Author Archives: Grace Handy

Project Recap: Counternarratives – Storytelling: The Lived Experiences of CUNY Students

Our podcast series “Counternarratives – Storytelling: The Lived Experiences of CUNY Students,” stems from the Andrew W. Mellon Faculty Fellowship, at the City of New York (CUNY). This series centers CUNY students’ experiences around topics such as the socialization around education, of immigration, gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, family, and mental health within multiple community settings. The goal of this student-centered project was for TLH Student Scholars to experiment with creating storylines that draw on participatory methodologies anchored in decolonial and social justice practices such as explorative narration, (auto)ethnography, and creative writing. The four episodes that constitutes this TLH student scholars produced podcast series allow insight into the way personal perceptions around pressing course topics such as education, democracy, anti- immigrants/refugees, and anti-Blackness relate to larger geopolitical power, institutional racism and violence.

The TLH Faculty Fellows featured in this series are Khanh Le, Professor of multilingual literacy at Queens College, Julie Bolt, Associate Professor of English at Bronx Community College, Popy Begum, Adjunct Lecturer of Sociology and the International Criminal Justice Program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Mengia Tschalaer, Assistant Professor of Anthropology also at John Jay College.

Khanh Le’s episode features students who are in the Multilingualism course in the United States. Students in this class actively engage in discussion and assignments as they learn about the dynamic language practices of various communities. In turn, they question how language can be used to exclude other communities of color. Student Scholars Nafees, Laiba, and Trisha share with us their experiences of being immigrants/brown living in Queens, New York City.

Student Scholars in Popy Begum’s courses, Capstone Seminar in Criminology, Crime and Delinquency in Asia, and Women and Crime, engage in a dialogue by drawing on their lived experiences to discuss their socialization around education, navigating stereotypes as Black, Asian, and Latinx students, and its cumulative impact on student performance. Students also discuss the outcomes of participating in a transformative learning project featured in their courses that not only centers students’ skills and competencies, but allows them to be in charge of the assignment produced and how it is graded.

The experiences featured in Mengia Tschalaer’s and her TLH Student Scholars’ podcast concern the intersectional experiences of working women with immigrant background at CUNY. The episode illustrates how female-identifying CUNY students with immigrant background straddle college along with gendered expectations within the family and the workplace. The Student Scholars featured in this episode are enrolled in either the Sex and Culture, Culture and Personality, or American Cultural Pluralism and the Law course.

Julie Bolt’s Student Scholars enrolled in her creative writing course are free to explore multiple topics, methods and prompts in their writing. In addition to freewriting, process writing, we used TLH methods such as ungrading , upgrading, co-creation of the syllabus after midterm, and think/pair/share . Their poetry included topics such as individuating within family dynamics, learning to build a stronger queer community, critiquing institutional racism, and conflicting realities in their immigrant experiences. Students also generated topics about finding spaces for nourishment in nature and love.

Throughout the process the Student Scholars in all four podcasts, used their agency to shape the knowledge making process. They listened, shared ideas, connected content to their daily lives and co-created learning experiences that contended with difficult subjects in an environment of radical respect and acceptance. Listen to the episodes here!

Not the Master’s Tools: Building Community in the Classroom TLH Event Recap

Inspired by  Lorgia García Peña’s book, Community as Rebellion: A Syllabus for Surviving Academia as a Woman of Color, our group (Karanja Carroll, Tara Coleman, Alexis Jemal, and Erica Roe) elected to explore community-building as our public knowledge project. The purpose of this project was threefold: 1) We aimed to center for the voices of our students. 2) We wanted the project to build community through the discussion of community building and the sharing of community-building strategies. 3) We wanted to create a repository of community-building techniques, suggestions, critiques, and offerings. The project consisted of creating an Instagram account for people to post their responses to questions and organizing a virtual launch on zoom on 12/6/22, 4 – 5 PM.

We asked our students the following questions: 

  1. How Do We Create Community in Education (the classroom)?”
    • What is one thing your professor does that you would imitate or change if you were teaching this class? 
    • If you were leading a group, what is one community-building strategy from your classroom that you would adapt and how? 
  2. “How do we hold each other accountable for building community?”
  3. What does accountability look like when building community in the classroom?
  4. What are the challenges to creating community in the classroom?

