CUTF Update: A Lesson In Student Discussion

Over the past two and a half months, Professor Shannon Reed and I have worked together to reshape the Readings In Contemporary Fiction course. Together, we have added two new readings from author V.E. Schwab: The Near Witch and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. My intention in adding these readings was twofold: first, I wanted to include novels that fall in the Young Ault and New Adult genres, as these genres are most popularly consumed by college-age students yet are underrepresented in academia. Second, I thought it would be beneficial for student writers to examine how Schwab developed as a writer from her first published novel to her most recent. 

Student discussion of The Near Witch using our online class chat feature!

One aspect of our collaboration that I have enjoyed the most is Professor Reed’s openness to diving into new material with me: I approached her with my idea about halfway through the fall semester as a student in her class, and with her help, I was able to formulate a plan and proposal for my project. Professor Reed has always been respectful of my perspective, and while she is more than willing to contribute her expertise to my lesson planning, she also allows me space to develop my own vision for the class. Both as a student and a teaching fellow, I’ve come to admire Professor Reed’s discussion-based teaching style, particularly her trust in student-led discussions. 

One of my major concerns during this experience was anxiety about public speaking. Like many people, I struggle with speaking in front of a large group; let alone attempting to lead a class. Leading up to my first teaching day, Professor Reed advised me to trust the students and their ability to engage with the material; that I should mold the conversation to their interests. I quickly discovered she was right! I found students not only engaged with my lesson plan for The Near Witch but also added their own input and perspectives, which led to a rich discussion amongst both the students and myself. My confidence to effectively communicate ideas with a group has grown throughout this fellowship, which I have found to be one of the most rewarding aspects of the teaching experience. 

Presentation in preparation for The Near Witch

In terms of teaching opportunities available to students, one great place to start is by asking fellow students! I asked a couple of friends currently in TA positions what their experience was in-class and ultimately decided the CUTF Fellowship would better suit what I wanted to get out of my teaching experience. As both an English and Psychology major, I also read all newsletters and postings on each department website for upcoming opportunities. For CUTF, one of my professors posted a description of the fellowship on his Canvas page! 

In sum, the best advice I could give for students is to be aware, to take the initiative, and to trust that faculty and staff are there to support their interests. There are many opportunities available here at Pitt (and in broader Pittsburgh), but often, students must reach out first to pursue them. This can feel like a daunting task, (I know I certainly felt intimated), but ultimately, I found everyone involved in the process to be extremely helpful in facilitating my goals and ideas. Teaching ‌has been an incredible experience, and I would encourage anyone interested to pursue their passion!

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