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Engaging Imagination: Helping Students Become Creative and Reflective Thinkers
Date Reviewed: March 26, 2015
Engaging Imagination: Helping Students Become Creative and Reflective Thinkers poses a challenge to educators across fields to reach beyond traditional teaching and learning methods. Authors Alison James and Stephen D. Brookfield ask, “Why are we not open to varied expressive modes – video, art, drama, poetry, music – to gauge students’ learning? If there are multiple intelligences (Gardner, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences [New York, NY: Basic Books, 2011]), if students’ diverse histories, cultural backgrounds, racial identities, and personalities mean teaching and learning is inevitably complex (Allen, Sheve, and Nieter, Understanding Learning Styles: Making a Difference for Diverse Learners [Huntington Beach, CA: Shell Education 2010]) then shouldn’t our approaches to helping and assessing learning exhibit a similar variety” (4)? The book invites us to imagine “what if” (xii) students were given opportunities to explore their learning beyond lectures, discussions, reading, and writing. The authors do not intend to solve the institutional or assessment challenges of teaching more creatively, but to pose ideas for reflection and exploration. Each chapter provides websites to further engage concepts and activities described in the book.
Part I, “Understanding the Role of Imagination in Learning,” argues in three chapters that students learn more effectively when they are given freedom to reflect. This is an engaged reflection, involving: creativity – where students are given ways to “unravel . . . question . . . ponder . . . clarify . . . demonstrate” (57); imagination – which focuses on possibilities; and play – learning engaged from new angles, leading to spontaneous insights.
Part II, “Engaging Imagination Tools and Techniques,” forms the heart of the book and may prove to be a valuable resource to liven up syllabi and classrooms. In each of six chapters, a different way of teaching and learning is presented; two to eight activities are also described in detail, providing practical illustrations. Just one activity from each way of teaching and learning is included here. (1) Visual learning: Students create collages in response to a discussion question. (2) Story and metaphor: Students symbolize key learning experiences on a timeline. (3) Kinesthetic learning: Students use Legos or other concrete objects to construct models of their thinking-in-process. (4) Attending to physical space: A special space in the classroom (or an inflatable “pod”) can serve as a place where students, alone or in small groups, can video their live reflections. (5) Asking non-leading questions: Students are guided to think more deeply about their own beliefs by questions that ask for analogies, opposites, or ways of recognizing certain qualities. (6) Community impact on learning: Students map the various communities in their spheres of life to observe how each shapes their perspectives.
Part III, “Negotiating the Realities of Engaging Imagination,” provides activities for students to navigate energy levels and emotions while learning. In a final chapter authors share how their own imaginations were engaged through the writing process.
Engaging Imagination is not aimed so much at educators helping students to think creatively and reflectively about course content, but rather at presenting ways educators may help students to reflect on themselves as learners. Thus the subtitle can be misleading. However, most of the learning activities could be adapted for deepening student understanding of course content. The emphasis on student self-awareness contributes to the current pedagogical shift from teaching to impart information towards facilitating and empowering student-directed learning in a variety of classroom and online settings. Little is offered by way of guiding students towards a directed end; indeed doing so would negate the purpose of many of the activities. It is therefore significant that authors acknowledge their work as a complement to, rather than replacement of, traditional forms of teaching and learning. We are left with the same challenge students will have as a result of “engaging imagination”: to appropriate the insights gained.
From Entitlement to Engagement: Affirming Millennial Students' Egos in the Higher Education Classroom (New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Number 135)
Date Reviewed: February 19, 2015
“How bad has it gotten in your class?” the first article’s author asks. “Students eating steaming plate lunches, kissing passionately, conducting loud phone conversations, playing video poker?. . . Asking to be excused from class to barbecue chicken at the go-kart track for a radio station where the student interned last summer?” (7). If these examples sound even remotely familiar, you may find this issue of New Directions for Teaching and Learning helpful. This volume addresses the challenge of teaching millennial students, born between 1982 and 2001, who are often labeled as coming to higher education with an attitude of entitlement that can frustrate professors.
