II. Teaching Methodology

                                                                 


As a teacher I aim to reach three central goals—to foster students’ independent thinking, to inspire a love for political and feminist theorizing, and to strengthen students’ writing and analytical skills. To reach these goals I employ five central teaching methodologies—carefully designed courses, classroom discussions, lectures that actively engage students, shorter papers throughout the course, and a careful assessment of student learning.  In what follows I draw on the example of one course that I designed and taught on both a graduate and undergraduate level—“Alternative Models of Political Theorizing” (thereafter “APT”) to explain the central components of my teaching methodology.


1. Course Design

When I design a course, I provide a clear structure that assists students’ mastery of the course. For example, I structure the APT course into three sections, each section representing one of the three models we are discussing (critical theory, post-structuralism, and feminist political theory). I teach two thinkers per model (such as Marx and Marcuse for critical theory, Foucault and Derrida for post-structuralism, and Young and Butler for feminist political theory) to allow students to gain a deeper insight into each model and to show (dis-) connections between the models. At the end of each model I teach secondary literature on each thinker for students to learn about contemporary debates in political and feminist theorizing. I also have them read one of my own articles to learn how contemporary theorists creatively take up a thinker’s argument.


When I design a syllabus, I keep the level of the students in mind—in terms of both the complexity and the length of the texts I assign. For example, when I design the course for an undergraduate level, where students have little or no prior knowledge of the subject matter, I select more tangible and shorter texts. When I design the course for a graduate student audience, I select more complex and longer texts.


2. Classroom Discussions

I encourage classroom discussions, because they actively engage students and reinforce learning skills, such as raising and answering questions, making and defending arguments, and creatively engaging with the course material. To stimulate classroom discussions I ask each student in the APT course (on both a graduate and undergraduate level) to prepare a brief analytical presentation as well as questions for classroom discussion of the assigned readings for one class session. Once a student is formally allotted time to speak in a classroom, she is more likely to raise her voice again and contribute to classroom discussions.  This methodology assists to draw the more passive students into the discussion.


When I teach the APT course on an undergraduate level, where students are more hesitant to engage with political and feminist theories, I ask them to work on questions in smaller groups and present their discussion to the larger group, because once a student talks in a smaller group, s/he is also more likely to participate in the classroom discussion. I also ask students to write brief written responses to the assigned readings. I encourage students to draw on their written statements during our discussions. Since they have their responses already written down they feel more secure to speak in the classroom, which contributes to draw more quiet students into the classroom discussion. When I teach this course on a graduate level I ask students to find a recent article in a central political journal on a topic or thinker we discuss and present it to their peers, which actively engages them and contributes to strengthen their research skills. I furthermore ask them to present their long research paper to their peers to prepare them for professional conference presentations.  


3. Carefully Prepared Lectures

Carefully prepared lectures are an important teaching methodology in large classrooms and in situations where students are less familiar with the course material. I aim to provide with my lectures a model of how to understand, critically analyze, and creatively take up a thinker’s arguments. I make my lectures as lucid and well-structured as possible with the aim to actively engage students. I ask students to prepare questions prior to the lecture and to interrupt me whenever they do not understand or have questions. I also ask them to listen carefully and make notes during my lectures. Each lecture is followed by a question and discussion period.


When I teach the APT course on an undergraduate level, I use longer lectures to introduce, explain, and contextualize the reading material. When I teach the course at a graduate level, I use short lectures to even out students’ different philosophical backgrounds. Rather than a formal lecture, in these shorter lectures I weave in and out of discussion and lecture format. 


4. Shorter Papers

Instead of one long paper at the end of the course, I ask students to write three shorter papers (five to seven pages double spaced), distributed throughout the course. Once we are finished discussing a model of alternative political theorizing in the APT course (on both an undergraduate and graduate level), I ask students to write a paper on these thinkers to help them digest the course material. In shorter papers, students have to make (and defend) an argument in less space and thus have to focus more than in a long paper. Moreover, this methodology allows me to get an insight into the students writing skills from early on and proves me with enough time to work with students to improve their writing and analytical skills.


When I teach the APT course on an undergraduate level, I discuss the major components of a strong paper before the paper assignment is due. I also provide carefully structured writing assignments, which gives students the necessary framework to creatively engage a topic. When I return the writing assignments I select two student essays, and discuss with students why they are exemplary, which further strengthens students writing skills. When I teach the APT course on a graduate level, I ask students, in addition to the three shorter papers, to write a long research paper at the end of the course. Before the paper is due we discuss the major components of a research paper. I ask graduate students to make an appointment with me to discuss their research topic where I assist them to direct their paper topic towards completing their Master’s or doctoral thesis.


5. Student Learning Assessment:

I give grades based on clearly communicated criteria for grades and deadlines. I explain these criteria and the grade-breakdown on the syllabus and in the beginning of each course. Although I ask students to make an effort to keep deadlines, I adjust my policies for students who have difficulties in keeping them. I aim for flexibility and acknowledge student’s individual learning progress. I am careful to keep track of each student’s individual learning by making notes during and after each class and when reading student papers. These notes provide me with insight into a student’s individual learning tempo and style. The shorter papers, response papers, and student presentations allow me to assess a student’s learning and improvement during the course of a class. Although students with writing difficulties might get a lower grade on their first paper, I make sure that they improve their papers and as a result their grades. I provide students with constructive critique of their papers and hands-on advice regarding what they can do to improve their writing and analytical skills. This leaves students with a sense of accomplishment and mastery of the course material.



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