• Home
  • Grid Work
  • May 2009 Convening Documents
  • Reflections on the Framework

  • Posts tagged Core Concepts

    The Importance of Community

    May 2nd, 2009, 4:39 pm

    I never really thought about the importance of community within the undergraduate classroom until I experienced its absence in my first year seminar, Human Dilemmas.  It was the first time I had taught in the College’s three-year old First Year Experience program.  Coincidentally or perhaps causally, it was also the first time I deliberately tried to implement social pedagogy into a course for first year students, an approach I’ve used very effectively for years in the senior capstone course for the sociology major.  

    Since one of the key features of social pedagogy is representing knowledge for others, I decided to ask my seminar of 13 students to work with me to prepare a presentation which would be given to the seven other first year seminars that were part of the Human Dilemmas cluster.  The topic focused on a complex core concept–enculturation.  I invited my students to work together to come up with a plan for teaching their peers about how culture shapes what humans know and understand.

    This assignment fit the social pedagogy design elements:  it asked the students to engage with a difficult authentic task, to represent knowledge for others, to engage in open ended exploration, to work together as an intellectual community, and to connect the affective to the cognitive.  Once a week a faculty member lectures to the approximately 100 students enrolled in the seven Human Dilemmas sections.  I told my students that I did not want to lecture, that I wanted to involve students directly in the presentation, and that I needed their help to find examples that would enable first year students to grasp this very difficult threshold concept of the social construction of knowledge.  The students read the assigned readings for that presentation the first week of the semester.  The class, then, worked on this project once a week for approximately six weeks.  

    In the end, the students were unsuccessful in coming up with a workable plan for the presentation.  While I incorporated a few of their ideas into it, for example a clip from Friends, and I also asked the larger group of students questions that my specific students were primed to answer when needed, I ultimately designed and delivered the presentation.

    Why did my students fail to come up with a workable plan for representing their knowledge about culture to their peers?  Initially, I thought it was because they were first year students in their first month of college and they simply didn’t have the expertise to design the presentation.  If seniors are capable of representing knowledge for others and first year students aren’t, it must be because novice learners need to know something before they can represent it for others.  

    Then I read their midterm exams and compared them to those from one of the other Human Dilemmas sections and saw that my students had indeed achieved a stronger grasp of this complex core concept than the other students who had only done the readings, heard my presentation, and discussed both in their seminar.   So the social pedagogy had produced a stronger grasp of this core concept.

    Next, I attributed the failure to my students’ inability to get along with each other.  The first week I had the class work as a group as a whole.  When they didn’t get any where, I decided 13 was too large a number to work together effectively and I broke them up randomly into four smaller groups the next week.  When that didn’t work, I decided to break them up into three groups randomly in the third week.  When that didn’t work, I decided to divide them into two groups:  the talkative students and the quiet students.  As I was assigning the groups, one of the talkative students demanded to know who had chosen the groups.  

    Three weeks into the semester, perhaps because of their inability to work together successfully on this project, it became painfully obvious to me that some of my students did not like each other, that they did not want to work with each other, and that they even had trouble being civil to each other in class discussions.  

    What I had failed to do was to create an intellectual community in my classroom, something I have always managed to do with my seniors.  I worked hard for the rest of the semester trying to get the students to behave civilly towards each other at least while in class.  I even had the peer mentor, a sophomore, facilitate half hour sessions with them when I was not present to try to clear the air as well as to encourage appropriate classroom behavior first at midterm and then a month later.  While the situation improved, the problem never went away, perhaps because the problem may not have originated in my classroom but in the dorms.  The new first year experience program includes housing students in first year seminars in the same dorms.  I will never again take for granted the presence of community in the classroom.

    I will teach the first year seminar for the second time this fall.  My first goal will be to create an intellectual community in the classroom.  The students do not have to be best friends but they do need to support each other as co-learners.


    Fieldwork as Social Pedagogy

    May 2nd, 2009, 4:18 pm

    In the fieldwork course that I am teaching this semester, students spend one morning a week in a center with infants, toddlers, or two year olds.  I’ve asked them to write about their experiences and link them to the readings we’ve done this semester.  Some of the readings are about observing and recording young children’s behavior.  Others are about child development.  My hope is that students will see child development theory validated or invalidated as it comes alive in real children and that they will hone their observation skills to continue learning from children.

    For example, one student wrote,

    • According to the reading in chapter 6, I could say Jayquan’s gross motor skills developed well. He could ride a scooter as well as a tricycle. He could paddle forward and backward. He was laughing when I made the sounds like “beep beep beep” when he backed up. Jayquan has very sensitive fine motor skill also. He can use a spoon pretty well and can eat by himself at lunchtime. After he finished his food, he tried to scrape the leftovers into the trash can using the spoon. I wonder who taught him to do that.

    A core concept that causes some difficulty is that developmental domains, or areas of development, work together.  In the example above, for instance, the student is describing Jayquan’s physical development, but her description includes how he is thinking and what he knows.  Students truly grasp this concept of “the whole child” through their direct work with children.  Yet, the professional literature isolates these developmental domains to examine each more closely and to zero in on a child’s development in precise ways.  I (and most early childhood educators) ask students to discuss a child in terms of each domain.  Taken for granted, here, I think, is that students can hold and work simultaneously with two opposing ideas: that it is impossible to isolate domains in real life and that it is a useful heuristic to think about a real child’s ways of being in separate domains.

    Students object to separating the domains and ask questions on their drafts about how they can possibly address different domains using a single event or story without being repetitious.  I think these objections and questions indicate that they are grappling with the opposing ideas.