The first three chapters explore the theory behind this volume. The first two chapters reframe the concept of entitlement by reflecting on the structure of higher education classrooms (chapter 1) and seeing the psychological vulnerability of students (chapter 2) as an opportunity for ego engagement – a process that the editors describe as “productively affirming student’s egos” to offer “new opportunities for deep learning and ever-strengthening intellectual rigor” (2). The third chapter is an empirical study that explores how students feel they deserve entitled treatment in higher education.
The second cluster of articles explore practice and application of reframing entitlement into ego engagement in specific areas. Chapter 4 explores ways to construct a syllabus that invite student engagement proactively, and chapter 5 lays out several practical suggestions professors can utilize to conceptualize their pedagogies. Chapters 6 and 7 provide case studies of actual classroom assignments that engage millennial students’ egos successfully: chapter 6 describes an assignment that immersed millennial students in discipline-based political activities to foster positive ego engagement and chapter 7 describes an assignment that engaged students in narrative pedagogy through digital storytelling. Chapters 8 and 9 explore ways to engage students through already existing classroom practices. For example, chapter 8 provides specific insights about engaging students through technological gadgets and provides practical suggestions for teaching. Chapter 9 explores ways to engage students before and after class periods to affirm their egos. The rest of the three chapters explore ways to engage the moral sense of millennial students by involving them in social justice issues and student-directed goal setting. The author invites faculty to consider their own reactions to student incivility as possibly a response to a professor’s bruised ego ? an over-dependence on official authority based on position rather than on their ability to help students learn effectively.
While graduate level professors may experience students’ sense of entitlement less bluntly than is described in some of the articles, I have sensed in my own teaching that the vocation of religious leadership tends to attract people with a sense of self-importance that poses challenges similar to those described in this volume. What the authors conceptualize as ego engagement is a model for empowering students who appear to be aloof to the subject matter but who are seeking meaningful engagement that leads them to deeper growth. From Entitlement to Engagement offers practical advice for fostering creative teaching that meets students’ psychological needs and motivates them to find growth through their own learning tasks.
Towards Teaching in Public: Reshaping the Modern University
Date Reviewed: February 19, 2015
The enterprise known as collegiate education is at a crossroads. This statement should not be a surprise to those involved in higher education. The playing field has changed drastically over the last decade since the advent of online learning. Debates continue to rage in the academic community regarding issues related to accreditation, how courses are delivered, faculty credentials, and the cost of a degree program. These questions confront present-day educators and administrators located in U.S. higher educational institutions.
These debates are keenly felt in the U.K. and in other global contexts, although each context will address them from different perspectives depending on teaching and learning needs. Towards Teaching in Public is primarily focused on addressing these questions head on. As the book details, there is a seismic shift occurring in the educational institutions of the U.K., and it is likely that these shifts will be felt here in the U.S. sometime in the not-too-distant future. That said, understanding how these shifts are impacting British schools before they impact American institutions could aid administrators and faculty in how to plan for the forthcoming changes.
The place to begin, then, is in understanding what is meant by “public.” In the U.K., “public” and “private” have less to do with religious affiliation and more to do with where tuition dollars come from in higher educational contexts. In the British system, education in “private” institutions is provided at the expense of the student. “Public” institutions, then, primarily receive money from the government to provide education to students. These students can be degree-seekers, lifelong learners, tradesmen who are looking to pick up some new information, or individuals interested in taking a class now and then. The question the book raises is whether this remains an effective endeavor in a perpetually struggling economy. A secondary question concerns higher educational institutions as the loci of learning – teacher, student, and community. In answering these two fundamental questions, the contributors to this volume contend that the university could serve as the central hub of political, societal, and cultural reform.
