You are here to learn and my job has three pieces — first, never to stand in the way of your development as a student; second, to ensure your flame of interest in education and in the discipline grow and flourish; third, to give you every opportunity to learn creatively and within an environment of your peers.
You are a student and you always, without exception, come first. It is not always my job to give you what you want or what you ask for but it is my reason for being here that I walk with you along the path of learning. Whether that is to improve your skills and knowledge or to help you to find new ways to build yourself, your dreams and your hopes for a future in the academic world, you can take it as given that it is, simply put, my job. Beyond that, it’s my goal to help you to transform from the person you were when you arrived to the person you wish to be when you leave, with new experiences and interests. We all change throughout our live, not just academically. But your time as a student is likely the most rapid period of development you will ever experience and I am a living signpost on that path.
We work in the framework of disciplinary study and mine is English, specifically creative writing and contemporary literature. When you begin, I will make several assumptions that may or may not be correct but, for most of you, it is, I hope, reasonable. I believe you love English and have some experience of literature but that your exposure to contemporary work is very probably lacking, as it is certainly not emphasized in our school system. I believe you wish to be exposed to more experimental and contemporary language, that your mind is ready to accept work from cultures all over the world, that reading work in translation will not bother you and that you will accept and cherish the experiences of writers of varying age, race, gender, location, sexuality and background. I believe you wish to express yourself, that you hope to create new selves, whether they are versions of you or vastly different, perhaps somewhere in between, that you love putting words together and hearing them and that you can’t wait to share yourself with others through the medium of language. I also assume that you love language and have at least a passable like for English, if the one you love happens to be another tongue.
Those are my assumptions about you, the student. What I will not assume is that you are only taking my course and have plenty of free time. I won’t expect that you don’t have a life, family and friends, commitments. You are not a child and I will not treat you as one, nor will I make assumptions about how difficult your life is, your background, your social status or any other piece of your history. I expect that you will never share most of these with me but, if they are relevant, I welcome them and assume that you will share with me what you need me to know. I won’t teach you differently because of who you are or where you come from unless you ask.
About me, you can make many assumptions and some of them will be obvious but it’s always best to be clear. I love the English language, among others, and I write nearly constantly. I do not have unlimited time to correspond about your work but I will make time when it is important and I will not leave you without answers to your questions while you wait for days. You can assume quite rightly that I am here to help you so your understanding of a piece of writing, your being stuck creating something of your own, your doubts and questions about how your work is progressing, these are all things that I am happy to walk through with you. And you can assume that I will always help with any difficulties you may have with what you are trying to accomplish as my student.
What you can’t assume is that I will know whether you desire more or less help unless you share it. Teaching is a conversation and if I am the only one speaking (metaphorically, that is, in terms of my comments and critiques of your work), I can’t change my approach. You can assume all of these things about me but I will, in return, believe thoroughly that you will let me know how your experience of education is working for you and what you might need to be different for it to be the best possible support you could receive.
That is it, in a nutshell, yet there are certainly more things to a learning philosophy (often called a teaching philosophy) than a simple statement. You may find it more helpful, though, than to read a lengthy and detailed explanation, to read concise answers to specific questions about how the educational model works from my perspective.
What is learning?
Learning is two things — finding a new ability to do something you couldn’t do before (or at least not as well) and knowing more than you did when you began.
Let’s start with the first from a practical perspective. If you were a young child and you couldn’t count to ten, learning might be that today you can do it. If you were in elementary school and you couldn’t structure a paragraph so it was coherent, flowing from an idea to a development of that idea, then finishing with that idea, learning might be that you have discovered how to do it. Of course, this leads us to the most striking piece of learning — it is, by necessity, incomplete. You may be able to count to ten but does that mean you can count to a hundred, a thousand, a million? You may know how to structure a paragraph but can you create the best possible paragraph about that topic. Learning always continues, incrementally, with practice.
So far, that develops two assumptions about learning. It is endless and it requires effort. If you learn something today, you have to practice so you can still know it tomorrow and so tomorrow’s version will be better than today’s. It may be as simple as next week, that same child not having to pause between the numbers to think of which one comes next. It may be writing a more inviting paragraph about a deeply-felt topic. It may be far more subtle than that and, as we journey farther along the road of education, these incremental signposts become farther apart and require more and more work and practice to see the results. But if we are prepared to accept the help of our guides along the way (including the guide within our own mind) and put serious effort into our educational journey, we will always be farther along that road tomorrow than today.