The organizers invited their students to post responses to the Instagram account handle Notthemasterstools or using the hashtag #Notthemasterstools. Approximately 30 people from the CUNY community (including about 5 of the organizers’ students) attended the Zoom meeting. 

The Zoom meeting began with Karanja opening with a warm welcome. He introduced TLH and the team. Importantly, he introduced our project and gave context for our project on community building. Lastly, he discussed examples of his methods of community-building. Erica and Tara presented the community building project. They displayed the Instagram posts and discussed community building methods in their class. Erica displayed a powerpoint with her students’ thoughts on community building. They discussed strategies such as pair share, mentimeter, and charades. Tara also introduced her student’s comments using Jamboard. Tara opened the discussion for comments from the audience and several people shared. Many of the comments provided a smooth transition to the last section of the session on accountability facilitated by Alexis. Alexis introduced herself and gave examples of community-building strategies that she uses. After a brief introduction on accountability, Alexis led the attendees in an activity wherein the attendees used Jamboard to answer the questions originally posed to the students. While participants answered the questions, two songs by Nina Simone were played. After about 10 minutes, the attendees debriefed the Jamboard and shared what resonated for them from the postings. After a generative discussion, we asked if anyone had questions or comments. We encouraged participants to continue using the hashtag and we thanked the guests for coming. 

From the Classroom to the Workplace: CUNY Alumni Speak on their Experiences TLH Event Recap

Our event (fellows Alcira Forero-Pena, Ted Gordon, Bertie Ferdman, Jessica Yood and Lori Ungemah) pulled CUNY alumni from BMCC, Baruch, Guttman, and Lehman to serve on a panel entitled “From the Classroom to the Workplace: CUNY Alumni Speak on their Experiences” and was held via Zoom on Thursday, December 1st, from 4-5pm. We wanted to hear from students how their educational experiences across CUNY campuses had informed/translated to their professional lives. Given the many conversations on the value of a college degree in the “real world,” we were curious what the students had to say about their time in our classrooms and in our colleges, and how they could reflect on their time at CUNY.

We gave the alumni panel three questions ahead of time so that they could come to the panel prepared (and so they wouldn’t feel that this was an interrogation!). These questions were:

1. How did college—and specifically CUNY—prepare you for your professional experiences? What expectations going into college did you have about what your education should do, and did your education meet those expectations?

2. What advice would you give to undergraduates about getting the most of their education while at CUNY?

3. What advice would you give to faculty about teaching and learning in preparation for the workplace?

It will come as no surprise that the students’ answers were heartfelt, honest, thoughtful, and intelligent. We will summarize their responses for you:

Q1: Alumni reported that the mentorship they received at their respective CUNY institutions are what most prepared them for professional life. They said they were encouraged to explore, to volunteer, and were advised by their faculty who forged personal relationships with them. That the intimacy they felt with their faculty—that their faculty saw them for who they really were—was what pushed them into new spaces (clubs, classes, majors) that prepared them for work. One student mentioned that the advising from their department and by departmental faculty had made the biggest impact.

They also valued opportunities to be leaders on their respective campuses, and in these leadership roles to be involved and to be heard both by peers and faculty.

The appreciated CUNY for the second chances they felt like they received from our colleges—regardless of past academic failures, documentation status, accents—they felt CUNY welcomed them and valued them for exactly who they were.

Q2: All alumni encouraged current students to GET INVOLVED. Recognize your own agency. Ask for what you want. Get to know your faculty. Everyone is a commuter at CUNY, so you must create a community for yourself. Don’t limit yourself to what you have done before, try something new. Make college fun because the work is hard. Be your best academic self (this might be our favorite quote from the event!).