The volume is divided into three major sections. The first section (chapters 1-3) focuses on education as “a public good.” The essays in this section recount the modern history of education in the U.K., noting how the public university was established to provide free education to all and how that morphed into the private universities that sought to offer degrees to paying students who would be held to more rigorous academic standards. The second section (chapters 4-6) focuses on the relationship between teacher and student. This section argues for a higher value to be placed on students. The chapter entitled “The Student as Scholar” was particular insightful as it mapped out a program for developing undergraduate researchers who could benefit the university in a number of ways. The final section (chapters 7-10) seeks to answer the questions raised previously. First, the university should continue to offer free education to the general public through workshops, public lectures, and continuing education offerings. However, the book advocates for requiring stricter regulations for degree-seeking students. Second, the locus of learning has moved to the community, although the concept is more Marxist in nature. This would be my only critique of the material in the volume. In the end, the authors seem to say that the purpose of education is simply to share our collected knowledge. The modern university, then, will be a place where the discussion of ideas will occur but little else. Although this volume was an insightful read, it would most benefit those involved with administration or international policy discussions rather than faculty.
Echoes from Freire for a Critically Engaged Pedagogy
Date Reviewed: February 19, 2015
Whose side are we on when we teach (4)? Theological education and religious studies have sometimes been the type of elitist, domesticating education that Paulo Freire warned against – education that supported colonial powers. Peter Mayo’s book is not written specifically for teachers in seminaries or religious studies, but it offers both challenge and resources for profound reflection on issues of the politics of knowledge relevant to all theological and religious work. Mayo calls educators to move toward social justice and revitalization of the public sphere in ways reminiscent of Freire. Through Mayo, readers find companions in liberating movements for an authentically dialogical approach to education. What’s more, Mayo offers encouragement through his awareness of the movements of “globalization from below,” insisting on integration of theory and practice for substantive democracy.
First, Mayo poses pedagogical and philosophical questions situating Freire’s contribution in the tradition of John Dewey’s “education for democracy” (36). Readers must consider Mayo’s judicious acknowledgement of both the excesses and contributions of socialism, Marxism, and Neo-Marxist thought. Furthermore, readers are challenged to consider ways their pedagogy approaches knowledge as dynamic rather than static (92). Next, Mayo explores common ground for potential partnerships rooted in shared work and theory. Postcolonial, peace activist, anti-racism, neo-Marxist, liberation feminist, and other emancipatory educators will find companions in this call to confront the spread of hegemonic global capitalism. Like an invitation to a remarkable symposium, the gift in Mayo’s book is an introduction to the work of key figures who echo Freire including: Lorenzo Milani, Margaret Ledwith, Julius Nyerere, Paula Allman, Antonia Darder, and Henry Giroux. Each of these thinkers invites study in their own diverse contexts. Mayo points out common threads of shared praxis and analysis in their work providing directions for further study and unifying a growing movement.
In this way, Mayo’s book offers encouragement for those engaged in critical, emancipatory work. Despite evidence of increasing militarism and corporate encroachment on daily life, the reader finds sustaining encouragement in growing global movements for social transformation. We are encouraged by robust manifestations of Freire’s influence that extend from Brazil around the world, in places including: Malta, Italy, California, Nottingham, England, Rhode Island, and Tanzania. Mayo illustrates local educators/actors confronting corporate globalization while at the same time weaving together transnational networks of support.
Educators in theology and religious studies will find rich resources for pedagogy that is both critical and emancipatory in this volume. The breadth of voices included and the depth of Mayo’s familiarity with Freire’s ethos and writing spark new dialogue for transformational teaching. Although this book could be accused of being overly ideological, those making such an accusation could be called to examine their own political commitments for complicity with systems of injustice. If teachers were true to Freire’s vision, we would be in conversation with each other across borders and cultural contexts. Mayo both models and invites us to join that work uniting reflection and action.
Problems of xenophobia, racism, and cultural accommodation persist in theological education and religious studies as well as other forms of higher education. Educators interested in political mobilization, community development, and liberating praxis will find Mayo posing key problems in transformative ways.
When Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, I was reading the sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr. “The tension in this city is not between white people and Negro people. The tension is at bottom between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces ...