“I Wake Up Counting”: A Free Online Publication of Syllabi and Activities from our Spring 2020 Course


Genera Editor, Tatiana Ades

A Manifold Publication   https://cuny.manifoldapp.org/projects/i-wake-up-counting

It is a great pleasure to write this Foreword to I Wake Up Counting: A Guide to Transformative Teaching & Learning in the Humanities & Social Sciences. This book is both a document and a guide. It documents an extraordinary student-led class where we studied the theories and research on engaged, active learning with social justice as its ultimate goaL. It then transformed those ideas and findings into actual, daily classroom practices. Co-taught with Professor Eduardo Vianna of LaGuardia Community College and thirteen undergraduate, Masters, and doctoral students from the City University of New York and New York University, the course began with a syllabus designed by two instructors. We then gave over every aspect of the class— topics, assigned readings, exercises, experiential experiences— to students who self-organized into groups and became the co-teachers of Interdisciplinary Studies 81670: “Introduction to Engaged Teaching and Transformative Learning in the Humanities and Social Sciences.”


I Wake Up Counting documents the processes and logic of our course. Neither would have been the same without the brilliant, dedicated contribution of Tatiana Ades, the Assisting Instructor  (Teaching Assistant) of the course and the editor of this book. She herself is a Masters student in the Graduate Center’s Masters In Liberal Studies and works full-time as an Academic Advisor in the Adult Literacy program at Borough of Manhattan Community College. Her contribution to every aspect of the course and this book are inestimable. Thank you, Tati.


I Wake Up Counting is also a guide. It offers ideas, in the most open way, to those who have never engaged in active learning and to those who have been dedicated to this effective form of transformative, engaged teaching for decades. Stanford Professor Carl Wieman, Nobel Laureate in Physics and passionate science education reformer, notes that we’ve now had over forty years and more than 1000 studies of the superiority of active learning over conventional lectures or what in the humanities and social sciences we like to call “discussion.” Most discussion classes, in fact, take the form of a “distributed lecture,” where the professor leads the conversation, asks the questions, and relies on the same handful of students, class after class, to supply the answers and aid the instructor in carrying the conversation forward. We also have research that those most “academically gifted” students who tend to raise their hands in class are most likely to match the educational, economic, racial, and gender background of their professors. This is one reason why, despite forty years of critical race and gender studies, we continue to have a professoriate that is far less diverse than today’s students. Modeling futures begins with what we do in the classroom. I Wake Up Counting offers literal lesson plans in how to move from the one-to-many teaching model to the many-to-many model of transformative co-learning.


This is a book for any time and any place. It is adaptable to many fields, and to any level of teaching. However, our class took place at a particularly symbolic time and place, in New York City in Spring 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged through our city. It documents how we adjusted to a medical, financial, and personal crisis (working at home, children home from school) that had an impact on every member of our class. We began to make the shift even before CUNY moved all of its 275,000 students online. A few of our class members were immunocompromised and asked if they could take the class remotely. Unanimously, the class decided if they had to be remote for health reasons, we all had to be. We had become a community. We were in this together. We had two class meetings working out all the details of online, engaged, interactive learning, both synchronous and asynchronous, before the rest of CUNY.  The weekly class meetings were so meaningful that we even voted to hold class during the spring vacation. It gave us continuity. It gave us hope being together once a week, even online. What better testimony to transformation?


The title of this volume, I Wake Up Counting, signals and symbolizes transformative learning. It comes from our frequent class visitor, a three-year old nicknamed “Burrito” by his aunt, Dree-el Simmons, a member of our class, who was taking care of him during the crisis.


As a Guide to Transformational Learning in the Humanities and Social Sciences, it is intended for anyone who is interested in a student-centered and student-led course and offers examples, ideas, and suggestions for further reading along with research studies that support why we use these methods. The book is also much more: it is an active demonstration of how much creativity, thoughtfulness, and energy students can give to an intellectual enterprise when they are co-leaders of a course. Dree-el Simmons asked if her nephew Burrito could sit in on our class and of course we were delighted. Their ritual was for him to take a nap at the time we were in class. Often by the end of our class, Burrito would wake up to greet us all by running into his aunt’s lap, and gleefully show us how much higher he could count than the week before. His aunt Dree-el explained to us that he would just “wake up counting” and Burrito’s mental agility and excitement for learning became a model for our class. As our course progressed, he counted higher and higher and our spirits soared, too, even amid our city’s tragedies.


We have dedicated this book to Burrito. “I wake up counting!” What a perfect metaphor for transformative learning! The goal for transformation learning is for everyone— every student, every co-learner— to count. Learning should be transformative and inspiring for all of us. We should wake up each morning determined to learn from the day, to take what we have learned and use it to make that day— and our communities and our society— better: more just, more equitable, and always aiming higher and higher. We all must believe we matter. And we must take up the responsibility of mattering in the world. We should all wake up counting.


Thank you for taking the time from your busy life to be reading about transformative learning. We hope you enjoy this book. We hope you find some inspiring ideas here and that this careful, practical guide is useful to you in your own transformative teaching and learning.

Cathy N. Davidson

Graduate Center, City University of New York

January 20, 2021