Responses to the December 7, 2017 Digital Town Hall: Teaching a Student Body from a Variety of Backgrounds

NOTE: These are some of the responses generated by the Digital Town Hall which took place on December 7, 2017. You can access a recording of the meeting here.

 


Simon Gray (Program Officer at the GLCA.  Prior to joining the GLCA, he was a faculty member of Computer Science at the College of Wooster for 10 years)

My big “insight” in returning after four years away from college teaching was that I had always taken it for granted that students knew what they wanted out of a college education, what it would take to achieve those goals, and that they would just naturally adapt to college life.

Most of them do adapt on their own, but it doesn’t hurt to talk with them about it. Anything that eases their transition so they can focus on their courses is a plus. So, at the beginning of the term I asked my First Year Seminar students to write short reflective essays on why they are in college, what they want to achieve, what they think they will need to do to achieve their goals, and what kinds of obstacles they think they will face. At the end of the term I asked them to write a reflective piece on what they thought at the beginning of the term and what one semester of experience had taught them.

I also talked to them about very basic things that we take for granted. What a syllabus is. What to call your professor. What to do if you miss a class. The importance of showing up on time. How to ask a question in class. And even whether you need to raise your hand to ask permission to go to the bathroom when in a class. So many simple basics!

One last thought. We often focus on learning gains and don’t give enough attention to developmental gains. I am all for removing or easing unnecessary obstacles for students, but not to the point that they don’t have to struggle and work through some tough challenges on their own. Someone mentioned the work of Carol Dweck; she has written a lot about “grit”, which we called “persistence in the face of difficulties” when I was working on the Teagle-funded senior capstone assessment project. Things like a really meaty senior capstone necessarily have obstacles built in; some of them content-related, but many of them process-related. Working through this is part of the experience and you can’t shield students from them if you expect them to grow. I will also say that those developmental gains will have application no matter what field a student enters, so in some ways they are more important than some learning gains.

 


Joseph Lennox (Visiting Assistant Professor of Organic Chemistry, Antioch College)

What works for me? 

I practice transparency with my students, and they can see it. Incorporated into my syllabi, especially for 1st years, are (1) a point incentive to get them to my office for two email-scheduled meetings before week 4 of the quarter; (2) a page of study tips for success discussing the value of “good struggle”; and (3) a call to action to work in groups. The student meetings result in discussion of college success strategy in addition to adapting to the college culture. Students know my classroom is a “title free zone”, and I have them refer to me as “Joseph”. There have never been respect issues with this. I also utilize “We! Connect Cards” leading to conversations that matter.

Since I arrived at Antioch, I’ve been working on the concept of thorough training and mentoring of Supplemental Instructor Mentors (SIMs). The idea is for students to take 1 course in Learner-Centered Teaching, 1 course in The Art & Science of Mentoring, and 1 instructor monitored Supplemental Instructor Practicum. Students are provided with adjunct instructor training which focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion. They are also taught how to engage students in active learning, critical pedagogy, and how to spot students in distress. In the spring, one of the SIMs made a very big difference for one of our marginalized 2nd year STEM students (1st Gen). The desired outcome is retention, promotion of metacognitive and college success skills, campus cultural awareness, and provision of SIM mentoring support.

 


Joanne Stewart (Professor of Chemistry, Hope College)

About one-third of entering students at Hope College take our introductory chemistry course. Many of those students arrive with the mindset that they are either good at chemistry or bad at chemistry. To confront this, we give them a short reading describing “fixed” versus “growth” mindset (attached) and ask them to respond to one of the following prompts:

  1. Describe one thing that stood out most to you from this article and reflect on why you found that interesting or significant.

OR

  1. In what ways can you apply aspects of this article to yourself? Describe behaviors or thought processes that could be reoriented toward the growth mindset. Connect your ideas to this chemistry class.

The student responses were outstanding. They described how the reading helped them see low grades as incentive to work harder rather than as a judgement of their intelligence (one wrote, “I am not my grade”), they liked the idea of praising children for their hard work instead of their intelligence, and they acknowledged their own tendency to want to give up in the face of struggle. All-in-all, they vowed to work hard and keep a positive attitude, even when things got tough.

 


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