For our TLH community-facing project, we created a shared site for our classes on the CUNY Academic Commons, centered around the concept of “writing with and for a community.” Each of our courses has a two sub-page on the site: one of which gives an overview of the course and some background, and another of which has blog posts by students, usually with contextualization by faculty members. Then students from other classes read these blog posts and commented on them, sometimes even creating new imagery or artwork in response. In this way, we hoped to foster an intercampus conversation about space and place.
Notions of audience, place, and identity–as well as the use of images–are woven through our courses. Carrie Hall’s Composition II course (NYCCT) focused on how students can best choose and produce in a genre to reach a particular audience. Marta Cabral’s class, Art in Elementary School Education (CSI) learned how to teach art to third and fourth graders. Erica Richardson’s students in Literatures of the Harlem Renaissance (Baruch) blogged about a trip to the Met. In Belinda Linn Rincon’s class, Latinx Street Literatures (John Jay) students watched and blogged about the film La Ciudad, often including images in their blogs. Dominique Zino’s class, Cultural Identity in American Literature (LaGuardia), read literature that address issues of dislocation/relocation, identity formation, and alienation and wrote blog posts about space and power.
The project was, in many ways, a success: students gained a great deal from seeing what is happening on other campuses, and it made their projects feel more real to have a live audience for their blog posts. Carrie Hall’s class had the option of writing a unit with a fourth grade audience in mind, and the respondents, Marta Cabral’s class, were in training to be fourth grade teachers which allowed for vibrant visual feedback. It was also a great benefit also to have a variety of course levels so that beginning writers could see what upper level students are doing, and upper level students could take on a mentorship role and reflect upon how far they’ve come. That said, we did also have our struggles. Much of these had to do with scheduling and planning; we struggled to find anyone to assist with web design and needed to do it ourselves. Also, because we didn’t have our project in play until well into the semester, we didn’t have time to seamlessly plan in a way that would best benefit the project and the students. That said, this is the type of project all of us would be happy to do again with the benefit of experience.
While the public-facing project is mostly the website itself, we will culminate the project early next week with a brief online discussion between the five of us about the website and the benefits and difficulties of intercampus collaboration.
I have been working on a Creative Collaboration with four other faculty members on a project. We created an Instagram account where we can showcase our students’ ideas about money, power, respect, and education. The account handle is @money_power_respect_cuny.
Students are awarded modest TLH student scholarships for producing related scholarship selected for inclusion on the @money_power_respect_cuny Instagram account. Content included on Instagram relates to the topics: money, power, and respect in relationship to education. We encouraged participants to be as creative as they like. The content could be a picture, video, visual representation, or personal reflection about money, power, respect, education. The content could be specifically about one of these topics, some of the topics, or all the topics.
Some guiding questions for students’ content creation:
• What does money, power, and respect mean to you? • What does money, power, and respect look like, sound like, feel like? • How does education lead to having or losing money, power, or respect? • What do you want to teach our followers about money, power, or respect? • What do you want to teach them about CUNY?
Reflections on the Project
Working with my colleagues from across CUNY campuses was so rewarding. While we didn’t have as much student participation as we hoped for, it was still a great experience to brainstorm and come up with a way to engage students with a topic they find interesting. Initially I posed the invitation to students in my class and only got one student to participate. The instructions were sent via email and posted in Announcements on the EDU280 class Blackboard. I opened the invitation to the entire SEEK population and got another submission from a student who was not enrolled in my class. Both submissions were included on the Instagram account. I believe there was little participation because students were working on midterms and then went on Spring Break. Moving forward, I’ll propose a similar project in my courses but will work on it in class as a community.
On 11 May 2022, Emily Ripley (Queens College), Abby Anderton (Baruch College), Nerve V. Macaspac (College of Staten Island/Graduate Center), Oriana Mejías Martínez (LaGuardia Community College), and Lisa Marie Anderson (Hunter College) shared their experiences of transformative moments in their classroom. They presented examples of active learning from their courses, sharing the work of their students and engaging recentering student voices inside/within the classroom.
IMAGE ABOVE: Students exploring material culture objects from the Queens College Fashion and Textiles Collection in their History of Fashion course. IMAGE SOURCE: Emily Ripley.
