Teaching Literature in a Higher Education Context – An International Perspective:
I collaborate with the students in questioning, debating and conceptualizing the role of the arts in culture and society at large. Developing enquiring minds, independence, and encouraging students to take intellectual risks is what I aim for in all my teaching activities. Having worked in both Higher and Secondary education, I am equally experienced in research mentoring and in pastoral care. Passionate about promoting the values of research and learning inside and outside the academy, and I continuously develop my skills and participate in HE and Brilliant Club (a charity promoting research-led secondary education) training programmes on presentation, course planning, pedagogy and assessment.
I believe that my insights into the UK, the US and the German education systems are particularly valuable in developing my teaching philosophy, especially as they are so different. The German approach focuses on students’ independent research and presentation skills, and seminars are driven by the participants themselves, with the lecturer in the position of host, rather than sole organizer. Yet in my experience, the Anglophone approach to teaching in Higher Education does more to foster the skills in writing, research, and presentation needed to succeed. I aim to combine the best of both worlds, encouraging the students’ independence, but also mentoring their study skills.
Students as Research Collaborators at BA and MA Level:
Literary texts crystallize key concerns of what it means to be human and to communicate in language, and they are ideal pathways to experience how critique and enquiry open up new visions of the contemporaneity we live in. Especially at BA level, I believe it is crucial to expose students to a variety of textualities and to encourage them to develop their own perspective, before inserting aesthetic theory and interdisciplinary research into the debate. I aim for such organic pathways from text to research, since the process of reading can differ each time and with each group of students.
I am committed to opening pathways for students, and particularly at MA level, I believe that this has two sides: teaching for excellence and independence is essential, in seminars and workshops, but I am also dedicated to giving students the opportunity of gaining first experiences in academic practice. I have organized research seminars on ecocriticism and modernism, in which students can give their first research paper in a ‘safe’ environment before moving on to larger graduate conferences. As visiting professor at the English Department at the University of Texas at Austin, I just taught a course on postmodernism which I split in two components; one half of our contact hours were spent in tuition in small groups, individual mentoring and plenary session, while the other half was dedicated to staging undergraduate symposia to give students the opportunity to showcase and peer-review their work.
In the Classroom: Student-Centered Learning:
While I use short “mini”-lectures where appropriate, my seminars aim to enable enquiry. I start sessions with a challenging question, and often a few students in each session are assigned the role of experts. Aided by cutting-edge literature on the topic (provided, for instance, in a virtual learning environment), they research and present perspectives on the sessions’ focus, and co-moderate the discussion in groups or the seminar plenary. Students thus take ownership of their own learning in a process-based and collaborative approach to studying literature.
If you walked into my classroom, you would see a powerpoint detailing the topic and intended activities as well as giving extra information, and a varied set of activities ranging from plenaries, short ‘mini-lectures’, and team-based elements. Most sessions I teach are partly led by student ‘experts’, who have prepared impulses and ideas on a particular research questions.
Creativity, Critique, and Individual Development – Feedback and Assessment
Because my assessment is procedural, feedback is continuous, too. I give students detailed feedback on reading reports and seminar presentations in order to enable excellent performances in the final research papers. All students are given the opportunity to take feedback on board and rewrite a first draft of their papers, if handed in early. Individual Development plans help with time management and clarify targets, strengths and weaknesses. I also encourage peer and self-assessment, and train students to assess their own strengths and weaknesses more efficiently.
In my work as lecturer at undergraduate and graduate level, I supervise research papers and final dissertations up to MA level. Recent topics include an ecocritical analysis of modernist poetry, an exploration of how Jack Kerouac can be read as an author of prose poems, political poetry and Bob Dylan.