Graphic Syllabi

When I was looking for books on teaching to read this summer and fall, I found Linda Nilson’s The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course.  Almost anyone who reads about education is familiar with Nilson, but I was not familiar with a graphic syllabus.  I didn’t really want to read an entire book about the concept, though, as I had other books that looked more interesting to me, but I did do some reading on graphic syllabi. Continue reading


Teaching to Subvert

Perhaps it’s because I finished reading bell hooks’s Teaching to Transgress last week or maybe it’s just because I started teaching Contemporary Literature this past week, but I’ve been thinking about teaching as subversive this week.  Given that I come from the liberal arts, these thoughts are not that surprising, but I have a feeling I would approach teaching this way, regardless of the field.  I think teaching, by its very nature, is subversive, and teaching literature is even more so.

Let’s start with literature.  At some point in every class I teach, I talk about how literature is trying to push against some idea in society.  For example, we just talked about Doris Lessing’s “To Room Nineteen” on Friday, and we discussed the role of women in England in the 1950s and 1960s.  We put Lessing in line with Woolf and Chopin and Gilman, but talked about how she was going farther than they were.  In one sense, Lessing is clearly subverting Woolf, in that she shows a woman who has a room of her own, but it’s not enough; on the other hand, Lessing echoes Woolf several times in the story in a way to show that she is building on Woolf.

This week, we’ll talk about John Barth and Donald Barthelme, who seem to be subverting the very idea of literature itself.  They begin to raise questions about the purpose of literature and how we even define literature (does it need a plot? for example).  We’ll continue that discussion through Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Slaughterhouse-Five (which subverts a lot more than just literature).

Besides the subjects literature deals with, simply reading literature seems subversive in our culture, in general. Continue reading

10 Things One Professor Loves

Here’s a really nice article where a professor (Jane Dmochowski) lays out what she loves about students and teaching.  I would change #4 to students who contribute to class discussion, but I understand her point (note how the picture undercuts this point, by the way).  Enjoy some inspiration for the beginning of the semester, and feel free to share with your students.

Teaching to Transgress

I’m currently in the middle of reading bell hooks’s Teaching to Transgress, a book I stumbled on while reading something else, actually.  I’ll start by saying that I’m a bit disappointed in it, but that’s not her fault or even mine; it’s simply the fault of time.  She published the book in 1994 and much has changed in the world since that time.  Her discussions of feminist pedagogy and multiculturalism (a word that sounds dated now, thankfully) are not nearly as cutting edge as they were then.  Note I don’t believe we’ve solved all or many of the problems she discusses, but I can at least see a major shift in the way we talk about teaching, a way that matches much more closely to what she was proposing.  In other words, there’s nothing really new for me in the book so far, but the ideas are all vaguely interesting.

However, there is one idea I think is timeless that she touches on, so I wanted to say a bit about it.  She argues that engaged pedagogy (one of the terms she uses) requires the professor to intentionally create community in her classroom.  This idea is one that repeats throughout the book so far, as she keeps coming back to it in different ways.  For her, one of the main ways of creating that community is by valuing every student’s voice, which also implies that she will hear every student’s voice at least once in class, something most of us would agree is a worthwhile goal. Continue reading

Choosing Who To Be

After last week’s post where I referenced the student who said I was the funniest professor he had studied with, I’ve been thinking about who we are as professors, especially the interaction between personality and pedagogy.  At times, we let our personalities dictate who we will be in the classroom, something I think is only partly true.  I have colleagues who have quite different personalities than I do, but whom I agree with almost across the board pedagogically.  The way we get to those goals just manifests itself differently in each of our classes.

I’m not suggesting, then, that anyone change personality in order to teach better or differently.  I’m not a fan of the entertainment model of teaching, though I think every professor should be focused on finding ways to engage students.  We should simply let our personalities shape the way we do that engaging.

There are five different types of professors I can see, four of which have particular problems associated with them.  In each of these cases, professors can choose which one they’ll be, regardless of personality differences.  I’ll end with the one I think we should all strive for. Continue reading