Knowing more than you did when you began, the second piece of the puzzle, is in many ways more concrete but rote learning, having facts at your mind’s implicit fingertips is a tiny fraction of knowledge. Knowledge is understanding and an ability to take new information, new circumstances, and turn those into a series of choices about how to proceed, an effort to make those choices and act on them and a willingness to change ourselves to meet the goals of the next step along the path. You may have known when you were a child that Pluto was a planet. Now you may know that it is no longer talked about in those terms, simply because the terms have changed (assuming Pluto is still there, which I believe it is). The fact has been altered and so has your mind’s understanding of what it means to be a planet. You haven’t simply gained a new piece of information — you have adapted your understanding to the circumstances and fitted new information into a framework. Learning is not just the acquisition of facts but the application of our existing understanding to everything we take in around us.
How do you learn?
If we take learning to be two pieces of a puzzle — new abilities and new knowledge or understanding — you learn by being able to (suddenly or gradually) do something you couldn’t do before or by understanding the world around you better than once you did. But, of course, that’s not the answer to the question. It’s more specific than that. How do you, in particular, as my student, learn?
There have been many theories as to how students learn and I have written extensive criticism of many of them throughout my career but it is easiest to think of there being two opposing camps — those teachers who believe that students learn differently and those who believe that students all learn in the same way. I am firmly in the latter of these and that certainly requires some explanation.
Teachers who believe students learn in different ways from each other use terms like “visual learner” or “auditory learner” or “tactile learner” to describe people, as if these were inherent characteristics of a student, meaning that if you want to teach poetry to someone who is a tactile learner, stimulating their sense of touch is the best way to do it and that teaching an auditory learner about art involves speaking descriptively about a painting or sculpture. This is a highly simplified version of the argument and not meant as a reasoned criticism. I believe I have been reasonably fair about the issue of it but a single paragraph can never do justice to what is often a highly structured and complex view of the learning environment.
In contrast with this model, however, I believe that you learn in all ways simultaneously. Not that you all learn by listening to a static lecture or that you all learn through interacting with your peers in a workshop environment but that you are always learning, every moment of your life, by experiencing all of your senses simultaneously.
I should pause here to mention that this is neither ablest nor ageist. I am certainly not suggesting that someone who has a visual impairment or who cannot hear in the same way as I do has a limitation on their ability to learn, nor am I saying anything to the effect that young people are without knowledge or that the elderly are wise (or unwise).
What I am getting at here is that learning is not something that happens only in a classroom or only with the help of a teacher. It is a continuous process. You can think of the learning experience throughout your life as a glacial spring. Your life is the time between birth, when the glacier begins to melt, and death, when the last droplets of water have made their way to the ocean. The level of the spring varies from moment to moment — this is the depth of your educational experience at that time. The amount of water flowing between the glacier and the ocean changes, too — this is the understanding of the world that you possess and, certainly, your understanding can both grow and shrink, as the world around you changes, much as the water level varies with the seasons but, overall, one hopes it increases. A teacher is a rock in that stream. A good teacher is a rock that diverts the water in useful ways and whose legacy is an increase in the usefulness of that water.
A student’s educational journey is a continuous walk along a path with many conflicting signposts. Each class you take, each teacher you meet, helps you to find the way but it’s your path to walk, quickly or slowly, your decisions to make and ultimately your choice of destination. Learning happens by taking in the information around you from all your senses, filtering that through what you have already experienced and choosing where to put your next footstep in the direction of your goal.
So learning is several things other than just incomplete, lifelong and experiential. It is based in our choices and cumulative. It is goal-directed and teacher-moderated, where a teacher may not necessarily be the person in front of a classroom but anyone who helps you walk the path of education. It is a series of outcomes of your own decisions. What, then, is the purpose of a teacher in this model?
I will do ten things as a teacher.
- I will ask you open-ended questions and guide you toward their answers, wherever those answers may lead and regardless of whether they’re my own to the same questions.
- I will provide a sounding board for your mental processes, whether these are about producing new writing or criticism on a topic or about the more general application of your knowledge to your academic goals.
- I will provide an environment where you feel safe to ask questions, receive answers and understand how to measure the truth and falsity of the comments you receive about your work.
- I will endeavor to stimulate your desire to learn and your willingness to put effort into that learning. I will not do that through meaningless structured rewards like “you get an extra three points on your final grade by having a good attendance record” but through a respectful understanding that those who show up and work hard do better in life and are happier people — and, in fact, I don’t need to give you grades for showing up as every study ever completed says you will do better when you’re here than when you’re not.
