have I studied educational psychology.  There are specific approaches to teaching communication specifically with which I am familiar, and as a doctoral student we were required to study and embrace McKeachie.  Beyond that, I think I have developed my own style which probably incorporates aspects of the variety of frameworks listed.

I approach all teaching with a focus on tapping into students' a priori knowledge.  I find that when students feel like they already know something and have something to contribute, they are more willing and eager learners and they participate more willingly.  I also try to establish common ground with my students so the invisible barrier between student and teacher is minimized or, at least, mitigated somewhat because they realize that I understand them and where they're coming from.  How do I do this?  Well, I make a point of letting students know that I'm a single mom, but I take it a step further and explain to them that I completed my Bachelor's degree, and earned both my Master's and Doctoral degrees as a single mother.  I explain that I had to make an important decision in my life and, for me, that meant putting myself and my education first so I could provide my son with the kind of life he deserved.  I explain that single motherhood (or being raised by a single parent) doesn't have to be a handicap and, in fact, should be a motivator.  I explain my son's upbringing and willingly admit the mistakes and the missed opportunities he had as a result of our lives and our financial constraints.  And I share his successes in spite of the barriers we faced.  Many of my students, both when I taught in DC and teaching at LaGCC, identify with this because of their own lived experiences.

I also establish common ground with music (who doesn't like music?).  Students realize quickly that I listen to the same music they do and I know all the same information about the various artists they know.  They are shocked to find out how eclectic my musical tastes are (especially that I listen to hip-hop and rap because, let's be honest, I'm a crazy, older, little white woman).  But the fact that I can engage them with things they know about and are interested in makes them more willing to be open to other things I have to teach them because they know I understand them. 

I don't preach to my students.  I don't pontificate.  I don't "teach" to or at them.  I engage students in discussion and invite their diverse perspectives and viewpoints.  I make sure students know that I believe learning is a mutual, reciprocal process.  I have as much to learn from them as they have to learn from me.  We all have different worldviews, different experiences, different ideas... I encourage my students to share them, to challenge me and my perspectives, and I in turn share mine and challenge them and their perspectives.  Students know that even if we disagree, it doesn't mean I don't like them or that they will fail my class.  I also tell my students that they will often never know exactly what my personal position is, because as a trained debater (#2 in the State of Colorado back in the old days when I was in high school), I can argue most sides of an issue because I inform myself about *all* sides of an issue.  I encourage them to do the same.  I tell them I will challenge them not because I necessarily disagree, but because I want to help students develop skill in argumentation, in articulating their position, in critical thinking, and in thinking on their feet.  Mostly, I want to help students learn to take a position and stand firm in it.

Now, my approach to teaching is grounded firmly in the rhetorical tradition, so how I approach teaching is not necessarily how someone in the physical sciences or business or any other discipline will approach teaching.  And I'm not entirely familiar with all the frameworks such that I can't necessarily isolate any one aspect to link to my own approach to teaching.  Mostly, I teach much like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle did.  I employ the Socratic Dialectic, which is a series of questions and answers designed to get to (or at least approach) some "truth."  And in that respect I am more like Aristotle than Socrates or Plato.  Aristotle believed we can not, as Socrates and Plato believed, know Truth--capital T--the Divine Truth, because we are not gods.  Instead we can only know relative truth based on lived experience.  The truth I try to help my students understand and perceive is their own truth based on the knowledge I share with them, the theories and concepts we explore, and their individual lived experiences. 

So, my framework is Socratic.  I know, I'm a rebel.  Or maybe just strange.  Or all of the above.  But I like it that way. :)


  1. I feel the same regarding the Ph.D. training and explicit education on education. I suppose, we are (and Thomas on the same boat.

  2. How do you believe that your self-styled approach will translate online? Has it already?

  3. "students' a priori knowledge": How do you accommodate students with different knowledge base in your classroom? How do you translate these individual differences to the entire class? Where is the starting point-higher, average or lower knowledge skills?