Read Across America 2016 with Governor Carney

As a dedicated educator, I work to implement a challenging and engaging teaching style that helps students develop mastery of the course objectives while simultaneously teaching students to incorporate the qualities of successful learners, such as self-motivation and responsibility for one’s education. This may surprise students who are expecting Paulo Freire’s banking model of education and, therefore, expect me to actively transmit information to them while they passively absorb knowledge. Instead I have adopted Skip Downing’s On Course teaching strategies, which help transform passive lectures into platforms that help students engage with the material we’re discussing.

For instance, on the first day of my World Literature I course the students create their own definitions of world literature, and students vote on the definition that we’ll use in our class. This initial activity sets the tone of our class, and students quickly understand that they must take the initiative as learners and critical thinkers.

My teaching approaches also reflect my belief that education is a collaborative and social experience. To encourage this style of learning my students work in success teams–small groups of students that work collaboratively together throughout the semester. These teams help to create a sense of community, of accountability, and of ownership of the material we are covering. Success teams work on synthesizing the material in collaborative activities. For instance, in my ENGL 113 Introduction to Theatre course, my students participate in improvisational games as a way of demonstrating acting styles. During these activities students were deeply invested in the them and demonstrated effective collaborative skills that help students understand the importance of an interdependent learning environment.

Because I believe that students are most engaged when content is relevant, I work to extend learning beyond the classroom to help students make personal connections to the content. For instance, in my ENGL 107 Creative Dramatics class we participate in the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week and host a banned book reading (see page). This event highlights issues of censorship by offering students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to read short passages from works of literature that the ALA identifies as having been banned or challenged by school boards or libraries. Even after researching the rationale behind acts of censorship, students remain surprised by the titles on this list, which include classics like Huckleberry Finn and Frankenstein, as well as works of children’s literature such as Where the Wild Things Are and the Harry Potter series. The students solicit readings from the entire campus, and the community enthusiastically responds. This reading brings the campus community together to celebrate reading, learning, and promotes the awareness and protection of the rights offered under the First Amendment. It transforms what could have been an unremarkable lesson in one class into a meaningful learning experience for the entire campus.

Furthermore, I incorporate service into my courses as well. My Creative Dramatics course prepares a puppet show to perform for the Delaware State University Lab School. This small performance is well-received by the teachers, staff, and students (see page). It allows the college-aged students to have a real-stakes assignment, and to assess their own performance in relation to the most critical and most appreciative of audiences–young children. It also lets students share their talents with the children in the lab school.

My Intro to Theatre course and cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream acted as ambassadors for Delaware State University by reaching out to the Young Actors’ Guild, a company focused on reaching children through theatrical experiences. The children felt empowered and enriched by the experience. The college-students found new meaning in their roles and in the theatrical experience through this service opportunity.

The students of my Play Production class engaged in an outreach opportunity with both the Early College High School students and The Shepard Place charity organization. The bounty of the fall inspired the students to give back to the community. As part of the production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the students, under my supervision, organized a food drive for The Shepherd Place, a home for women and children in Dover, DE. The drive was a huge success, and we delivered over $400 worth of food products to the shelter just in time for Thanksgiving (see page). The Early College High School and DSU students worked very hard, and the result was that the community benefited. It was a privilege to oversee such generous work.

Writing can be one of the best tools for students to synthesize their experiences and to reflect on their learning. So, all of my classes are writing intensive and depend on the writing process, which includes an emphasis on prewriting and revision. This is why I permit my students to revise their papers to improve their grades. To help students revise, I utilize the one-on-one writing conference for every paper. In my composition courses, we have mini-conferences on peer review day. During these short conferences, I give each student one-one one feedback on their rough draft. For literature classes and research papers, I do a more comprehensive conference with each student. To facilitate these conferences, we cancel the general class and meet with each student for a full-length conference. Employing conferences as part of my teaching strategy is one of the most effective methods I’ve adopted to help students discover that writing is a recursive process.

But the measure of the effectiveness of my teaching methods is that students are able turn the skills they learn in my classes into opportunities for further education and employment. For example, students have shared their success stories with me. One student went on to graduate studies in English at University of Maryland. Another undergraduate student co-authored a paper with me that was accepted to the Pacific Ancient and Modern Languages Association Conference in Hawaii.

Excellence in education means so much more than delivering content material to students in the classroom. It means teaching the students to challenge themselves so they may succeed outside of the classroom.