Teaching statement

My teaching experience spans over three main areas. I have taught (i) courses and seminars on cognitive psychology and neuroscience, which focused mainly on reading and linguistic morphology; (ii) courses on statistics and research methodology, which covered both basic techniques (such as t test and ANOVA) and more sophisticated tools (such as mixed–effects modeling); and (iii) more clinically–oriented seminars on aphasia and language impairments in brain damaged individuals offered to medical doctors specializing in neurol- ogy and speech pathologists.
Driving students to think critically and constructively is the core goal of my teaching. In this perspective, I always ask students to read the course material before it is addressed in the class, and start each session by encouraging them to say what they have learned from it. This is also very useful because it gives me snapshots onto the (often implicit) assumptions of each student on the issue at stake, their general beliefs on it, and their possible precon- ceptions that I will need to unsettle.

Quite related to the above, in the classroom I conceive myself as a facilitator of self and group learning, rather than the owner of some unquestionable knowledge that students just need to memorize. I strongly encourage questions and often invite students to respond to each other, in an attempt to raise discussions between them. Importantly, I also try to set up the right context for constructive confrontation by, e.g., being informal myself in the first place; making critical, but fair comments on the course material (and praising those of others); and avoiding an assertive approach (and discouraging it when it emerges among students). Of course, this teaching style entails the risk of making the students (particularly the least gifted) feeling lost at some point. This is why I always allow some time (e.g., prior to each session, office hours) for them to come up and ask questions individually, so that the reason of their eventual disorientation can be identified precisely and addressed. In order to minimize this risk, I also teach more decisively some well–established pieces of knowledge (e.g., assumptions, solid experimental facts) at the beginning of the course, so that students will fix a few solid landmarks for their mental map of the issue.

Another key feature in my teaching is promoting learning at a general level of analysis. I always make explicit that the critical bit in each paper is what is the question at stake, why was that question taken up, and how the data gathered allow to respond to it, rather than the tiniest (often irrelevant) details. I think that this approach encourages students to have a coherent story in mind (which was shown to improve memory), where pieces of evidence are in the right connection with each others.

Finally, I always place great effort into linking what students are studying to real life. This is just obvious in some cases – one cannot talk about aphasia without considering how hard is life for these people, and how good science is connected with good diagnosis and rehabilitation. However, with much emphasis placed on the beauty of the science per se by the academia, students can easily forget why the issue at stake is relevant for the community
at large. Another critical aspect in this approach is that linking science with real life is crucial for learning itself sometimes, especially in fields (e.g., statistics) where students often develop strong preconceptions. Students are typically struck by surprise when they become aware that estimation is the same process that they enact when they guess how fast was a throw by Joe Flacco, or that taking priors into account is what they do when they recognize Barack Obama speaking from a podium at the White House in a few milliseconds, but then take several seconds to recognize the US president at a wrestling match. This helps a lot in raising students’ interest, fighting their eventual sense of inadequacy in front of the issue; and ultimately facilitates understanding dramatically.