URI PhD candidate, Becky Greene has recently been awarded a Fellowship from Bryant’s Center for Learning and Teaching which emphasizes creativity and creative thinking in the classroom. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Becky about her involvement in the program and how it is helping her shape her own pedagogy.
Q: How did you become involved with Bryant and this Fellowship?
A: I’ve been working as an adjunct instructor in Bryant’s Gateway Program since the 2013-2014 school year. The Gateway Program requires all entering freshmen to take four classes emphasizing critical thinking and writing skills. The students get to highlight their various achievements in the courses at the end of each semester in a portfolio. As part of a continuing (and increasing) commitment to the humanities, two of the four classes are “Introduction to the Writing Workshop” (the equivalent to URI’s WRT 104) and “Introduction to Literature and Cultural Studies” (the equivalent to ENG 110). I’ve been lucky enough to teach both classes. One of the things that’s been especially delightful is getting smart, sophisticated students — primarily business majors — to think more about literature, world events, and rhetorical analysis.
The Creativity Fellows are in their second phase now. I saw a notice sent out to all faculty late last year asking for new members. The idea of interdisciplinary collaboration and the program’s emphasis on imagination and pedagogy seemed pretty cool. I asked if adjuncts could apply, was told yes, and sent in my application as a lark. It was great to find out I’ve been selected.
Q: Can you explain the goals of the program?
A: Essentially, the Creativity Fellows are a group of both full-time (tenured) and part-time (adjunct) faculty who are interested in trying innovation in the classroom while looking at ways to borrow approaches from other disciplines. We get together monthly to discuss readings on pedagogical theory, but also splice in work from psychology, computer science, and literary critical theory with more to come. We also do a lot of different hands-on activities as a group to see what might work in a classroom setting. (Some of our exercises have included clay modelling, book repurposing, podcasting, and blogging.) While we are all weaving these techniques into our classrooms, several of us are working together now on essays about pedagogy. Due to typical disciplinary segregation, we might never have conceived some of these projects without the group! We’re basically just a friendly group of people trying to figure out ways to connect with our students, all while trying to remember what it’s like to learn something for the first time.
Q: I understand that the fellowship program revolves around engaging students in the classroom by using a theory of play and creativity. Can you elaborate on the ways in which you use play and creativity in her own pedagogy?
A: Knowing from past experiences teaching that students can sometimes be resistant to learning in a teamwork setting, I try to use some of the creative play techniques that the Fellows program has been using to get students more comfortable with the idea of peer review, for instance. Having them partner up for a peer review “scavenger hunt” exercise where they hunt for mechanical problems in a piece of writing and solutions to those problems has been a fun way to work on issues such as paragraph formation, thesis development, semicolon usage, and so on. The “scavenger hunt” idea has also been useful in Intro to Lit, where they use both the Oxford English Dictionary and their texts to try to answer questions about character motivations when we’re reading mysteries.
This semester, I’m looking forward to receiving playlists–and justifications for why the songs are included–for a Sherlock Holmes unit in lieu of a traditional quiz. Students also have the option to produce an original illustration for a novel that we’re reading together (The Prisoner of Zenda) in lieu of another quiz. I’m also adding another idea–given that the theme of the class is adventure, they will be able to produce a Choose Your Own Adventure style simple computer game featuring the cast of one of our texts for extra credit. These students are remarkably creative folks and I’m excited about the projects that they’ll be coming up with.
The best thing, for me, about all of these different multimodal approaches is that it gives a student who might have anxiety about writing or speaking a chance to indicate that they “get the text” in a different way. Plus, they get to have some fun and the chance to talk to each other! Again, the chance to work on creativity and play helps them figure out how to take risks, how to imagine, and how to creatively think. It’s been a pretty rewarding experiment so far and one that’s helped us to keep going, even with so many snow cancellations. We’re still doing the typical work of writing properly formatted research papers, of course. The benefits to this idea of creative play in the classroom is that the students are more engaged, willing to pick a paper idea that they are much more invested in after their creative project is done, and they’re willing to try harder. I feel like the percentage of “lazy” students is down.
While I was doing some of these activities before, I feel like the Creativity Fellows program has helped improve my techniques, has made me more willing to take risks myself, and has given me more ideas for my teaching toolbox.