The Courage To Teach: The Hidden Wholeness: Paradox in Teaching and Learning (Repost)

In Chapter 3 (yes, I’m only in Chapter 3, I’m a slow reader), Palmer talks about paradoxes and using paradoxes in looking at ourselves and looking at how we teach.  He operationalizes paradoxes as opposites, or as he calls them, “either-ors”.  Instead of choosing one of the “either-or” options, he suggests we choose both.  To help illustrate what some of these paradoxes might look like, I’ll address six of them he talks about with regards to pedagogical design and learning spaces:

  1. The space should be bounded and open.
  2. The space should be hospitable and “charged.”
  3. The space should invite the voice of the individual and the voice of the group.
  4. The space should honor the “little” stories of the students and the “big” stories of the disciplines and traditions.
  5. The space should support solitude and surround it with the resources of community.
  6. The space should welcome both silence and speech.

The space should be bounded and open.

I think this paradox is pretty easier to understand and I think many of us do this naturally without thinking about it. We choose the topics for class discussions, but we may not know which direction those discussions take. Palmer suggests that we allow those discussions to take whatever, whichever direction they may choose. From a practicality standpoint, I would suggest that although we don’t know which direction the discussion takes, we know when it goes ‘out-of-bounds.’

The space should be hospitable and “charged.”

In other words, we need to be ‘welcoming’ to students and to let them enter the ‘environment’ on their own time. Learning requires a safe environment and secure environment to happen. To use an expression I heard from Mike Wesch, we need to create environments where students are free to ‘wonder’. We’re charged with keeping that environment safe and secure.

On the other hand, we have a responsibility to make sure we reach the destination that we need to. There are always learning objectives after all…

The space should invite the voice of the individual and the voice of the group.

Since I spend most of my time in the online world, that’s kind of the way I think of this one. When I set up an online discussion, I usually will require the students to make their initial posts before they are allowed to see each others’. The reason for this is because students have their own thoughts, opinions, experiences, and prior knowledge on a topic. Since their individual inputs are important to the group as a whole, I want them to express or share them without being corrupted (for lack of a better term) by other students’ thoughts, opinions, experiences, and/or prior knowledge. Once everyone puts their ‘cards’ on the table, the group can go on to construct knowledge.

Another implementation of this would be to use Angelo and Cross’s “One-Minute Paper.” Before beginning a class discussion, the instructor would have students write a “One-Minute Paper” based on their own thoughts and ideas on the topic. Once students did that, they could use those “papers” to help them with the group discussion.

Although Palmer said he never collected these papers, Angelo and Cross suggested that instructors do. They can help instructors seem if individual students understand what is happening in the course. Also, if all else fails, they can be used to keep attendance.

The space should honor the “little” stories of the students and the “big” stories of the disciplines and tradition.

In other words, we shouldn’t be so fast to discount a person’s individual experience. However, we need to be able to (and students need to be able to), recognize that their experience is just that — one person’s experience. Often times, the vast amount of data from the field suggests that experience is not universal. In fact, the experience might stand as an outlier.

The space should support solitude and surround it with the resources of community.

Again, I tend to default back to the online course mode. I set up each module in most of my courses with a discussion and a personal reflection. The discussion allows for the development of community — assuming students buy-in to the fact that community can be developed without face-to-face interaction. The personal reflection allows the students to reform or remold the learning into something meaningful for them.

The space should welcome both silence and speech.

I must admit I’m not very good at this one. I don’t handle silence in a discussion all that well. I have a tendency to try to fill the ‘void.’ However, silence allows for reflection and as Palmer suggests, maybe the students are “digging in” deeper.

What does this all mean to me?

Good teaching isn’t about using one method versus another method.  It’s about being able to ebb and flow with what’s happening in a class — knowing when to press harder and who we can press harder.  It’s about being able to identify when to ‘back-off’ and who to ‘back-off’ of.  It’s about being able to know ourselves, pedagogy/andragogy/heutagogy, and our content area and operating at the intersection of those things.  That is the whole point of the book after all…

The Courage to Teach: Fear (Repost)

I’ve been procrastinating on this post for some time.  I finished Chapter 2 a couple weeks ago, haven’t quite wrapped my thoughts around the subject — fear.  I’m not sure I really want to, so I’m moving on…

Nonetheless, the point of the chapter is we may have fears that affect our teaching and our students have fears that may affect their learning.