Q3: Alumni asked that faculty be more inclusive in their teaching methods; that sometimes how they teach excludes students from certain backgrounds who aren’t familiar with how to learn that way. The asked faculty to extend the hand, to mentor students, to form relationships with the students they connect with and support them. They asked for explicit reminders to come to office hours (constant reminders!) and to say that you can come to office hours just to talk, it doesn’t have to be for help or because you are not doing well. They reminded faculty that many students are nervous or scared of us because we are adults and their faculty, and that we need to find what we share with students so we can advise and mentor them effectively.

If you are picking up the overall theme to this event, it was that FACULTY MENTORSHIP was the greatest asset for student success professionally. It wasn’t any one subject we taught, or any sort of skill, or any type of pedagogy—it was the human relationships that we forged with our students that made the biggest impact. They noted that they loved feeling supported by us, but they also appreciated feeling celebrated by us as they left CUNY and went on and were successful in life. They loved knowing we were still in their corner and cheering.

As we all recalibrate post (ish)-Covid, we appreciated hearing that what students want from us is simply for us to see and support them as mentors. They want that human connection. That is what prepared them most to be successful in the world of work.

Ajay Kalladeen (he/him) is from rural Guyana, South America, and came to the United States by himself in his early 20’s. He is a graduate of BMCC and Baruch College and worked at Apple for eight years before switching to the public sector to work for New York Empire State Development Corporation where he provides IT support to all levels of the organization. He says he is the true example of BMCC’s motto “Start Here. Go Anywhere.”

Leo Gonzalez Dominguez (they/them) is a Mexican Indigenous Queer playwright and performer who began their education at BMCC and transferred to NYU where they are pursuing their BFA in Dramatic Writing. They are also an Artistic Fellow at the Signature Theatre. Their most recent work, Parole In Place,received a public reading in collaboration with PEN America, New York Theatre Workshop, and the National Queer Theatre for the World Voices Festival.

Neisha-Anne S. Green is Director of Academic Student Support Services and The Writing Center at American University in Washington, DC and is a PhD candidate in Language, Literacy, and Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She has been the keynote speaker at multiple international and national conferences, in talks addressing writing center work, literacy, antiracist pedagogy, and multilingualism. Neisha is a multidialectal orator and author, proud of her roots in Barbados and Yonkers, NY and as a CUNY grad! An accomplice always interrogating and exploring the use of everyone’s language as a resource, Neisha continues to collaborate on workshops and publish on anti-racism and anti-racist pedagogy and is working on her book Songs From A Caged Bird.

Hector Carvajal (he/him) is a graduate of Guttman Community College and student at the University of Rochester, and he is the founder of Don Carvajal Café, a coffee business that pulls from his Dominican roots to build a business model that is both fair to producers and inclusive to customers. In just two years, he’s taken the brand from operating out of his dorm room to a city-wide distribution network. https://doncarvajalcafe.com/

Jennifer Cachola (she/her) is a higher education professional who has earned an Associate of Arts in Communication Studies from CUNY’s Borough of Manhattan Community College; a Bachelor of Science in Media, Culture, and Communication from NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development; and a Master of Arts in Youth Studies from CUNY’s School of Professional Studies. Prior to her path in higher education as an academic advisor, Jennifer worked in retail/customer service for 15+ years and was super grateful for the opportunity to start her career and pay it forward to the institution where she earned her first degree and now six years later, has recently advanced to a senior academic advisor role at BMCC.

Writing The World One Student at a Time

Bringing Freire to CUNY:

“Reading the word and learning how to write the word so one can later read it are preceded by learning how to write the world, that is having the experience of changing the world and touching the world” (Freire & Macedo, 2005, p. 12).

The year was 1947. 

The place? Northeastern Brazil. 

Young Paulo Freire faced a seemingly impossible task–teaching illiterate peasant workers to read. 

Freire empowered them beyond simply acquiring the life-changing ability to read. He also wanted his students to push against oppressive structures circumscribing their lives.

Freire was incredibly successful–by the 1960s, he inspired a movement to eradicate illiteracy across Brazil.

Freire’s efforts further benefited learners worldwide. This includes those we are incredibly fortunate to work with through CUNY and the Mellon Foundation’s Transformative Learning in the Humanities (TLH).

