Original Publish Date: September 22, 2016
By Patrik Hultberg
The speaker for this year’s Fall Colloquium on Teaching and Learning was Dr. Geoffrey Cohen. Dr. Cohen gave a talk titled “Powerful but Invisible: Social Psychological Factors that Shape Student Success.” A brief recap of his talk can be found on the Fall Colloquium page, but here are seven reactions to the talk from K College faculty members.
Elizabeth Manwell (Classics):
Here is what I really liked about the colloquium. I’ve been reading and thinking about the research over the past few years about “grit” (and the controversies about the work), and my question was always, “well, how do we encourage or develop grit? Or is it just innate?” I thought his talk really spoke to ways that we can develop those capacities in our students.
So, first was taking the time to get to know your students, instead of jumping into the work. The notion that the high-performing tutors could achieve more because students felt they knew and trusted the tutors was really powerful.
I also liked the idea of scaffolding and then presenting a difficult problem—not praising, but demonstrating your confidence in their ability to take on a challenge.
I also liked the idea of setting out the criteria of evaluation before you look at candidates. It seemed that this is the kind of thing that I could do even more explicitly in paper assignments and the like, so that I don’t read a paper and think, “oh I like this topic” or “oh, this is really nicely written” and give it a good grade, when it might not be measuring up in other ways (e.g., responding to the assignment, building a sophisticated argument, etc.).
Andrew Koehler (Music)
One thing that really struck me is the impact of letting students know why they’re getting feedback, and to authentically find a way to show them that you are holding them to a high standard you believe them capable of achieving. In my own teaching, I’ve thought a lot about making sure I show why the things I teach matter to me (instead of taking for granted that they are important to everyone), and my sense is these are at some level related, and that my work on this can be profitably expanded.
Chuck Stull (Economics/Business)
A few of my takeaways were:
- Small actions can have outsized impacts on student performance.
- Actions that reinforce stereotypes hurt the performance of that group while actively counteracting the stereotype can help.
- Details matter.
- How feedback is framed makes a big difference.
- Encouraging a “growth mindset” (you can develop your abilities) is much more successful than allowing a “fixed mindset” (you have a fixed ability) to persist.
Lanny Potts (Theatre Arts):
As a teacher of creative content that is melded with the practical necessity of its execution, my project philosophy has often been that of a sink-or-swim approach (with full knowledge that pool noodles, floaty wings, and life vests are necessary for those that are having a hard time swimming). I feel that with Geoff’s “a little valuation can go a long way” that to continue to focus upon the positive (which I try to do regularly and consistently – but, HIS positive valuation reminded me of HOW IMPORTANT this work is…), that is: that in reframing, and by explaining the why with subtlety both will continue to go a long way in helping students who struggle with both the “how do I do it” of creative content AND the execution “I know this needs to be good” of their project based work.
Thus, upon reflection, my takeaway was twofold.
First, I am reminded of the importance. GREAT importance. Of how valuable and valued positive reinforcement – timely, adroitly, and appropriately applied – can be for creative content and execution of extremely challenging projects. It re-ignited a fire to strive to continually seek ways to provide profoundly thoughtful – and insightful – comments to student work.
Second, I was reminded of the great gift (and awesome responsibility) we have as teachers. If great teaching genuinely is not “teaching” but inspiring learning, I think Geoff’s lessons should give all of us a great tool to aspire to be, and inspire our students, to pursue lifelong learning.
Jan Tobochnik (Physics)
Here are new things I learned or relearned:
- I liked the idea of little nudges such as the growth mindset comments on papers and perhaps better ways of framing tests so that students don’t judge them as a measure of some fixed ability that cannot be changed.
- I don’t know if I can implement this, but the idea of creating experts in student experts so that the students see the need to collaborate.
- The nudges in (1) are probably better given individually rather than as some kind of announcement to the class. Thus, personalized comments are best.
Reid Gomez (Critical Ethnic Studies)
At our colloquium I appreciated the focus on “good tutoring.” When I’m lost I go back to the skills I learned and used as a tutor. The one on one delivery and co-exploration of content continues to be the foundation of my classroom practice. I’ve changed. The students have changed. But one thing remains the same: we have to know each other to work well with each other.
I believe our relationship as learners and leaders in the classroom is what shapes the class and their engagement with the material. I hope the class process (framework) gives them a method (theory) to approach evaluating materials, stretching their minds, and developing analytical abilities for whatever content, in whatever field, they encounter. Co-producing knowledge also makes them better teachers themselves—demystifying the process.
Amy MacMillan (Economics/Business)
- Validation of what I currently do: continue to use first class of each course to establish rapport with students, set expectations. Tempting to want to race into the material, but this time up front pays dividends later.
- Tweak what I do: spend even more time explaining why I write so many comments on the students’ papers, using this as a chance to convey how much I believe in their potential. Ditto for explaining my somewhat tough grading assessments overall, including the intentional ambiguity in some assignments (versus being spoon fed with a detailed rubric).
- Make a significant change: stop telling students when I think an assignment is easy. Instead, spend more time telling them when it’s hard and why. Set them up for a challenge. Then, let them come to their own conclusions that they’ve done a good job, rather than simply having this message come from me.