What I’ll do better next semester

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At the beginning of the semester, I talked about how I wanted to do a better job of encouraging my students to engage critically with ideas and to work with social issues that they are passionate about, inspired by Friedman’s discussion of creativity and ingenuity in Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Last week I had my teaching observation, which led me to reflect on what we’ve accomplished thus far and what still remains. Overall, I feel as if I haven’t lived up to the expectations I set for myself in teaching the students critical thinking about real world situations. Sure, they learned to think critically about a speech, a couple of journal articles, some sample student papers, but – I didn’t bring opportunities to them to discuss much that’s happening outside of our classroom. And that disappoints me. I think I got so wrapped up in trying to make the hybrid class experience as effective as possible that I forgot about my other goals.

Now that I’ve gotten the first semester of hybrid teaching (nearly) under my belt, I’ve got plans to revamp the material. I’m teaching the same type of section in the spring, still the 100-minute class time, and I plan to use the first ten minutes of each class to talk to students about something that’s happening at that time in the news or at NCSU and have them engage in critical thinking about these issues every class. I know this isn’t a new or novel idea and that many other instructors incorporate something like this in their curriculum already.  I was inspired last week after re-reading some of Victor Villanueva’s Bootstraps to tackle something along these lines. I thought going in to the reading that I was doing what he advocates for, but after finishing, I felt as if I fell short.

So, over break, I’ll re-work some of the syllabus to accommodate more time for class discussion about current issues and maybe come up with a system for having the students bring in articles and ideas that they want to discuss. If I start “exercising” that component of my students’ brains early on, I have a hunch that it might improve my students’ ability to think critically about the texts they analyze for homework or for their unit projects. I also hope it will teach them a little maturity, too, by exposing them to ideas that they are uncomfortable with initially or showing them alternative ideologies that they may not have considered before. Another benefit that might come out of these discussions is a greater connection to the students. This semester has been difficult for me, only seeing students one day per week. I don’t know the students as well, and overall, the vibe is just different from other semester (where I would teach them four days a week!).

Do any of you do some kind of critical thinking activity/discussion in your classes before you begin the lesson for the day? How do you introduce outside topics to the class for discussion? I’d love to hear suggestions about what works and what doesn’t.