Transforming Classroom Practice:

Late-capitalism diminishes education, lessening its impact. Teaching can become narrow, desiccated, even detached from the world when we have little time for reflection. 

Imaginative scholars like Freire and Macedo (2005) broaden educational possibilities. They invite us to expand our conception of learning, whether in Brazil or New York.

Inspired by Freire and other educators we have studied collaboratively through TLH’s insightful seminars, we focused on writing the world. In short, how could we widen narrow classroom confines to positively impact the broader world our learners inhabit?

Manifold Folds in Many Media:

Our TLH scholar cohort is sharing student work on Manifold–a fantastic platform for multimedia:

Shawna Brandle–Choosing How to Write the World: Choose Your Own Adventure Assignments with public-facing outputs. It explores several options students can elect–from blogging on CUNY Academic Commons or personal websites, to teaching their own classes, and translating course materials. Privacy, safety, intellectual property, and licensing are discussed, so anyone adapting these assignments will be able to address ethical questions in their classes. 

Kate Culkin–Writing the World Through Memorials: Students develop projects that memorialize and teach the public about a person or group they identify as critical to understanding American history. This assignment is part of a semester-long investigation of the idea that history is an interpretation, not repetition, of facts and the power dynamics at play in those interpretations. 

Dino Sossi–Institutional Advocacy: Students share government petitions supporting crucial social movements and improved corporate practices to benefit the world.

Yan Yang–Art from My Perspective: Students research artwork from their culture and introduce them in an informative explanation in the style of Smarthistory, the leading art history website. Student writings serve as knowledge sources and example projects for future BMCC art history students.

Writing CUNY, Writing the World:

Talented CUNY learners produce incredibly thoughtful work despite demanding lives. Manifold amplifies vital student voices, celebrates their genius, and inspires them to write the world in their own fashion. Empowerment through the power of words. Hopefully Freire would be proud.

References:

Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (2005). Literacy: Reading the word and the world. Routledge.

Revisit Manifold as students continually submit new resources.

Event Recap: Voice and Vulnerability in the Transformative Classroom with Kiese Laymon

On Wednesday, November 9th TLH hosted the event Voice and Vulnerability in the Transformative Classroom with Kiese Laymon. Fall 2022 Pedagogy Co-Leader Virginia Diaz introduced TLH to the over 200 attendees, and TLH Faculty Co-Director Matt Brim then introduced Laymon.

Senquiz, a TLH Student Advisory Board leader, asked Laymon how to teach history that’s still happening. He responded that he does not know the full answer, but emphasized the importance of asking about what violence means to your students before bringing trauma into the classroom. He critiqued the perspective that we need to protect students from violence, instead sharing that we should get their experience with violence into the space and then move forward from there.

Another Student Advisory Board leader, Renois, asked: how do you teach these tragic race-related events to people of different races? Laymon responded that he doesn’t know the answer to. He noted it demands an exquisite amount of time with each student to do this, in office hours. Laymon’s thoughtful responses and generous admittance of failure showed the importance of acknowledging that we all fail. He shared that we should ask our students, “how can I better love you today?” 

The Zoom chat erupted with comments of feeling validation and identification with what Laymon shared as a teacher and a wealth of love and support for his candor, with messages like, “I am completely blown away by your gut-wrenching honesty and humbleness.” Then we turned to some questions from the audience. In his answers, Laymon highlighted the significance of checking in with students about their needs and what makes them feel happy, full, and safe. We should be honest about times faculty have created spaces that are harmful to students, he said, and know when and how to put boundaries into place. He spoke on rethinking the role of professors as leaders and placing the agency on students to spark deep conversations and to create. In a moment of real vulnerability and humility, Laymon admitted to not having the energy to “go there” or start the fire in the classroom anymore, though, he believes, students do deserve professors willing to do so. The Q&A session ended with Laymon reflecting on his written work, and not his work in the classroom, as his primary means of sharing opinions. In the meeting with the Student Advisory Board following the event, the students thought about Laymon’s theories of revision and being the “student you want to be,” and acknowledging that that can change over time and given external circumstances. 

