Tuesday, March 5, 2013

School? What school?

To be honest, I'm struggling to pin down a single pedagogical framework for my classroom practice.  My teaching (and I suspect almost everyone else's) is inherently messy, with an enormous range of frequently contradictory impulses and actions. Even the most conservative educator can display flashes of "student-centered" and "liberatory" pedagogy, while the most radical and progressive educator might veer into authoritarianism and institutionalism. Moreover, any given pedagogical framework is an abstraction and an aspiration rather than a neat and tidy description of what really happens in the ineffable encounter between teacher and student.

That being said, Dewey's Cycle of Inquiry and Bloom's Taxonomy seem to have the most resonance with my own teaching. I primarily teach composition courses, most of which work best when unified by a semester-long theme. Over the last few years, I've been using the "pursuit of happiness" as our course topic. I lead my students in investigating the idea of "happiness" through various disciplinary lenses including philosophy, history, economics, sociology, and neuroscience. I ask them to reflect on these sources in light of their own life experience. Our work is inextricably bound with "the practices of life beyond the  classroom," and it at its Deweyan best, it helps students to "gain a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them" ("What is Inquiry Based Learning?"). At the end of the semester, students often report having their implicit, long-held, unquestioned assumptions about happiness challenged, if not necessarily revised. New ideas lead to new ways of understanding the world -- and perhaps even behavioral, long-term changes.

Moreover, I see Bloom's Taxonomy as deeply embedded within the practice of teaching college level writing. All composition students are required to produce a set number of at-home essays. This is a challenging and frequently brand-new task which requires remembering, understanding, and applying the arcane rules and rhetorical maneuvers of academic discourse in creating (drafting) and evaluating (revising) multiple versions of the same assignment.

At this moment, I'm unsure of how my pedagogical frameworks might inform my incorporation of web 2.0 tools. (If I knew, I probably wouldn't be in this seminar!) Perhaps I can invite my students to use social media to engage more explicitly and fully in dialogic inquiry about their own experiences and reflections vis-a-vis the "tools and methods of scientists, artists, [and] problem solvers" who have pursued the concept of happiness throughout the ages?



  1. Hi Irwin,

    I really appreciate your observation of range of "pedagogical identities" one instructor might have. I think I've sometimes only realized I've crossed frameworks or ideologies in retrospect: that might have something to do with the difficulty of monitoring theories of instruction while engaging in actual instruction.

    Anyway...your idea about tools and methods of those who have pursued the concept of happiness throughout the ages sounds really interesting. I'm wondering if the students might be able to search for an post quotes, images and maybe videos that are artifacts of these quests. I've had some success asking students to explain an idea or argument in the context of an "artifact" they identify as significant to whatever interpretation they plan to develop.

  2. I have to say. my favorite statement so far in Community 2.0 is: "any given pedagogical framework is an abstraction and an aspiration rather than a neat and tidy description of what really happens in the ineffable encounter between teacher and student".

  3. Hi Irwin,

    You idea about "pursuit of happiness" as the course topic is great. I am wondering if students' perceptive on life has changed after taking your class. Have you ever tried giving them a pre and a post survey to see if there are any behavorial changes? I guess you have to get an IRB approval to do this.

    1. ... you would only need IRB approval if you were going to publish it.

  4. ... I wonder if something as simple as "what makes me happy" narratives shared on a 2.0 platform over the course of the semester (presumably evolving in terms of their critical thinking) would enhance what you are doing already and help generate content for the essays students write.
    Wonderful post!