I conceive of teaching and the larger educational process as collaborative endeavors not just among instructors or among students. The foundation of high quality teaching is rather a mutual exchange of ideas and values between students and educators as partners in the classroom. While educators may be experts in their fields, they must also be receptive to and embrace the ideas and perspectives of students. Teaching should not be a venue for reinforcing an image of the teacher as the omniscient leader of classroom exchanges but should instead serve as an avenue for inculcating in students the tools necessary for thinking critically and independently.
My student-centered approach to instruction rejects a banking model of learning, in which students function as empty depositories for their instructors’ knowledge. At the foundation of this pedagogical model is a confidence in my students’ ability to think analytically and critically and to more frequently take control of their learning. By maintaining a continuous dialogue between a teacher and students, the classroom can become less a space for student echoes of the teacher’s perspective and more an active arena for inquiry, intellectual investigation, and the creation of new knowledge by students: this is the essence of student-centered education. Students deserve a teacher who is willing to meet them on the terms of their own worldview and who is willing to tailor instruction to emphasize their strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses. Truly differentiated instruction strives not only to present course content in diverse ways to reflect students’ varied needs but to respond to the diverse realities that students face inside and outside the classroom.
To accomplish this goal of differentiated, student-centered instruction and active learning, I have varied my teaching strategies to include not only traditional lectures but also small-group readings and analyses of primary sources as well as class debates and simulations. I have also incorporated into my courses student-led teaching and project-based learning in which pairs or small groups of students design mini-lessons to deliver to their peers. These student-led lessons include short formative assessments, multimedia presentation components, and analyses of primary sources chosen by the student-teachers. I have additionally had my students interview relatives and compile family narratives, which exposed them to techniques in oral history and contributed to their understanding of history as an ongoing process which they play a role in shaping.
My teaching is also informed by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey’s gradual release of responsibility model, which is well suited for smaller classes but which can also be adapted for larger lecture settings. This approach blends focused instruction in the form of lectures; guided instruction, which involves the educator leading the students in class-wide series of historical inquiry; collaborative learning, which gives students the opportunity to work with their peers; and independent learning, which involves students engaging in intensive written analysis. The model can unfold in the space of a single lecture or during a week of meetings, but it is more importantly implemented over the course of an entire school year so that students gain confidence in their ability to take ownership over their education and to engage in original historical interpretation. It is especially useful for introducing to students techniques of primary-source analysis and for promoting both cooperative group work and independent writing and argumentation. In pursuit of these goals, I am a strong advocate for providing students with opportunities during and outside class time to visit archives to gain hands-on research experience in the work conducted by historians. I have served previously as an advisor for senior capstone research projects for two students, which allowed me to instruct them on historical research methods, principles of historiography, and the responsible use of both physical and digital archives.
On a practical level, my classes are characterized by a dynamic mixture of lecture, question-and-answer and discussion segments, and collaborative work. I place a premium not only on teaching my students differing narratives and interpretations of history but on training them in various methodologies of historical inquiry and analysis, the benefits of which, I strive to impress upon them, are useful for both majors and non-majors and in a wide array of professions. This is an imperative for social studies educators in a period in which the number of students pursuing the study of history is declining and in which more students are turning to fields and industries outside the humanities. My time as a teaching assistant and discussion section leader at a state university with a large and diverse student body and as an instructor at a public STEM high school with a majority-minority student body – including several first- and second-generation immigrant students and English language learners as well as nearly 35% of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch – has well equipped me to effectively teach students from a variety of personal backgrounds and with vastly differing expectations for a history course.
I also actively embrace multiple educational technologies as necessary, central components of the modern, active-learning classroom. I have had success in introducing students to digitized archives (for example, the Library of Congress's Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938), electronic academic journals, and online newspaper collections. To draw my students into historical narratives, I have conducted simulations - for instance, negotiations between antebellum textile workers in Lowell, Massachusetts, and their employers, and Senate debates after World War I over the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations - as a means of enlivening the past. My own work on several collaborative, digital, public history initiatives informs my use of such resources for instruction. Additionally, my lessons consistently incorporate visual and audio components and invite digital collaboration from students in shaping the course of instruction by including online discussion forums and real-time, electronic polling and quizzes in the classroom. This serves to demonstrate to students the relevance of the study of history in the twenty-first century and to engage students representing a wide spectrum of learning styles and interests. Above all, my approach to instructing the humanities rejects a mere dates-and-names pedagogy and instead teaches students the philosophy behind the subject matter and stresses that history and social studies are processes connecting the past to the present.