- I will foster a relationship between you and your peers for interconnected criticism and support, where you no longer have a single point of reference (the teacher) to develop your understanding. This certainly doesn’t take away the role of the teacher in any way — in fact, it often increases the necessity for a guide on the path. It simply means that you are assured of many simultaneous viewpoints and that, more than anything else, is the mark of effective education.
- I will encourage you to doubt, to question and to challenge but to do so in ways that are respectful and lead to learning rather than (intellectual) combat. I will take these challenges when they are directed toward me in the spirit that they are offered and seek to provide you a better learning experience and work with you to meet your needs rather than defending my own approach, understanding that you are walking out on a very thin branch to criticize a figure in academic authority and that, while I do not need to meet you at the edge, I will always walk out there with you.
- I will tell you the truth about my own abilities and goals, being up-front at each step that I walk with you on that journey of learning. I will assume that you will also do the same and that assumption may lead to undesirable consequences if you are not but, I hope, this mutual honesty about your goals and mine as far as your learning are concerned should lead to a constructive and harmonious experience.
- I will encourage you to develop skills that you did not know you could possess, that you believed impossible to acquire or that you already believed were at their best possible state within you.
- I will endeavor to give you a better educational experience than I had, than I believed I could provide or that you thought was available.
- I will get out of the way when you don’t need my assistance and encourage you to tell me when that occurs, as it truly does for all of us during our academic lives.
This may in some ways appear like an educational dream but those are the goals and approaches. The reality of education does not always live up to all our hopes but if I begin from that perspective and you are prepared to expect it of me (and all your teachers), I will do my best to be there.
How does teaching facilitate learning?
Learning is about creating and developing new abilities and understanding. When I teach, I give you new questions to ask yourself, new methods for finding the answers and encourage you to practice finding not only the answers but more questions that I have not given you.
I will set you tasks that may appear beyond your abilities but that is the point. If you could already do what I ask as well as possible, with no room for improvement or development and no need for practice and iterative change, there would be no purpose to the educational exchange. You learn by doing and by interacting with others who are also doing.
In this same direction, I will always perform the tasks you do. I won’t always share the results with you as there is simply no need and not enough time in most circumstances. But I won’t ask you, for example, to write poems in a style I am not going to write in and you can ask to see my version of the assignment. I will have one, I promise. If I can’t complete the work I ask of you in the timeframe allotted (with plenty of time for corrections and growth in the process), I won’t ask you to do it. Teaching is about setting examples and knowing where the path may lead — not definitely but at least what the signposts along the way are supposed to mean. Facilitating your learning is about walking the path before you arrived and coming back to tell you where it may lead and how to get the most out of the journey.
You don’t always have to follow that advice and you may walk a different path. But the option will always be there to make choices and accept the facilitation of your learning that I provide as a teacher. It is also my role to encourage interaction with other students walking the same path as there is nothing more helpful in learning than to experience new ways of doing things together — both successful and unsuccessful ones. We truly are all walking along an educational journey and I can’t tell you where the path has to go or exactly what it’s like to walk it but I can be there to ensure you don’t get lost or fall down along the way and that you see the beautiful flowers and trees you might have missed in the process.
Why do I teach how I do?
My teaching method is a combination of examples, explanations, questions and guidance. To answer the question of why, it may be best to start with the question of how.
I believe strongly that you will learn best by example. Whether that is the example of me demonstrating how to do a task or understand some sensory input (words, feelings, visuals, whatever may happen) or through, in the case of writing specifically, reading successful authors and emulating their work to some extent, this is the first of the four pieces of my approach to teaching.
Explanation is the expected role of a teacher and, while I certainly believe it is important, it is only one of those roles from my perspective. This is about giving (preferably short) talks about a topic, how it works, how we may choose to respond to it. It is an effective way of communicating large amounts of information or experience in a reasonably short manner. Sometimes this is lectures, sometimes discussion where students are encouraged to contribute for mutual improvement and understanding. Other times, it is about providing written material or a combination of various explanations. It is often something that needs to be repeated in various forms to reinforce the learning. This is best used for things like static information or background to a task, where self-directed learning may be more cumbersome and doesn’t have any real possibility of a better outcome. Asking you to find all the background on an author to understand their motives for writing in a particular way, for example, may give you an opportunity to develop your skills of opening Wikipedia and reading the article but it is best if you understand right now rather than later and what I can tell you that is relevant to the work we’re studying might take you twenty minutes to find but me only thirty seconds to impart. It’s explanation that also leads me to something I feel is extremely important from the perspective of the teacher — honesty about the reason for doing things. I will never make work for students. If it’s not useful, I’m not going to keep you busy wasting time. If I can explain something in five minutes, I will do it rather than making you research it on your own for a week. Your work should be practice and exploration, not seeking facts and already-established knowledge. The explanation segment of teaching and learning is in many ways about building a relationship of trust between student and teacher.
