One of the fundamental commonplaces shared amongst the theoretical stances informing my teaching is collaborative activity. It is a natural outcome, therefore, that my teaching methodologies have long prioritized a collaborative learning environment. Collaborative learning methodologies are considered to be “high-impact practices (HIPs), yet the American Association of Colleges and Universities’ definition is collaborative learning is located within a project or assignment framework, finite and distinct experiences within a course.
In my teaching, however, collaboration is infused throughout the entire course environment, yet it is not done in a way that asks students to push against or take away from their work or family responsibilities, which collaborative group projects often require (e.g. meeting for significant amounts of time outside of class). Such a collaboration requirement overlooks the busy and complex lives of students at SLCC, and unfairly advantages students with socio-economic flexibility and educational discursive privilege. Collaboration in a gateway courses such as English 1010 and 2010 must be organized in a way so that all can participate as full actors and contributors. To meet this goal, on assignments in which summative assessment is shared by all members of a group, I provide structure and scaffolding for such collaboration, schedule ample class time for the collaborative work to take place and facilitate interaction via digital means.
Beyond the “project” based collaboration in my composition courses, which is limited to fairly low-stakes assignments. Students collaborate with each other and with me every day; it is the norm, rather than the exception. The rise of the “flipped classroom” a handful of years ago found me very confused as I tried to figure out how I might flip my composition curriculum to better engage my students. Only after attending a conference panel on the “flipped composition classroom” did I realize that my methodologies were already flipped. I didn’t realize that composition faculty still lectured at students and expected them to enact their learning away from the classroom space.
Outside of class, students in my courses engage with readings from my Canvas site, informal assignment activities, research, observation and analysis, drafting, revision, and feedback. Inside of the class, we do all of the same things, and we do them together–as this screen shot of two weeks of my English 1010 course shows. Students work in small groups that they sometimes form, that I sometimes form for them. They wrestle together with assignments (even if they are not collaborative assignments) and I move through the classroom listening to them work out how they will go about the writing and reading tasks, while offering suggestions or advice when they ask, or if I notice them clearly misunderstanding that which is expected of them.
A more complex act of collaborative learning that I regularly undertake is jointly establishing evaluative criteria for high-stakes assignments. In this process, I guide students to rhetorical and genre-based goals that should be considered, but then allow them to determine the specific criteria and the levels of evaluation therein. This process develops over the course of the semester (and across the Connected English 1010/2010 sequence as I describe below) as students develop increased confidence in understanding threshold concepts and how to articulate evaluative statements.
I have taken pedagogies of collaboration quite far in my teaching, such as the period of time in which I regularly co-developed semester-long assignment sequences that a class would undertake to accomplish the departmental goals for a course. (This is often referred to as a collaborative syllabus, but I understand a course syllabus as distinct from the assignments of a course.)
While this approach was quite engaging for both the students and for me, I found it to be ultimately unsustainable for two reasons: 1) to teach multiple sections of a single course in a single semester with very different assignment sequences was unmanageable for me as a teacher, and 2) I realized that this process reified the power that students of privilege bring to the college classroom. Students whose discourses enabled them to confidently participate in a higher education space were able to determine the terms of the assignment sequences. My intentions to enable and empower the “silenced” student voice did that in relationship to the teacher-student exchange, but it did not protect those students silenced by other students, thus invalidating my overall goal.