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Conversation #13: Transition

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Alexios Moore

A conversation with Alexios Moore of Xavier University of Louisiana on teaching, learning, and the future of this podcast.

In academia sometimes we tend to hunker down and settle within our institutions, and I think it's really important to initiate conversations with folks that are in other institutions that are dealing with some of the same issues that we all share, both within and without the classroom.

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Elizabeth Hammer: Today I am interviewing Alexios Moore. Alexios Moore is a narrative fiction writer, a essayist whose work primarily focuses on identity, culture, and the environment. His work has been published his work has been published in various print including online journals including Post Road and HOW journals where he is the contributing editor. He currently teaches in the english department at Xavier University of Louisiana. I am happy to announce today that he is going to be the new host of our podcast, Teaching, Learning, and Everything else. When we envisioned this podcast, we thought it would be nice to have a rotating host so that so that different perspectives could be represented and different questions can be asked. And we are delighted that Alexios is taking on that new role. So this interview is a transitional interview. We thought we would introduce him to you the listeners, and also to see what he has in store for this season of the podcast. Good morning Alexios.

Alexios Moore: Good morning and thank you so much for having me.

Hammer: I’m glad. Thank you for taking on this project. I think you’ll find it very beneficial. It has been such a great way to meet different people who are  interested in teach and learning across the nation. So I do look forward to turning it over to you. Let me start by asking you, why are so interested in doing this podcast in the first place? Why did you answer this call?

Moore: Well I think some of the reasons that are implied is it is an opportunity to get to know colleagues and what they are doing terms of pedagogy and research around the country. In academia, we sometimes tend to hunker down and settle in our institutions. And I think it’s really important to initiate conversations with folks from other institutions that  are dealing with the issues we all share both in and out the classroom.

Hammer: And I think you will find it neat and I’m interested to see what neat perspectives you bring to these. I know when I would interview, one of the things I was curious about, and I am looking forward to seeing what you’re curious about. So I just want to know what characterizes your teaching style? What are your thoughts and philosophies on teaching?

Alexios Moore: Well I think that my philosophy has really evolved over the years. I started off as a high school teacher in my early twenties and I think a lot of what I do in an undergraduate classroom is really informed by what I learned from the rigorous practice of high school teaching where you’re teaching five classes a day and wrestling with different types of learners. And so I think that’s really informed how I operate within my undergraduate classroom. I tend to be a little more performative. And I think I tend to really consider the level of engagement my students are operating at in the classroom. And one of the big questions I’m always asked is how do I keep my students engaged and how do I keep the spark of inquiry alive? And because I think that a lot of students see coming to school and the classroom as kind of job or a road exercise. And I think and most research shows in order for you to become an intrinsic thinker you have to have some type of motivation. So I really try and structure my classroom and the activities to kind of nurture that spark and put the onus upon my students to find that engagement. I mean for me within text, or find places of engagement within those projects built around those text and to follow their own path of inquiry within text and within their own research.

Hammer: And you mentioned a couple of times “spark of inquiry” and I like that. I like that image that comes up with that. I want to know can you expand on that and tell me what does that look like in your classroom? How do you know they have that spark?

Moore: I think within that discussion you could recognize when students are really interested. So one, within discussion and observing engagement. Secondly, when you present them with a prompt or project or even with math when you present them with a certain problem, how excited are they and how original are they in their thinking and how anxious and energized are they by that challenge? But to go back to your question, the answer to that is I look for originality in thinking within a response or a paper. And that is kind of the hallmark of the spark of inquiry. But I think that question, I don’t think I fully resolve for myself. And I think that that is a future topic to pursue in a future podcast.

Hammer: Yes. as teachers we certainly do recognize. I don’t think I have ever used that phrase but I can picture what that feels like and it’s always a good day in class when that happens.

Moore: Yeah and in English we always talk about text to self and ideally text to world connections. And so that’s one way of extending the metaphor. To encourage the spark to grow is to encourage students to make text to self or text to world connections. Right now we are reading a densely emotional  and poetic novel titled We the Animals by Justin Torre and it’s about the meaning of family and love and abuse, addiction and identity. And I paired it with some psychological research about abuse and some Bell Hooks that looks at the relationship between love and corporal punishment. So today we had a really ethical and engaging discussion about corporal punishment. About whether or not corporal punishment is compatible with love and what connections can we make to the Bell Hooks arguments and the attacks.  And I found that the students were really engaged in making those connections because they could see themselves relating to these as a child in this rhetorical text by Bell Hooks and then relate back to the characters in the novel we are reading.

Hammer: How nice. So having that meaningfulness is really important. So I’m changing gears for a second. One thing when we first thought envisioning this we thought okay where does teaching and learning intersect with all of these different expertise and  so I was wondering with this title, Teaching, Learning and Everything else, what is your “everything else”? What is it you bring to the classroom that is uniquely you and how does it intersect with your teaching and learning?