By questions I don’t just mean assignments. Much of my teaching is about giving goals and directions through asking (or at least suggesting) questions. If a workshop has as its goal to create a short story, the questions may range from specific attributes of a character and timeline to those about choice of words and register, length of the piece, overarching goals, things to convince the audience of or information to impart. You will benefit most from questions that range from specific to vague and from those that need to be answered now to those you can explore through your entire learning journey. In the case of a writing seminar, some questions that may come up could be these.
How much of yourself do you want to put into the story? What do you want the audience to believe? Is it important that the characters reflect your personal perspective? Is it necessary that your audience understand your motivation in writing this the way you have — or in writing it at all? What is your view of what makes language beautiful? Are you prepared to listen to your fellow students’ criticism of your work yet or do you want to work on it more before you let anyone else see it? Is collaboration between writer and audience necessary for communication to happen or is it simply about broadcasting and hoping someone receives the message?
These, of course, are only a piece of a typical workshop’s questions but they are representative of the things that I would ask or cause to be asked of you in such a situation.
Guidance varies with the environment — whether it is a first-year college class or a graduate seminar, for example, or whether it is a lecture hall with hundreds of students or a workshop with a half-dozen. This may take the form of offering possible solutions to questions, inviting students to help each other or even to work together to create a sample answer on the fly. It can be pointing a student in a direction where a solution may appear and be discovered. Guidance is rarely about giving an answer but the end result is always the same, a hope that the student will find an answer to the question, whether it’s the answer I expect or not.
What are my goals for you and me?
My goal for you is that you get to the end of each lesson and the end of each course knowing more, being more capable and being more comfortable in your abilities than you were at the beginning. My goal for me is that I give you the most positive learning environment and that I encourage the maximum potential growth in your educational journey. I hope (and assume) that these two goals are mutually-supporting.
What does that mean, practically, in the classroom?
Most of my classes fit into a fairly standard experience that, if you have been in the room with me teaching, you will recognize. There is a type of learning that doesn’t happen in the classroom but one-on-one, which is how supervision usually occurs but I will discuss the classroom situation. Three types of classroom usually present themselves — lectures, seminars and workshops.
In a lecture situation, where there are many students, the goal is punctuated experiential and participatory learning. This usually means I ask some questions at the beginning, often writing the explicit ones on the board. Sometimes I will take answers immediately but usually there is an explanation and some background information to be shared. Answers are then shared, time given for discussion and questions, typically a small-group session, followed by more sharing. I usually try to do these in half-hour blocks. Hour or multi-hour lectures tend to become overwhelming for most students but almost all can handle staying alert and focused for a half-hour. As such, I break topics into half-hour pieces and try to have a short block of questions, some explanation, some participation and some sharing. As lectures are rarely as short as a half-hour, thankfully for scheduling purposes, I will group similar (or very dissimilar) topics into a single block but treat them as if they were different sessions. While I often do extended classes on a single topic at more advanced levels, even if we are discussing a single topic, I will break it down into smaller half-hour or even twenty-minute segments, especially at the undergraduate level.
Seminars are usually my favorite experiences as a teacher. They will begin with a task. Whether this requires an explanation or not varies but it will always be participatory. Seminars don’t begin with a short lecture or something similar but with an activity. It may be exploration or even producing a piece of writing. It may be a group discussion but it will always be student-directed. There may be a short talking period after, something approximating a lecture mixed with a question-response session. The seminar then tends to focus on a central set of questions and be a directed discussion where participation and sharing are encouraged and I function more as a mediator than an instructor. I believe that giving preparatory material is often key to this and I provide detailed notes in writing or audio format before these sessions so they can be more beneficial from an interaction and participation nature. Students are not showing up at a seminar to hear me give a talk. While that may certainly be a part of the seminar experience, it is important that I take advantage of the small-group seminar style of learning to allow experiential learning to take place rather than simply sharing my knowledge or understanding.
