Making Time for Listening Dyads in the Classroom

One of the challenges of teaching is struggling to find time–the time you need to lesson plan and prepare for your classes, to cover material you’ve included on your course syllabi, to support students, create and grade assignments, and so on and on.

Teachers are pressed for time. This is hardly a new revelation. And yet, because the minutes we have in the classroom with our students are precious, I am writing here to argue for making time–for listening dyads (as the title of this post suggests), but also for what motivates them, a commitment to building an inclusive community in your classrooms that ensures everyone’s voices are heard.

In the Futures Initiative we discuss the importance of practices like this through the concept of structuring equality. It is an idea that recognizes the value hierarchies and conditions of social inequity that underwrite higher education and the broader material worlds in which we live. To enact meaningful transformation therefore requires more than good intentions; it entails actively building structures for equality and inclusion in our classrooms, the sites where we–as teachers–have the most immediate impact.

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Reflections on Writing about My Pedagogy

I recently presented a talk, “‘Arts of Noticing’: On Creating Breathing Room for Dissent,” as part of a roundtable discussion on Pedagogies of Dissent for Asian American Studies. I wrote up a detailed recap of the event on the Futures Initiative blog, so for this post I wanted to share some reflections on the process of writing about my pedagogy.

Although I have prepared numerous conference presentations before, they were all focused on my research rather than my teaching; and while I’ve written statements of teaching philosophy (mainly for job applications), this was the first time I had to deliver remarks on my pedagogy in such a public way. I twas difficult to know how and where to start.

The experiences I gained over the years teaching at a range of different institutions, with students of diverse socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, blurred together and felt too overwhelming to articulate clearly, in a way that would resonate with my potential listeners. I knew I had to offer up my personal reflections on encounters with students in the classroom carefully so they could open up, rather than foreclose, conversation about pedagogy as a practice of dissent.

Knowing this forced me to pause and really think hard about my teaching. Eventually, the strategy I came up with was to treat the preparation for this talk as a kind of course in itself. I asked myself how I would normally approach teaching a class on Asian American literature and the feelings of doubt and uncertainty dissipated. I was on familiar ground.

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Research, Teaching

How Google Docs Changed My Life

The title of this post might be a bit hyperbolic, but I really do mean it. I have been using Google Docs on-and-off for the past few years, mostly as a way of collaborating with other graduate students to organize events and share meeting notes. But it wasn’t until this past summer when I opened up a fresh Google Doc to begin drafting the second chapter of my dissertation that I began to realize its amazing capabilities.

One of the main reasons why I decided to try writing in Google Docs was because I was getting frustrated by the amount of clutter in the massive dissertation file I created on Scrivener. Since I’m the kind of person who is always trying to find more effective ways of organizing my research and writing, a program like Scrivener seemed like a godsend- It offers a way of collecting drafts and research materials and notes into different folders as well as the option to split your screen in two so you can edit one document while reviewing another, not to mention tons of features that I have not yet learned how to use. But the main drawbacks to Scrivener, at least for me, was the complexity of the layout (a dizzying amount of buttons and lists) and the tediousness of having to constantly convert my files to share with non-Scrivener users. Google Docs solved these dilemmas beautifully.

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Mentoring, Teaching

On Meaningful Dialogue and “Being-With”

Today I participated in my first dissertation group meeting of the semester. As always, the experience of being in it reminds me of the pleasures of intellectual collaboration, especially coming out of a long winter break punctuated by slow, torturous attempts to get myself to “really” write. Although today’s conversation centered around two specific (and super exciting) prospectuses, what I found most exhilarating about the discussion was the affective energy it generated which felt something like Jose Munoz’s sense of “being-with.”

This feeling of togetherness, I believe, comes from a shared stake in meaningful dialogue, making the conversation matter to the people’s whose work we engage, but also to ourselves- the questions that pique our curiosities and drive our research. The best discussions for me are the ones where I not only contribute something useful to push someone else’s thinking, but also where I am pushed and pulled in return. This post is an attempt to capture the ineffable quality of these kinds of dialogues, which happen all too infrequently. Here are a few of the things today’s conversation invited me to reflect on more deeply:

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Mentoring, Teaching

On Letter Writing

Writing letters is something I do a lot in my teaching and for the dissertation working groups I am involved in. I find that composing a letter allows me to really be in conversation with someone, whether it is explaining to a student how to craft a stronger argument and read more deeply into the text, or offering suggestions for a colleague’s chapter or article revision. I like giving others something concrete to hold on to when they return to their own writing to begin the difficult process of re-thinking and re-crafting. After all, so much gets lost, forgotten, or misremembered in verbal communication before we find the energy to reflect and revise. The form of a letter also helps me organize my thoughts; it forces me to think hard about what someone is trying to accomplish through their work. Writing out what I understand their paper or project to be doing gives me a chance to make sense of what is there, but also what needs to be added, elaborated on, or cut out and saved for another occasion.

Only recently have I begun to apply letter writing to the seminars and public lectures I attend. On one hand, I’m surprised that I did not think of this sooner, but on the other, I guess I’ve always thought that my letters should be for people to whom I’m qualified to give advice, mentorship and support. I have come to realize, however, that letter writing is about creating a common ground, a space for dialogue. Because I spent so much time this semester composing letters for the peers in my dissertation workshops and writing groups, I decided to experiment with this practice in seminar discussions where the people whose work I was reading and to whom I’d be writing would not necessarily be there to receive my letters.

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