What do you write after a 2-year blog silence?

I haven’t published anything on this blog for a while now. And mostly, it’s kinda like when you had beef with your friend in high school and then you just don’t talk for a long time and then it becomes real awkward to even think about talking and then the distance just grows so you give up on talking. Yes, I likened my relationship to this blog as I would a real person. That’s where I’m at y’all.

So I thought, I’d post an update on my life or what not: baby, tenure-track mothering, sociologizing, organizing but instead I decided I’m gonna write something about teaching to begin with. As summer is gearing up, I’ll try to write more on the other things.

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Background: I am teaching a class of sometimes 90 students at a CSU and many of these students are first generation students, working class, immigrant, working full-time and full-time students. Many are having a hard time keeping up with their classes. Baaasically, many of them don’t get to the reading.

In the past couple of semesters, I have been learning about “active learning strategies” (which I got wind of from Dr. Valerie Futch Ehrlich and was always talking to Dr. Alice Gates about how to do it) and I’ve tried to incorporate it in my classes. For 3 reasons: (1) I want students to engage with the text, (2) research has established that lecture style isn’t really working for students, and (3) politically, I want students to know that they are knowledge-producers in our classroom. It ain’t all about me.

Before I had such impacted classrooms, I relied on a problem-posing pedagogy (a la Freire) with some remix of a Socratic method. But that seems so long ago when I had the privilege of teaching smaller classrooms. Back in grad school, we weren’t really trained in developing our teaching skills and I’ve always felt like I’ve been trying to get a hold of what my pedagogy is as I grow as an educator and scholar. So my objective for this post is to help folks who is googling “active learning strategies” in “large college classroom”, as I was furiously searching on teaching prep days.

Here’s a list of ways that I think students really responded to active learning methods in my class:

(Disclaimer: I’m not formally trained in this method, so these might not even be active learning strategies, they’re just my active learning strategies)

1. Keyword Scavenger Hunt: In the beginning of class, choose 3-4 key words in the reading. Have the class bring text(s) to class and in small groups have them find the key words and discuss what it means in the context of the material.

2. Question Map: To begin the class, write or post a set of questions or just one and ask students to answer that question using phrases and pages from the text(s). You could even do a more directed activity by giving them page numbers.

3. Time After Time: If you’re teaching a text where a chronology or a timeline is key, print out slips of paper with the different moments. Ask the whole class, or in small groups, to organize the slips of paper in the right order. Then ask students to post up their chronology order in the front of the room for discussion.

Okay, so those are a few that worked really well. When I teach my 75 minute class, I like to break up the time into 2 or 3 segments to keep students’ attention. So what’s really key to these activities is that I use them for the time where I’m going over the content that they’ve just worked with.

So for example:

1. For Keyword Scavenger Hunt: the keywords they work with in the beginning, end up on the slides of my PPT. I ask for their definitions and sharpen it by asking other students to share and then proposing my analysis.

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2. I often ask students for the phrases they found to answer the question presented in the beginning. I usually pair their answers with phrases that I find important. And sometimes, when the goddesses hear my prayers, the phrases on my PPT and their phrases match!

3. Dedicated to Cyndi Lauper, this activity works because often students “go slow” (since they aint’ done none of the reading, ‘cept them ones who’s your ride or dies) and you follow behind. As you go through each group, you’ll find that some of them got it wrong so you’ll use that as a teaching moment and ask the next group who has gotten it correct to explain why.

What I’m tryna say is that the active learning strategies help students touch, read, discuss some part of the text. And I feel like that’s half the battle!

What active learning strategies do you do in class?

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One thought on “What do you write after a 2-year blog silence?

  1. Emilie King says:

    Hi Valerie,

    This is such a great post! I’m looking forward to trying these out in my classroom. Here are some strategies I use.

    One thing I like to do is have students do an initial reading of a text (or a portion of a text) and highlight the three most significant sentences. Then I pair them up, or put them in groups of three, to share which lines they chose. Then they decide as a group on their top three and discuss why they specifically chose the sentences (rhetorical strategies, compelling evidence, etc.) When the groups share out, I try to draw a mind map of sorts on the board. I think this is pretty similar to your Question Map strategy.

    I also like to do a “give-one, get-one” t-chart where students write down their takeaway from a text on the left side of their paper, then they talk to their peers and write down some of their takeaways on the right side of the paper.

    Another one of my go-to strategies is the silent discussion. I put significant quotes from a reading at the top of a blank paper and then each student in a group gets one. They initially respond the quote. Then they pass it to the next person and respond to one another. I normally do this in groups of four and they keep passing until they have responded at least four or five times. Then students look over the silent discussion and have an actual discussion where they synthesize their insights in order to share out to the class.

    Finally, one of my favorites is a Quaker Read. This one always starts out a little slow, but as it gets going it can be really powerful. After reading a text and annotating it, students are invited to randomly stand up and share the line(s) that resonated with them the most. This is similar to the way meetings are run in the Quaker church, hence the name of the strategy. I always tell students that they don’t need to worry if the quote they were planning to read is read previously. If it is read more than once that just tells us that it was significant. Students can also stand up and share as many times as they want. I like to use this strategy with a text that really connects with the students’ lives. Once the nerves settle, kids who normally don’t participate often stand and share because this tends to create a safe feeling in the classroom. It also gives me a really good idea on what stood out in the reading as well as the comprehension level of the class. This strategy could also be used with personal reaction to the text, but I haven’t had as much luck with that. After the Quaker read I break the class into groups for discussion.

    I love this idea of sharing active learning strategies for the classroom! Sometimes I get so stuck in a rut, but it’s great to hear what others are doing in their classes.

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