With the words and concepts of Audre Lorde and Felcia Rose Chavez in hand, Ripley began the process of reimagining the traditional history of fashion lecture course. The goals were to work towards creating a fully active learning environment, to disrupt the Eurocentric focus of the History of Fashion in the West, and to allow the class to take part in an upgrading project. Across the semester she cracked open the professor/student barrier by establishing an open dialogue with her class, interspersed with regular group think-pair-share moments to involve everyone. A method of investigating material culture objects was refined within the classroom. Students also gained agency by writing questions for the test, and many experienced a new, revelatory understanding of their own learning processes. The professor learned firsthand what particular testing methods were most accessible for her students with learning disabilities, and through discussions with her class, developed a new way to flip the structure of this traditionally formatted course.
IMAGE ABOVE: One student project focused on Florence Price, a Black female composer whose work is receiving renewed interest in concert programs across the US. By exploring her work for String Quartet, the student analyzed Prices’ unique musical idiom and some contemporary performances of her work. IMAGE SOURCE: Abby Anderton
Anderton discussed various digital story-telling tools, including ReadyMag and StoryMaps as a way of making less well-known historical figures audible. She shared her students’ work on composers like Florence Price, Clara Schumann, Alma Mahler, and Charles Ives. Digital story-telling platforms empower students to tell the narratives that are important to them.
IMAGE ABOVE: Students of Urban Geography at CSI used mapping, photo typology, and virtual reality (VR) during field work at the North Shore of Staten Island in examining the differential politics of memorialization, public space and gentrification, and rules of place in New York City’s “Forgotten Borough.” IMAGE SOURCE: Nerve Macaspac
Macaspac presented student-centered projects that activate the students’ sense of place through mapping and spatial ethnography of parts of New York City using a combination of analog (i.e., hand-drawn maps, mixed media, etc.) and digital technology (i.e., virtual reality, video, sound recordings, etc.).
IMAGE ABOVE: Clockwise, the first shows a picture from Madres de Plaza de Mayo; a community and political movement asking for the disappeared-detained people from the Dirty War. Second picture shows a Central American map and pictures of flooded terrain and drought force people from those lands to migrate. Third picture shows an image from La Masacre de Ponce; people are running/escaping. Fourth picture show five images of women from Colombia, three of them on the top; political figures, and two at the bottom; socio political movements made of women against feminicide and supporting abortion rights. IMAGE SOURCE: Oriana Mejías Martínez
Mejías Martínez presented about the opportunities that recentering students’ knowledge in the classroom brings to the class content and experience.
She follows Professor Ofelia García’s scholarship on translanguaging due to broader experiences that these practices foster and develop on language integration and safe space in the classroom. As a result, students were able to choose and work on oral presentations about relatable issues that make historical events even more present at this moment.
IMAGES ABOVE: Top: Some of the artists from Prof. Anderson’s class playlist of music with German lyrics. Below: When reviewing difficult grammar topics, peer instruction led most students to choose the best answer. IMAGE SOURCE: Lisa Marie Anderson.
Lisa Marie Anderson talked about three transformative moments that helped to build community in a first-semester German course. (1) Compiling a course playlist of music with German lyrics introduced students to vocabulary and culture, and also helped them appreciate how much they had learned to understand in just a few weeks. (2) A semester-long virtual study abroad project showed students that they could already use German websites to do things like find a place to live, shop online, and navigate a new campus and a new city. (3) Using metimeter.com and peer instruction to review the midterm exam gave students a low-stakes, anonymous, collaborative way to engage in self-reflection and self-correction.
TLH Faculty Fellows
Emily Ripley (Queens College) is an artist and a fashion historian, director of the Fashion and Textiles Program, and curator of the Queens College Fashion and Textiles Collection. She teaches courses in the history of fashion, fashion and material culture, contemporary dress experiences, fashion and film, and fashion sketching.
Abby Anderton (Baruch College) is a musicologist who teaches topics in music history from Classicism to New Music.
Nerve V. Macaspac (College of Staten Island/Graduate Center) is a political geographer, cartographer, and filmmaker. He teaches courses in Urban Geography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). His classroom projects can be viewed here: https://geospatialcsi.commons.gc.cuny.edu/
Oriana Mejías Martínez (LaGuardia Community College) is an Adjunct lecturer and teaches Spanish language and culture. Currently a PhD. Candidate at Latin American, Iberian and Latino Cultures program at the Graduate Center.
Lisa Marie Anderson (Hunter College) teaches German language, literature, and culture at all undergraduate levels. She is also a co-founder of ACERT, Hunter’s center for teaching and learning.
