One of the challenges of teaching college students is that they arrive in my classroom with some ingrained academic habits. I’ll ask them to give an example of something, or react to what an author wrote, and they’ll *tell* me what the author says. I’ll tell them, “Don’t tell me what the author says … I know what the author says. I’ve read this about 47 times. What I want to know is, what do *you* say? How do you apply these ideas in your own life?” They are often stumped, because they are used to summarizing what others have written, rather than expressing their own interpretation of it.
I also find that college students often struggle with the idea of “studying.” Young people often have not been taught how to engage with ideas in a way that leads to recall and deep understanding. They’re good at memorizing, but that’s not what critical thinking is about. So my challenge is to help them think more deeply, and to make the classroom a safe place to do that.
My mantra has always been, “I’m not here to teach you what to think, but HOW to think.” I stand by those words. I once had a student who seemed very angry about one of the readings for class, and he sat with his arms crossed and a stormy expression on his face. When I invited him to speak, he revealed that he disagreed with the author’s contentions. “That’s fair,” I said. “Tell us why.” It took him awhile to articulate his position, but he seemed to feel better after he did.
Later, he told me he’d been upset because he thought I was advocating for the author’s point of view by assigning the reading. I explained that I assigned that particular reading because it was a good foundation for discussion of our particular topics that day, but that it was okay to disagree with it. In fact, it was more than okay, because it showed a level of deep engagement with, and critical thinking about, the material.
I want my students to get every ounce of good out of the college experience. In my classroom, it’s not about memorizing lists or summarizing what others have written. Yes, we need to work from a shared vocabulary, but that’s just the beginning of learning to be an engaged citizen of the world.
I hope I can bring them a step closer to that.