[I tried to wait to write this Fall semester series until I felt certain about what the Fall would hold—but I don’t know if I ever will, not even as it unfolds. So I decided to share one thing I’m cautiously but definitely excited for with each of my Fall courses, because what can we do but hope—and work—for the best?]
On the many things I’m looking forward to with a new course, and the one I’m most excited about.
I start my 17th year at Fitchburg State this Fall—that’s 17 years of teaching a 4-4 load (often in reality a 5-5 load with an overload grad and/or online course each semester)—which means (among many other things about the last nearly two decades of my work and life) that there aren’t a lot of types of classes I haven’t had the chance to teach. Indeed, the last time I taught an entirely new type of class—not just a new course, but one within a category I hadn’t taught before—was seven years ago, with my Fall 2014 section of Intro to Speech. So it’s been quite something to spend a good bit of the summer thinking—both on my own and in a series of required professional development trainings—about such an entirely new type of class: our FSU First Year Experience seminar. We’ve piloted this course and program for at least two academic years now, but an English Studies colleague taught our department’s first couple sections of the seminar, so this Fall will be my first opportunity to do so.
The reason for all that summer PD is that our FYE program uses a specific pedagogical and learning model: the reading apprenticeship framework. It hasn’t been easy to wrap my head around an entirely new way to approach my teaching—you know what they say about old dogs, and this one is quite fond of his particular version of a student-centered approach—but the more we’ve talked about this framework, the more I’ve come to look forward to using it to help my class of first-year students strengthen many different skills and habits that will be crucial to their success throughout their time at Fitchburg State. I’m a particularly big fan of the varied, multi-layered approaches to reading that the framework provides, not just because I teach predominantly literature courses (although yes) but also because I’ve long wanted to teach reading more overtly but hadn’t quite had the language or tools to do so. Strategies like think aloud and talk-to-the-text will be great resources, not just for this class but for many others of mine as well.
I’m most excited for the specific theme on which my FYE section will focus, however. That’s a complicated thing to say, because this is a course where the content is significantly less important than the skills and methods—and moreover, that’s always been the case in my student-centered pedagogy (which doesn’t mean the content isn’t important, just that there’s always a hierarchy). I’m certainly on board with that emphasis, but I’m nonetheless very excited to talk with these first-year students about our section’s theme: cultural representations of Black Lives Matter and identity. After all, an intro to college can’t just be about skills and habits for individual success—it also has to be about introducing the kinds of challenging communal conversations and concepts that students will be learning, engaging, analyzing, and sharing across their time in college. I can’t think of any such conversations that are more challenging nor more crucial in September 2021 than ones around race and identity in America, and I’m really excited to talk and work with these incoming FSU students on those questions and ideas, and to see how their voices, perspectives, and ideas keep developing.
Next Fall preview tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Fall courses or work you’re (cautiously) excited for?