Wednesday, March 27, 2013

It's About Expectations

Two books that are helping me with the way I teach are Mind Over Mind by Chris Berdick and and The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt In these books the main topic is that we are not really rational humans but instead we use rationality to justify our  feelings and desires. So pedagogically what would be the implications of these thoughts? More so as we teach science that is supposed to be the epitome of objectivity an rationality. True one thing is the object of study, the content in a science class and another how do we approach pedagogically the students both individuality and as a group. Based on what Haidt said we are dealing with emotional beings that will only go where their emotions lead them, so the pedagogical question then becomes how can the teacher influence the student's emotions? Or as Berdick postulates it is all about "expectations"! So, can the teacher establish or modify the student's expectations?  One has to say "yes" to the last question if one is on the mission of education; and for the first question one has to say that "art" the art of teaching that includes compassion and empathy.

This art of teaching that is based on empathy is not new but has evolved in recent years as students come to class with a strong sense of entitlement, more so in the United States where parents have done everything in their power to be complacent, they will say supportive of their inheritors. The teacher in this situation must continue with support without diminishing the need that students have for affirmation but with the knowledge that the educator is not only a gate keeper for later studies but a guarantor, certifier of studies and degrees.

How can the educator provide the safe context for the student's emotions? How can the educator establish the frame of reference for the expectations for the course?  One must acknowledge that these have to be done since before the class, one has to start with the design of the course i.e the syllabus.

The critics of long syllabi may state that students don't read the syllabus, therefore is dangerous to write a long one that discourages reading. One can argue that a long syllabus aka syllabook is a document that can be read in sections and can be read during the course of the class. The other avenue for the syllabook to be a living document is to have it online in the course management system where students have access and will be using practically every day during the course of the term.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mid Term

Mid term is subjectively the point at which one can evaluate and prognosticate how students are doing and will do at the end of the course. This evaluation has many elements, several of these are related to information coming from precious courses more so when students in the present course are known to the professor from previous courses. One of this elements is the stage or level of knowledge the student had previous to this course another (and most important) is the change in attitude that the student has had during previous courses and now can be compared to the changes in attitude during the present course.
There are other external factors to consider that are more difficult to change, going from cultural values in the education previously obtained by the student to the variety of skills necessary for that particular discipline, such as mathematics in the case of science. One aspect one is finding hard to deal with is the disconnect between the rational interpretation necessary of problem solving and the emotional connection with the rationality of the individual. It is a roadblock when the professor asks the student: can you see this? can you feel if it? does it makes sense? and the students with the problem and answer in front of her/him is unable to feel the rightness of wrongness of the answer.
It is not that the student is not engaged, of course is even worse when is not engaged and not much can be done except to help the student get engaged.
As the student doesn't "feel" the connection between answer and problem when developing skills s/he moves away from being engaged, then keeping attention to the class becomes impossible and if the teacher doesn't stop and makes a personal appeal to the student to continue being engaged that student will be lost for the rest of the class and maybe the rest of the course. Teacher have to develop techniques (eye contact, moving around in the room, etc) so s/he can keep an individual connection with each student in the class. Of course this one-on-one participation will at the end be determined by the student! So the question is: Can students be forced to engage? and if so: How?