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Re: News, Research, Insights

New York Times opinion writer David Kirp’s column this week is a must read for folks interested in the power of promoting “growth mindset.” Here’s an excerpt:

Conquering the Freshman Fear of Failure

..

Other freshmen were introduced to research online showing that intelligence isn’t a static trait or the luck of the genetic draw, but can grow through hard work. They were exposed to what the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck describes as a growth, rather than a fixed, mind-set. This shift can be transformative; as Dr. Dweck explained, “the view of intelligence that you adopt for yourself shapes your educational experience.”

The findings of the research project, published in June, show that both of these 40-minute online exercises had a profound effect on students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The previous year, only 69 percent of them completed a full freshman year course load, a strong predictor of graduation, compared with 79 percent for their better-off peers. The one-time interventions nearly halved this gap.

A related experiment by the same researchers enlisted high school seniors, mainly poor and minority, who attended top-rated urban charters. Out of 584 students, 41 percent who went through the exercise remained in college full time during their first year, compared with just 32 percent of the students who didn’t take it.

All students had “an initial doubt about whether they would fit in,” the researchers point out. What changed in the experiment was that, as freshmen, the participants were more likely to be drawn into campus life, seek out academic help and live on campus.

“When you’re starting college, you’re asking yourself whether you belong here. You’re ready to hear from someone like you, someone who has made it,” Claude Steele, a social psychologist at Berkeley and an iconic figure in the field, told me. “That’s especially important for a negatively stereotyped kid who feels he doesn’t fit in.”

Re: How do you get ready for the beginning of a term?

The Higher Ed Professor, aka Michael Harris, has summarized his instructional training wisdom into a list of 10 tips for folks who are teaching their first college class. Here’s some excerpts, but the whole thing is worth a read.

Each class and institution is a little bit different, but there are some common strategies that I believe will help anyone teaching a college class for the first time.

1.  Talk to your colleagues

One of the best sources of information to help you prepare is talking to other faculty in your department. If you’re an adjunct, talk to the department chair or program director that hired you. Many novice instructors fail to match the norms of the program, department, and institution where they are teaching. Ask colleagues about the students that typically enroll in the course including demographics, academic ability, motivation, expectations, and prior content experience. You should also ask about common problems that faculty run into with the class (or similar classes) as well as generally ask advice. The more information that you can gather at the beginning of thinking about the class the better able you will be to anticipate problems and proactively design your course.

2.  Ask for copies of old syllabi.

When you’re talking with colleagues, ask for copies of syllabi from previous versions of the course as well as an example from other courses. Before I teach any class, I always do a quick internet search for syllabi from other institutions. Old syllabi help you see examples of how other instructors approached the course content, assignments, and course policies.  One word of caution, however, is to not feel constrained by other syllabi. You want to use them as a guide and if you’re dramatically changing you may want to think through why your course is different, but overall you are the instructor and should decide what is the best way to teach the class.  Finally, for faculty teaching as part of a sequential curriculum, you want to make sure that you’re covering content that students will need in future courses. It can also be helpful in those cases to get a copy of syllabi from later courses as well.

3.  Let your course goals drive your content.

As you begin thinking through your class, you want to develop course goals. These goals will then drive the content that gets included in your course. The readings, class sessions, and assignments should all be geared toward achieving the goals you establish for your course.

Re: How do you get ready for the beginning of a term?

Kevin Gannon, Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning and Professor of History at Grand View University, writes on Vitae about what not to do on the first day and offers up some ideas for how to start the semester strong:

Many of the problems we encounter throughout the semester can at least be mitigated if we take a mindful approach to planning that first day of class. Here are some alternate approaches:

  • Ideally, the first day gives students a taste of everything they’ll be expected to do during the semester. If the course is going to be discussion-heavy, then a brief class discussion needs to be in the first day’s plan. If students will be doing a lot of the group work, then a group activity should be on the docket. If you teach a large lecture class, and plan on interleaving activities such as think-pair-share or minute papers, give your students an opportunity to experience that routine on the first day, and model your expectations and feedback for them.

  • In addition to modeling the specific activities, though, the first day is an excellent opportunity to convey your larger approach — your tone and style for the course. If the class is small enough, begin learning students’ names right away by having them introduce themselves to both you and their peers. If you want students to engage in active learning, give them an immediate opportunity to do so.

  • Take some time in that first class to do a mini-lesson on one of the exciting, weird, intriguing, or controversial parts of the course material. Let your own enthusiasm for the material shine, and let it be a model for your students. If you’re teaching a new prep, use the novelty to your advantage — what are the interesting questions you’re going to cover in the course?

  • Sometimes an explicit discussion of your course structure — the pedagogical decisions you’ve made — can be powerful. By letting students peek under the hood and see the method and purpose of certain aspects of the course, you’re demonstrating that they’re partners in its success.

 

Re: News, Research, Opinions

ACUE’s Kevin Kelly talked to Terry Doyle about brain science, student learning and how it all ties together in the classroom. Check out the full interview on our community blog: https://community.acue.org/blog/15-minutes-terry-doyle/

Here’s an excerpt:

In your work and conversations with instructors around the country, what are some of the common challenges they raise to you? What are some challenges that you’ve experienced yourself?

The question I always get is “What do I do with the range of developmental abilities in the classroom?” There’s never been a good answer to that because you have a wide range of prior knowledge, skill, and abilities. One approach I’ve taught is the mastery learning model. This means that every single student had to reach a certain level of proficiency, but they had multiple opportunities to get to the targeted level. Students with a range of abilities had different opportunities to achieve success because they had more chances to study, and restudy, and retry. But it also forced them to do the work.

I think another big thing to recognize is that the brain always operates in patterns. Always. Therefore, if you teach to the patterns that the students know, and you teach the patterns of your subject matter, you’re in harmony with how the human brain functions. The brain looks for organization, it looks for way to relate to the subject matter. That’s why prior knowledge, and fixing deficits of prior knowledge, is also such a big issue. Because if I really don’t know my algebra, you can’t teach me algebra-based physics. It isn’t going to work. It’s just not going to happen. So I think that understanding how we take in and process and retrieve information is important. In other words, how are memories made, and what do we do as teachers to provide ideal situations in class that help the formation, the understanding, and the practice?

On the topic of helping students with the patterns that are familiar to them, can you recommend strategies that instructors can use to better understand what those patterns are?

 

Re: News, Research, Opinions

At journalism school, some professors’ grading policies were that all assignments had to be published as posts on a class blog. As a student, it added an extra layer of accountability, knowing that the audience was larger than one. Obviously this type of “renewable assessment” is well-suited to the work of a journalist, but I can imagine how it could be an effective grading policy in other classes to . get students

Opting for Renewable Assessments

http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/opting-for-renewable-assessments/62523

An aspect of higher education that likely drives faculty and students alike to frustration is assessments–whether homework, papers, or anything else–that are designed for the instructor’s eyes only. No matter how carefully the faculty member explains that students should write for an imagined audience of interested readers, the vast majority of the time the professor will be the only person who reads the work, and then the student will briefly look over the professor’s comments . . . and then, what?

David Wiley argues for “renewable assessments”: one where “the student’s work won’t be discarded at the end of the process, but will instead add value to the world in some way.” (The contrasting type, meant to be submitted-and-forgotten, he characterizes as “disposable.”) As examples, he offers courses where students write or edit Wikipedia articles, where students design an anthology, or a a variety of other types.

I wasn’t sure what topic this belonged under. It seemed relevant, in parts, to the student feedback topic or maybe the topic about creating rubrics for assessment. So I put it here until it finds a more specific home.