“It takes a lifetime to learn how to be able to hold your own ground, to go out to the others, to be open to them without losing your ground. And to hold your ground without shutting others out.” (Buber, 1947)
“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” (From Into the Wild, 2007)
My experience with WID (Fall 2014) was an incredible series of exchanges culminating in this portfolio. It was a privilege to be in the company of colleagues from other departments at the college, to share, to dream, question and debate the methods of teaching and advancing our scholarship. What I enjoyed most of the experience with other faculty members (who were from Geography, English, Humanities and Economics) through the term was that we strengthened, challenged, amplified our own scholarship through the constant stream of dialogue that happened within the regular meetings, the one on one exchanges with the WID team as well as the postings on the WID blog. We live in exciting and challenging times, where the disciplines have connected and we are aware of that inter-connectedness, and yet also at times overwhelmed by it.
I was able to gauge my own comfort with several teaching practices and hope that this will only keep advancing as my career unfolds.
1. What I learned from WID
WID experience: The main reason for me to join WID was to be able to gauge how my own teaching methods, methods I had been using for the past many years, were useful at the college/CEGEP level. At this stage of the student’s education we are (as teachers) guiding them and exposing them to a variety of concepts and subjects in the field of their study and I have often know that the connections may not make sense immediately, but I’ve hoped that they are constantly made during the course of their education or journey outside of these walls. I often use this analogy in my classroom: I am giving my students a tool box and it is up to them to know when and where to use the right wrench or hammer. This foundation and the learning methods trigger an interest in the field in order for the students to choose their discipline at the University and for higher learning. Keeping this in mind, I find it essential to have a good balance of theory and practical methods employed at the college level. WID gave me the right guidance at this time in my career to be able to analyze, question and debate my teaching and learning practices with colleagues from diverse backgrounds and be able to forge ahead with confidence.
The field of Cinema and Communications is an attractive discipline. In the many years that I have been teaching, I know that students are excited and willing to embark on this journey with us. However, the main challenge is to be able to teach the students to write and engage critically in all that they view and create. WID allowed me to strategize and reflect on the teaching practices and pushed the boundaries with regards to my assignments. I also got several significant pointers by John C. Bean’s Engaging Ideas – the main text used by the WID Writing Fellows. Bean shook me at times out of my comfort zone to question the outcome of each of my class exercise. I am now ever more conscious in my evaluations of my class exercises and assignments.
2. Critical Thinking within the field of Cinema and Communications
Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning or communication, as a guide to belief and action.
In the field of Cinema and Communications, the challenge is to be able to analyze the visual/sound/written components with a sense of engagement, clarity, relevancy and depth with the subject matter. Films present different/diverse styles and forms and as most of my teaching practice rests on the analysis of the films and communication practices, I employ diverse instructional methods in an attempt to create an environment of respect where each can feel at ease to communicate their thoughts. At the college level, the ideas are being formulated and the main aim is to be able to create an environment where the student is allowed to speak their mind with no hesitation and censorship.
The films we view in class tend to focus on diverse issues and are primarily in English or are subtitled (if in other languages). This allows each of the student to acquire and engage with a similar vocabulary of facial expressions, gestures used by the characters on screen. I often challenge them with films in different languages and cultural contexts. The films provide realistic and cross-cultural contexts engaging students emotionally and offering new perspectives everyday. The attempt is to equip the students in skills such as reading, listening, speaking and writing to be put into practice.
Class discussions evolves naturally as students share their opinions after each screening – the length of these clips varying from a few minutes to an hour or two in length. I tend to use four distinct approaches for the screening:
(a) The sequential approach or scene by scene, or one segment of the movie at a time. (b) The single scene approach where a particular scene is used for enhancing and learning the language/vocabulary of cinema (c) The Selective method where a few scenes are chosen by me from a movie (d) The whole film approach where a complete movie is viewed.
Each of these segments are led or followed by a series of focused questions based on quotes from the film or an action that can stimulate a discussion and interaction. Each class and lecture is structured and promotes different themes and issues pertaining to the requirements outlined by competency objectives.
The above approaches are implemented by a three stage viewing method while analyzing movies:
1. Pre-viewing: This prepares students scaffold the theme/s of the movie, key vocabulary, main characters, the script, grammatical structure, scene description and questions to focus on while viewing the film. These are often given as a hand-out or on a power point shown in class.