One of the spring Fellows public knowledge projects was a podcast and manifesto, organized by Michael L. J. Greer (Brooklyn College), Gisele Regatao (Baruch College), Rebecca L. Salois, (Baruch College) and Casandra Silva Sibilin (York College). The Fellows were joined by twenty students in a conversational podcast on ungrading. The conversation revolved around the following key questions: How does/could/should grading work at CUNY? What does grading mean to students? How do they perceive the concept of ungrading? What do they think of the ungrading practices they have experienced so far? Eight of the students asked questions and engaged in the conversation verbally, and the remaining twelve students participated in the written manifesto after reflecting on the conversation that took place during the podcast recording. The result is an engaging recording where students and professors discuss their experiences of ungrading, and explore the function that grades have played in their own lives. Students think about the virtues and potential downsides of ungrading at CUNY, discussing their fears, hopes, joys, and frustrations. The professors weigh in on questions students have around the value of ungrading, and the podcast ends with a brainstorm on how students might participate in creating a CUNY without grades. The collective manifesto that accompanies the podcast declares a vision for what a CUNY without grades would look and feel like. The podcast, manifesto, and a list of resources on ungrading are compiled in the website Imagining a CUNY Without Grades.
During this interactive roundtable event, five TLH Faculty Fellows – Jennifer Corby (Kingsborough Community College), Nicole Kras (Guttman Community College), Grace Pai (Guttman Community College), Dusana Podlucka (LaGuardia Community College), and Midori Yamamura (Kingsborough Community College) – shared their experiences of implementing ungrading in their courses. They were joined by 10 of their students who discussed how ungrading has helped and/or hindered their learning process.
The event, which was attended by 84 participants, began with an introduction to how ungrading is a student-driven approach that emphasizes feedback, assessment and reflection of the learning process over scores, mastery of skills, or standardized outcomes. The fellows collected student definitions, opinions and reflections of ungrading through a survey form taken by 52 students (see slides and booklet of student reflections).
The five Fellows then shared examples of ungrading across various disciplines. Professor Corby shared how she gave options for “choose-your-own adventure” activities and had students complete self-assessments in her Introduction to U.S. Government & Politics course. Professor Yamamura’s Global Contemporary Art students attended 8 asynchronous events that were part of the UnHomeless NYC exhibition she organized; students worked on group reflections and held consultations with her to help them incorporate their reflection of ungrading in their final papers. For her Civic Engagement in a Global Society first year experience (FYE) course, Professor Pai implemented a system of self grading, peer grading, monthly learning journal entries, an end-of-semester individual grade conference, and most importantly – student-created rubrics on major assignments where students discussed what makes for a quality assignment submission before creating a rubric with definitions and points for weighted categories as a class. Students in Professor Kras’ Human Services Fieldwork and Integrative Seminar course submitted weekly written, audio, video, or visual art reflections – alongside creating their own self-grading criteria connected to the purpose of the assignment. Finally, Professor Podlucka discussed how she focused more on providing student feedback on weekly reading responses, in addition to feedback on the process of writing a staged research paper for her Social Psychology course.
Ten student panelists (listed below) then shared their experiences and perceptions of being ungraded. Following are some examples of student responses.
What I liked is how we get to speak about this with the professor during her office hours. It was such a good feedback experience. We could talk about our assignments. We could talk about what we are doing right, which way is the right way, which way is the wrong way. That was a new way of learning. The grading system, when you get a good grade, you don’t exactly know why. When you don’t get a good grade, we still can’t ask why. We just know we didn’t do good and that’s it. In this, we literally had a step-by-step guide from the professor where we are going wrong and what we have to do. It was less pressure for both the professor and the students. Learning was fun with this system.
I would say it helped my learning process because it enabled me to reconsider power dynamics in the classroom. Something to consider in grading is like why is the professor doing the grading, why doesn’t my input matter? I feel like ungrading tackled that and empowered me to seek out feedback, using it more effectively, prioritizing it so I can learn from it and improve. So that’s one of the biggest outcomes I’ve retained and I’m really thankful for it.
We’ve done projects before like based in math which isn’t my strong suit, but when it comes to ungrading, we actually made the rubric for it. We could say my strong suit is this, may not be this but I need to put effort towards it. It was a give and take relationship where we could say what we wanted to put effort in, what we thought was important. The might seem small in the eyes of a teacher but whatever you think is important, you can say I want this to reflect in my project. You don’t really see that in my other classes. It’s invigorating. Maybe you spent hours on one small thing and you are finally getting recognition for it.
