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Summer Reading Recommendations from the CFT

Posted by on Wednesday, June 4, 2014 in News.

by Nancy Chick, CFT Assistant Director

I think I’ve begun an annual tradition of offering summer reading recommendations. Last summer, I suggested a collection of short essays by famous writers looking back on the poems that made them fall in love with writing.  The summer before, I recommended a professor’s memoir of her days as a student and how they influenced her work now as a teacher.  This summer, I again turn to a book full of memories, but this time they frame some of the most important psychological research in recent history.

Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (2010) is both one of the best examples of good science writing and a compelling narrative weaving together Steele’s memories as an African American young man, graduate student, early career- and now leading social psychologist; his groundbreaking findings about what we can actually change when it comes to living with stereotypes of all kinds; and the fascinating explanations of the process of doing this careful psychological research over the last 20 years. These three threads are ultimately all about stereotype threat, or the effects of potentially confirming negative stereotypes about any of one’s group identities.  It affects women in math classes, black students in standardized testing, white men in sports, older students on traditional campuses, etc., by weighing heavily on their cognitive loads, making it difficult to fully focus on high-stakes tasks.  It’s too nuanced to effectively explain in a sentence or two, so grab a copy of Whistling Vivaldi, and be prepared for the ground to shift beneath your feet as you realize not only the effects of the stereotypes “in the air” around us but also what we can do about them.

The Center for Teaching’s 2014-15 theme will be “Teaching, Difference, & Power,” so I selected Steele’s book for our office’s reading circle. Four of us met at the Edgehill Café last month for a substantive and thoughtful conversation about identity, privilege, power, and teaching.  In August, I’ll weave strategies for diminishing stereotype threat into a workshop on student anxieties in the classroom.  You’ll hear more from us about stereotype threat throughout the year.  Get a jump start by reading the book over the summer, and join us next year as we explore teaching, difference, and power.

CFT Graduate Teaching Fellow Dani Picard offers a summer reading recommendation that connects to the CFT’s 2013-14 theme, “Students as Producers.”

This summer I am reading T. Mills Kelly’s Digital Humanities: Teaching History in the Digital Age (2013), which explores the ways historians can incorporate digital projects into their classrooms. Kelly’s core argument is tantalizingly similar to the CFT’s “Students as Producers” theme from this last school year. Both embrace the idea that educators should design learning opportunities that address discipline authentic questions and “give students enough free rein to take real ownership of their work” (Kelly, 5). 

For Kelly, digital history allows students to move beyond the basic skills of historical analysis and toward one of two goals: “to produce either new knowledge about the past, or old knowledge presented in new ways.” (Kelly, 12) Kelly’s book looks at the research behind these sorts of projects and examines practical projects that help students develop a clearer understanding of what history is, how it’s created, and how it’s communicated to audiences through a variety of mediums. Further, Kelly explains that we may not be able to predict how our students’ projects will develop– and that allowing for that sort of surprising creativity is a worthwhile experience for our students and the discipline.

Kelly was notoriously banned by Wikipedia for using it in his classroom as a medium to create historical hoaxes (with viral success!). The project’s purpose was not to stir up the internet or simply learn about what goes viral – rather, his goal was to teach his students how to be better consumers of historical information because they had experienced being the creators of it – and debated the many ways the information could appear online. Our own Derek Bruff, Director of the CFT, frequently cites some of Kelly’s digital projects in his sessions on using digital technology in the classroom.

Derek Bruff also recommends a book that extends our “Students as Producers” theme, as well as one on social media use.

Just yesterday, I received a copy of Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching by Alison Cook-Sather, Catherine Bovill, and Peter Felten.  Peter was an associate director at the CFT before founding the teaching center at Elon University, and I consider him a mentor and friend.  I participated in a conference session he and his co-authors led at a conference a couple of years.  They described different kinds of student-faculty partnerships, ones that invited students to take more responsibility for the design and direction of their courses.  I was impressed at the resulting benefits to student engagement and learning—and how much the faculty members got out of the partnerships.  I’m looking forward to reading Peter’s book this summer and drawing connections to our recent “Students as Producers” theme year. 

Also on my summer reading list is It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd.  The book presents the results of an in-depth, qualitative study of how teenagers use social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  I’ve heard danah boyd give a couple of presentations on her research.  Hearing her describe some of the clever ways that teens navigate issues of identity and privacy online made me realize that I have a lot to learn about how our students might navigate these issues.  Instead of making assumptions about their behavior or projecting my own use of social media onto them, I’m hoping to learn from what boyd has discovered through her research.

Thanks, Dani and Derek.  What about you?  What are you reading?  Let us know by commenting below.

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