2. While Viewing: While watching, students are expected to answer questions or worksheets, which prompt them to find specific information. Often a second viewing increases comprehension, hence the material is screened once again or given as a homework exercise.
3. Post-viewing: Individual opinions, group discussions and class discussion are encouraged. Often, I find that the answers need not be judged immediately – hence I often create a blog or an on-line forum to place their thoughts and comments. Further questions stemming out of the write-ups such as “why do you think that? help them to reflect more deeply. When different and contradicting views occur, other perspectives are explored and assessed critically. My goal is to facilitate students to understand the ways we can scaffold and understand how we process information and create our own structure of thought in understanding the material.
3. Tailoring Assignments
An area that I reflected on greatly while in WID was the ways I designed assignments. One of the exercises within the WID workshops and reading of the text assigned by Bean was to help me think critically of the scaffolding process in formal assignment design.
I always attempt to scaffold my assignments in my discipline, as it helps me in creating a flow of thought in structuring the course as well as supports the learning objectives for the term. As Petrucci (2002) states, by scaffolding assignments the process and goals of the course become transparent to the students. It also provides opportunities for students to participate in a variety of ways (i.e. class discussions, small group projects, written responses, journals etc). We are also pushed to discover students intentions and purposes in creating a text/their interpretations of the text and then respond accordingly. My own personal challenge has always been to discover linguistic and cultural backgrounds in my own group and then create opportunities for students to draw on their own resources in addition to the material being taught in the classroom.
What a challenge Bean presents to us all by suggesting in Chapter 6: that we plan our course backward by designing the last assignment first (Bean 96). This immediately made me think of the fundamental reasons of designing assignments: (a) each assignment should attempt to highlight important learning curves for the course (b) determine and cover key concepts (c) provide a clear idea of the progression and development of the field/discipline (d) allow the student to be able to integrate the projects in their learning in the future (to gauge the direct worth and application of the assignment in their field).
I highlight these steps here since I find students learn much more if the assignments piggy back on the previous work and allow the students to chalk out their own learning trajectory through the term. In most programs at the college level, we have the students do an Integrative Activity in their final term and if the students have been able to keep a log of their learning through the previous 3 terms, it makes it easier to do this final activity in their fourth term or end of their third term at Dawson.
Bean also states the virtues and challenges of assigning specific topics vs giving the liberty to students to choose their own topics (Bean103). I agree with Bean when he states that students who choose their own topics invest more in the assignment – and in a field like Cinema/communication because of the wide diversity of choices and the vastness of the field – this is surely important. But I fail to see how this would work within the scientific or more structured disciplines. Also, at times, I prefer to dictate the topics, so as to be able to successfully complete the objectives and requirements for the course.
Bean’s suggestion of having a colleague review your assignments is a fantastic idea (Bean 105) as it is through exchange and debate that one can fine tune the drawbacks in the tailoring of the assignments and it also irons out the possible loop holes in our work. I have personally found sharing assignment ideas with colleagues of the utmost help. Bean’s tabulation and questions for Collegial Peer Review of an assignment handout on page 106 are also important for each of us to clarify and assess the value of our assignments. The steps in creating a successful scaffolding assignment is to state the learning goals and then go about creating the different stages that will allow the student to reach the objectives.
A Cinema Assignment Model
Through discussion with other peers in the WID weekly meetings, I realized that the key to teaching at the CEGEP level is to keep in mind that the students are taking a variety of courses besides their concentration classes and hence optimize learning in each class by giving a variety of exercises that keeps the student engaged and interested in all the steps of learning.
The model that has worked for me over the years is to create a balance of written and creative (production) assignments in the classes I teach. An assignment that is always quite popular within my classes is to study a film, engage with it in terms of the mise en scene, characterization, narrative, dialogue, scene analysis and so forth – but then pick up a few elements that are important to the viewer and create a “box” that highlights the main aspects of the film. This exercise is inspired by Joseph Cornell (an American artist and sculptor) who assembled and created fascinating glass fronted boxes that had several objects/installations that were referred as ‘memory boxes’ or ‘poetic theatre.’
Bean, John. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2011.
Petrucci, Peter. “A Writing to Learn Approach to Writing in the Disciplines in an Introductory Linguistics Classroom.” The WAC Journal, Vol. 13: June 2002. 133-143