Dr. Molly Bassett received the 2021 Writing Across the Curriculum Faculty Pedagogy award for applied approaches to teaching and learning in RELS 3270, “Religious Traditions of the World.” After a few years away from the class, she returned to teaching 3270 in the fall of 2019. The Writing Across the Curriculum Advisory Committee commended Dr. Bassett’s application materials, highlighting her pedagogical effectiveness and innovation in carrying out the mission of WAC at GSU. This work was possible because of the support of WAC consultants David Hyde and Nathan Springer and Dr. Jill Anderson’s research support for students.
A summary of the applied approaches:
The opportunity to rethink RELS 3270 class came as Dr. Bassett’s daughter was learning about cultural celebrations in kindergarten. The Georgia Standards require that kindergarten teachers provide instruction on cultural celebrations. Some are secular holidays, but others, like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas, originate in religious traditions. Because primary and secondary educators typically receive little training in how to teach about religions, the American Academy of Religion has published guidelines for this work. Dr. Bassett reached out to the International Baccalaureate coordinator at her daughter’s school and inquired about working with the kindergarten teachers to create an approachable research-based resource to support their work. Dr. Bassett and her students developed a community partnership, and over the course of the semester, undergraduates in “World Traditions” worked in small groups to write essays on several religious traditions and their cultural celebrations. They paired each set of essays with age-appropriate picture books, and the class was able to donate a stack of picture books through the generous support of friends of the department. (Thank you, friends!) The project culminated in a visit to the school. Students in Dr. Bassett’s class read the books to the kindergarteners and shared the resources with the teachers.
This past year, students in Dr. Bassett’s “World Traditions” course worked together to create a resource modeled on Religion in 5 Minutes in order to answer some of their own questions about religious traditions. These essays were the culmination of a semester-long study of religions rooted in an inquiry-based approach. Throughout the semester, students were sharing their own questions about religions while answering questions about the assigned materials. These questions aligned with three increasingly complex modes of engaging course materials that encouraged the student to (1) check for understanding; (2) think about the text; and (3) think about their own thinking. They adapted these tools to compose and answer a single question about a religious tradition for the class “book.” This applied project prompted students to reflect on their own questions about religions, develop expertise in a specific topic, and share their research with peers.