To learn philosophy, students must be taught the context and conventions of our discipline, be trained in argument evaluation, and learn to apply these skills in philosophical writing. One of the greatest challenges is that incoming students will have had very limited experience with academic philosophy prior to college. Therefore, it is our job to dispel the pop-culture notion of philosophy they bring into the introductory classroom, and arm them with the skills needed to succeed in our discipline.
As teachers, we must introduce our students to the conventions of reading, writing, and arguing in philosophy. Our responsibility goes beyond conveying the content of our field. We must demonstrate the disciplinary standard for digesting, reacting, and making use of that content. These considerations define my teaching.
By modeling the metacognitive process of argument evaluation, I explicitly demonstrate the thought-process for my students. We cannot presuppose that students are familiar with these procedures. We need not only to teach them what the philosophical issues and arguments are, but also how to actively read philosophy, what to pay attention to, and how to respond to arguments and objections.
I teach by scaffolding assignments towards student learning objectives, and providing feedback and opportunities for students to apply that feedback. Scaffolding assignments allows me to lay the foundation for the desired outcome, and makes feedback relevant. Knowing that later assignments build on earlier assignments provides students with the motivation to follow my suggestions. It also ensures that students do not overlook the feedback and go straight to the grade. Between larger assignments, I use small, low-stakes assessments to check in with my students and check their proficiency before moving on. I also assign students to teams, so that they can engage in peer review and receive feedback from one another. Importantly, pairing scaffolded assignments with constructive feedback allows me to course-correct misunderstandings in content, interpretation, and presentation.
In conclusion, my teaching philosophy is defined by three points: Metacognitive modeling, scaffolding, and feedback. I believe that the best way to equip students with the skills needed to succeed in philosophy is to model the thought-processes involved in argument evaluation, philosophical writing, and active reading. Scaffolding assignments allows students to learn about content, conventions, and the context of our discipline incrementally, with regular reinforcement. Last, scaffolding assignments with feedback provides the student with the opportunity to fine-tune their work and demonstrate the progress of their learning. Taken together, these tools can be used to manage one of philosophy’s greatest teaching challenges—the fact that the content of our field presupposes knowledge of disciplinary conventions, context, and skills.