PHILOSOPHY OF TEACHING

Danielle MacCartney, Ph.D.

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Webster University

 

“I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.” — Edith Ann, [Lily Tomlin]

 

My goal as a teacher is to inspire a passion for learning and to give students the tools they need to become lifelong learners. I do this by making learning exciting, relevant, rigorous, and challenging.

 

Learning Should Be Exciting

Students don’t learn when they sleep in class. To ensure they stay awake and interested in the material, I use humor and deliver the course material in multiple formats, including lectures, films, simulations, small group work, discussions, and peer review workshops. In both the face-to-face and online versions of my Introduction to Sociology class, students participate in a social stratification simulation. I modify the rules of Monopoly so that each student is randomly assigned financial and social resources of a particular race, sex, and social class. This allows students to play a game while illustrating several theoretical predictions about stratification.

 

Learning Should Be Relevant

Students don’t learn if they don’t care. To show students how relevant their education is to their lives, my students complete many written assignments applying concepts or theories to their life experiences. To illustrate the significance of socialization, students write a “socioautobiography,” documenting how agents of socialization such as the media, family, government, religion, and peers reinforced or created a cherished belief or value. This allows students to study something they care about–themselves–while learning difficult concepts or theories. Additionally, to ensure that students are learning what I think I am teaching, I conduct internal teaching evaluations such as “Start, Stop, Continue.” Students complete an anonymous survey indicating one or more things I can START, STOP, and CONTINUE doing to improve their educational experience.

 

Learning Should Be Rigorous and Challenging

Students don’t learn if the course is too easy. At the beginning of one term, an advisee asked me if he should take my Class, Status, and Power class. He had attended the first session of my class and another class he was considering. He said, “Your class will be more difficult because there is so much work. The other class will look good on grad school applications and it’s a lot less demanding, but I wouldn’t learn as much.” He picked my class (and went on to graduate school).

 

I require students to read a lot of primary sources, but I realize that students have several demands on their time, so I cannot assume they will read everything assigned. To encourage them to read and to teach them critical thinking skills, students submit structured critical analyses based on a template I adapted from the Foundation for Critical Thinking. A senior told me that she usually only skims the readings, but because of this assignment, she was forced to read every word and appreciated the opportunity to learn more than she has in previous classes.

 

In all my classes, I want students to learn more than just the course material. I want to give students “something to take home to think about besides homework.”

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