The Courage To Teach: The Heart of a Teacher (Repost)

Courage to Teach Cover A couple of weeks ago, I finally checked out The Courage To Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker J. Palmer. Palmer’s book has been on my “To Read” list for awhile now. I’ve read some of his work before for my College Teaching course. I also had a brief conversation with Michael Wesch last year and one of the things that came up was Parker Palmer’s book.

Anyways, Chapter 1 is entitled “The Heart of a Teacher: Identity and Integrity in Teaching”. Parker defines Identity as “an evolving nexus where all the forces that my life converge in the mystery of self…,” (pp 13). Basically, our identity is everything that makes us who we are. Integrity as Palmer puts it is, “whatever wholeness I am able to find within that nexus as it’s vector form and re-form the pattern of my life,” (pp 14). Integrity then requires us to teach from a position within our true identities.

To illustrate his point, Palmer compares and contrasts two academics. The academics were friends growing up, children of craftspeople. Both identified themselves as such. However, one academic taught like a craftsman, but the other relied more on technique. What academic was successful? I don’t think that one is hard to figure out…

Though finding or re-finding our identities can be hard. We lose focus, we lose ourselves. The better half of Chapter 1 focuses on this point. One thing Palmer suggests is reflecting on our mentors — examining not so much about why he or she is our mentor, but what about ourselves allows that person to become a mentor to us (pp 22). A second suggestion from Palmer is to look at why we chose our fields of study. Or, as Palmer suggests, why did our fields choose us (pp 26)? There’s a reason we teach what we teach. Finding that reason can help us reconnect with our identities.

I think I’m just like everyone else, there have been times were I’ve started to lose focus. I don’t blame technique though. I’m an Instructional Designer and a fairly technical person — sometimes too technical according to my students — technique is a part of life. I think that’s a part of the reason I connect with my mentors. They valued, and required everything to be academically sound and proper, technically sound execution. That’s how I expect my students to preform. I’m also a troubleshooter. Part of the job is trying to figure it out. I expect my students to troubleshoot — which frustrates them. Ironically, that helps create the disorientating dilemma that’s required for transformational learning to take place, which I believe in.

I think a lot of my loss of focus comes from content. Don’t get me wrong. I like Instructional Design and I like studying at how people learn. I believe my technology skill set is above average. From what I’ve seen and read, people in Higher Ed seem to have one skill set or the other. I have both.

All that said, I’m an Adult and Higher Ed person, K-12 Ed is just not my thing. Sure, I dabble in it and follow it. After all, Ed Tech spans across both horizons, and I teach in a college that’s almost exclusively K-12 teacher prep or development. It just doesn’t interest me. (Which, on a side note, is making a doctoral program hard to find. I’ve been looking for an Ed Psych program that will allow me to concentrate in Higher Ed instead of K-12.) It’s hard not zoning out sometimes when the conversation takes a turn towards IEPs and NCLB.

Whether K-12 interests me or not, I have an obligation to my students to stay in the game and connect with them. An idea Palmer suggested to connect with your students was to reflect back to being a student. Ironically, that’s not hard for me since I was a grad student myself two months ago. Though that’s a post for another time, maybe…

Development of Faith and Spirituality (Repost)

Evans et al’s Chapter 11 discusses the Development of Faith and Spirituality.  I found interest in this topic because I fairly recently became a Christian myself and think my spiritual development in college was extremely lacking.  According to Evans et al (2010, pp 195) from Speck (2005) and my own personal experiences, spirituality is avoided because of three main reasons:

  1. the erroneous belief that the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state precludes any mention of matters that could be constructed as religious,
  2. the emphasis in higher education on objectivity and rationality,
  3. the lack of preparation that most educations have to address spirituality.