Workshops are always a learning experience for student and teacher alike. These tend to take place in small-group settings, although they can vary into several dozen students at a time. Generally, these are creative writing sessions where students are expected to produce material. I always prepare for them first by creating guidelines and supporting materials (usually in writing and distributed to students when they begin) and then by testing those guidelines and supporting materials by actually completing the workshop tasks myself, often several times, to ensure that my guidance and support are prepared in the most effective manner. During the actual workshop, I usually begin with a short explanation (definitely no more than five minutes) and allow students to begin the first task. I try to break the writing tasks into specific and discrete pieces whenever possible and give suggestions for timeframes for them. At higher levels, graduate courses in particular, these sessions tend to be a lot more freeform and I function more as a support during the creative process. These workshops always conclude with sharing both of the produced writing and a short discussion of the procedure of the workshop. It is very rare that a course would only have one or two workshops so it is highly beneficial to have a few minutes’ reflection on what would improve the next such encounter.
All three types of classroom situation are extremely varied and these are simply the most typical ways they function but it is a good general guidance as to what to expect and why I have chosen to conduct classes that way. I believe strongly in participation and experiential learning, in preparation and teaching by example. Students complete small tasks quickly and derive motivation to continue from a place of success and discrete improvements in ability and understanding — as do all of us, as we are always learning.
What do I see as evidence of your learning?
Learning is measured in several ways and each of those is specific to whether it’s learning in terms of understanding the world (knowledge) or ability. I test your ability by asking you to complete specific tasks. In a creative writing course, this is usually to write a (short) piece or to change an already-written piece to improve it. In a literature course, this is usually to answer open-ended questions to show your ability to produce a better answer than what you produced the previous time. As for understanding, this will always take the form of open-ended questions and you will be judged based on your answer, how creative it is, how you have used language, how relevant it is to the question, how much you have developed your interpretation. It never takes the form of simply producing facts. If I wanted to know the name of the primary character or what happened in the last chapter, I would look it up and so would you — this is not useful for determining whether learning has taken place. Sometimes these are formal evaluations and at other times they are things to be done on-the-fly or in groups, sometimes even impromptu speaking. I will often look for evidence of improvement in understanding from class discussions, whether comments are deeper or more insightful than they have been in the past, for example. Learning is about moving forward from today toward a goal. If you are closer to the goal, this is usually clear many times in a single class for each participant.
How do I create a learning environment that is open, inclusive and inviting?
You are welcome in my class on two conditions — you must want to learn and you must be willing to accept the experiences of your fellow students. That is the first step, ensuring that everyone in the room is willing to accept and be as understanding as possible, especially in a discipline as personal as creative writing. Beyond this, there are two pieces to this aspect of my teaching practice — acceptance by example and acceptance by practice.
By example, I mean inclusion of ideas. For this, I will use the example of a literature class but it applies to all areas of study where critical analysis and research are present, which is, realistically, all of academia. I take care to ensure that readings are representative in various ways. Unless the class is specifically engineered to look at a particular gender or location or race, I would use works of literature written by authors of various gender identities, from as many places as practically possible and from multiple racial backgrounds. I try to use works from writers whose ages vary, whose social backgrounds are dissimilar and whose experience of the world does not become a single thread for students to follow. Wherever possible, I try to make the selection representative of the students likely to take the class but, in many ways, the sample should be far more varied than even the most inclusive student body. To use an example of a recently-designed seminar course on contemporary poetry, there were twelve works studied of which nine identify as female and three male. Various American and Canadian identities were represented, along with Chinese, Indian, Latinx and Korean and writers identify as black, white, east-Asian, Indian and of various indigenous heritages. While it is impossible to include a representative from all groups in every course, this is a typical example of a variety of backgrounds and approaches to the material being studied, in this case contemporary poetry. What this does is to convey a strong and irrefutable message to each student that they are welcome, that their voice is going to be listened to and not dismissed and that they are going to be seen as a potential success story, not simply a question of inclusion for its own sake. By holding up serious examples of participants in the academic discussion from diverse backgrounds, it encourages students to come from their own backgrounds and feel as if they have something to contribute.
Once that is accomplished, which is more fundamental than visible in the classroom, the other piece becomes important — acceptance by practice. By this, I mean that I encourage all students to participate. To use the example of a recent creative writing course, students produced several pieces of short writing each week and shared them with each other. The groupings were random and changed each week to encourage people to encounter various different backgrounds (groups of three or four, in this case). Much of the interaction was done through an online sharing forum in preparation for the in-class seminars and workshops and students were informed at the beginning that there would be no tolerance whatsoever for negative comments or dialog or any sort of prejudice. Sometimes this takes the form of practice — that students who may have had prejudice in the past are now being showed that it is not permissible. Usually, however, it simply gives students an opportunity to accept each other. In allowing each student to demonstrate clearly and frequently that they are making a contribution, this is perhaps the most effective way of demonstrating to the entire class that prejudice is unfounded and that we are an open and accepting group.
