This is the third post of a series on Progressive Pedagogy in which I very briefly summarize a pedagogical theory and offer an exercise (or two) that you can use in your classroom to put that theory into practice. To read the original post, published on March 4, 2019 on HASTAC.org, click here.
bell hooks writes in Teaching to Transgress that turning education into a practice of freedom comes easier to educators who share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of their students:
“To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn. That learning process comes easiest to those of us who also believe that there is an aspect of our vocation that is sacred: who believe that our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students” (13).
The emphasis on sharing in growth is important–it’s not just an easy, throw-away statement like, “I plan to learn with you” or “I plan to learn from you this semester,” which is something I never wanted to hear as a college student. Every time I heard that, it sounded empty and it almost always was. A statement like the one above, which is hooks’ opening to her chapter on Engaged Pedagogy, means something more. Dedicating oneself to intellectual and spiritual growth is a promise to listen, adapt, and adjust one’s teaching to students’ needs, students’ thoughts, and students’ thirst for knowledge and self-advancement.
It is clear from the outset that hooks has considered and changed in response to her students, that she has thought about what they’ve said in her classes, and that what students think has real import and impact in her lesson plans and pedagogy. She continues using such thoughtful language: “To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin” (13).
To me, thinking about learning as something located somewhere deep inside oneself, an intimate experience and process, gets at the heart of learning and acknowledges the vulnerability, trust, and patience that true learning–and true personal growth–require. If we don’t connect course content to student experience, to students’ real lives on and off campus, then we’re not going to reach them in the ways hooks is talking about unless we do so accidentally. The reason I’m invested in this Progressive Pedagogy project is because I don’t want to just reach students accidentally–I want to do it with intention, respect, and care.
One way to start doing this in your classroom–in a class of any size that meets in person and/or online–is to give students entry and/or exit tickets. Basically, an entry/exit ticket is a question or prompt that students respond to either on a piece of paper, a flashcard, or in a digital discussion forum (e.g., Blackboard, Slack, Twitter). For an entry ticket, give students the first five minutes of class to write down their thoughts and then collect them. For an exit ticket, give students the last five minutes of class, and then collect their responses. You might ask students to write down their burning question of the day, or to write down something you haven’t discussed yet that they think you should be discussing. Make sure you collect their responses.
What you do next is what matters most.
Adapt the next class to address what students are thinking about. Address some (if not all) of their questions at the beginning of the next class. Their questions may be similar in nature, so answering one will likely answer several. Adapt your teaching in response to their questions, concerns, needs, and desires. Let their input change your lesson plan.
Finally, tell your students that you are responding to something that got brought up in the entry/exit ticket from the previous class. You can keep it anonymous and still tell them that you’re responding to what someone in the room wrote down. You can hold up the card and read it, or just work it into the lesson plan. Students need to hear you respect and care for their opinions. They need to hear you say and show that their minds and souls matter to you in order for trust to develop so that deep and intimate learning can happen.
hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge, 1994.