Recap of Respect the Process: Examining Our Social Justice Perspectives with Dr. Bettina Love

On Wednesday, October 12th TLH hosted the Zoom workshop “Respect the Process: Examining Our Social Justice Perspectives in the Classroom” with Dr. Bettina Love. TLH  Faculty Co-Director Dr. Shelly Eversley introduced Dr. Love, and shared her quote, “Education can’t save us, we must save education.” This set the tone for the event, as Dr. Love shared how we must transform our classrooms into sites of healing. 

Dr. Love shared a quote from James Baldwin’s 1963 speech, “A Talk to Teachers,” in which he articulated how antiracism will be met with resistance as we are in a revolutionary situation. She discussed how many students come to us in “survival mode,” highlighted in her book We Want to Do More Than Survive, and revealed how we must heal and enlighten them, that this must happen before learning can occur. Dr. Love shared her practice of creating a healing classroom, including spending up to the first half an hour of class checking in with students, making sure they feel safe and asking for consent to discuss heavy topics, thus pointing to the importance of teaching and engaging with hard content in a way that is conducive to healing, instead of just creating awareness about Black trauma: “Nothing can happen if they don’t feel safe.” In addition to checking in with student wellbeing, Dr. Love made clear to us that teachers must check in and be okay as well to create such an environment. She discussed heavy topics such as school integration, making clear that such a movement is not over: schools are more segregated now than they’ve ever been since Brown v. Board. Dr. Love highlighted the importance of our interconnectedness and our humanity: abolitionist education is about seeing the humanity in people. She also discussed the sanitizing of civil rights leaders, such as MLK, who was staunchly anti-capitalist, discussing his work with the Poor People’s Campaign. She then emphasized the need for a revolution of values, as material conditions have not changed, though now we have buzzwords being used in DEI initiatives: it’s not about inclusion, we must see Black people as integral to our structures and society, because they are. Classrooms should be spaces to imagine and freedom to dream, she asks that we teach through a lens of Black Joy where we celebrate Black folx. Dr. Love ended her talk with a recording of the poem won’t you celebrate with me by Lucille Clifton.

The question and answer portion saw a lot of engagement and appreciation for Dr. Love’s talk. Someone asked about moving beyond DEI work, and Dr. Love shared that we must investigate our institution’s relationship to the police, and where our universities get money from and what they spend money on: who’s tenure track, who’s adjuncting? Equity means action, DEI is just professional development to support the institution’s brand. 

Dr. Love shared these tools to support healing in the classroom:

  • Check in at the start of class 
  • Prepare a safe space to learn 
  • Understand students’ lives
  • Faculty – Check your ego 
  • Create due dates around students’ schedules/lives
  • Mandatory fun & self care
  • Play and be creative
  • Don’t show Black trauma & death – respect people’s lives
  • Faculty – Be well
  • Faculty – Do no harm
  • Create a community that holds you accountable

Creative Commons Workshop Recap

On Thursday, October 6th, TLH’s Research Assistant and Librarian Grace and CUNY Scholarly Communications Librarian Meg hosted a workshop on Creative Commons licenses for the Fall TLH Fellows. They shared a brief introduction to Creative Commons, which provides a standardized way to share work and grant permission for others to use your work, relevant for TLH Public Knowledge Projects, different academic works, and creative content more broadly. There are several different CC Licenses, (some allow for remixing works, some require noncommercial use, some require the same license be applied) and it’s best to review all the options and decide if a CC license is appropriate, and which is best for your given project. Important considerations include licenses cannot be revoked or changed, and you can specify how you want others to credit you. Meg emphasized it is important to communicate to students that they automatically own the copyright to their work, and from there can decide how and if they want it shared. Grace discussed how it’s important to be clear with students and collaborators on how work will be shared, and to choose together the right license before making a project public, whether it be on CUNY Academic Works, CUNY Academic Commons, or other spaces. Fellows brought interesting questions related to their own past collaborative work, and the group parsed out the differences between public domain, fair use, and Creative Commons. Meg emphasized how granting public permissions to share work can determine what maintains relevance long-term by nature of being allowed to be copied and disseminated. While librarians are not lawyers and copyright in practice is largely shaped by different court case decisions, it is helpful to discuss with librarians and research your rights to your work in order to make informed decisions on how to best share it. 

