This Summer Session we’re going Back to School, and while we are exploring all forms of learning, we are also providing resources for those engaged in formal education. Today we bring you a guide for teaching from Karra Shimabukuro, the same professor who started the crowdsourced project How to Prep for Grad School if You’re Poor featured previously as part of this Summer Session. Shimabukuro’s TA and Teacher Resource Manual is not specific to teaching in the arts, but provides broad, structural advice for pedagogical strategies that recenter one’s teaching approach on the students, encouraging a more successful semester for everyone involved. 

Suzanne Lacy, Maps, 1973. Happening at CalArts, Valencia, CA. Pictured, Left: Bia Lowe, Stanley Fried, Susan Mogul, Vanalyne Green and an unidentified student; Right, Detail of Maps. Photos: Suzanne Lacy. Courtesy of the Artist.

Suzanne Lacy, Maps, 1973. Happening at CalArts, Valencia, CA. Pictured, Left: Bia Lowe, Stanley Fried, Susan Mogul, Vanalyne Green and an unidentified student; Right, Detail of Maps. Photos: Suzanne Lacy. Courtesy of East of Borneo and the Artist.

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar: Your class was assigned a text to read for the day. You open class by asking what they thought. Blank faces and crickets greet your question. You spend the majority of class lecturing rather than eliciting responses. You end class early. You’re upset that these students aren’t “up to par,” didn’t do the reading, and can’t participate in a college level course. This pattern continues the rest of the semester. You bemoan the multiple reasons why students aren’t what they used to be.

Now, imagine this. Let’s pick up the scenario with the crickets. You break students into small groups, assigning each group a small section of the reading, a close reading if you will, and give them a prompt/question to use a lens for breaking down that work. You ask the students to figure out what the text says, what it means, and why it matters. You give the groups time to work, and then, in order of how the passages appear in the text, you have the groups share out their findings. You encourage students to take notes on the presentations of others. You then finish the class by tying the different strands together.

The second scenario isn’t perfect. You’ll still have students who didn’t do the reading. The major difference is, the second scenario does not assume a failure on the part of the students. It considers the possibility that perhaps, your students don’t know how to approach and discuss a text. It does not get stuck on the idea that by the time a student reaches a 100 or 200 or 300 or 400 level course they should know, instead, it teaches from where the students are, not where you think they should be.

No one ever sets out to have a bad class. No one WANTS a bad class. It’s a good thing that there are some easy ways to fix these common issues/problems and ensure they don’t happen (or at least happen less frequently) in the future.

Access the full guide here.