Event Recap: Classrooms and Social Justice: Why Start with Pedagogy?

Notes | Photos | Video | #fight4edu

On Thursday, September 13, 2018, the Futures Initiative hosted a pedagogical workshop on Classroom and Social Justice: Why Start with Pedagogy, the first event of this year’s University Worth Fighting For, a series of workshops that workshops that tie student-centered, engaged pedagogical practices to institutional change, race, equality, gender, and social justice. This workshop looks at the relationship between classroom participation and democracy, focusing on active, engaged learning methods that instructors inside and outside of the academy can use. It attracted a wide range of audience, including college students, graduate students, adjunct instructors at community colleges and four-year colleges, future and current K-12 teachers, administrators, and a high school counselor. The event was livestreamed, and a full video (with captions) can be found here. In the meantime, read through the collaborative notes for more details.

Christina Katopodis (Futures Initiative Graduate Fellow) opened the event and introduced two timekeepers of the event, Adashima Oyo (Futures Initiative Graduate Fellow) and Sujung Kim (Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow of the Futures Initiative and Humanities Alliance). Christina stressed timekeeping as feminist pedagogy. Then Katina Rogers (Director of Programs and Administration, The Futures Initiative) welcomed the audience to the event and introduced the series. I (Siqi Tu, Futures Initiative Graduate Fellow) introduced the four speakers.

Cathy N. Davidson (Founding Director of the Futures Initiative) started by challenging the inherited departmental structure within the higher education institutions. She mentioned that she got asked about how departments can reshape the undergraduate English major so that it really serves our students. And her standard answer response is: “How do you want to do? Are you actually doing what you say you are doing?” She followed that challenge with Samuel Delany’s first experience with higher education and his frustrations of students’ lack of voice in the classroom.

Cathy was sharing Samuel Delany’s first encounter with higher education institution.

Cathy argued that professors tend to replicate their own successful classroom experience to a diverse student body and therefore reproduce the inequalities in the classroom. She mentioned that the Futures Initiative advocates for all kinds of inventory methods that every member of the class can participate, such as the Think-Pair-Share activities and exit tickets. She ended her session by leading the audience (the majority of which are already or will be teaching) to participate in a Think-Pair-Share activity to discuss their best tip for engaging students in the classroom.

The second panelist, Christina Katopodis, talked about collaborative syllabus-building with students. She used a skeleton syllabus that left most of the schedule blank and waiting for students to vote on, which was super intriguing. Students would be expected to develop their own choices and expectations of the course, including what direction within the umbrella they want to tackle. Christina mentioned that “we’ve inherited a lot of distrust in the classroom”, and we as instructors need to take a lot of time and patience to rebuild that trust. “It takes weeks for them to realize that I mean it”, “their votes mattered”.

Christina was showing us her blank syllabus.

Having students build the scaffolding for a course would definitely help promote participation and engagement because they have a clear interest in the topics having been the ones to choose them. It also requires instructors to be very confident and familiar in the content they are teaching. In the specific case of teaching American Literature, she utilized this process to replicate how amendments are made to the constitution and decided the directions of our society. On that note, Christina underlined that her pedagogy informs her research and her research informs her pedagogy.

Similarly, I shared my practice of having students design their own exams. For the collaborative examination project, each student must prepare one short answer question for each of the assigned readings prior to the examinations. Students will construct the question, provide the correct answer, and locate in the reading where the question was selected. These will be collected prior to the start of the class and used for the review session. During the review session, in small groups, the class will discuss each question and answer, and then select those which will be used to construct the examination. Then the students will take the exam in the next class session. Each practice, similar to the collaborative syllabus-building one, will allow students to put more time and efforts into the process and put themselves in a professor’s shoes. The students will get more familiarize with the course materials, less stressed about the uncertainties of the exam, and acquire the skills to craft the “right” questions.

I was talking about the collaborative exam project.

Such practice also provides me valuable feedback on my teaching. Through this opportunity, I get to examine whether what students are absorbing and find important aligns with my teaching goals, and I can adjust my teaching accordingly.

