My teaching philosophy is grounded in the belief that teachers and our students are active, collaborative members of a learning community that expands beyond the classroom. I implement my philosophy of teaching and learning as a partnership within a learning community through deliberate community building that puts students in charge of their learning; varied pedagogical practices and textual sources to create an intersectional approach to acknowledging learner diversity; and continual development of my own teaching strategies.
Community building requires an active integration of students’ perspectives to course content, assessment, and activities, that centers the student in the learning process. To achieve this, I implement inclusive teaching practices that include: (1) community building activities, (2) active learning techniques, (3) regular formative assessment and feedback opportunities, and (4) alternative assessment opportunities.
To my mind, classroom community building means implementing strategies whereby each student feels they can contribute a valuable perspective to the course. A significant portion of the first week each semester is dedicated to community building activities and discussions. This goes beyond mere ice breakers as I explain to students how creating a genuine classroom community will improve their learning. The additional pressure of speaking in a second language during class means students must feel comfortable enough in their learning community to make mistakes.
Implementing a variety of active discussion techniques (such as pyramid discussions and debates, speed-dating discussions, rounds in small groups, etc.), encourages students to participate in their own learning. The current hyflex model requires more creativity for facilitating active learning, but tools including MS Teams channels, digital chat and reacts, and even webcomic creation allow students to participate in alternative format discussions from both inside the classroom and at home.
Formative assessment and regular feedback opportunities (including minute papers, Kahoot surveys/quizzes, and exit tickets) give students an active role in course direction. I adapt my lessons based on their feedback. To foster a sense of shared discovery, I employ collaborative learning, most notably in the senior capstone, workshopping an article alongside my students’ theses. This system models the academic process and engages students in the broader learning community. By joining the process, I show students that their work is not simply to fulfill a credit requirement; rather, they can meaningfully contribute to academic discourse. As such, I encourage (and often require) conference participation, whether at the Symposium, ISGGC, NCUR, or even at SCMLA. As one student feedback reflected, this process teaches students “the value of [their] voice” and has encouraged some to pursue advanced degrees.
Finally, alternative assessment put students in charge of assignments by offering choice and flexibility. This requires rethinking assessment as providing opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning rather than evaluating their responses to a set list of questions. Most of my assignments in content courses offer students a choice between a creative project and a traditional analytical assignment. Moving forward, I am exploring contract grading that may be even more successful at giving students control over their learning and the assessment of that learning. In this system, I would set the learning objectives and provide a choice of projects to fulfill them. This will not only put students in charge of their work, but it will also keep course learning objectives forefront in their minds.
To engage in a learning community, students must feel their unique perspective offers a valuable contribution to academic discourse. As such, educators must consider an intersectional approach to diversity in all aspects of course design, learning goals, and objectives. A simple syllabus statement on diversity and classroom respect isn’t enough – this must be a continual process throughout the semester. Students complete questionnaires regarding their correct name and pronouns, and which situations are appropriate for me to use them. I ask about their personal interests and prior knowledge of the material, but the most valuable question asks them what they want me to know about them that can help them succeed in the course.
Diversifying course material simultaneously exposes students to new perspectives and validates their own point of view. Teaching French means taking steps to decolonize language instruction, especially when textbooks are consistently Eurocentric and celebrate the diffusion of French around the globe through colonial expansion. This also means challenging textbooks’ heteronormative and patriarchal prescriptivist approach to language; in a forthcoming article, I argue the importance of teaching outside the gender binary in the world language classroom. As a French Medievalist and Early Modernist, this means assigning texts outside the “canon” of white male authors, a challenging task in a field that has long ignored other voices. For instance, I use First Nations sources to teach French exploration and colonization of North America. To me, using a variety of sources also means including non-traditional materials (such as graphic novels and Instagram accounts) to teach content and reach students in a different way.
Since the classroom experience is a partnership between teacher and student, it is my responsibility to continually improve my pedagogical practices and methodology. On the micro level, this means responding to student feedback mid-semester and adapting to each class’s individual needs. Outside my classroom, this improvement takes two forms: attending and sharing. I regularly attend a variety of teaching workshops, conferences, and presentations (including 21CPI at UCO, the Graduate Teacher Program at CU, Educators’ Day at Denver Comic Con, Oklahoma Foreign Language Teachers Association, and Centre de la francophonie des Amériques). I share my learning and progress through my teaching blog that reaches several hundred visitors each month; workshops I have facilitated for the GTP, 21CPI, and at Denver Comic Con; and publications including an article on gender neutral neologisms in the language classroom and a chapter in the MLA series Approaches to Teaching Arthurian Tradition.
In summary, maintaining this philosophy of partnerships within a learning community means that I hold students accountable for their own learning. My role is not only to teach students French and an appreciation of literature, but to help them become life-long learners and productive members of their future fields as their learning community expands throughout their careers.