Moore: Well I think that I’ve always seen education in the context of building community in social justice issues. So I think that one of the things I bring is critical eye to macro societal issues and how they influence what goes on in the classroom. So  how do we see the achievement gap which gets discussed a lot in reference to secondary schools, how are we trying to mitigate the achievement gap within our own classrooms. How do we develop a community orientation and a strong sense of ethics in our students? How do we develop a sense of self analysis and self criticism and metacognition within our students? So I think that I just kind of switched from a macro connect to some of the ways they manifest in the classroom. But I think I’m more interested in this idea how undergraduate institutions interact with the larger world and then zooming in on the students themselves and how the classroom perceives that outer world and operates in it. And that can be from becoming familiar with critical race theory or as simple as thinking critically about whether you can work 30-40 hours a week and still be a full time student which is a very practical conversation because I just had it this morning.  

Hammer: Yeah. so these are things that can happen on a institution level, on a classroom level, that sort of thing?

Moore: Yeah I mean, they’re kind of a complex web of communication, economics, culture and individual identity. And I like to isolate and discuss them with the people that are really taking a tight research based focus on it. And I haven’t mentioned technology at all which is one of the topics we will be engaging in in one of our future podcast.  

Hammer: Well that kind of leads into my next question. I wonder if you could preview some of the upcoming topics you hope to cover.

Moore: One of them is speaking on larger societal transformations and their effect on undergraduate learning and institutions in general. We’re going to look at the shift from print media to digital media and the impact on the classroom. And I think that this topic really does reflect this dynamic between larger economic technological shift and how does it manifest in our classroom. So we are seeing a huge shift from print to digital media and obviously newspapers and shorter media formats have already migrated and longer text have began to migrate, how do we associate that in the classroom? Can we think about ourselves as instructors and say am I an early adopter? Am I going to jump on this right away and is this beneficial to our students? Economically certainly it is easier, it’s cheaper, and they aren’t going to throw their backs out slapping books around everyday. But do we engage digital text as much as we engage print text? I’m really interested in that question especially since it’s one of the primaries I try to get my students into is annotation. So that’s certainly one of the questions. A question connected to that one would be the presence of computers in the classroom. Are they a distractor? Are they a facilitator? What are some of the different policies instructors engage?

Hammer: Especially now that students are taking notes on them. In the past and I’ve seen some early data about the laptops in the classroom being a distractor and so I said okay I’m going to go with this and say no laptops in the classroom. But now everybody well not everybody but now a handful of people have iPads now in my class and that’s where they are taking all of their notes. And they’ve shown them to me so I don’t want to say no you can’t have them so it is an interesting question.

Moore: Yeah. It’s difficult because we are moving towards a society where these digital multimedia tools are capable of doing so many different things. And it is impossible to monitor which of those many different functions are the student engaging in at any different moment. And a lot of research shows that they are being used appropriately but there is also a lot of research that shows they are multitasking and then other research shows that multitasking is contrary to any real narrow focus on one text in particular. So students are multitasking but they aren't absorbing the content when they are doing that. And then the other question I want to engage in is what are student’s role in the community. What are their roles in terms of community issues? And also, what are the role in institutions in trying to mitigate the achievement gap in terms of programs that have been designed specially for the retention of African American and Latino students or people of color specially for the retention of young males who statistically drop out at their second semester at a higher rate than females. And also questions about what does sustainable pedagogy look like? What kinds of project-based educational systems can we use in the classroom in a way that is appropriate for the context and appropriate for our discipline. And so those are some of the topics I am looking to discuss.

Hammer: That sounds really exciting. I am looking forward to those. I think there is so much out there we need to learn and think about because it is happening in our classrooms so I think it is important to ponder those questions. As we wrap up here, do you have any final comments about yourself as a introduction?

Moore: I guess I would just like to add that I am the product of public schooling and I attended about 11 different schools throughout my childhood and adolescence. And so I’ve really thought a lot about what a good classroom culture looks like. And I have already seen in my own education and just part of  institutions really unhealthy and healthy dynamics in classrooms. And I just would like to stress the power of the incredibly important role of the classroom and the institution of learning form in our society. And it’s really vital, important, and beautiful space full of potential. So I would just like to applaud my colleagues for their work and recognize how important this work is.

Hammer: Well I thank you for saying that because I do think a lot of people who listen to this podcast are people who are committed and devoted to their practice teaching. And I think that makes such a difference. So thank you

Moore: Well thank you so much for letting me post this podcast I really do appreciate it.

Hammer: Well I tell you, I am really glad you are taking this on and I am looking forward to turning it over and leaving it in your hands. So I look forward to hearing from you this season.

Moore: Great! Thank you so much.                                                                                             

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