    I think this might be an example of how social learning — their real work with children — has pushed students to confront a complexity.  Because the children are real, the work is authentic and they care about it.  Even the students who are struggling to engage with the children at their fieldsites are involved in the process of becoming engaged and are explaining to me what they are doing (in most cases, to overcome their shyness and) to become more involved.  They are dealing weekly with the interface between their current selves and the professional selves they strive for — and this is also true for the students who are not having trouble getting involved with the children.

    A fieldwork class is a prime example of the affective connecting with the cognitive to generate a sense of purpose. The affective is ever present as students feel judged by teachers, children, parents, me, classmates, and themselves. They want to do well and be liked, and they want to figure out problems that arise (why is the two-year-old I’m observing throwing herself on the floor and screaming when it’s time to stop doing one thing and start another?). The challenge is to link the affective, which is closely related to their practice, to the discipline’s definition of the cognitive, that is, to the theory on which the class is based. I speculate that on the one hand, that is made easier, because the fieldwork is so important to the students.  On the other hand, it is harder, because the fieldwork seems more important than the class itself.

    A second challenge, which is easier to confront in some cases than in others, is to build an intellectual community among the students, so they address whatever arises at each other’s fieldsites together.  I don’t think that I’ve been as successful with this group as I wish I were and as I’ve been with other groups.  Student reticence and lack of time have contributed, but I also don’t think that I’ve pushed enough.  I could ask student to make their journals (in which they discuss their fieldwork, their observations of a child, and their readings) public to the class and could devote more time in class to students’ discussions of their sites.  I’ve asked each student to choose a week to discuss that week’s topic in light of her or his fieldwork, but not all students have done it and not all students have spoken to the class in a way in which their classmates understood or could follow.  Clearly, other methods would have worked better for this particular group.


    Core Concepts

    May 2nd, 2009, 4:14 pm

    Core Concepts
    For the Social Pedagogies Group, I am focusing on the “Literature for the North Woods” projects from my Skidmore College English course, “Literature and the Environment.” The goal of the projects is for students to “connect our reading and study of Nature Writing and Environmental Literature to our natural surroundings [Skidmore College’s North Woods] and to find creative ways in which the literature we are reading can enhance our experience of going into the North Woods . . ..  The challenge of the project is to translate or transpose literary ideas to new media for our contemporary audience and situation.”

    Since the student projects radically differ from a 5-7-page paper typically required in a literature class, it is helpful to articulate the core concepts informing the project.   The fundamental core concept underlying the project is understanding the unique purpose or role of literature.   Given the environmental focus of the course, it is important for students to understand and appreciate the distinct contributions that literature (poetry, fiction, and nonfiction) brings to Environmental Studies.   But more generally, the core concept I am after in the project is the purpose of literature.  While this is a complex questions with multiple responses range from the aesthetic to the political, in this introductory level course, the concept of defamiliarization from Russian Formalism best expresses the core concept I am after.   Literature exists to break/wake readers from habitual responses and perceptions and awaken them so that they can see the subject in a new light.   Essential, literature takes a subject out of the familiar context in which we have seen it and defamiliarizes it, makes it strange to us, so that we experience it anew.  It is my hope that through the projects, the students will focus on the features that the reading(s) awakened them too and use that as a starting point to create their projects.

    The second core concept—more accurately labeled a core value—underlying this work is the role of literature.  Often within an academic context, literary texts can be isolated as objects of analysis while their connect to the lived world can be obscured or eclipsed.   The project allows students to learn that literature in not a luxury or a decoration to the human experience but an important lens through which we perceive and understand our world.

    Finally, the last core concept embedded in the project is meaning, more specifically, how we make meaning specifically by translating or transposing ideas from one context into another.   By establishing this new relationship—between readings and the forest around the campus—the projects become meaningful not only to the students but also to their large audience


    Core Concept: Application of Theory to Cultural Texts (draft with some placeholder text)

    May 2nd, 2009, 4:14 pm

    A core concept in the humanities and cultural studies is to learn to apply theoretical knowledge to the interpretation of texts. Although the study of hermeneutics has a long history, most scholars learn these skills through largely intuitive means: reading successful models and practicing the skills (and receiving feedback from) in seminar and conference papers, the dissertation, and finally, in published form.

    SoTL has begun to try to unpack the steps involved in the complex process of application. . .then do Benmayor http://www.academiccommons.org/commons/essay/theorizing-through-digital-stories especially at rubric.

    Benmayor identities three key relational moves

    Narrative Theorizing

    Applied Theorizing

    critical Theorizing

    Do steps from own AHHE article


    Value Assertions and Project Claims

    May 2nd, 2009, 3:58 pm

    Here is some draft language of top level thoughts for Social pedagogies.

    Definition: Social Pedagogies are design approaches for teaching and learning that are communication-intensive, strive to build and work with a sense of intellectual community, and seek to bridge disciplinary understanding with broader contexts for learning.

    Some Value Assertions:

    • We value learning that asks students to grapple with difficulty in ways that engages them with the processes of learning and stages of understanding.
    • We value learning that makes porous the divide between formal academic knowledge and integrative educational experience.
    • We value learning that helps students build connections between personal and intellectual significance.

    Project Claims

    • Social pedagogies are particularly effective at engaging students with the difficult dimensions of core concepts.
    • Social pedagogies bridge disciplinary understanding with embodied dimensions of learning.
    • Social pedagogies build in iterative cycles of engagement with the most difficult material, not just as content but through ways of thinking, ways of acting, ways of communicating.
    • Social pedagogies open up a set of filters or conditions for student learning–such as prior knowledge, identity, difference–that can be ignored or suppressed through more bounded, traditional pedagogies.
    • Social pedagogies ask students to position themselves to knowledge in the context of audience and community.

    these are just draft assertions and claims…works in progress. COMMENTS?

    rb