I believe students must take responsibility in their own learning; as an instructor, I can help my students take control of their own education by encouraging them to speak from experience. To allow “students to claim a knowledge base from which they can speak,” I teach skills that students can take with them when they leave the classroom, apply academic concepts to real-world examples, and embrace flexibility.
Teaching skills for inside and outside the classroom
I design assignments that practice skills students will need outside of the classroom. In my Policy Making class, instead of writing an academic term paper, students write a policy brief on the topic of their choice. I introduced students to the research of several think tanks across the political spectrum and we repeatedly read policy briefs from them on a variety of topics so the students had examples of what they would be writing. I also encourage student to integrate enrichment activities into their undergraduate education. As an undergraduate, I worked with professors on research projects, studied abroad, and spent a semester interning in Washington, D.C. so I know first-hand the value of these experiences. During the 2016-2017 academic year, I worked at Penn State’s Career Enrichment Network, where my job was to help students recognize that the skills they gain from a liberal arts degree will be of great value to them in the workforce.
Applying academic concepts to real-world examples
I incorporate current events into discussions of academic theory to illustrate the more abstract arguments made in academic work. Examples connecting an abstract theory to a current political debate help students to better understand the underlying concepts. Real-world applications also lend themselves to teaching strategies suited to a variety of learning styles. In addition to lecturing about core concepts, I use classroom discussions and group work to apply concepts to everyday events and encourage participation among all students. Not all students feel comfortable speaking in group discussions, so I frequently split the class into partners and small groups to encourage participation among even my most timid students.
Providing and receiving feedback
Being responsive to student feedback is a critical part of successful instruction. I administer a first-day questionnaire to my students, asking what topics they would like to cover and what concerns they have about the course, and then adjust the syllabus based on students’ prior knowledge and interests. At the halfway point of the semester, I also ask students to reflect on both my performance and their own, because a successful semester requires equal participation from both the instructor and the students.
I seek to provide feedback to my students by designing assignments with multiple components. Semester-long writing assignments are broken down into several parts: the research question, annotated bibliography, outline, and final draft. For students less confident in their writing abilities, this helped them organize their thoughts and seek guidance early. Having multiple requirements also helped me advise students who were unsure of how to turn an idea into a research paper.
 hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.