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ENGLISH DEPARTMENT

Philosophy and Teaching Practice

The document below describes our pedagogical principles.

I.                   Our Program:

We integrate reading, writing and critical thinking at all levels of English.

We offer our preparatory (pre-1A) English students the same kind of reading, writing and critical thinking experiences we offer our transfer-level (English 1A, 4, 7) students, but with more scaffolding and support.

We focus on the creation of meaning that resonates beyond the classroom.  Students and instructors build meaning reciprocally by reading, writing and thinking critically about complex texts and ideas, connecting them to lived experience. 

II.                Core Beliefs

On Teaching Reading

Students who improve their reading tend to improve their writing and vice-versa.  Reading should be integrated with writing, speaking and listening at all levels of our English courses.

An active reading style is critical to improving reading comprehension and more effective in helping students grasp ideas and meaning than "word by word reading." We must actively lead students in the classroom to critically read assigned texts.  Teaching reading includes guiding students in understanding what they are reading, how they should read it, and the author's purpose.

At every level, instructors should cultivate effective reading strategies that students can utilize in diverse academic contexts.

There are many creative ways of bringing a text to life for students, beyond the literal reading.  Imagination is an important part of critical reading and critical thinking.

Book-length works, fiction or non-fiction, must be included at all levels of our curriculum, including pre-1A courses.

It is critical to build bridges between class texts and our students' lives, and give them access to worlds beyond their own; the texts we choose should therefore be inclusive of diverse worldviews, experiences and perspectives.  We also know that students are empowered when they see themselves reflected in the texts and authors they read. 

On Teaching Writing

Students learn to express their ideas best by sustaining and supporting complete arguments. We do not believe in the hierarchal model whereby students "work up" from words, to sentences, to paragraphs to the essay.

Understanding the relationship between structure and meaning is essential to good writing, reading and critical thinking. 

Students should learn writing as a process. As teachers, we serve students by guiding them through a series of writing stages to encompass brainstorming, pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing and self-evaluation.

Rather than focusing on stand-alone grammar exercises in the classroom, we should address sentence-level errors in the context of our students' own writing, and with the goal of enabling them to become independent writers and proofreaders.

Writing assignments based exclusively on personal reflection do not sufficiently challenge students to think critically.  Assignment based upon class texts serve our students better by fostering academic reading and writing skills.  

Our Basic Skills Curriculum

A "pass/no pass" pre-1A curriculum affords students the time and practice necessary to develop reading, writing, critical thinking and academic skills without the additional pressure of a final course grade. Reaching the 1A level may involve more than one semester for many students, and a student who doesn't pass may still have made considerable progress.

Readiness for English 1A signifies that a student is able to summarize, analyze, evaluate, and respond academically to what they read in coherent essay format.

Our Role as English Teachers on a Community College Campus

An instructor can meet the needs of students in many different ways, and we support ongoing investigation of new teaching approaches. We value self-reflective, responsive teaching practice to continually improve instruction in a changing world.

Our classes can help create bridges between the consciousness of our students and the demands of academia, even while we demystify academic culture.

We teach broad-based foundational skills in reading and writing for academic success, complemented by the work of colleagues across campus who teach reading, writing and critical thinking in the context of their respective disciplines.   At the same time, we teach skills and approaches to literature (drama, fiction, poetry, non-fiction narratives) that are unique to our discipline.

As instructors, we support students not only in skill-building and critical thinking, but also by helping them contend with the emotional components of learning.

A liberal arts education can open doors to students in many ways; effective communication and critical thinking skills are vital to democracy and an engaged citizenry.

Our Students and Our Classroom Community

Our students' diverse life experiences have much to teach us. We support them in bringing their knowledge and experience into our classroom community and into their writing.

Students, particularly at the developmental level, face real world challenges that can influence or impede their learning, and it is essential that we address these with compassion in our teaching practice.

Our students will develop more significantly as readers and writers when we come from a position that they have the capacity to do complex and sophisticated work.

Teachers are most effective and students learn best when course themes, texts and classroom materials inspire interest and passion.

III.             In Practice:

English courses at all levels (pre-1A and transfer level) will:

  1. Create settings which integrate reading, writing, critical thinking, speaking, and listening, fostering the building of community. Activities may include student presentations (solo or group/panel); small- and large-group discussions in which students speak not only to the instructor but to each other; student/teacher conferences; and interviews in the class or community. Such settings may be created on-line as well as face-to-face, and may utilize technology to support student learning. We also encourage listening skills that involve note-taking and feedback/response.
  1. Directly address students' reading practices, model effective reading strategies, coach students in developing their own strategies (e.g. pre-reading, annotation...), and make use of class time to process the reading.
  1. Include book-length works, fiction or non-fiction, defined as any work that sustains themes, including a book of short essays by a single author. The texts we choose should be inclusive of diverse worldviews, experiences and perspectives, and we suggest that the work(s) be integrated into the course thematically.

At the pre-1A level, we recommend that non-fiction be used; that if fiction or autobiographical works are assigned, they be analyzed for issues and themes connected to other readings in the course rather than for literary aspects; that a combination of book-length works and short essays be used to provide a variety of models.

  1. Help students to identify organizational patterns when they read, and to structure their own writing to convey meaning for a specific purpose and audience.
  1. Focus on the academic essay.  As students advance through our courses, they write and revise essays of increasing length and complexity, as well as engage in less formal writing exercises.  Formal essays should not privilege personal reflection, but require students to critically respond to or analyze class texts.
  1. Address sentence-level errors in the context of the students' own writing, and with the goal of enabling students to become independent writers and proofreaders.  
  1. Emphasize critical thinking. Critical thinking is the creation of meaning, and is not limited to concepts of formal logic, but includes grouping items/seeing patterns, drawing inferences, evaluating for purpose, synthesis, argumentation, differentiating fact from opinion, asking questions, evaluating for standards of fairness and accuracy, questioning one's own views and their origins, and making judgments.
  1. Increase students' familiarity with and knowledge of the academic culture, themselves as learners, and the relationship between the two. Some ideas include: collaborative teaching and learning; using materials reflecting successful college experiences; acknowledging and validating the students' experiences while introducing them to academic culture and values; creating links between classroom learning and the library and learning support on campus; and experiential learning (learning by doing).

 

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    Phone: (510) 723-6600 | Last updated on 4/25/2013