Connecting the Dots

I did a master in applied mathematics at Virginia Teach. I was a teaching assistant helping students understanding class material, answering their questions, and sometimes grading their exams. During the last semester in my masters’ program, I had the opportunity to teach my own class. There was a mentor for the class, and several other teaching assistants who were teaching the same class. We meet regularly, we follow the same pattern, same exams, same lessons’ plans, but everyone was responsible about preparing his own lectures, homework assignments and grading. I was very happy to teach, since that was the first time I do what I was dreaming to be: a higher education teacher.

Taking the contemporary pedagogy class changed my view about teaching. It opened my eyes to new concepts which I didn’t think about them before. It raised a lot of questions in my mind and kept me think deeply about what is teaching? How can we teach effectively? What should we consider in our teaching methodologies (diversity, inclusion, learner-centered, technology,…)? How can we assess students’ learning: assessment VS grading? It showed me the importance of critical pedagogy, the importance of problem-based learning and a lot of other interesting things.

Certainly, all of this, will help me improve my teaching style and will keep me continuously looking for strategies and ideas to become a better teacher.


This subject is so important and complicated. Our performance was measured by grades since primary school; and now, we are grading other students. Is grading a good or bad thing? Does it really reflect the student’s performance? I have taught some students who understand the material and participate in class; but they don’t do well in tests, so they don’t get good grades but they are learning! Can we say that they are not good students while they are the best learners? Isn’t it contradictory?

Alfie Kohn stated three different drawbacks of assessment, which I agree with. He said “Grades tend to diminish students’ interest in whatever they’re learning” because they are gonna be focused on grades more than learning.  Second, he said “Grades create a preference for the easiest possible task”. This means that, students choose the easiest project rather than the most challenging one in order to get good grades. Also, he said ” Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking”. During class, instead of thinking about constructive questions that make them understand better the material, they are thinking if the material will be on the test.

Another grading drawback is the ranking! I have studied in Tunisia, and I can see the difference compared to US. Instead of letter grades, we have numeric grades and GPA, but what matters is the rank! The difference between the first student in the class and the second one, could be one or two points in a math exam. At the end of the year, they give prizes only to the first and second students in the class. If you are the third, and as excellent as the others; sorry! No prize for you! This motivates the third to work hard and beat the other two. But the motivation is not about learning, it is only about winning!

I really don’t like this grading system. But at the same time I don’t know what could be the alternative? If there is no grading, and at the same time no learning motivation (because students are obliged to take classes even if they don’t like), students will loose interest in class. They will be absent all the time and learn nothing. How can we assess them then? May be the problem is not only about the assessment strategy, but also about choosing subjects and classes. Shall we force the students to take classes they are not interested in, or shall we give them freedom in choosing all the classes. If we should let them choose their own classes, at what age should be that? Will they be mature enough to make good choices?

Engaging the Imaginations of Digital Learners

Motivation is very important to increase the learning ability on the student. The idea of the “Quest to Learn” school seems interesting in triggering the kids imagination. Digital learning keeps the kids excited and interested to learn more. We have a very known proverb saying “Teach the kids while they are playing”; it is very effective and beneficial for them. However, exposing them to digital screens all the day could pose other problems; like the lack of socializing with other kids, eye problems …

It is true that lectures could be very boring, but for me two factors could help in getting the student’s attention. The first one is that the student is really interested in the subject (like grad students who are working on a research problem related to the class content). The second one is that the instructor is really talented, knowledgeable and energetic. If the student got motivated, I think that there is no need for phone or laptop ban during the class.

Networked Learning

I personally believe that using technology for teaching is really beneficial for teachers and students. Technology (like i Clicker, online classes, Zoom, canvas, …) makes the life easier and creates a better learning environment.  However using blogging is new for me.  I am discovering how powerful it is and like Seth Godin and Tom Peters said, it is “a life changing” and “you are doing it to force yourself to be a part of a conversation”. and that’s really what I feel when writing my first blog.

On the other side, I think that technology should be consumed in moderation in order to keep the real world relationship  between people (or also between the student and the teacher). Some students will not be able to blog about a personal situation. However, if they tell the teacher about it, he could help them do better in their life and in his class. I like the TEDx talk by Michael Wesch, who each time took the lunch with one of his students, that was a life changing for them!