Teaching Philosophy - Guiding Principles & Active Learning

When I think back on what has shaped my approach to teaching, I recognize it is a combination of two main things: 1) the desire to help reduce the complexity of an often intimidating process (fashion design & pattern making), and 2) the desire to provide  supportive mentorship to encourage students set goals and work toward achieving them. I had some fantastic teachers along the way, both in and outside of the classroom, which instilled in me the desire to do for others what these incredible mentors had done for me. Chickering & Gamson (1987) identified seven best practices for good teaching in undergraduate education. These include student-faculty contact, cooperation among students, active learning, prompt feedback, time on task, high expectations, and diverse talents and ways of learning. As a student, high expectations from a mentor was one of the most impactful factors in my own success. I carry that experience with me and aim to instill my own students with the confidence to believe that they, too, can achieve great success both within and outside the classroom.


My teaching philosophy includes three key goals. First, I aim to deliver content in a way that resonates with the different learning styles of our students and encourages them to engage more deeply with the content. I am an enthusiastic advocate of active learning (AL) strategies and strive to employ AL exercises as much as possible in my classes. Research has shown that student attention declines after 15-20 minutes (McKeachie, 2014; Bligh, 2000). Luckner & Nadler (1997) demonstrated that AL is more effective than passive learning (i.e. lecture style) and that students retain information longer when gained through active learning methods. I feel it is therefore critical to involve students as active participants in the learning process to help them unlock a deeper understanding of course content. I first initiated this approach in FSN 101, Textiles I, where I added interactive games based on popular TV game shows. These trivia games covered the previous lecture’s content and students were given up to two bonus marks on their midterm or final exam (whichever was next) for participating and getting the correct answers. In the FSN 101 lab classes, which are smaller at approximately 26 students per section, I recently introduced lap-sized looms for students to engage more closely with the weave process for the lessons that focused on basic weaves. Positive feedback in my Faculty Course Surveys over the years as well as verbal comments from students has reinforced how much the students enjoy these activities as well; it’s something that I hope to continue to improve upon in coming years.


In FSN 120, I employed a think-pair-share activity, which involved students forming pairs, thinking about a sample pattern design together and collaborating to solve it, and then sharing their results with the class. This encouraged students to work together and learn from each other, which provided a different form of content delivery and made the learning more personal and collaborative. I found it particularly effective with quieter students who refrained from asking me questions in front of the class but were more comfortable asking their peers.


My second teaching goal is to personalize my students’ learning by considering their individual needs, learning styles, and circumstances, and by being available to them outside the classroom during counselling hours, by appointment, or through other communication methods like phone or email. I consider myself somewhat of a filter between complex concepts and the student; I have the incredible privilege to manage the way students receive information, which can help diffuse anxiety. I prefer an approachable, easygoing demeanour in the classroom. This approach has led me to a very transparent and open teaching style; I am honest with my students, I admit if I’ve made a mistake, and I’m flexible where I am able to accommodate their individual circumstances. For instance, I am happy to arrange counselling hours outside of regular office hours. Last year I spent extra time with a student who was on the verge of failing pattern drafting in order to bring them up to speed on the course content. Happily, their efforts paid off and they ended up turning their grades around and passing the course.


Accommodating students’ individual needs also extends to their personal environment outside the classroom. As an instructor, I recognize that it is often those who are missing class, or struggling with the content who would benefit most from such consideration. I try to conduct myself fairly with my students keeping in mind that they are not all working from the same starting point – many have advantages they do not even realize, including things as seemingly simple as being able to speak English fluently, or having a stable home life. For others, things like a language barrier, struggles with writing, or managing a schedule where they must work at least one part-time job in order to pay bills and afford to be in school can impact their performance greatly. Through transparency in my teaching and consideration of the diverse nature of the student experience, I strive to create situations from which students will walk away with a feeling of having been treated fairly, especially when the outcome is not favourable (such as a poor score on a test).


Finally, my third goal is to keep the material relevant and focused in the classroom so that lessons are concise and effective for the students. Most students today have access to the Internet at all times thanks to smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers. To leverage this technologically charged environment for the benefit of their education, I have aimed to create a blended classroom environment in my courses, offering content online that provides further details on lecture topics (sometimes including a full lecture or visual demonstration of a sewing technique), practice exercises (for courses such as FSN 120 and the pattern drafting component), and additional resources to help students navigate course material. Recently, I hosted the FSN 101 midterm on D2L, which reduced the preparation time and cost of duplication services, and allowed students to view the results of their test immediately.


In conclusion, I believe teaching is a journey in learning. This year I completed the University Teaching and Development Program (UTDP) through the Learning Teaching Office. One of the most significant takeaways from this program was the weekly reflection we were required to complete. These reminded me how valuable reflexivity is in teaching; it allows me as an instructor to unpack my experience to gain insight and transform future experiences. I have since implemented opportunities for students to perform reflexivity in class through various methods, including the Ticket Out the Door technique and the Campfire Reflection (see p. 10-11). Providing opportunities to write a short reflection at the end of class encourages students to think upon their own learning experience to make deeper connections with the material. It also allows me to review my lesson delivery based on their responses, and update my strategy accordingly to provide the most effective classroom experience possible. I continue to be motivated and inspired by my students, my peers, and the innovative learning environment at Ryerson to strive to continually improve my skills to meet the diverse and changing needs of the students.

Kirsten Schaefer / T 647.678.5528 / contact@kirstenschaefer.ca / © 2019 by Kirsten Schaefer