Fellow Project: Singing in a Strange Land

Organized by Glenn McMillan (Medgar Evers College) with his students. 

In this recorded forum, students discussed an opera arranged by Professor McMillan and the importance of black music around the world, especially for nonmusic majors and lovers. McMillan led a discussion about why Negro Spirituals were so important to the founding of jazz, gospel, and hip hop, and music’s important role in the Civil Rights movement. The forum highlighted student projects on “Soul Train,” “Women in Jazz,” and “Has Gospel Music Changed?” and concluded with some closing remarks on “Four Little Spirits,” and then students were given an opportunity to ask Prof. McMillan about his work. 

Glenn shares on the project, “Stressing unity between the sacred and the profane allowed the students him to embrace all aspects of African American culture, and jazz, blues, and gospel performers. These student based projects combine the music of today with the historical significance of the Middle Passage.  Students share their academic experiences from the global community representing all aspects of musical life.”

2022 TLH Summer Institute Recap

On June 7th TLH held its Summer Institute with the 2022-2023 Faculty Fellows.

Grace Handy (TLH Research Assistant and Librarian) kicked off the institute by introducing TLH leadership with one fun fact about each. You can read more about TLH staff here. Faculty Co-Directors Shelly Eversley and Matt Brim then shared their pedagogical biographies—how and why they arrived here as teachers. This is a great warm up exercise for students, who can submit answers to the prompt “How and Why Did You Come to Be Here?” on a Padlet for all to see and read or in conversation with peers on the first day of class (see example from one of Matt’s class). In addition to sharing their stories about why they became teachers—Matt learning how to teach vis a vis Poor Queer Studies and Shelly embracing love in her classroom to teach with “radical openness”—and what it has been like to teach at CUNY during the pandemic, Shelly emphasized that to choose to love one’s students is a political act and fosters an environment of belonging, value, and care in which the best kind of learning can be made possible. 

Next, it was the Faculty Fellows’ turn to share in a low-stakes collaborative, community building exercise facilitated by Christina Katopodis (Associate Director of TLH) using Mentimeter. Shelly and Matt asked the fellows to share their visions inspired by the “ecstasy” and “teaching and learning without limits” bell hooks discusses in Teaching to Transgress (pp. 201-208). The prompt for the entry ticket was, “In your classes, what makes possibilities happen?” to which the fellows could respond up to 5 times each. Below is the word cloud of their responses. 

This transitioned into a deep listening exercise led by Pedagogy Co-Leader Jason Hendrickson: the fellows were put into breakout rooms with 2-3 people and took turns speaking without interruption for 2 minutes (with a timer set). While one fellow spoke, the other(s) focused on being silent but active listeners. The prompt was, “What is your educational/pedagogical biography or genealogy? How did you get here—how did you arrive here as a teacher?” Following this deep listening exercise, the fellows reflected on the experience of deep listening in a metacognitive activity using Jamboard: 

Fellows also reflected on the exercise in the Zoom chat, some sharing it was too short as they had more to share and connect on with their partners. Next, Jason talked about why deep listening matters and reflection as a means to self-discovery. Then we stopped for a 10-minute break. Meanwhile, Grace played part of a podcast on (Re)Mapping Knowledge created by some of the Spring 2022 Faculty Fellows as their public knowledge project. 

After the break, Jason led us in a Creative DNA exercise inspired by Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, asking us, “How do we find and bring our creativity into our work and life?” Jason shared a clip from The Five Heartbeats and his own creative process: he often finds “valuable thoughts from music, movies and the trash,” which he then can put together and revise. Then we all engaged in five minutes of writing practice, responding to these prompts: 

  • Describe your first creative successful act. 
  • When you work, do you love the process or the result? 
  • Who regularly inspires you? (And why?)

