Difficult Dialogues in the Classroom II: Continuing the Conversation

TECCE-final-pic.jpgNEW!!! For more information, see the “Difficult Dialogues” tab above.

The student-run media organization Onward State has provided some excellent coverage of the past weeks’ events via their webpage, liveblog, and Twitter feed (@OnwardState). Last week, student writer Dan McCool wrote a poignant piece voicing many students’ hopes about going home for fall break. Yesterday, John Tecce followed it up with The Break that Wasn’t – an article about his troubles connecting with loved ones outside Penn State:

It’s difficult to expect our friends and family at home to understand what the past few weeks have been like for us, and yet, we can’t help but do so. Unfortunately, all they know comes straight from the news vans we walk past every day on the way to class, hoping that maybe tomorrow they’ll be gone.

Both of these pieces provide some insight as to what many of our students are continuing to experience as members of the Penn State community. As teachers, it’s important for us to stay connected to these experiences so that we can attend to them if/when they affect the learning environment.

In the wake of the events, many faculty have implemented reflective writing assignments as suggested in the first Difficult Dialogues blog post we published. Although some students may be tired of discussing things openly in class (especially if course material doesn’t overlap directly), short reflective writing can still be useful at this time to help students air out tension or angst that could impede the learning process. Sometimes having fears or concerns heard about a difficult topic or challenging assignment can be enough to move forward with learning. Of course, the Critical Incident Questionnaire discussed earlier or other Classroom Assessment Techniques can give you important information about where students may be hung up, or what could be impeding their learning.

As always, we’re here to help. Feel free to contact us to schedule an individual consultation, a classroom observation, or to attend one of our many upcoming teaching workshops. Our services are always free and confidential.

NOTE: This post is republished here from a comment on the first Difficult Dialogues post here.

IMAGE: Ellie Skrzat, Onward State

1 thought on “Difficult Dialogues in the Classroom II: Continuing the Conversation

  1. DESTINY DAWN AMAN Post author

    Just hours after the Penn State community learned about the recent dismissals, Sophia A. McClennen, Director of Penn State’s Center for Global Studies, realized she had scheduled a discussion of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner in her class on “Human Rights and World Literature,” and that it was planned for that very day.

    In Sunday’s Chronicle of Higher Education, Dr. McClennen writes about her experience finding a powerful teachable moment in the midst of great upheaval:

    Once I opened the floor to comments and questions about how the novel might help us understand what was going on, the students erupted with reactions to the events of the past week. Many were angry, most were shocked, but they were also yearning for guidance on how best to respond. Rather than give them a blueprint for action, I urged them to use the skills they had acquired in class to guide their sense of ethics, their judgment, their responsibility to the community. The students seemed to respond well, especially to my encouraging them to remember that complex problems require complex solutions.

    One young woman wrote to me later: “We feel lost and are at odds about how to handle all that is going on, which I imagine is similar to Amir’s feelings throughout the book. Making this kind of comparison was very strange because of the timing, but it allowed me to gain a new perspective on the current situation.”

    In a recent Penn State Live story on Penn State faculty who are finding teachable moments in these difficult events, Dr. Angela Linse, Executive Director and Associate Dean of the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, explained that “faculty can approach the conversation from the perspective of how thinking goes in their discipline — the way a mathematician, philosopher or engineer would talk about issues. She said it’s important to acknowledge what students are going through, because if students are upset, their learning will be affected.”

    You can read the whole Penn State Live story here, including other examples of Penn State faculty who have found important moments of learning and healing in these difficult times.

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