About this blog

Students can feel constrained by ways of communicating and learning that seem opaque and fixed because they are permeated with norms never made explicit, knowledge they do not share, or the language of others.

Janette Ryan and Rosemary Viete
Respectful interactions: learning with international students in the English-speaking academy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Maintaining the Demand to Reflect on our Teaching Assumptions

Yesterday, our college had a second Staff Conference - the first time we have had two years in a row with the opportunity for a whole of college day of professional development and conversation.

Last year I presented at the conference, and brought up issues about Western-centric ways of thinking which I felt were problematic - for my own teaching practice rather than for anyone else. I really challenged myself, standing up in front of people who didn't know me well to confront them about reflecting on their practices. I wrote about it in an earlier post last year.

This year's conference was personally challenging for different reasons, but I enjoyed the fact that more of my colleagues had taken up the opportunity to share their thinking, and challenge the rest of us to consider things which we might not yet be considering, but probably should. One thing which still surprises me, but I guess shouldn't surprise me, are the attitudes I heard from some other colleagues about those who stood up to challenge their peers to be more aware of their assumptions, and to be open to reflection. Some of these attitude are defensive, and indignant, and not one's I particularly admire.

The knee-jerk reaction to having someone outside your own circle of influence comment on your disciplinary practice, or suggest that we (themselves included) might do well to step back and evaluate the impact of our assumptions on our students, is to jump up and say - "well, you don't understand what we do, and there is a reason why we do what we do" and "I'll defend that from your assumptions". This always disappoints me, and though I might feel an initial twinge of hurt, or a wince of recognition that I am guilty of the assumption being pointed out, I always make the effort to look more closely at the questions being asked, and consider how I could in fact take aspects of those observations on board.

Sometimes we really need our colleagues to tell us about something we can't see, mostly because we're not looking, and are distracted with other matters. I found the presenters at our conference this year particularly thought provoking, because I could see clearly after listening to them how I needed to change to become a better teacher - to be much more explicit about what I want my students to achieve, and how I communicate my expectations.

The quote I have at the top of this blog fully captures this dilemma in regard to International students, as well as many other kinds. We have norms and tacit knowledge embedded in our time-tested classroom routines, our expectations, our language, our assessment measures, our participation requirements, many of which our students can't see because they're not made explicit. Although I have this quote from Ryan and Viete as the basis of my reflective blog, I still need to be reminded about what it means in different contexts. I am grateful to my courageous colleagues for reminding me of it again, and will continue to hope that those among us who express indignation about having such challenges put forward, will eventually take a closer look at what such questioning can actually achieve - a better, more equitable, and more transparent learning environment for our students.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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