Patricia Reeder: I’m a Gustie and This is How I Teach

Posted on November 3rd, 2015 by

StereopsisDayPatricia Reeder

Assistant Professor in Psychological Science

What classes do you regularly teach?

PSY100 General Psychology, PSY234 Child Development, PSY334 Adult Development, and PSY225 Research Methods II.

What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?

“Be relevant.”  Some days I feel like it’s the most flexible-to-interpret and difficult-to-follow advice I’ve ever received. In Psychological Science, there are so many ways for students to discover how the material connects to their lives outside of the classroom, so sometimes the relevance of the material is easy to demonstrate. But it’s also important for me to establish how our course activities enhance my students’ learning and development so that their in-class accomplishments seem relevant beyond just a grade.

Tell us about your favorite topic or course to teach.

I don’t really play favorites with my courses, but I love any opportunity where I can squeeze in material about language acquisition and psycholinguistics.

Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.

I really like activities where we evaluate how the popular press communicates psychological science. This includes analyzing product advertisements that have been marketed with dubious claims of “scientific evidence” (such as “Your Baby Can Read,” “Baby Plus,” etc.). There’s something delightfully empowering about guiding students beyond the “smile and nod” phase of consuming information and towards educated skepticism, especially when you take stock of the magnitude of unsupported claims and sloppy science writing we encounter every day. It’s difficult to grapple with the idea that experimental results are rarely black-and-white or 100% bulletproof, especially when we base so many of our day-to-day behaviors on that evidence. But this is a great starting point for learning how to use evidence to support an argument in the strongest way possible.

I also enjoy activities that encourage students to discuss scientific findings in accessible (but accurate) ways. This idea was the cornerstone of a 2008 commencement speech by Robert Krulwich. He noted that it’s all too easy for scientists to rely on the jargon that’s comforting to those of us “in the know,” but this practice alienates those who are outside of our field. Krulwich argued that this is the source of a major problem in today’s society: the truths of scientific knowledge must vie with ideas from myths, movies, the media, and politics, many of which are presented in flashy and accessible ways, yet conflict with scientific knowledge. In Krulwich’s words, our job is “to put more stories out there about nature that are true and complex – not dumbed down – but still have the power to enthrall, to excite, to remind people that there’s a deep beauty, a many-leveled beauty in the world.”

What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?ResearchAssistants

I sometimes struggle when a previously-successful pedagogical technique just. isn’t. working. in a new situation.  So to compensate for this, I’ve become a pedagogical dabbler. I try to incorporate a bunch of different evidence-based techniques, like in-class demos, hands-on data collection, think-pair-share, reading quizzes, debates, critical response exercises, student discussion facilitation, argumentative essay exam questions with no right/wrong answers (just strong/weak answers), etc.  The hope is that when I throw in a variety of ways for students to interact with the material, something will resonate with each student (and with me).

Tell us something that you’ve learned about yourself from teaching.

In the wise words of Lloyd Alexander, I’ve found that I “learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than [I] do from learning the answer itself,” just like our students. It’s frustrating, but the potential to grow is much greater when you don’t simply have the answer handed to you.

Three words that best describe your teaching style.

Enthusiastic, evidence-based, fair.

What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

Encourage the passionate pursuit of answers *and* questions.

Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had.

Oh boy. So many to choose from in such a short career. The low-hanging-fruit example comes from the fact that I’m awful at recognizing faces, and I have to work very hard to learn specific features of a person’s appearance so that I can quickly recognize them (sorry to folks I’ve walked by without saying hello, which I know is a distinctly un-Minnesotan thing to do). A few years ago at a different school, I had a student who straightened her very curly brown hair and dyed it blonde midway through the semester. As she walked into my small 15-student seminar, I asked her: “Are you in the right classroom, or are you just sitting in for today?” She kinda stared at me for a while, then without saying anything she slowly left the room and stood in the hallway. I was so confused about what was happening because I thought maybe she was a prospective student who was visiting the class. All the other students sort of stared at me in disbelief until I realized what had happened. It was incredibly awkward, and I had no idea what to say or do, so I just pretended that nothing had happened. She later told me that she thought it was a class experiment and she was the naive participant, so she went along with it. I’ve now learned to just smile and wave at everyone to circumvent this problem…

What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

I’m a “loud introvert” who likes to recharge by playing video games and reading comic books. I’m very excited for my 2015 Christmas present to myself: Fallout 4.

What are you currently reading for pleasure?

“Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World” by Jane McGonigal, and “I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats” by Francesco Marciuliano.

Who would you like to fill out this survey next?

Barb Zust, Marian Frazier, Alisa Rosenthal, Lauren Hecht

The How I Teach series asks Gustavus faculty members to share their thoughts on assignments, course activities, and teaching in general. Most Tuesdays a new Gustavus faculty member will be featured. If you have someone you want to see featured, let us know. Also, we’d love it if you’d answer the questions yourself and send those along with a few pictures to



Comments are closed.