Ben Kirshner, PhD
Teaching is an integral part of my scholarly career. My enthusiasm for teaching began when I spent two summers in college teaching literature and writing to middle school students in Summerbridge (now The Breakthrough Collaborative), a national network of academically rigorous programs for children from low-income families. This was where I first learned to design engaging, student-centered lessons by thinking from the perspective of a student—what question would be gripping here? What activities would make me want to speak up or get out of my seat? After college I worked for four years as an educator with the San Francisco Conservation Corps, which hired young adults to mentor, teach, and supervise middle school students from underserved neighborhoods. In addition to developing curricula for our summer program, I trained young adult AmeriCorps members in teaching strategies. I enjoyed the challenge of designing lessons that were responsive to people’s work experiences and that helped them develop instructional tools.
Many of the characteristics of good teaching that I learned in non-traditional settings apply to my university teaching: intellectually challenging questions; discussions that ask students to construct their understanding; activities that embody central concepts; timely mini-lectures that communicate necessary information, and a personal style that is approachable and concerned with student understanding. As a teacher, it is important to me that students master the subject matter, while also finding ways to draw relevant applications to policy and classroom problems. I value rigorous, critical thinking, in a climate that allows disagreement and the exchange of ideas. I enjoy advising students in one-on-one meetings as much as I enjoy leading discussion sections.
EDUC 4112: Educational Psychology and Adolescent Development
This course introduces undergraduate and post-baccalaureate teacher candidates to the foundations of adolescent development and educational psychology. We focus on topics such as: identity development, adolescent resilience, cognitive development, social and cultural approaches to learning, diversity, out-of-school contexts, assessment, and motivation. For each topic students learn about foundational, canonical theories as well as contemporary research from the standpoint of race, culture, and gender diversity.
EDUC 6328: Advanced Child Growth and Educational Development
This course addresses similar topics to EDUC 4112, including central aspects of learning and development in adolescence. Because it is geared towards graduate students, its seminar format will permit more in-depth understanding of child and adolescent development. There also will be a greater focus on theories of development.
EDUC 8348: Youth Development in Schools and Communities
This course is for graduate students who are interested in adolescent development and/or who are planning to conduct research with adolescents. The course begins by reviewing the central developmental tasks of adolescence, including: identity, forming a worldview, forming relationships, exercising agency, and overcoming adversity. We then examine different contexts of development, such as schools, youth organizations, and work, and how they support (or don’t support) the accomplishment of developmental tasks. The major assignment for the course is a research project developed in partnership with a local youth-serving agency. The purpose will be for students to practice a “scholarship of engagement,” characterized by projects that help students learn more about a topic while also meeting the needs of research participants.