Chapter 11 presents two main theories of Faith Development — one by James Fowler and another by Sharon Daloz Parks.

I found Fowler’s Theory to be fairly accessible.  It is a stage-based theory that’s open to the regular criticisms of stage-based theories.  It’s interesting Fowler tried to set his theory up so it applied to multiple faiths by separating the content (beliefs) and the processes used to create those beliefs.  Though together, his critics suggest his theory only applies to theistic, Protestant, Western males.
Fowler’s stages of Faith Development start with a pre-stage where the individual’s faith is based on his relationship with his caretakers.  The stages of Faith according to Fowler are: Intuitive-projective, Mythical-literal, Synthetic-conventional, Individuative-reflective, Conjunctive, and Universalizing.  Like many developmental theories the stages range from authoritative to self-discovered and self-centered to interdependence.
Most individuals, including older college students, would be in Stage 4: Individuative-reflective faith.  In this stage, faith is defined by the individual who his committed to his faith.  The individual can then use his faith to create meaning and values.  Older adults may be in Stage 5: Conjunctive faith, where they accept other individuals’ faiths while being more firm (and comfortable?) with their own faith.  According to Fowler (Evans et al, 2010), individuals rarely reach Stage 6.
The other theory discussed as Park’s Theory of Faith Development.  I found Park’s Theory a bit more complex — for one, it’s based on the work of Perry and others.  Park’s Theory or model consists of development in four areas: cognition, dependence, and community.  Development in each area consists of four or five stages and four time periods.  Like Perry’s Theory of Intellectual and Ethical Development, the stages go from dualistic and authoritative to relativistic.
Like Fowler’s Theory, Park’s Theory has its criticisms.  For example, both theories are based on Western culture.  One criticism that stood out to me was by Watt (2003).  Watt (2003) says Park’s theory is cognitive in nature and as a result it may not apply to individuals whose faith is affective in nature.  The example Watt provided as African-American Women.
The take home message for me about his chapter was the fact that spirituality is important and people that work in higher education better be prepared to address it.  One key thing Evans et al (2010) pointed out was, according to a lot of the research out there, if we are to help students understand their spirituality, we need to understand ours first.

Multiracial Identity Development (Repost)

Chapter 16 in the Evans et. al’s (2010), Student Development in College: Theory, Research, and Practice, talks about Multiracial Identity Development.  Having a white father and an Asian mother myself, I found this chapter to be of interest.   The first section of the chapter that caught my attention was the one that discussed the different ‘stage theories’ of multiracial development.  As it was noted in the chapter, the ‘goal’ of the stage theories in general was to identify monoracially, or biracial.  The truth be told, I don’t really think identifying biracially is not much different than identifying racially.  Though, it’s been awhile since I’ve been an undergraduate.
A significant portion of the chapter was devoted to Renn’s Ecological Theory of Mixed-Race Identity Development.  The key aspect of Renn’s theory is identity is fluid and non-exclusive (Evans et al, 2003).  The identity patterns Renn described are: Monoracial Identity, Multiple Monoracial Identity, Multiracial Identity, Extraracial Identity, and Situational Identity.  At times, I believe I have identified myself with four of the five patterns — the pattern I haven’t identified with is multiracial.
Growing up in a almost exclusively white community, I identified with being Asian — mostly because I wasn’t really White.  Between graduating high school and starting college, the family took a trip to my mother’s native country.  As a result, I learned I wasn’t Asian.  As far as the folks in that country were concerned, I was White, and had to pay the ‘white’ admission price to get into anything.  I eventually started identifying myself as Asian-American.
Though towards the end of my undergraduate experience, I didn’t feel Asian-American, Multi-Monoracial Identity really fit me — I didn’t migrate here.  I starting identifying myself extraracially; my preference was ‘Other’.  According to Evans et al, individuals in this pattern may opt out of racial categorization.  That’s how I would describe myself at this point overall.   Though, it’s interesting because opting out may seem like taking a color-blinded approach.  Color-blinded approaches are sometimes seen as racists — though that’s a post for another time…

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