Exploring Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits of Mind . Edited by Regan A. R.Gurung, Nancy L.Chick, and AeronHaynie . Sterling, Va. : Stylus Publishing , 2009 . xix + 318 pages. ISBN 978-1-57922-307-6 . $29.95 .
Signature pedagogies shape what and how we teach, allowing us to transmit values, knowledge, and ways of thinking specific to our academic disciplines. The essays in this book aim to examine both “how [each] discipline is being taught and what students are learning about the discipline” through the lens of particular commitments and practices (xviii). The volume as a whole is a compelling examination of universal and specific “habits of mind” in disparate disciplines.
Lee Shulman's seminal “Signature Pedagogies in the Professions” (2005) opened the door for this volume, which comprises four main sections based on broad categorizations. Schulman focused his study on law, medicine, engineering, and the clergy, while this book takes a much broader view. Section One is devoted to “The Humanities” yet covers only history and literary studies; Section Two focuses on Fine Arts, including creative writing, music theory and practice, and “the arts”; Section Three covers Social Sciences, specifically geography, human development, psychology, and sociology; and Section Four, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, includes agriculture, biology, computer science, mathematics, and physics.
According to the introduction, each chapter within the four sections “explains the habits of mind that distinguish each discipline, presents the tradition or generic ways of teaching in the discipline, considers what they teach students about the discipline, and concludes by thoughtfully articulating a signature pedagogy that teaches students the distinctive practices and values of that discipline” (8). The editors have done a fine job choosing a range of disciplines and allowing authors to explore their questions within common boundaries. The editors' introduction is most valuable for the questions it asks and the way it fits the book into pertinent overall scholarship on teaching and learning over the last two decades.
Religious studies and theology are not covered explicitly here, but those of us whose approaches fit best in history, sociology, literary studies, or psychology can find interesting insights in those chapters. Indeed, chapters on cognate disciplines reflect much of what we already know about teaching and learning in our classrooms. For instance, many faculty struggle with the textbook or “coverage” model versus the arguably more interesting use of intradisciplinary discussions and primary resources. Many are aware that our fields are considered irrelevant to our more career-minded students. And many of us struggle with addressing and managing students' “deeply rooted preconceptions” (28). Perhaps the most pressing question is how our signature pedagogies can and should influence how we teach general education courses.
This collection of essays as a whole will be most interesting to scholars of teaching and learning and, most specifically, to those interested in following the development of Schulman's idea. It is more likely to be used as a reference book for those in particular fields who want to examine their own teaching habits, both positive and negative, as part of a broader disciplinary culture. It will be particularly helpful to those who have recently left graduate education and are at the beginning of teaching careers.
The Preface describes this book as a “framework for a new synthesis that digs deep and aims to catalyze further pedagogical research” (xvii). Ideally, those teaching in religious studies and theology will take up this call and work on identifying, analyzing, and exploring our own signature pedagogies. What crucial “disciplinary habits of mind” shaped us as teachers, and what do we aim to pass on to our students? What does it mean to think like a religious studies scholar or a theologian? These questions are worth disciplinary-wide reflection and discussion.