The core of my pedagogical philosophy is to create an environment that facilitates critical thinking and awareness for students to enable them to engage constructively in society. In the classroom, I cultivate this learning environment in three ways. First, I emphasize the value of collaborative work. Second, I ensure students that my classroom is a safe space where they can express their ideas, and third, I guide students towards making connections between the course material and their own lives. These strategies foster a setting that encourages students to engage productively with the texts we study and how they relate to the constructs of culture and identity politics.
Collaboration is essential for knowledge. Students do not only absorb information from an instructor, but they learn from their interactions and dialogues with their peers. Learning is an interactive effort among the instructor and students. I stress to students from the first day that I do not have all the answers, and our job is to make meaning as a group. A potential assignment to reinforce the importance of collaboration is for students to create collaborative projects on a digital platform, such as Scalar or Omeka, in groups. The students will be given the task of investigating their local Chinatowns. The project will require students to present their findings in a media rich way through photos, videos, timelines, maps, and text on the Scalar platform. Collaboration in this project will allow students to share their skills with their group by working together to make a cohesive history of how Chineseness is articulated in their local settings. Moreover, this assignment will facilitate students’ engagement with their local community through interviews with people in Chinatown. In this exercise, collaboration is key for students to benefit from their peers’ diverse backgrounds and perspectives and to collaborate with different actors in their communities.
To create an environment for critical thinking, it is imperative that the classroom space is one that is open and respectful. I foster this type of space by setting ground rules for discussion from the first day of class. These guidelines require participants to express their viewpoints with analysis and evidence. I underscore the necessity for respectful dialogue. With this procedure in place, students can have open and productive conversations, which promotes understanding among students who disagree. In a global Chinese cinema course, I tasked the students to define feminism, and most students said that feminism is the pursuit of equality among different genders. Other students, however, seemed to be uncomfortable with the definition, and so I asked if everyone agreed. A student said he believed it was defined as women asserting their identities over men. Rather than disregard this student’s opinion, I took this moment to point out that this difference in definition proves that feminism is a concept that is still debated. We were contributing to a process of definition making through our discussions. Having spaces where students can honestly and articulately express themselves allows students to improve their critical thinking and speaking skills and to learn how to navigate complex conversations about topics that push them outside of their comfort zones.
I encourage students to connect with the course material through different assignments that draw from their personal experience and lives. In a transnational Chinese literature course, students were required to complete a microfiction assignment. The form of microfiction we read in class was based on the very brief stories (less than 1000 words) by Sinophone Singaporean writers that commented on social conditions in Singapore. When this assignment was given, some students were at a loss for what to write. I suggested to students that they write about their personal stories in the microfiction form and to reflect on how the stories they chose illuminated various social and cultural dynamics in their own communities. Reflecting on how storytelling was tied to their own lives, students were able to see clearly how Singaporean writers were able to construct socially conscious and critical narratives. The assignment promoted their creativity and highlighted students’ connection to what we had learned in class. Moreover, these types of assignments let students reflect on their own lives through new concepts and ideas from the course.
My classes offer valuable skills to students, such as critical awareness, close textual analysis, and public speaking and presentation skills. Students are invited to connect personally with the material and use that as a source for their expression. I encourage students to share their stories and to engage creatively with the course material. Through collaborative work, creating safe spaces for open discussion, and connecting students’ experiences to the texts we study, my class guides students towards becoming active participants in their communities.
——–Melissa M. Chan
Last updated: 12/10/2017