Making Effective Use of Texts in the Class

What an amazing resource those who have preceded us have compiled for our Community of Practice! We’ve been privileged to have been introduced (or reintroduced) to a range of voices propelling the discussion of important and timely topics such as culturally responsive teaching, anti-racist teaching practices, selecting representative and inclusive texts, and making data-informed decisions. We’re humbled by thought-provoking, insightful, engaging, and at times, disarming, blog posts that have preceded ours, and this month we have the exciting task of moving on to the practical application of theory:  We’ll be discussing how to effectively use our culturally responsive, anti-racist, socially responsible texts into our course schedules, our assignments, and our discussions.   

Critically Reimagining our Assignments

This year-long immersion into theory has been invaluable as we struggle to better know and understand not only our students but ourselves, and to reimagine a better present and a better future for all. We are reminded of Rob’s November Community of Practice post in which he discusses Latinx professors, Genvieve Carpio and Juan D. DeLara’s “critical thinking/critical imagination” framework. One of the most lasting insights we gained from Rob’s post was Carpio and DeLara’s response to Rob’s question about how to empower his students:

Carpio said, “Have your students question why things are the way they are,” (critical thinking) and DeLara said, “Ask your students to imagine the way they want things to be” (critical imagination).

This month, we invite our community of practitioners to pose the same questions to ourselves, to be both critical thinkers and critical imaginers, not only with the texts we assign but with the order and sequence in which we assign them, the kinds of discussions we imagine for them, and the intentionality behind the assignments we create for our students to critically and imaginatively engage with them.  One way to reimagine possibilities is to ask ourselves what we truly want our students to learn and contemplate—and even act upon—given these particular texts. Another possibility is to ask what role students should have not only in the selection of texts but in the creation of assignments.

Questions to consider (again, reflecting on Rob’s November post):

  1. Reimagining where and why we address particular texts at a particular time within the chronology of the course.
  2. Rethinking thematic units within the course and how each of our texts inform and build upon one another. 
    • Thinking back to Rob’s post, we might think of assignments as following the pattern of
      • investigating the site of struggle and examining the issues and context of that struggle;
      • investigating how the past affects the present and how both the past and present might shape the future;
      • reimagining a different, more evolved, and/or more equitable future.
  3. Reconsidering our approaches to choosing our texts (as November’s blog captured so well) including inviting students to reimagine their role in the selection of texts and creation of assignments.  If they are creating the future, then they need to have a hand in creating the present.
  4. Reassessing what a “text” is, and reimagining the kinds of “texts” that students encounter on a daily basis and the various multimedia modalities which might be considered “texts.”
  5. Reexamining how we discuss texts, striving always for a metacognitive awareness of how others’ viewpoints influence and impact our own understanding of the world, of the issues, and of ourselves. We might do a better job of empowering students themselves to create the discussion topics and to be the central voices of those discussions.
  6. Reminding ourselves continually that the best assignments provide opportunities to amplify student voices, not to silence them.

Coconspirators for Change

In We Want to Do More Than Survive, Bettina Love argues, “In many intersectional social justice groups, the language is shifting from needing allies to coconspirators” (117). Love explains that in many cases, ally-ship is often “performative or self-glorifying . . . [and] still centers Whiteness in dark spaces” (117).  Instead of Ally-ship, Love argues that we need coconspirators for real and lasting change because coconspirators are willing to use their “intersections of privilege, leverage their power,   . . . and stand in solidarity to confront anti-Blackness” (117). Using Love’s descriptors, we might reimagine ourselves not (only) as a community of educators but as coconspirators for dramatic and permanent change.

This blog, perhaps more than any previous blog post, invites members of our Community of Practice to be coconspirators for change:  to contribute ideas for innovative, empowering, meaningful, and memorable assignments that not only make effective use of texts in the classroom, but that act to “support Black lives and stand in solidarity to confront anti-Blackness” as well as to confront all forms of racism, classism, and elitism.  As Love reminds us, “A coconspirator functions as a verb, not a noun” (117).  Heeding Love’s implicit call to action: Let’s co-conspire!

Invitation to Submit Your Most Effective Assignments

The parameters are vast:  You might post an especially effective thematic unit that brings together multiple voices or perspectives on a particularly salient social issue and that allows students to think both critically and creatively; or you might want to explain particularly effective online discussion techniques that encourage students to think critically and creatively—or more importantly, that amplify their voices and prompt them to engage authentically with one another in the online discussion environment; or you might have especially effective and creative assignments that prompt students to engage with their community in making meaningful change.  In whatever ways that you are currently engaging students with the texts you’ve selected for your classes, we invite you take this opportunity to share them on this blog prior to our meeting at month’s end. (Don’t worry if you don’t think they’re innovative. If they’re new to us, or even being reintroduced to us, they’re innovative.)

Some prompts to get you started (but feel free to send in any other contributions!):

  1. Tell us about a themed unit you’ve used that has been particularly effective in engaging students and exposing them to inclusive, representative, anti-racist voices.
  2. Post an assignment that you think best illustrates one of the “reimaginings” listed above.
  3. Describe any difficulties or concerns you’ve have reimagining your assignments and/or effectively using inclusive texts in the class.  (Note:  Next month’s Community of Practice will cover the topic “Addressing Student Resistance to Discourses of Difference,” for anyone who is currently experiencing that resistance.)

One thought on “Making Effective Use of Texts in the Class

  1. Janelle Arafiles

    Hello Professor Kearn,
    Thank you for your post. I really appreciated the topic and am eager to hear everyone’s thoughts as well.
    In my classroom, I have been using a unit theme I borrowed from Prof. Rosales: “Writing to Change the World.” I’ve found that this theme serves as an intriguing discussion point and guide for all essays and texts assigned throughout the term. As an instructor, it gives me a clear direction as to what we should read and discuss because our world, global and local, needs change. Our students have the ability to make positive changes in so many levels of our community, but many of them don’t consider the issues at hand or how much impact they can make. Overall, this theme has nurtured an atmosphere of empowerment which supports their development of thought and voice in their written works.
    Many students enter 1A with a misunderstanding of their potential. They often consider themselves to be inept when it comes to comprehending text and/or writing essays. Even on a personal level, they do not give credit to how much their life, choices, and voice matters. Students underestimate the power they have to affect the lives of others with the things they think, say, write, etc. At every opportunity for feedback, I try to nurture their voice by validating their thoughts with acceptance and positive feedback. In turn, students feel open to expressing their true selves and take advantage of opportunities to express their opinions in threaded discussions and essays. My essay prompts build from personal to literary analysis to argumentative and research. All of which build on their voice and thoughts on issues in the world that they may or may not have been aware of and encourage them to take a stand and call for action.
    As much as I try to support, encourage, and empower all of my students, I have found that there are still some students who struggle with choosing to grow and see themselves as competent readers and writers. It breaks my heart to hear them beat themselves up about their flaws in reflective papers. More so, it hurts to see them quietly lock up and struggle regardless of how many times I reach out or express support. The more time I’ve spent in the lab, the more I’ve come to realize that wordage of assignments can be intimidating. While I try to keep things simple, it’s hard to understand the exact point of disconnect with the students who struggle the most and quietly slip away.

    Like

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