When I tell folks what I’m doing this summer, they say, you should wait for a sabbatical to do that. But my students are drowning, and I don’t know if I can save them, but I can give them a fighting shot at swimming to safety on their own if I go now. It can’t wait. This is my blog about how to build a better (world history) course. I write in the hopes that others will see my work, help me, and perhaps consider how to help poor students succeed in their courses. And, if I write my thoughts down, maybe they’ll be better thoughts than when they’re tangled up in my head.
This is not a blog about feelings or inspiration: I have both, as do you, but we don’t need better feelings or more inspiration, we need better tools to teach our students.
I’m increasingly distressed at the failure of my poor students. These folks can be train wrecks as students. They often come from un-supportive homes, have uneven or limited access to technology, they are ignorant of college as an institution and ignorant of how to navigate institutions in general. I can see their failure and I know it’s historically rooted. Responses to poverty tend to be condescending (poor dears) or systematic (let’s create a scholarship fund), neither of which I find useful.
After years of teaching poor students at four and two-year schools, I started asking colleagues: “If I could do one thing to help poor students succeed in my classroom, what would that be?” Most folks suggested additional resources (buy them tablets, pay for college), which I can’t do. Others suggested pointing out resources my college already has, which is sound, but insufficient. You see, most students drive to college, walk to the classroom, finish the class, and drive to work or home. Car- class – car.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that I need a series of course design principles, what I’m calling an anti-poverty pedagogy course design, to help poor students succeed. My ideas for anti-poverty pedagogy course design principles borrows (steals?) from the conceptual framework of Universal Design that teaches us to create “products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” We put in ramps for those in wheelchairs, and pregnant women use them, we put subtitles on movies for the hearing impaired, and non-native speakers use them. Universal design has been applied to architecture and teaching, and it’s great, but it’s focus is on disability, not poverty.
I stopped asking my colleagues what to do to help poor students and started asking students. They’ve given me good ideas and helped me with the frame for an anti-poverty pedagogy. This list will change as I talk more, but right now, an anti-poverty pedagogy has the following characteristics:
- It’s local (
IWe can do it right now).
- It’s universal (Anyone can do it right now).
- It’s not theory dependent (one needn’t take a graduate course in epistemology or habitus to understand it).
- It is student centered (it’s not about us, teachers).
- It is transparent to the students.
- It improves student outcomes.
- It addresses known problems.
- It is informed by but not dependent on data.
This summer, I’m building a world history 2 (1400-1914) course, that will incorporate an anti-poverty pedagogy, once I have a better sense of how to define it. That’s part one of my project. Parts 2-4 will have to come in another post.