Slow Teaching

Anne Kelsch, our Director of Office of Instructional Development here at the University of North Dakota, sent along a fascinating article on slow pedagogy. As readers of this blog know, I’ve been an advocate of becoming more aware of pace in how we teach. I have made various tweaks in my classes to use change of pace in teaching to lure students to engage material in a more focused way in the classroom and, at the same time, to develop the ability to think quickly and efficiently. That being said, I also value slowing down, maintaining routines, and thinking carefully (such as I can) both in classroom work and in assignments. In fact, I have gradually shortened the length of assignments in my midlevel classes to allow students to focus a bit more on the details of writing than the need to fill changes.

This article, “Determining our Own Tempos” by P. Shaw, B. Cole, and J. Russell appeared in To Improve the Academy 32 (2013) and talked about the value of slowing down and encouraging contemplation during the classroom encounter. (To add to the quaintness of this notion, Anne sent me the article as a photocopy, on paper, in a campus mail envelope rather than as a scan in an email!). The article discussed the context for the “slow” movement extending it from the slow meals phenomenon through slow writing and the larger slow living movement which emphasizes taking pause in our every day life and managing our engagement with the hectic pace of the mass media, the internet, and other so-called distractions.

The most significant take away from this article is the value of creating an
environment where students feel comfortable both in reflecting on their own learning and in thinking carefully about the material or content of the class. While the article provides little direct advice for installing slow learning exercises in the class, they did make refer to some techniques the authors used to create a contemplative and reflective environment for students. Playing music before class that generates a calm environment in the classroom (i.e. not the Meat Puppets), taking some quiet time during class to encourage thorough consideration of an issue, and fostering group discussions that verge on the conversational (rather than the task or goal oriented) all play a role in creating an environment more conducive to deliberate thought than the typical classroom.

The authors then extend their model of slow pedagogy to faculty development. They emphasize the value of quiet conversation, reflective practices, and writing groups to transform what can be a solitary professional existence with one embedded in a community of supportive peers. As the authors note, this will not happen naturally, but has to be cultivated by an environment that supports particular practices.

Whether one buys “slow pedagogy” or even the entire slow movement, there is no doubt that the tempo of life has come under increased scrutiny in the early 21st century. Just this week, for example, I coined the term “slow archaeology” to describe archaeological practices that are deliberately independent of the pace allowed by technology. I see a “slow archaeology” as a antidote to field practices increasingly informed by a Taylorist obsession with efficiency. 

I have also sung the praises of my daily walk home (and it’s beauty here, here, here, here and here). One of the real bummers of this winter is that I am still recovering from a broken leg and I haven’t returned to my daily walking routine. It find that it robs me of valuable time for thinking without the distractions of digital gadgets, human distractions, or even good old fashioned texts. I will do all I can to make sure that daily strolls are part of my life during my sabbatical year. My daily blog writing – usually before 7 am – encourages me to take some quiet time at the start of my day to think through problems, develop a regular practice of writing, and focus as much on producing as consuming digital media. 

Finally, we can all see the reinvigorated interest in craft behind these various slow movements. As our culture slides more and more deeply into the totalizing grasp of late capitalism and audit culture, we increasingly look for opportunities to embrace minimalism, take control of the pace of life, or just tune in by turning off. It is probably too soon to tell whether these practices represent desperate last ditch efforts to preserve our humanity or another chimerical return to “simpler times” mediated by the relentless push of technology. 

One Comment

  1. “Slow archaeology” was the best part of your talk, as it cuts to the core of why we do what we do. Maybe blog that separately–its important. I have similar talks with my (bored) CRM colleagues/technicians, but we didn’t have the vocabulary. Plus with a $$ driven bottom line, we don’t have the larger question of why we do archaeology and whether then means are sometimes the end.


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