Our Inclusive Teaching Philosophy
HOW AND WHY WE DEVELOPED A PHILOSOPHY OF INCLUSIVE TEACHING
The First-Year Writing Program is committed to practicing inclusive and anti-racist pedagogy. Because we teach writing and thinking skills that are an essential part of a college education, it’s very important to us that all students have equal access to them, and that we interrogate the ways in which we privilege the dominant ways of thinking and learning that have been historically used to exclude and marginalize others. We think it’s essential to do this work in a meaningful way, to make sure that our efforts at diversity, equity, and inclusion don’t become, as feminist scholar Sara Ahmed suggests, “image work” or “branding,” symbolic gestures that are not only ineffectual but actually work to keep the status quo in place.
In December 2018, we received an Inclusive Pedagogy grant from the Provost’s office to document the changes we have made in inclusive and anti-racist ways and to make inclusive, anti-racist teaching an explicit mission of our program. As part of that effort, we wanted to articulate the philosophy of our inclusive pedagogy so that we as instructors, and our students, could become more aware of the thinking that lies behind our teaching in the classroom and in the readings on our syllabi, and so that we could to hold ourselves accountable to it. To compose this document, instructors filled out a questionnaire in which we reflected on how we defined, and why we valued, inclusive pedagogy. We then pulled the responses together into the program philosophy below. We will continue to revise this document as our thinking on inclusivity and anti-racism evolves and changes, because we recognize that this work is ongoing.
OUR PHILOSOPHY OF INCLUSIVE TEACHING
The First-Year Writing Program’s inclusive pedagogy aims to give all students access to learning, and actively works towards breaking down systemic barriers that prevent students from learning or engaging. Our inclusive teaching is about both what we teach, and how and and why we teach it, in the way we design our course and the way we conduct our interactions with students in and outside of our classrooms.
WHAT WE TEACH AND WHY TEACH IT
A variety of texts that avoid creating an implicit margin and center
We take an intersectional approach to a diverse range of texts arranged by theme, to resist privileging or “centering” one tradition in a way that pushes others to the margins. We analyze these texts closely, not to arrive at a singular truth, but rather to help students understand how ideas are produced in scholarly conversations, how to challenge and complicate them, and how to produce new insights and ideas in order to find their own place in these conversations. In this way, the readings in our literature-based curriculum embody diversity and inclusion, and the way we teach them creates a conversation about how to make room for a diversity of ideas in an academic setting, and in particular, the ideas and voices of those who have been traditionally marginalized
HOW WE TEACH
By recognizing a diversity of learning styles
In order to make sure that all students have access to what we teach, we recognize that students bring different learning styles, needs, and backgrounds with them to class. Instead of treating these differences as deficits, we try to accommodate them in the way we design our assignments and classroom practices. But beyond accommodation, we also try to see these different ways of learning as opportunities to change the way we ourselves think about what it means to teach in a way that always speaks to the widest number of people. Accordingly, we also use multiple ways of assessing the work students do in our class.
By making the goals of our assignments explicit and by creating carefully designed methods by which everyone might reach those goals
Students arrive at Barnard with widely varied educational backgrounds. To avoid privileging those students who have already been trained in the norms of the American college classroom, we make no assumptions about what students already know. We spell out what our expectations are for all the work we ask students to do, we teach them all the skills we expect them to practice, and we create a step-by-step process by which students can practice those skills on their own. We do not assume there is a singular thing called "essay-writing" that our class teaches; rather, our assignments break down the process of writing into a series of discrete steps, each of which can be learned independently, and also used in an array of academic settings. By making student engagement in the process of writing—drafting, revising, rethinking, reworking—an explicit goal of the class, and not just the finished product of the essay, we make writing into an activity that students from all backgrounds can access.
By helping students bring and develop their sense of identity in finding a place for themselves within a community of their peers and within a larger scholarly conversation
Similarly, we recognize that not everyone feels the same sense of belonging, whether in the classroom, the college at large, or in the scholarly conversations. To foster that sense of belonging, our teaching tries to listen to the students and learn about what their identities are and mean to them, and tries to actively make space for marginalized identities. It also tries to help students discover their identities through the work they do for the class--in discussions with peers and in individual conferences with faculty, by engaging critically with the texts we read, by asking critical questions, by discovering and communicating ideas in essays in a voice and style that’s unique to each student. This work doesn’t just allow students to be included in the conversation, it helps them create the conversation.
By making our classes communities of care through collaboration
The work of making space for a diverse range of identities requires a group effort, and we aim to help students create such a community through collaboration, by creating an environment of respect for one another and our differences; by offering opportunities to contribute in both small groups and large; by reflecting on the values of not simply speaking but listening; by sharing and helping one another with the challenges of writing; by making our classrooms a safe space for experimentation and making mistakes.
By eliminating as many of the material barriers to learning in our classrooms as possible
We recognize that students have unequal access to resources that they might need for the classroom in everything from buying books to printing readings to counselling for student wellness. We try to make sure that the readings we assign are free or affordable, and we direct students to college resources that might help them, whether financial or wellness related.
By creating a sustained practice of reflection and revision in our inclusive pedagogy
Lastly, we aim to understand our own identities and positionalities as instructors in trying to help create an inclusive classroom. We also aim to constantly challenge and develop our own pedagogy by reading and contributing to scholarship in the field of writing by following the same principles by which we create inclusivity in our classroom, in the spirit of collaboration, community, and self-discovery, and care.