Lessons Learned From the Classroom

From the critical pedagogic perspective, it is common practice to solicit student feedback on a class-to-class basis in order to evaluate teacher performance and course content (Nylund &Tilsen, 2006). Asking students to assess what helped them learn and what could have been done differently, we sought to incorporate student suggestions to improve class content, the learning experience, and our own teaching. Feedback was collected through short written anonymous forms that were submitted at the end of class. We used the feedback that students provided to gauge students' level of comfort engaging in these activities and the overall utility of such classroom experience. Here, we present some valuable lessons learned from students' feedback and some observations and reflections from the overall classroom experience made by us.

Our experience shows that students are enthusiastic and enjoy multimedia and multisensory models, an interactive style of teaching, and hands-on application of the content. The following are quotes extracted from student feedback: “I liked how we were asked to connect what we learned to our real life experiences”; “It was uncomfortable, but I liked stepping out of my comfort zone”; and “I think visuals, group activities, and role play are very helpful to learning. It's just as important as reading because some people learn better with ‘hands on.' ”

However, we were also reminded that our own excitement and perhaps romanticized notions of our pedagogic approach and techniques will not always coincide with those of our students. For example, a few students were not comfortable with “acting.” For this classroom experience to be truly free and joyful, instead of threatening and controlling, we advise asking if everyone is comfortable to participate or, as an alternative, inviting only volunteers to present their sculptures so that students do not feel forced. Also, thinking through how to divide students into groups for the Image Theatre activity may help lessen the discomfort. For instance, being in a familiar group of people or having similar field placement groups may help students engage in activities more comfortably. There are certainly advantages of working with a small group: The experience is more meaningful because participants are able to reflect and engage with themselves much better with a little bit of direction. We also learned that students are accustomed to gathering content rather than experiencing a class and that we needed to provide more information about the Hampton Institute. Hence, it is important to strike a good balance between the content we provided and the method we used.

We observed that students are desperate for correct answers and will seek more information, particularly in the critical analysis of the images. They also tend to jump into interpreting rather than simply observing/seeing the sculptures. This dynamic made us realize that we need to invite students to observe recurrent patterns and reflect on them together. For example, one such theme in our classroom that came up was the note-taker role of the social worker in almost every image. This was followed by an intense discussion on the potential reason for such a pattern to occur. Due to the value-laden content and diversity of experiences as well as perspectives driving the discussion, emotions arise and “hot moments” ensue (Harlap, 2014). Hot moments occur when emotions get involved and the objective discussion becomes personal. As an instructor, one needs to be prepared for such tensions and be able to acknowledge and incorporate them. Also, our experience shows that the discussion tends to remove the spotlight from the students' self-inquiry as a soon-to-be social worker to the topic of discussion. With this in mind, in both activities it is important to keep the focus on student selves and their self-awareness development.

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