Tuesday, August 6, 2013

July 2013 Help Students Find Their Strengths

Encouragement comes in many forms.  One source is the modeling and wisdom of others, often older others.  Nurturance is another.    Left, my cousin John, a longtime resident of the peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area, is very mobility-challenged but unstoppable.  His answer to “How are you this morning” is “terrific, if you don’t want details.”   Right, a tender moment at my retirement party in January 2012, captured by colleague Kasey Wilson. This photo is a still from a video collage Kasey created as a gift and posted at

There are three dimensions of higher education.  Our mission must be to educate both the mind and heart, to develop both skills and ethics, to cultivate good professionals who are good people.  Our purpose must be to help each student grow in intellect and character, to help each learn how to do things  right and how to do the right things, to help each learn what is necessary for both a productive livelihood and a productive life.
~ Louis Schmier, in POD Listserv post 11/12/08 (lightly edited)

“I will not be able to attend today’s workshop (sorry—I’m overloaded!!)
but could really use some assistance in this area.”
from faculty email to a Teaching Center regarding a workshop on coping with overload, quoted in
Making Time, Making Change: Avoiding Overload in College Teaching
~ Douglas Robertson

Executive Summary    Among attitudes underpinning college success are persistence and self-efficacy, the belief in one’s ability to reach a learning outcome or personal goal.  Both are learned.  Students often reach our classrooms bitterly discouraged, disspirited and disabled in this respect, troubled by doubting their own competence.  Many don’t understand that people learn different content in different ways and at different speeds, and that one can learn to compensate for deficits by working harder or differently.  In this message, consider how to show students their strengths and how to encourage them to raise their own personal bar to achievement by attitude shifts.  The central issue is to offer hope and prompt change by reducing perceived risk and fear of failure

“Some students are just not cut out for school”    In a moving piece on YouTube, Michael Wesch (a professor of Cultural Anthropology at the Kansas State University) reports hearing this often from frustrated faculty colleagues.  For one view of higher education’s problems and promise, watch nine minutes of an hour-long video (A Portal to Media Literacy) at   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4yApagnr0s  in which Wesch speaks to faculty at the University of Manitoba.   Also learn there what Wesch means by “a crisis of significance” in education.  [We have used the first ten minutes of this video as a discussion kickoff in the new faculty morning segment of Fall Orientation.]

Examine your beliefs   What are your own beliefs about student competence?  Skip Downing, a long-time community college instructor and the founder of oncourseworkshop.com, has made a career of combining faculty development with student success strategies.  In the item linked below, “Choices of Successful Students,” one of TLC’s FAQs, you can get the flavor of his program.  Oncourse runs an annual conference and nationwide workshops; and Skip tirelessly promotes the exchange of success strategies among faculty:The 8 Habits of Successful Students

Explore its web site for more:  http://www.oncourseworkshop.com/, including a self-assessment you can also offer to students:  http://college.cengage.com/downing_assessment/jsp/questions1-8.jsp?customizer=pre
Teach students to assess and understand their personal academic strengths.   The link just above is a free, online self-assessment tool that prompts thinking about the behavior and attitude variables that underlie success.  Such an exercise could be a good way to open conversation with students about these variables.  From there, students can learn how to determine personal learning preferences.  Many simple, free, online, instant-scored instruments are available on the web, and John Collins, a colleague at the University of British Columbia, suggests asking students to do any three, and then triangulate the results:  In what ways do the three instruments agree, and how do they disagree?  Do the assessments match your self-perceptions?  What areas would you like to work on?  How can one compensate for areas of relative weakness?

Embed skill instruction in content classes.   As you become aware of student skill deficits, you can re-focus on needed skill development without losing content time.  One way to do this:  offer a mini-workshop on some specific skill in the last five or ten minutes of a class: e.g. tips for learning from a text, skillful navigation of a multiple-choice test. By using time at the end of a class, you allow easy opt-out by students who don’t need this help.   If you know the deficit is widespread, use a little class time to build a T-chart, asking students to identify and focus on specific behaviors related to a concept like participation or preparation for class.   The T-chart concept, originated by David and Roger Johnson at the University of Minnesota to help develop team skills, is explained at  Strategies for Helping Students Develop Team Skills and you can develop simple ways of doing this with a class.  

Teach students that attitude is a choice and makes a difference.  Students often are stuck in negative or self-defeating attitudes or behaviors.  In a newsletter from the online Adjunct Success program, Richard Lyons points to the “Eight Habits of Highly Effective Students.”  It is available at http://www.vetrol.com/temp/ASeNews15Oct08.pdf.

Go S.L.O.W.   Crawl, walk, run.   In “What the Army Taught me about Teaching,” Martha Kinney underscores the importance of scaffolding:  building understanding, confidence and competence in small steps.  For instance, a professor might identify and assign specific steps of preparing a research paper, instead of assigning the paper and assuming that students know all the steps.  The scaffolding concept is neatly explained at http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/webdesign/Scaffolding/ and the Kinney paper (which I’ve used as a workshop tool in précis form) can be found at http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2008/07/17/kinney

PostScript on Skill-Building:  Some years back, my colleague Susan Van Zanten (then a faculty developer at Seattle Pacific University) commented in her newsletter:  A 2007 survey called “How Should Colleges Prepare Students to Succeed in Today’s Global Economy,” asked 305 top corporate executives what they most wanted to see in a job candidate.  The top three choices were “teamwork skills,” “critical thinking and analytic reasoning skills,” and “oral/written communication.”  While today’s global economy has changed radically, I think it’s a fair assumption that these three skills are now needed more than ever, in areas ranging from ministry to teaching, public relations to medical care, and performing arts to banking.  We certainly can use them in higher education.   How do you help students—undergraduates and graduates alike--develop these skills within your discipline?  Do you explain to students why you assign group work or oral presentations, what the connection is between their learning activities and their future life?  

Honolulu Community College has, over the years, developed one of the most frequently visited faculty development sites on the web.  The organizing brainchild behind this is Jerry Cerny.
It is chock-full of links to practically anything you might need, from The Secrets of Study Success to Five Basic Types of Questions, to Ed Nuhfer’s Knowledge Survey, a way of determining what students think they know about your content without giving a test, to Achieving Success with Adult Learners.
You can find these things using a search engine, but HCC has collected them for you in
a colorful and user-friendly format, in the Teaching Tips Index.  

No comments:

Post a Comment