Category Archives: Pedagogy

This category discusses pedagogical practices associated with core curricula.

From Peanuts to Plato: It’s Troglodytes All the Way Down

charliebrown“Education tries to redirect the psyche appropriately” (Plato)

Charles Schulz (d. 2000) is famous for his daily comic strip Peanuts. This strip follows the melancholy adventures of Charlie Brown, a boy growing up in a small town with a dog and a band of friends. A small, but recurring, character in the comic is a teacher. The iconic voice of the teacher, burned into the neurons of more than one generation weaned on Peanuts television specials, is an unintelligible, garbled mess of “Wah, wah, wah wah.” Whatever one thinks about Charles Schulz and his comic, he got the auditory reception of students to teachers, and therefore professors, correct. What is professed is received as unintelligible, garbled nonsense.

Turning from Schulz to Plato provides some philosophical gravitas to Schulz’s playful observation. Whether Schulz knew it or not, he was channeling one of the most well-known sections of Platonic dialogue, The “Allegory of the Cave.” Continue reading From Peanuts to Plato: It’s Troglodytes All the Way Down

Pilgrims on the Cam

The Canterbury Pilgrims by William Blake (1757 - 1827)
The Canterbury Pilgrims by William Blake (1757 – 1827)

You are about to read a poem, below, modeled on a core text, The Canterbury Tales by the 14th century celebrated Middle English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer’s original sequence of tales features a Host/Narrator/Pilgrimage leader, in Chaucer’s famous Prologue, who proposes that each pilgrim tell two tales each, coming and going, to pass the tedium of travel. Cycles of tales in medieval Europe were popular, and for today’s students, the concept is easy to grasp and manageable to imitate.

In Fall 2015 Concordia University Irvine began its Concordia Cambridge Program offering students general education and elective options in affiliation with Westfield House and Cambridge University. Continue reading Pilgrims on the Cam

See the Poem, Be the Poet, See the Poem Again

This is the first post of a two-part essay on the pedagogy of poetic imitation.

As the Lead Professor for Concordia University Irvine’s Core English 201: World Literature to the Renaissance, I try to vary the papers I assign each semester, both as a way of discouraging cheating and as a means of staying sane. About three years ago, I came upon a new idea—new for me, that is—that would allow the students to be more creative while helping them understand that most basic block of good poetry, and of writing in general: diction.

Students often take for granted the existence of works of art, as if the poets or painters behind them were not real humans who struggled to compose their pieces or who made difficult choices along the way. Continue reading See the Poem, Be the Poet, See the Poem Again

A Guided Approach to Reading in Core Biology

This is the second post in a series on developing close reading habits in a freshmen Core Biology course.

Like in all core classes, students in Core Biology read scholarly literature rather than textbooks or popular literature. The goal is to read for enlightenment rather than simply information. Taken together, this means every text should be an opportunity for the reader to think critically and reflect on their beliefs. As described in the previous post, this was not what we observed when the students were left to their own devices.

In light of this, we developed a short guide to reading and writing Core Biology based on what we in the department personally do and what other scholars describe doing while reading. Continue reading A Guided Approach to Reading in Core Biology

You Can Lead a Student to the Library, But You Can’t Make Them Read, or Can You?

This is the first post in a series on developing close reading habits in a freshmen Core Biology course.

Student at His Desk-Melancholy (1633) by Pieter CoddeWhen we started doing original text reading in freshmen Core Biology, students had a devil of a time trying to understand a text like Summa Theologica.  In fact, students were having a difficult time reading and understanding just about any original text we threw at them (e.g., Plato’s Meno, Chapter 1 in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Darwin’s Origin of Species, etc.). Granted, the texts they struggled with were not easy texts to read, but comprehension was being replaced by full retreat from attempting to understand even after the first reading assignment was given. Students did not know how to tackle a text that did not have the 3 characteristics they look for in a book: short, simple, and shocking. After a long period of time we finally started to realize what the problem was. Continue reading You Can Lead a Student to the Library, But You Can’t Make Them Read, or Can You?

Asking the Right Questions

“A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.” -Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

The questions we ask determine both the quality of information we receive, and how applicable it is to the problem at hand. When I was a teenager, if I was coming home late at night and my mother asked, “Where have you been?” I could answer, “With friends.” This could allow me to answer a simple question with a shallow answer and dart up to my bedroom. If my mother were to ask, “With whom did you go out, and what did you do while you were gone?” I would either have to make up an answer, or tell the truth and live with the consequences.

In our Core History courses at Concordia University Irvine, we stress asking the right questions.  Continue reading Asking the Right Questions