While students overwhelmingly expressed positive experiences with “ungrading,” there were also identified challenges and concerns noted from both faculty and students. One student shared, “I also don’t really like grading myself because I feel as though there’s always room for improvement. I feel like who do you think you are?” Faculty and participants in the chat shared concerns with implementing this approach in larger courses, on how to communicate this novel way of thinking about grading to students and colleagues, and how to align this practice with university grading requirements.
In her workshop on April 5th, Dr. Jamila Lyiscott, aka, Dr. J, began by thanking all those who made this event happen, as the quest towards justice cannot be taken for granted. We were then put into breakout rooms for a short activity, with the following instructions:
1. Choose a ‘whistle-blower’
2. Answer the question, “should multiple literacies be allowed in classrooms?”
3. You are only allowed to use two syllables or less for the duration of the conversation
4. If this rule is broken, the ‘whistle-blower’ should make an obnoxious sound
In the reflection afterwards participants discussed how the limitations robbed their motivation to speak, but not because they had nothing to say. Dr. J shared how this exercise helps to reveal how harmful education spaces can be: enforcement of “standard” language norms turns faculty into “whistle blowers” robbing students’ motivation, while also preventing enforcers from hearing students. To combat these linguistic constraints, Dr. J pointed to the liberatory capacity of languages and the cultural practices of people of color in particular. She noted how she includes a unit in all of her classes on the cipher, sharing a poem of her own, “The Art of the Cipher,” on bringing liberatory practices into the classroom, asking at one point, “how many students do we label illiterate by societal standards?”
Dr. J discussed code-switching as a continuation of colonial violence, requiring a certain language in order to be validated within the classroom and other institutions. She referenced the work of Dr. Geneva Smitherman and Dr. April Baker Bell who both highlight language as a site of cultural struggle, a marker of social mobility.
Dr. J then played a clip from Glamour, “Uzo Aduba Never Liked Her Name,” where Uzo explains she asked her mother to call her Zoe because no one can say Uzoamaka, and her mother replied that if they can say other names (e.g.,Tchaikovsky, Michelangelo, Dostoyevsky), they can pronounce yours. Here Dr. J emphasized how our classrooms are not neutral spaces, and if we don’t intentionally work toward racial equity and healing, we are holding up social injustice.
Dr. J asked participants to reflect on the complicity they have in the institutional rewarding of Eurocentric knowledge and language practices. She outlined how liberation is different from inclusion in that it is about systemic change, breaking down oppressive logics, not reforming a broken system, not just having people of color doing the same work that upholds oppression. She discussed how the case of George Floyd and the media’s focus on underlying health conditions and intoxicants is another example of racist literacy practices; sharing literacies and language is not just about words — they contain cultures and histories.
She continued with suggestions on how to put liberation literacies into practice, including challenging paradigm principles, divesting from racist logics, and demanding participatory action and institutional alteration. It means pushing back against impulses to demand students of color perform whiteness to gain success: “Standard language is the language of people in power, it is not the language of power.”
Dr. J read the poem “(Untitled)” by Brian Yoo, written in response to Texan lawmakers suggesting Asian people adopt easier names. The event then moved to a lively Q & A portion, with discussions on how to best support students so they can develop their voices and identities while being honest about how the world and the university institution operates, while working collectively to dismantle it.
What are your students actually learning from your course? Are your students intrinsically motivated to deepen their learning and content knowledge, or extrinsically motivated to play the game of getting a good score and grade? “Ungrading” is a growing movement in higher education that critically questions the conventional grading system and traditional forms of assessment. Ungrading focuses on supporting and deepening individual student learning by challenging commonly used practices like learning outcomes, rubrics, grading on a curve, and participation grades. Join us at this interactive roundtable event to learn how five CUNY Mellon Transformative Learning in the Humanities Faculty Fellows are implementing ungrading across a range of disciplines in their community college courses. The Fellows will illustrate how practicing ungrading promotes the collaborative nature of teaching and learning, students’ active role in learning process, and making learning accessible, meaningful and relevant to all students. You will also hear from a student panel sharing their perceptions and experiences of being ungraded.
Accessibility: We will have ASL interpreters and live CART captioning for the event.
What does a transformative moment in the classroom look or sound like? In this event, five Mellon TLH Faculty Fellows from different CUNY campuses will each present examples of active learning from their courses, sharing the work of their students and engaging student voices in this interactive workshop. Through the disciplines of German, Geography, Music, Spanish, and Fashion, we will demonstrate how collaborative pedagogy helps us build a sense of community in the classroom and beyond.
Accessibility: We will have ASL interpreters and live CART captioning for the event.
