My teaching pedagogy is truly student-centered and aims at encouraging my students to take a deep approach to learning. Deep learning is a personal commitment and an attitude toward learning, where the learner uses higher-order cognitive skills such as the ability to analyze, synthesize, solve problems, and thinks meta-cognitively in order to construct long-term understanding. It involves the critical analysis of new ideas, linking them to already known concepts and principles so that this understanding can be used for problem solving in new, unfamiliar contexts.
Learners learn deeply by constructing their own knowledge. And they do so by connecting new knowledge with existing mental structures, and by interpreting new ideas in light of their personal experiences. No one can learn deeply for our students. They have to construct their own new models of reality for themselves. Teaching for deep learning entails stimulating this construction of knowledge. So, I always challenge my students’ existing knowledge structures in a way that they care. I stimulate them to search for relationships among materials and to reflect on the personal significance of what they are learning. I also align all my courses. Constructive alignment is a fully criterion-referenced system, where the learning outcomes define what we should be teaching, how we should be teaching it; and how we could know how well students have learned it. In aligned teaching, there is maximum consistency throughout the system and each teaching component –outcomes, teaching and learning activities, and assessment- supports the other.
When I design my courses, I always start from the end. First, I plan where I want my students to be at the end of the course. I think of the kind of intellectual and personal development that I want my students to enjoy, and what I want them to be able to do when they finish the course. The common objective in all my courses is to promote a deep approach to learning. I want my students to perform at the extended abstract level of John Bigg’s SOLO taxonomy. I also design evaluation tools –both formative and summative- as well as metacognitive strategies which will permit me and my students to assess whether they have reached the intended learning outcomes. And I carefully design the class activities which will help them reach these goals. For this purpose, I resort to a series of theoretically grounded and empirically supported active teaching strategies to foster students to take a deep approach to learning such as group discussions, problem-based learning, analysis of video segments depicting scenes relevant to Law and Justice topics, debates, collective construction of web sites, and writing exercises. I carefully design the classroom activities so that my students can reflect on their experience in a critical way. I encourage them to have an active role in the production of their own knowledge, and in the design of their own learning strategies. Students’ response to my approach to teaching and learning has been very encouraging and stimulating. They often tell me that “[my] course truly exemplifies deep learning (Tyler, unsolicited feedback, Crime and Punishment II, 2009), that “it is nice to attend a class where the sole objective is not to pass along information to the students but really help the students understand” (Malene, unsolicited feedback, Introduction to Legal Studies, 2007), that my classes “made a difference in the way [they] look at teaching in University and research” (Ayat, unsolicited feedback from student, Culture, Rights and Power class, 2003). They also recognize that “[my] style of teaching is very unique and […] remarkable. It encourages learning, class participation, and public speaking.” (Leah, unsolicited feedback, Criminology and Criminal Justice class, 2003-04).
DEVELOPMENT OF ACADEMIC SKILLS:
WRITING, READING, METACOGNITION, AND MEDIA LITERACY
Success at the university level mainly depends on the mastery of some fundamental academic skills. These include –reading, writing, critical thinking, presentation, and media literacy. Despite the importance of these skills for academic success, most professors seldom teach them. They generally take them for granted, as they tend to presuppose that all students already acquired these skills either as part of their secondary education or elsewhere in college. The reality is that most students lack these skills, which is one of the main causes of university attrition. I specifically teach these cognitive and metacognitive skills to my students as part of my courses so that they can become lifelong learners. Most of the strategies that I use to teach these academic skills are the result of extensive classroom action research projects, and the resulting publications which I have authored.
Reading is a process shaped partly by the text, partly by the reader's background, and partly by the situation the reading occurs in. Reading an academic text does not simply involve finding information on the text itself. Rather, it is a process of working with the text. When reading an academic text, readers negotiate the meaning with the author by applying their prior knowledge to it. But, this process is only possible if the reader uses a series of categories of analysis, some of which are specific to each academic discipline. Thus, working with a text and recreating its meaning entail both discipline and non discipline-specific reading strategies. The expert reader has incorporated these categories and applies them almost intuitively. But, students usually ignore these categories of analysis. So, I always teach my students both the general analytical tools and the discipline-specific values and strategies that facilitate disciplinary reading and learning.
In all my courses, I place academic reading at the forefront of the curriculum. I select teaching and learning activities that help my students interact with academic texts and use higher-order cognitive skills to construct meaning from the text. I also implement assessment tools aimed at evaluating whether students use such skills.
Subscribing to the Writing Across the Curriculum postulates, I conceive writing as a knowledge- transforming tool, and a privileged method for learning and thinking about social and legal problems. I also consider that the social science field is not only a conceptual but a discursive space as well. So, I promote writing in all my courses and foster its learning through extensive feedback given to my students.
I design activities to help students practice with the disciplinary language conventions. In my experience, I have found that the standard research paper is not enough to achieve my proposed writing objectives. So, I encourage my students to reflect about and deconstruct the different styles of a variety of texts through a myriad of write-to-learn and exploratory writing tasks. Another aspect which has proved very helpful for my students is peer review. This provides reviewers with the possibility of critically analyzing a writing document produced by their peers, which makes the student reviewer become aware of problems in the process of achieving superior disciplinary writing skills. At the same time, the authors of the papers are provided with real readers who must make sense of their writings, and who provide invaluable feedback.
I always help my students develop strong metacognition skills in all my courses. This helps them reflect about their own learning process and improve their learning.
I provide my students with both general and discipline-specific metacognitive categories so that they can use the standards of the discipline to recognize shortcomings and monitor their success.
The revolution in media and global communications in the last few decades has transformed the very basic foundations of knowledge and education. Media texts are pervasive in today’s globalized society and there is an increasing expectation in most professions that professionals must be proficient in the interpretation of media texts in their every day practice. So, I help my students acquire strong media literacy skills. I help my students both interpret and create media productions dealing with legal and justice matters. For this purpose, I expressly teach them the conventions of media language, media narrative structure, and media discourse. I also provide them with the skills necessary to realize how media construct legal meanings, influence and educate both legal and lay audiences, and impose their messages and values in every dimension of the legal world.
I approach my teaching as a truly scholarly enterprise. I am constantly experimenting, introducing new strategies, class activities, and assessment practices informed by the latest ideas reported in the pedagogical literature. I conduct action research projects, collect evidence, and analyze it. I change my teaching practice according to the results of these projects so as to improve student learning and take it to higher levels of depth.
Additionally, I am engaged in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. So, apart from approaching teaching as a scholarly activity, I make my teaching public, subject to peer review, and available so that others can build on it. I do this by publishing the results of my classroom action research projects, by presenting them in teaching conferences, and by leading faculty development workshops in Canada, the United States, and other parts of the world. Some colleagues comment that they were "delighted to see [my] article in Tomorrow’s Professor (Eileen Herteiss, Director, Purdy Crawford Teaching Centre, personal email, 2009). Others published in their Teaching and Learning Center websites that “here is a great article from the Tomorrow’s Professor Newsletter on Strategies to Promote a Deep Approach to Reading. Dr. Julian Hermida provides some great insight into how we can encourage our students to read critically and how we can facilitate that process.” (M. Meixner, Texas Tech University, Teaching, Learning, and Technology Center).