Student engagement through classroom-focused pedagogical partnership

A variety of publications documents how classroom-focused pedagogical partnership can deepen engagement of student partners themselves and also support the deepening of engagement among students enrolled in the courses upon which staff and student partners focus (Cook-Sather, Bovill, and Felten, 2014; Luker and Morris, 2016; Mercer-Mapstone, Dvorakova, Matthews, Abbot, Cheng, Felten, Knorr, Marquis, Shammas, and Swaim 2017; Schlosser and Sweeney, 2015).

Pedagogical partnerships create opportunities for students and staff to “engage in more active dialogue" about teaching and learning (Goldsmith et al., 2017). When staff and students are “engaging actively in collaboration around teaching goals" (Oleson, 2016), students gain skills, insights, confidence, and capacity that affect their engagement within and beyond the classroom. Student partners develop skills that not only help them “reflect on [their] other classes" in general but, more specifically, “understand the rationale behind an activity or behind an assignment" and thereby better understand “why I am being asked to engage with this particular text in this particular way." As student partners explain, to see “thepedagogical reasoning" behind an assignment “totally deepened my learning"; partnership helps student partners “think much more deeply about what I need as a learner." Student partners also talk about engaging more fully beyond the classroom because they “have a lot more comfort talking to professors"', they “feel like [they] understand both how to approach a teacher" and that they “have something to say that’s worth hearing." The confidence and capacity they develop through pedagogical partnership make student partners feel that they have “more tools... to engage beyond the way I had been trained to engage - more creativity around how to get... engaged even if I didn’t feel a pulF’ (all quotations from students in Cook-Sather, 2018b, pp.927-928).

Pedagogical partnership can also deepen the engagement of students enrolled in the courses upon which student and their staff partners focus. Some pedagogical partnerships take as an explicit focus revising practices to better engage students (e.g., Bunnell and Bernstein, 2014). Others explore fostering student engagement as one of many essential dimensions of teaching (e.g., Conner, 2012; Colon Garcia, 2017; Singh, 2018). Regardless of the explicit focus of the pedagogical partnership, student partners often comment on engagement in their observation notes (see Cook-Sather, Schlosser, Sweeney, Peterson, Cassidy, and Colon Garcia, 2017), and student partners identify positive changes focused on promoting greater engagement, such as: “ When you reached out to the quieter students in the class, we saw a significant change in how they participated" (Abbott and Been, 2017). Student partners are specific about what promotes engagement: "’there was overwhelming positive commentary from the students about the variety of activities... [and] they found the class to be incredibly engaging because of those" (Brunson, 2018).

Through regular dialogue with their student partners, staff partners clarify for themselves the kind of engagement they hope for from students:

[My student partner] noted how I use the word ‘lingering,’ for example, when I want the class to sit with something longer. It was tremendously useful to realize that, in fact, I do want students to linger: to change the tempo of their engagement with literature, as well as with the world that literature brushes up against.

(Reckson, 2014)

They also develop greater clarity regarding how to achieve the kind of engagement they hope for. A staff partner described how her student partner’s observation notes highlighted “a shift in the atmosphere of engagement and relationship in the room," which helped the staff partner “alter my classroom preparations to allow for more exploratory discussion, grow comfortable with waiting in silence for things to emerge, and look closely for those flashes of engagement before they disappeared" (Bressi Nath, 2012).

Pedagogical partnership can promote equity and inclusion

Several ethics-approved studies focused on the experiences of under-served and under-represented students who have participated in the SaLT program have found that pedagogical partnerships can provide “counter-spaces" — arenas in which the experiences of students of colour, as well as of other students who have been under-represented in and under-served by institutions of higher education, “are validated and viewed as important knowledge" (Solorzano, Ceja and Yosso, 2000, p.70). Through pedagogical partnership, students who bring these identities are recognised as “holders and creators of knowledge" (Delgado-Bernal,

2002, p.106; Cook-Sather, 2015; Cook-Sather and Agu, 2013; Cook-Sather and Felten, 2017). Pedagogical partnerships and the pedagogical approaches that can be co-created through them can begin to address the long legacies of discrimination and structural inequality that have impacted students’ sense of inclusion in or exclusion from the institutions they attend (Cook-Sather, Des-Ogugua, and Bahti, 2018). In addition, through pedagogical partnership, students for whom higher education is not only unwelcoming but also unfamiliar can build capacity to navigate institutions created by and for a far less diverse population (de Bie et al., forthcoming.

When attention is paid to ensuring that a diversity of students have the opportunity to take up the role of student partner, pedagogical partnerships can support academic staff in soliciting “unheard voices" (Harper and Quaye, 2009), developing “ culturally sustaining pedagogy" (Paris and Alim, 2014), and creating new spaces in which diversity and difference are seen as the very conditions for engagement rather than add-ons or as separate issues (Felten, Bagg, J., Bumbry, M., Hill, J., Hornsby, K., Pratt and Weller 2013). When intentionally constructed, pedagogical partnership can afford students from under-represented and equityseeking groups “‘a seat at the proverbial table'” (student quoted in Cook-Sather and Agu, 2013, p.277) and affirm that those students’ commitment to make spaces safer for underrepresented groups’” can “'drive important transformation in classrooms and in the student-teacher relationship' ” (students quoted in Cook-Sather and Agu, 2013, pp.277-278).

Individual staff and student partners can do essential work toward creating more equitable and inclusive classrooms. One staff partner reflected on how pedagogical partnerships can “create the space necessary to address with students how issues ofequity and inclusion affect their classrooms and fields.” She noted that “these are delicate conversations, which should be handled with care and respect, but my experiences over the past year have shown me that students are eager to listen and engage.” This staff member’s work with her student partner, Meron, supported her in creating space for such conversations. In her words: “My partnership with Meron was essential for developing the brave space necessary to have these conversations, validating how my personal experiences influence my teaching, and supporting the changes I attempt to make.” (All quotes from Perez, 2016.)

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