In his workshop on March 21st, Dr. Jesse Stommel educated participants about the history of grading and the practice of ungrading. Kaz Elpharin, a current student at LaGuardia Community College, began the event by introducing Dr. Stommel.
Dr. Stommel emphasized that ungrading is not a static concept but an ongoing conversation and practice that should include students. He brought up the compassionate grading policies introduced during the pandemic, asking why they haven’t always been present and if they could be maintained. He brought in open questions such as why we grade, who it’s for, and what if we didn’t, while acknowledging the precarity of many professors and administrative constraints.
Dr. Stommel also gave background on bias in grading and how inclusive practices means designing classes for the least privileged. He shared how past negative experiences with grading and teachers often impact the relationship students have with their professors, and how discussing such realities and making assessments flexible and responsive can be reparative. He shared information on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivations, and how we can best support all students in learning instead of engaging in policing behavior, defining grading as a relatively recent technology. Dr. Stommel discussed the importance of context, that he doesn’t want all professors to simply use his forms of assessment in their classes, but instead open up a reflective dialogue on grading with their students. He ended the lecture portion insisting that effective education requires some necessary conditions, including equitable labor practices and meeting the basic needs of students, such as food and housing.
Dr. Stommel then moved into a writing exercise, asking participants:
“Who do you teach? What do you know about your students? How are they changing? What do they want from their education? What barriers do they face?”
After participants shared their responses in a brief discussion, he gave another prompt, asking everyone to draft a “Dear Students,” message for the top of their syllabi, thinking about:
“What work do you value from your students? What will you contribute (as the teacher)? What does success look like in your class? How (as the teacher) will you know when you’ve seen it? What is the students’ collective role in constructing the course? How will you show care for your students? How will you show care for yourself?”
This led into another discussion and question and answer portion, so engaging that it continued after the event in an “Afterparty” conversation in a Google Doc created by Pedagogy Co-Leaders Javiela Evangelista and Jason Hendrickson.
Dr. Stommel was very generous in encouraging participants to share his ideas at future workshops. He shared his slides:
He also shared his workshop notes, which include an overview of the session and additional resources.
We’d also like to share the generative conversation that took place at the Q&A Afterparty.
If you’re interested in more events on ungrading and alternative assessment, the Spring 2022 Mellon TLH Faculty Fellows have organized an interactive workshop with their students on “Adventures in Ungrading” for April 27, 2022, at 4-5pm ET. RSVP here.
Liberation Literacies Pedagogy: At the Intersection of Language, Race, and Power
April 5, 2022 at 4-5:15 PM ET via Zoom
Privileging mainstream forms of language and literacy in schools not only under-prepares students for our predominantly multiethnic, multilingual, globalized society, but it also perpetuates a narrative of deficiency and marginality for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Drawing on Dr. J’s ongoing research, personal experiences navigating multiple varieties of English, and her work engaging hip-hop, spoken word, and media for learning, this workshop problematizes traditional notions of what it means to be “literate” in our society and offers tools for disrupting racial/social inequity through attention to language, culture, and race as ideologically interwoven in our classrooms.
Please note this event will not be recorded, however an event recap will be posted here on the TLH blog.
Accessibility: We will have ASL interpreters and live CART captioning for the event.
Jamila Lyiscott, aka, Dr. J, is an aspiring way-maker, a community-engaged scholar, nationally renowned speaker, and the author of Black Appetite. White Food: Issues of Race, Voice, and Justice Within and Beyond the Classroom. She currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Social Justice Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she is the co-founder and co-director of the Center of Racial Justice and Youth Engaged Research. Dr. J is most well known for being featured on TED.com where her video, ‘3 Ways to Speak English,’ has been viewed over 5 million times, and for her commissioned TED Talk, ‘2053’ in response to the inauguration of the 45th occupant of the white house. She has delivered keynotes and workshops at 100s of institutions throughout the nation where she works closely with youth, educators, and communities towards racial healing, equity, and justice.
In the second workshop of this two-part series, Dr. Chavez focused on practical anti-racist teaching tools and methods for the writing classroom, many of which could be applied in other disciplines as well. Dr. Chavez opened the workshop with powerful self-reflection exercises for participants, then shared active methods to involve students in the learning process as co-learners and collaborators. Throughout the workshop Dr. Chavez provided a wealth of resources for further reading. The event concluded with a Q&A session that included contributions from students at New York City College of Technology, CUNY. Since the workshop, several attendees have shared excitement about applying these critical strategies in the classroom, and continuing the conversation with others.