Thelin – Understanding Problems in Critical Classrooms

Thelin, William. “Understanding Problems in Critical Classrooms.” College Composition and Communication. 57.1 (2005): 114-141. Print.

In this article, William Thelin critiques critics of critical pedagogy in the composition classroom, Richard Miller and Russel Durst. In short, Thelin asks that baby, critical pedagogy, not be thrown out with the bathwater, challenges, mishaps, and uncertainties that may occur in the classroom. The critique, however, is not the focus of his essay; Thelin provides additional classroom research to show how imperfect critical pedagogy practices/ results can provide valuable insight into achieving the goals of critical pedagogy.

Thelin collected data in the form of student essays that critiqued the “failed” writing course they had participated in with him that semester and offered specific reasons as to why they did not meet their mutual expectations. The 21 students were a mix of white and African American  students across social class lines and genders.

He cites himself in an article with John Paul Tassoni to say, “Students empowerment and challenges to the status quo obviously could not run as seemlessly and still be what they claimed” (2). He continues:

If everything in a critical classroom worked as well as some accounts of critical pedagogy make it seem (see Rosenthal as one example), we would not have a transformation of a classroom. We would have a recasting of the typical hero model of teaching where the instructor rescues students in need of saving (127).

One of the main reasons (signified by five student responses) students gave for things not going well in the classroom was that students were “not used to freedom/ contradicted previous classroom experience” (128). No students argued that students should no co-develop curricula with the instructor (130).

Thelin interprets his classess’ “blunders” as learning opportunities for intructors and students. As an instructor, he sees opportunity to improve his pedagogy by listening to students’ voices more and understanding their understanding of democracy and education. For his students, he holds out hope that they will be better equipped to handle a critical pedagogy class in the future; more and not less critical pedagogy is necessary to have successful democratic classrooms.

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Simmons and Page – Motivating Students through Power and Choice

Simmons, Amber M., and Melissa Page. “Motivating Students through Power and Choice.” English Journal. 100.1 (2010): 65-69. Print.

In this article, Simmons and Page share how they utilized critical pedagogy practices in a high schoool English class. The two were interested in finding ways to motivate and empower their students. Using Arthur Miller’s The Crucible as a text, Simmons and Page worked with their students to define the terms of the class project. Drawing on Ira Shor’s critical pedagogy methods, the instructors co-created the grading system with the students. They used the students’ language in the rubric, and developed an end of project survey based on Shor’s design to determine generative themes for future work.

Simmons and Page concluded that sharing curricular power with students served to motivate students to produce quality work and use power responsibly (69). They stated additional benefits:

By using these methods in the classroom, teachers can motivate their students to become active participants in their own education instead of bystanders waiting to be told what to do, when to do it, and how it should be done. (69)

Shor – Critical Pedagogy is Too Big To Fail

Shor, Ira. “Critical Pedagogy is Too Big to Fail.” Journal of Basic Writing. 28.2 (2009): 6-27. Print.

In this article, Shor’s goal is twofold: First,  he addresses similarities and differences between his grading contracts and his colleagues Peter Elbow and Jane Danielewicz.  While Shor grades the quality of student work on a wider A-F basis, Elbow and Danielewicz only grade quality if a student work is deemed a “B” or better. Another difference is that Shor negotiates the grading contract with his students to construct the classroom as a public sphere, where Elbow and Danielewicz’s contracts are nonnegotiable. Shor asserts that these practices are particularly important in a neo-liberal climate where students need to develop democratic agency. Secondly, Shor addresses a misperception of his pedagogy in Danielewicz and Elbow’s essay regarding polemics in critical pedagogy. Shor says that polemics and proselytizing is not necessary or appropriate in the classroom. He cites himself in Empowering Education to reiterate the point:

Teachers who treat the classroom as a political meeting can expect stiffened resistance from students as well as more vigilant policing from administrators. . . . Dialogic, democratic teaching rejects sectarian posturing. Students cannot be commanded to take action and cannot be graded on their consciousness. (196-97)