These reflections were just for the Fellows to have for themselves. Next, Shelly shared the reason why we choose these particular books for this year’s TLH curriculum, “to creatively think about how we teach,” and introduced the fellows to Bruce Mau’s 5-Minute Manifesto exercise adapted for teaching at CUNY with the vision of transforming CUNY and higher ed more generally. The fellows worked in a collaborative Google Doc in batches to respond to various writing prompts and begin to construct a collaborative manifesto—one that we will return to at the beginning of the seminars in the 2022-2023 academic year. One fellow described it: “The interface looks kind of like a bunch of worker bees collaboratively/concurrently building a rainbow colored colony!” 

Afterwards, Shelly and Matt reflected on the activity and TLH’s mission for the coming year and beyond. Shelly has used this manifesto activity with her students, and fellows in the 2021-2022 cohorts likewise used this activity in their classrooms (read an example collaborative manifesto project here). Some fellows also shared their thoughts and contributions aloud:

  • Trusting students is most important
  • We can lead our students to do the same thing to share their thoughts
  • Revision means to see it again, re-doing and re-learning is important to our students and ourselves
  • We are learners and always learning
  • Instead of talking about success and failure, we should rethink the meaning and process of learning itself
  • We could think more about how to inspire students to believe themselves rather than focus on their grades and homework 

During the break, Grace shared two slides about TLH’s impact at CUNY and beyond in the first two years of the grant. 

We then played a short, inspiring video by Cathy N. Davidson (Founding Faculty Co-Director of TLH) who talked about the efficacy of active learning in the classroom and her reasons for starting with pedagogy, especially why she uses an anti-hierarchical model in her classroom: to make higher ed more equitable, just, and inclusive. Christina then led a follow-up activity, asking fellows to respond to this question in the chat: “What language do you use to introduce students to anti-hierarchical teaching methods? How are you thinking about upending hierarchies in your own classrooms?” Some responses included:

  • Co-production of knowledge
  • Understanding the classroom as a community
  • Students’ own grading of their performance
  • I use language influenced by Freire, hooks, and Zinn, as examples
  • I ask my students to create a Community Agreement and then ask them for help to improve the whole class
  • Talking with students about standardized English in classrooms and academia — and how languages are hierarchized in these contexts
  • I like to start with a literacy map that traces their important literacy events in life. Then we reflect and discuss them. A question I pose is – did your map reflect standardized testing or a grade?
  • One of the first things I do to show (if not explicitly tell) is to respond to the same introductory discussion prompt I give them (thinking of hooks here — “I do not expect to…share in any way that I would not share” p. 21)
  • Developing own questions and converting them into students’ own assignment
  • I begin by telling them that no person is illegal
  • Peer revision, students teaching one another
  • I have students do three reflections. In the first, they answer the question “How do you define history.” They return to the question at the midterm and the final. There is not a right or wrong answer—they track how their own ideas develop.
  • Tying the learning/knowledge to our everyday lives and critically interrogating our own positionalities

Before breaking into small groups to begin brainstorming potential public knowledge projects inspired by anti-hierarchical transformative teaching methods, Christina introduced some of the logistics about how the projects work. Examples of prior projects on TLH blog: https://transform.commons.gc.cuny.edu/ The fellows then broke out into their public knowledge project groups and worked collaboratively on Jamboard.

Jessica Murray (TLH Director of Digital Communications) followed this activity with an explanation of how TLH uses CUNY Academic Commons groups to facilitate communications between fellows and their cohorts. The main site is Transformative Learning in the Humanities. Grace then shared an example CUNY commons website that one Spring 2022 fellows group created with their students as their public knowledge project—a good example of the versatility of the platform and how it supports collaboration. After Christina answered some questions about the public knowledge projects, the fellows went back into their groups to share syllabus and teaching ideas and discuss how they can practice student-centered, empowered teaching and learning in the coming academic year.

Incoming Pedagogy Co-Leader Virginia Diaz made several announcements about upcoming events in TLH events. The institute was a great opportunity for the Fellows to meet and connect, and begin thinking through their collaborations on transformative teaching and active learning.

Imagining a CUNY without Grades: A Podcast and Manifesto by and for CUNY Students

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.