Beyond that, I always try to ensure that my own personal biases are balanced by those of other voices — for example, by having guest speakers in a seminar course or by including contemporary critics of my own position. I am attempting to show that, while we all have a perspective, mine is not one that needs to be privileged over those of others who have different backgrounds and views. I also encourage students to doubt and critique my positions. I try to facilitate discussions that employ a wide variety of positions and my assignment questions allow for as broad a scope of discussion and interpretation as possible. I make it very clear both in the course materials and in my dealing with any potentially-objectionable viewpoints presented in class that marginalization and discrimination will be strictly prohibited. I also outline from the beginning that producing work either in class or for submission that details positions that are extremist or radicalized or that criticize based on race, gender, sexuality or any other trait will simply be rejected out of hand and require at minimum a complete resubmission.
My grading policy is also structured to make this type of inclusion possible. I require at least weekly production of new material (in creative writing courses, multiple pieces of new material per week), although this is often quite small in size. The frequency allows all students to submit and keep on a schedule without it building up over time, meaning that those who have commitments outside academic life are more able to function with these smaller, divided workloads than with the possibility to procrastinate. It allows those with lesser educational backgrounds the potential to learn a more structured manner of producing work, leading to an improvement in acceptance and equality among the students. I also allow an unlimited number of resubmissions, as frequently as students are prepared to do so, with guidance between them and with the final mark being the only one recorded. This allows for effort to supplant talent and for those who are entering at different levels of experience (often due to situations of cultural background and identity, usually from having experienced discrimination in previous classes and educational institutions) to have every change to improve and all the help that they are willing to accept to do so. What this makes possible is that no student is judged on a small sample of work, that all mistakes can be corrected and that self-judgment can be kept to a minimum while improvement is maximized. I accept nearly all requests for extensions and mitigation, provide modifications when asked and see this not as a way to encourage laziness or lack of effort but to encourage students to take more personal responsibility. I have provided audio materials for those whose vision is impaired, subtitled versions of spoken-word poetry and song analysis for those with hearing difficulties and alternate questions for various students whose backgrounds made the existing assignments potentially triggering or emotionally difficult. This has made it possible for students who would otherwise not have been able to take courses with a focus on contemporary lyrics or spoken-word work, on film as literature and specialized literary analysis courses focused on the type of work that might be difficult for survivors of abuse. Inclusion is key to learning — if you are not in the room, you are not going to learn and if you don’t feel welcome, you may not leave in body but you will leave in mind and that’s really no different.
What is my philosophy on new ways of learning and teaching?
Many new theories are proposed in every discipline on a somewhat ongoing basis and, as a necessity, most don’t work out to be all that useful in explaining the world around us. Some, however, are extremely helpful. New research on autism and gender identity, for example, has made it far easier for me to prepare material that is inclusive. An acceptance of online sharing in academic circles has made it possible for my workshop and seminar classes in particular to be far more productive with no more in-class time and no extra requirements for students in terms of their own expected engagement with the class.
I am often the first to try out new ideas but I certainly don’t commit to using them if they don’t turn out to be a success. I was an early adopter of smart-board technology but, while it may be useful for other teachers, for me it was simply a distraction for students and no more helpful than writing on the board — in fact, writing on the board was far more participatory and experiential. I believe in using technology in the classroom, whether this is using tablets and laptops for writing or sharing work digitally, allowing students to comment and support each other in realtime. It is also a good way to encourage environmental consciousness in the classroom, avoiding the necessity for extra paper copies to be produced and distributed (and frequently mislaid and re-distributed).
Many new ideas come from my students. Being asked to provide a particular adaptation for one student may suggest ways in which the entire course could be improved or how I could better approach a similar situation the next time, even if the student hasn’t thought to ask for that particular adaptation. Listening to the students’ experiences, not simply at the end of the course and when they are writing formal comments but each class, allowing them to reflect on what is useful, what is unhelpful and what might be a good change for the future, allows me to explore what is working in realtime and adapt the learning environment to the student rather than to what I think is best. If I am not prepared to try new approaches and learn, how can I expect learning from students in return?