Does she really want us to call her “Susan” and not “Dr. Spangler”?
call me Susan. I have a Ph.D., I am a “doctor,” but I want you to call
me Susan. Do not call other professors by their first name unless they
tell you to do so. I am telling you to do so. It is a conscious
My teaching philosophy and the conscious pedagogical choices I make are
based on social constructivist theory, which holds, among other things,
that knowledge is created when people come together and share their
ideas. I believe that we are all developing teachers, all equals in
that regard, and the title of “Dr.” undermines the environment that I
would like to create in the classroom. I want to create an environment
in which we all feel comfortable taking risks, speaking our minds, and
exploring opportunities as they present themselves to us.
I try to be transparent in my teaching. That is, I try to explain exactly where my approach and
methods come from philosophically. I think it’s important in an
education classroom, especially when I am practicing the kind of
pedagogy our program wants you to internalize and practice yourself. If
you don’t understand why you are doing something, why the class is
operating as it is, or why I am acting (or not acting) as I am, please
ask me. By the end of the semester, it is my hope that you will better
understand what a constructivist classroom is and how it operates. You
may not agree with the way I do things, but I hope you will understand
that everything I do is consistent with my teaching philosophy.
Why is the only grade for this class a portfolio?
As a social constructivist, I believe that knowledge is created by
people in dialogue with each other. I do not believe in one-shot
assignments with no chance for revision, that learning
occurs in many settings, not just in the classroom, and that
learning will continue to occur after an assignment is complete or a
semester is over. Portfolios give learners the maximum time possible to
show evidence of their learning, and thus it is a conscious
pedagogical choice to use portfolios for assessment.
I also believe that grades should reflect growth during a semester and
the total work a person completes, not just an average of individually
graded assignments. Portfolios provide teachers with an
opportunity to assess growth, revision, and learning processes
throughout a semester. Portfolios allow for reflection,
student choice, and long-term assignments. Portfolio
assessment is also currently considered “best practice” in teaching for
the reasons I have listed above.
Why doesn't Susan weight her assignments like everyone else?
Let's take a moment to look at a typical
course grading system:
Reading Responses 20%
Paper 1 20%
Paper 2 30%
Culminating Project 20%
kind of system does not appeal to me for several reasons. First,
it allows students to selectively fail certain parts of the course.
For example, if the student makes an A on every assignment in the above
course before the
final project, the student could choose not to complete it (or just do
shoddy work) and achieve a
passing grade. I feel that the assignments in my courses are all
worthy of completion, they all help the student demonstrate course
goals, they all deserve the students' best work
no matter what grade is finally assigned. By not weighting
assignments, I encourage students to do their best on all the
assignments. Second, the system is inauthentic. In most
professions, like in teaching, people are evaluated, promoted, or given
raises based on overall performance. Of course, if one
messes up on one big task, he/she may be fired, but the same is true for
a person who does poorly on all tasks. Promotions rarely occur
because of doing well on one big task, but rather on outstanding
performance in a number of areas. Third, the system is arbitrary.
Why is one paper worth 20% and the other 30%? Does the student
learn more from one paper than the other? Are more course goals
met by one paper over another? Probably not. Further, why is
participation only worth 10% of the grade and the paper worth 20%.
I could argue that because students are expected to participate every
day of class, it should be worth much more. Students work on a
paper for only a limited time. Finally, the instructor shows what
he or she values in a course with this system. The instructor in
the above course values reading and writing over speaking, and one-shot
assignments (paper) over daily assignments (participation), as is
traditional in academia. I value all the talents of my
students, and I value all the work they do equally. Sometimes
students get mad because I refuse to validate the "commonsense" approach
to assignments like they are used to, and that's ok. I have
articulated my reasons for designing my courses as I do.
Why aren’t there clear grading standards for this class?
Ah, but there are clear standards, which are plainly stated on
the portfolio rubric for the course. The standards correspond with
course goals and objectives and, in some cases, with NCTE standards.
The standards are there from day 1 of class, or in some cases they are
negotiated with the class members, and all you have to do is
read them in order to understand how your work will be assessed during
the semester. Through my responses to multiple drafts of your work, you
will clarify your understanding of the standards and my high
expectations for the quality of your work. My advice is to take
advantage of the portfolio system and revise your work until you are
satisfied with its quality.
Why does it seem like I’m doing all the work and the teacher is doing
constructivist philosophy means that the classroom operates in certain
ways. For example, you will never see me lecturing you, giving you
quizzes, or assigning you things against your will. Perhaps contrary to
your belief, teachers do not have a monopoly on knowledge. They don’t
transmit discreet units of information to be tested and then forgotten.
People who believe that “teaching is telling” will have a hard time with
this kind of class environment. Some believe that a teacher isn’t
“teaching” unless there are tests, grades, and a lot of lecturing. If
you are one of those people, then this class will confuse you a lot.
You may not think I’m teaching, that I’m “disorganized,” or that I am
purposely withholding information from you when, in fact, I’m
encouraging you to construct the knowledge for yourself and find ways to
make the class useful to you. The way that you do that is to use the
knowledge actively, not sit passively to be spoon-fed by me. Thus,
constructivists learn by doing. Be reassured that there is a
conscious pedagogical decision behind everything that happens in the
classroom. If I don’t tell you what it is, I hope you will ask.
Why can't we just take a quiz on the readings instead of responding all
Taking a quiz is inconsistent with
constructivist teaching philosophy. First, if I gave you a traditional
closed-book quiz, I would be testing your memory, and not reading
your response (which I'm more interested in) to the reading.
Second, a quiz would treat the information as discrete bits of data that
could be transferred from one person to another through "telling," which
is consistent with the banking theory of pedagogy. Again, I'm more
interested in your response to the reading. Third, answers would be
"correct" or "incorrect" on a traditional quiz, reinforcing the banking
theory. In short, I am asking you to construct meaning from what
you read and to participate in sharing your ideas with others.
Why doesn't Susan believe in giving
See the notes
on my presentation, "'Get out a blank sheet of
paper," for the answer.