Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 5 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Formal Teaching Philosophy… For now

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 5 seconds

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’ve finally gotten round to writing up my formal teaching philosophy which I need to submit next week. Thanks to Rissa for encouraging me to keep a lot of what’s there and to refer to stuff I’d already written before. Here goes….

My teaching philosophy is influenced by my studies and research, and my reflection on my own practice as a teacher.

When I first learned about curriculum theory, I knew immediately that my approach to designing and enacting my curriculum was a process-oriented approach, which is an extremely student-centric approach. My syllabi have learning outcomes and reading lists, and before my semester begins, I have a structure in mind, with several building blocks that I can include in my courses. Then, when I meet my students and start interacting with them, I tweak what I am doing to enhance the learning experience, and some new ideas emerge from things happening outside of class that are relevant to the topic we are learning about. A process-oriented curriculum is built around the flexibility of the teacher to negotiate the curriculum with the students and valuing the learning process itself. Occasionally, I give students choice over which text to read, and sometimes I even ask them to find their own readings on a topic, and where possible, I give them choices over topics to work on, and choices over the multimodal format of their assignments. This latter approach, which I talk about in my article and workshop on Inclusive Teachingfits well with the Universal Design for Learning approach that suggests faculty present information in diverse ways and allow students choices in mode of expression and opportunities to pursue their own interests.

I am also heavily influenced by critical pedagogy, which I delved into while doing my PhD researching critical thinking. Critical pedagogy differs from critical thinking in that it has a particular social justice focus. This focus applies both to how I teach, being aware of power relationships within the class and how the external environment influences the classroom; and also in what I teach, where I find opportunities to raise students’ consciousness of power and social justice issues. Two of the reasons I give students choices within my curriculum is that I would like to nurture and encourage their sense of agency over their own learning, and also that I care about creating an equitable learning environment that gives diverse students opportunities to thrive.

In my teaching, I have adapted the ideas of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, so that in an AUC context, it means I try to ensure students are not only assigned material coming from a Western context, but that they are also exposed to scholarship by Egyptian, Arab, African and Asian authors, where appropriate. I also encourage students to bring their whole selves to the classroom and we all build on each other’s lived experiences, not only academic experiences.

Another key element of critical pedagogy is that it encourages praxis: action with reflection. I am constantly reflecting on my teaching practice with peers, writing about it on my blog, and conducting Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (see those sections under both of my courses) and one constant in my pedagogy is that my students are constantly asked to reflect on their learning, usually on their blogs. I would like to do more community-based learning in my classes, but at the moment I have assessments that require students to produce media related to causes they are passionate about, such as the games they create to raise awareness. Critical pedagogy encourages questioning of the status quo and I have done assessments that promote this, such as the assignment to hack Bloom’s taxonomy into their own model for learning. A final aspect of critical pedagogy I strive towards is that I believe in the value of being a learner even while I teach. This was obvious when I was teaching graduate students, but I also learn from and with my undergraduate students. Critical pedagogy is difficult and complex to apply in practice, which I wrote about in my article, Critical Pedagogy: Intentions and Realities.

As someone who uses technology in my teaching often, I insist on using a critical approach to using it, which in my field is usually referred to as digital pedagogy. I encourage students to develop their digital literacies and have choices over which tools to use and to question how they use each tool for which purpose. Students aren’t just required to use a tool, but we discuss why and how we use it. One key reason I use technology a lot in my teaching is to infuse an element of internationalization. Over the past few years, my students have interacted on Twitter and their blogs with people from all over the world. Last semester, I also included web-based cross-cultural video dialog in my class via Soliya, a program I was familiar with as I had volunteered with them before as a facilitator, coach trainer and later consultant.

The overarching value behind my teaching is care for my students as people and their growth beyond the course. Even though I only teach in the core curriculum, students often ask me to write references for them because they feel that I know them well and they know I will remember them and their strengths and interests. In my article Pedagogy of Care Gone Massive, I quote Nel Noddings, who emphasizes that: “Caring teachers listen to [learners] and help them to acquire the knowledge and attitudes needed to achieve their goals, not those of a pre-established curriculum.”

As an open and networked educator, I often reflect on my teaching on Twitter and my blog, and get feedback from others, which helps me refine my teaching. I have co-taught many times and this has enriched my teaching so much and I found it was useful to be able to talk to another teacher about students we are both teaching in the same semester. I also get inspired by other people’s practice which I read about online, or hear about when giving CLT workshops, or observe from my co-teachers.

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