I strive to create a learning community in my classroom where students not only deepen their knowledges and experiences but their relations with local and global communities. For my students to participate in forming these relations, they need to experience the classroom as a place in which their research can intersect with the local and global. To facilitate this, my teaching methods center accessibility, affirmation, and care at the core of my instruction and lesson plans.
Making learning in the classroom accessible: No matter their positionality, I want my students to have access to classroom learning. The reason why is that access is the foundation for both maintaining a learning community and centering care in the learning experience itself. Students today are learning while balancing part-time work to support their studies, bearing the responsibilities of family care and duties, and/or while living in precarious housing conditions. As a matter of care, it is my duty, to make the learning experience comprised of lectures, activities, and workshops accessible to these students. This means building in multiple access points for participation in activities taking place both inside and outside the classroom. When designing assignments or activities, for example, I never assume students have constant access to an Internet connection. Additionally, it also means creating course materials, for instance, that are accessible to screen readers for visually impaired and EAL learners.
Connecting the classroom to local and global communities: During lessons, I often call attention to how our classroom is not separate from the world we share. This understanding comes from my research background in Postcolonial and Indigenous literatures. It also comes from my belief that as teachers we need to affirm students’ knowledges and work in the classroom as always part of and contributing to community. When teaching students academic research, for example, I frame the conversation around community. I emphasize that as junior researchers their work not only contributes to their respective research communities. It can contribute to the communities situated in proximity to or connected through our classroom. Moreover, in the context of a literature classroom, which is shaped by ongoing histories of colonialism and racism, I believe introducing students to a diverse range of BIPOC voices, storytellers, and creators is necessary for making equitable and reciprocal learning spaces for all students. Teaching diverse texts also necessarily affirms and enables the knowledges, experiences, and storytelling traditions of all my students both inside and outside the classroom.
Affirming and building student confidence in learning: Feedback is an important part of nurturing undergraduate students’ learning experience. The feedback I give might be the only time the student and I engage one-on-one—especially considering the challenges of today’s classrooms—so I cherish these encounters. When I provide feedback on assignments, I first prioritize affirming students as writers and researchers. This affirmation is especially important for students entering my classroom from diverse backgrounds, disciplinary or otherwise. I also make it a point to build the student up by showing them which learning objectives they are meeting. Afterwards, my feedback addresses not so much where the student is “lacking” but what paths they can take to meet the other learning objectives. The aim of my feedback is ultimately to support their own research and writing goals and to help them in imagining what a future draft might look like or what they can apply and learn from their own work. Feedback, then, is a form of mentorship that begins from the very first assignment and ends with final projects.
teaching in a crisis
I have learned teaching within multiple crises (pandemic, fires, and floods) to never take for granted what access means for students. While it seems like we all are connected to the Internet all the time, such is hardly the case. With so much course delivery taking place online, I discovered many of my students had been accessing the course from places without Wi Fi or limited mobile data plans. In response, I have had to imagine creative ways to make course content accessible like assignments, lectures, and workshops accessible to different devices even if students are forced to be offline. One strategy I implemented in an asynchronous introduction to literature class was to convert all course materials into a downloadable PDF, so that students could save and access the course offline. As of now, I am creating an archive of low bandwidth or text-only (screen reader friendly) version of course materials. This way students who cannot access the class online can at the very least participate in an asynchronous, offline version. I feel this is necessary from my experience of guiding and communicating with students through the course as they are trapped due to flash flooding or in-between countries as they sort out visas.
I want my students to experience the classroom as a place where they belong to a learning community and thus think and collaborate together. When I teach close reading, for example, one of my favourite exercises is to give students a short poem of which the lines have been scrambled. In groups, I ask them to use close reading as a method for unscrambling the poem. In another exercise, I have students read poetry to each other. As one student speaks, the other listening student writes down how they are experiencing the spoken poetry. I use this exercise to get them reflecting on close reading. When I teach research practice and the politics of citationality, I get students working in groups to analyze the bibliography of an academic journal article. They are asked to report on what kinds of knowledges the article draws from as well as whose voices are represented in the bibliography. I also provide ample opportunities for students to reflect and think on their own through writing prompts that frame many of the assignments and classroom workshops. Students are actively encouraged to share their responses with the class, synchronously or asynchronously. Through these exercises of collaborating and sharing knowledge, I find students not only discuss core concepts but begin to think and learn together.
Like writing and research, peer review is a skill. As such, I teach students what it means to give feedback in the context of both their writing and professional lives. Before students embark on a peer review process, I show them example acknowledgements from book monographs, showing the community of peers that participate in the nurturing and cultivation of a research project. From here, I emphasize that writing is a process taking place within a community that nurtures this process. I also frame peer review for my students as something that can be generative, future oriented, and collaborative. In framing peer review as a generative and collaborative with the intent of supporting early drafts, it eases the vulnerability students feel in sharing their writing. Secondly, in recognizing that students in my classroom come from different language backgrounds as well as possess various writing proficiencies, I need to protect all my students in the peer review process.