Thursday, February 3, 2011

Review: Exploring Signature Pedagogies



Reviewed by:  Nadine LeGros, University of Western Ontario
Exploring Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits of Mind is an excellent resource that would be valuable to faculty at all stages of their career and to educational developers for their work with faculty and with graduate students.  

Exploring Signature Pedagogies (ESP) provides an excellent introduction to what  signature pedagogies are, what the state of SoTL is in various disciplines, and how to incorporate signature pedagogies into our praxis.  Signature pedagogies are the types of teaching specific to each discipline that take students from being novices to being experts in their fields.  The authors focus on how to move from a transmission of facts and from ‘covering’ the material that is going to be on the exam to teaching students the disciplinary habits of mind that will transform biology students into biologists and history students into historians. 

ESP is divided into units on the humanities, fine arts, social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics, for a total of 14 chapters.  Each chapter includes examinations of the traditional pedagogies and conflicts in different disciplines.  The authors discuss traditional or generic ways of teaching  and examine traditions within academe such as PhD students learning to teach by osmosis. The authors challenge teaching methods of expedience such as cookbook labs in the sciences or “pseudo-Socratic discussions” in literary studies in which professors elicit their own interpretations from their students.  In addition, the authors’ examinations of the traditional pedagogies question whether what undergraduates learn in their classes bears any resemblance at all to what is expected of them in the larger fields.  

While each chapter contains discussion of where future work is needed in SoTL, this is not a how-to book.  The chapters do contain nuggets of gold that would guide instructors to seek the hidden assumptions behind their teaching and that would inspire future direction.  Moreover, the book is a call for instructors to document and share their strategies.  I also recommend reading about other disciplines for hidden threads that can be woven our own teaching.  

Exploring Signature Pedagogies will be an excellent read for all involved in teaching in higher education.  Experienced faculty will benefit if they are looking to re-energize their teaching by helping them reflect upon their own praxis.  The book will also be of enormous benefit to anybody wishing to engage in SoTL research.  Educational developers who need to work in disciplines different from their own will benefit from the overview of disciplinary pedagogies.

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