Pedagogy of Hope
“The obsession with what is better remains, even when what is better has been prevented for so long. When what is wished for arrives, it surprises us anyway.”
– Ernst Bloch, Principle of Hope Vol. 1, 42
My teaching philosophy is based on hope in the way German philosopher Ernst Bloch frames it: as the sole principle that coordinates all of life. First and foremost, I enter the composition classroom hoping to show students how the mastery of written language can help them reach the goals they have set for themselves. Without this practical grounding, my students will flounder in an arts class that otherwise would not affect their studies. Beyond the application to individual academic pursuits, I hope to demonstrate that writing is a way to encounter the world. I facilitate a class of peers who review each other’s ideas and lend opinions and criticisms to papers and research topics. In this process, students are often surprised at how their initial ideas change as a result of collaboration with classmates. To clarify how I strive to reach these goals, I will focus on my three chief responsibilities in this process: assigning, responding, and assessing.
While I understand that each school has its own curriculum requirements, I structure my class with several low stakes assignments that scaffold the process of sustained writing projects, culminating in a portfolio that is a large percentage of the final grade. The low stakes assignments identify a research question and conduct the basic research to write on the student’s topic in a structured system that culminates in the parts of a successful paper. The portfolio requires students to focus on their conscious editing choices in revising papers, which is further enforced by a reflection essay on the process of writing and revising to enhance students’ metacognition of their writing process. This framework can be easily adapted to any curriculum design.
The response to student writing should be in proportion to the stakes of the assignment. For low stakes assignments, marking every last error on the paper would easily lead to frustrated writers, so I respond instead with use of a rubric with comments for each section that does not “exceed expectations.” These rubrics are meant to give the writer an idea of what needs to be revised for the portfolio project and subsequent writing assignments. On the high stakes assignment, I highlight areas that need revision and ask questions of their argument, the flow of the paper, or of word choice issues that need to be addressed to improve for the portfolio.
My assessments are also arranged by low versus high stake assignments. My low stake assignments are graded by a rubric with three options: exceeds expectations, meets expectations, and needs improvement. The expectation is that a B student will write a paper that is logically consistent with minimal digressions, use little informal language, and make only a few grammatical errors. The bulk of my grading, though, comes from the final portfolio project detailed above. Part of the portfolio assignment is a reflection paper, which allows the student to join me in assessing the final products. If a student can defend their editorial choices against my suggestions or their peers’, I take that into account as I grade their revisions. By including this reflection, I hope to direct students to a better understanding of their conscious editorial decisions, which I hope will aid them as they continue their studies to write in other genres for other disciplines.
Composition of Hope
“The Authentic in man and in the world is outstanding, waiting, lives in fear of being frustrated, lives in hope of succeeding.”
– Ernst Bloch, Principle of Hope Vol. I, 246
Amid the complaints that students are no longer able to write or are no longer able to think critically, I hold a less popular view: that students are full of hope. Each of our students has a vision for their life and, quite possibly, for the world. Our job as teachers is not only to help them understand how to express these hopes by giving them the technical skills of communication but also to allow them an active role in their own education. This type of critical pedagogy is student-centered, allowing the student freedom in choosing topics and giving them a voice in the grading process. Students are never written off as failures; instead, their work is always in progress until the necessary revisions have been made to produce a good essay or a good research paper.