I went to the Reading Initiative workshop on campus a few weeks ago.

The whole session was framed around one of Andrew Lam’s articles from a few years back, an optimistic pastiche of the senses, blending all the Bay Area’s sounds, sights, and tastes to celebrate our local multiculturalism. How would we teach it? How could we get students engaged? More specifically, we were tasked with focusing our lesson plans to activate a particular learning modality (visual, aural, kinesthetic, etc. Ultimately, we all agreed it’s best to try to engage as many senses as possible as frequently as possible, but to do that, it helps to first consider how to engage them discretely).

My group had aural learning – audio/sound/listening – and since our colleagues here at Foothill are among the best in the world, I’m not surprised that the series of lessons we cobbled together were fantastic. However, my favorite were the pre and post reading activities – What sounds do students hear when they’re in public (e.g. BART, Starbucks, Mall) and what do those sounds tell them about the community they live in? More importantly, what do those sounds tell them about their perception of the Bay Area? Finally, as a post reading, what sounds were missing in Andrew Lam’s article? He didn’t mention anything that would resemble things like Milo Yiannopoulos or the responding Berkeley riots or the Ghost Ship fire or anything else that might contradict his cheerful multiculturalism. Considering what wasn’t in his article became just as interesting as what was.

I don’t teach enough in that way. I find myself wanting to give students a wider breadth of materials rather than carefully pre-reading and post-reading a smaller few. And, I’m usually so focused on the essays students will produce it’s too easy to slip into a drive for efficiency where I under-use the readings we’re going over in class, and unwittingly treat them like they are little more than receptacles for quotes students can pilfer for their upcoming essays.

The workshop also highlighted something else I don’t do enough of either, which is collaborate with other teachers to craft and revise actual lessons. And I don’t just mean sharing a prompt or a lesson plan or reading assignment, or talking after a J1 observation; I mean gathering together to create something from beginning to end, sharing our experience and expertise.

Sitting in my group of four, it was a near nonstop flow of ideas, each of us suggesting a change here or there or asking thoughtful questions; the string of assignments we came up either together was far better than what I would have made by myself and many of the improvements we made along the way were things it would take me two or three quarters of trial runs in the classroom before I would tinker enough to optimize the assignment.

I’d like to be a part of these efforts on campus – teachers across campus talking about how they can engage students in their own classes regardless of department or discipline. We don’t do enough of that.


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