Racquel Gates (Assistant Professor at the College of Staten Island, CUNY) brought up how to teach public issues (e.g. race, gender, etc.) without making it seem like it’s a personal issue but making it to be a world issue. She suggested using a good analogy to show students that although something may not directly affect them, it still very much does affect them. For example, she used prejudice against Italian-American back in the past to help students relate to racism at present. 

Racquel was talking about how to talk about politics without making it a personal matter.

She also shared my practice of student-designed exam and introduced a low-stakes assignment. She asked students to post three things they learned from reading on Blackboard every week, ranging from small simple facts they learned to connection they can made in relation to the reading (e.g. “this scene in the reading reminds me of a movie I saw last week”). She stated that such practice will get students more invested in the reading and provide her examples to use in the class.

All four panelists stressed the importance of getting students more involved in the classroom and give voices to every student equally and provided various pedagogical tools to achieve such goal. After the panel, Sujung Kim led an exit ticket activity for the participants to answer the question, “why are you interested in classroom and social justice?” See Sujung’s post for participants’ answers on exit tickets.

Sujung was leading the exit ticket activity.

Q&A: Some of the questions the audience raised (edited for brevity and clarity):

  1. On collaborative-designed syllabus: How to you work so that they don’t replicate non-democratic practices that they’ve learned from previous courses?
  2. What are some advices for first semester teaching?
  3. What are students going to call me? (when you’re an adjunct)
  4. Do you have any advice for relaying a topic about something that may not apply to the students?

Read the tweets for this event under the hashtag #fight4edu here.

Final note: I would love to thank everyone for coming to our first workshop of the academic year and all FI fellows and staff members’ contribution to make it happen. Looking forward to more fruitful discussion with you all!

Thanks for coming and helping out!

Panelist Bios:

Cathy N. Davidson is the Founding Director of the Futures Initiative and a Distinguished Professor in the Ph.D. Program in English at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is also co-director of the CUNY Humanities Alliance, a program in partnership with LaGuardia Community College, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and dedicated to preparing graduate students for careers teaching in community colleges and co-PI of the Teagle Foundation-supported CUNY-wide Undergraduate Peer Leadership and Mentoring Program and cofounder and codirector of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory), the world’s first and oldest academic social network. Her most recent book is The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University To Prepare Students for a World in Flux (Basic Books, 2017).

Racquel Gates is an Assistant Professor at the College of Staten Island, CUNY. Her research focuses on blackness and popular culture, with special attention to discourses of taste and quality. She has written numerous essays on film and media, with some of her work appearing in Film Quarterly, Television & New Media, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. Her book, Double Negative: The Black Image and Popular Culture, will be published by Duke University Press in August 2018.   She is the author of Double Negative: The Black Image and Popular Culture (Duke U Press, 2018). In Spring 2019, Davidson and Gates will co-teach a Futures Initiative graduate course, Mediating Race: Technology, Performance, Politics, and Aesthetics in Popular Culture

Siqi Tu is a Futures Initiative Fellow and a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She earned a BA degree in Sociology from Fudan University (China) and a MA degree in Sociology from Columbia University. Her work focuses on the areas of urban sociology, immigration, education, elites, and contemporary Chinese societies. Her dissertation, “Destination Diploma: How Chinese Upper-Middle Class Families ‘Outsource’ Secondary Education to the United States”, investigates why and how Chinese upper-middle-class families make decisions to send their children to the United States to attend private high schools, some as young as 14 years of age, and it analyzes the actual lived experiences of the students of this “parachute-generation”. She has been teaching sociology at Brooklyn College from 2014 and was a Writing-Across-Curriculum (WAC) Fellow at Kingsborough Community College. You can learn more about her teaching on her website.

Christina Katopodis, M.A., M.Phil., is a doctoral candidate in English and New Media Lab fellow at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Katopodis records sounds at Walden Pond for her digital humanities project, The Walden Soundscape, an award-winning website that makes sounds at Walden Pond accessible to a wide audience, and calls for a new approach to reading as listening to a text. Meanwhile, Katopodis is currently completing her dissertation work on the influences of sound and music on American Transcendentalism and Pragmatism, attending to situated listening and sonic vibration in Nineteenth-Century American literature.


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