Teaching philosophy

Teaching is for me at the heart of what it means to be an academic linguist. I introduce students to the scientific study of language, communicate how to do analysis, and share the thrill of figuring out the answer to a tough problem. In turn, I learn how to conceptualize the field of linguistics, how its parts are related to one another, and how to think about language. I cannot be a good linguistic researcher if I am not an equally good teacher of linguistics.

All the courses I teach have a significant analytical component. While I convey a body of knowledge, I am also responsible for helping my students learn how to reason — how to make empirical generalizations, how to develop alternate analyses, and how to weigh evidence for competing theories. For this reason, I strive to make my interactions with students in the classroom interactive.

I engage students by actively soliciting their ideas and incorporating them into the discussion. We work through problems together from the ground up, building an analysis bit by bit. By creating an atmosphere of collaboration between the students and myself, as well as amongst the students themselves, I empower the students to develop their own critical thinking abilities.

To facilitate this interaction, I use handouts as little as possible, since they isolate students and stifle discussion. Instead, I write key concepts, data, hypotheses, generalizations, and analyses on the board, creating a visual representation of discussion that tracks the unique dynamics of each class but still provides a cohesive structure. At the beginning of each class, I write an agenda on the board outlining what the key points for that day are.

So that students feel invested in the course, I actively encourage feedback from students throughout the term. As the first item in the class agenda, I always include a period for students to ask questions, whether they are about the homework, some topic covered in lecture, or a more general issue. If students want to change something about class, I am willing to try it as long as we meet the overall goals of the course.

I have developed my teaching philosophy as a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz and as a visiting faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Los Angeles. I have taught a variety of courses in syntax, semantics, and field methods, including large and small classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. These can be found, along with representative syllabi, on my CV.