Our roles as teachers are more important then ever. In his book Radical Hope, Kevin Gannon reminds us, “Teaching is a radical act of hope. It is an assertion of faith in a better future in an increasingly uncertain and fraught present. It is a commitment to that future even if can’t clearly discern its shape.”
We impart hope when we cultivate our student’s ability to continue learning, even when it involves struggle. By fostering a growth mindset, we help students improve their ability to respond to difficult situations and thus strengthen their resilience. We can teach students how to bounce back from a low grade, and we can help them find ways to cope with a stressful event.
- What specific interventions do you use to help students learn from stress or failure?
- How do you create supportive learning conditions that promote student growth?
- What conditions have you created in your course that encourage students to persist?
Satish Kumar, Mechanical Engineering
I look for common mistakes in assignments/tests, discuss them during class lectures after assignments/tests were returned. I make problems which emphasize these mistakes, and work with students to solve them during class lectures.
A good distribution of grades over few exams, projects and assignments helps students to not give up after one bad exam. I encourage students to share the problems they are facing in understanding course materials or performing well in the exams and give them opportunities for make-up exams if they have done poorly in one of the tests.
Danielle Willkens, Architecture
We complete project reflections that allow students to evaluate their work shortly after submission, identifying their strengths, developments, and other opportunities for growth.
To create supportive learning conditions, we move between group reviews and one-on-one sessions.
There are multiple projects, scaffoldings skills, so students have several opportunities to push through workflows and no one project can sink their grade.
Wayne Whiteman, Mechanical Engineering
I try to help students take the long view rather than stressing over each exam in each course.
Each semester I devote 10 or 15 minutes of one of my classes dedicated to a “pep talk.” I tell them how an engineering degree can get to be a grind. Particularly when you see classmates in other majors who may not be working as hard. I tell them that it is worth it and I tell them about all of the opportunities they will have. Also, in the area of student growth, I take about 10 minutes in one class during the semester to talk about graduate school if that is of interest to them.
I have each of my students voluntarily fill out a bio sheet at the beginning of the course. Then I spend a couple of minutes with each of them during the course to learn more about them. I try to use that information to help motivate them and persist toward their goals.
William Todd, Scheller College of Business
The case method, the preferred mode of instruction in business education, is an ideal medium in which to study resilience. We learn as much from the failures described in these stories of real situations as we do from successes. My courses are part of the leadership minor and we look carefully as lessons in leadership in both situations. In successes we identify the exemplary leadership that made it possible and in failures we identify a lack of leadership. Many of our students have never experienced failure and I work hard to have them empathize with the leader who fails by “getting inside his skin” and understand what happened with our benefit of hindsight. Hopefully, I am exposing students to failure without catastrophic results.
Jen Hom, Mathematics
From time to time during class, especially when students are looking confused, I describe how I still sometimes get confused and stuck in my research, and how with patience and persistence, I eventually get unstuck, at least until the next time it happens. I try to emphasize that being confused is a healthy part of the learning process.
Josephine Yu, Mathematics
I sometimes put a reflection question on an assignment which asks the student to reflect on a struggle or a failure and write about what they learned from that experience.
Pardis Pishdad-Bozorg, Building Construction
I make it clear to the students that they are here to learn and not to just get good grades. I design my grading rubric in a way that it is heavily weighted on interim submissions and continued improvement. The only challenge with that is it creates more work for me as an instructor.
Linda Wills, Electrical and Computer Engineering
I give anonymized examples of student improvement on exams and assignments to show potential to recover from a low grade. I share my setbacks from when I was a student and what I did to overcome them.
Karie Davis-Nozemack, Scheller College of Business
I have used an exam wrapper in the past, but more lately I have begun posting things for them to consider along with the exam average and grade spread. Recently, I posted the following: “If you are disappointed in your exam 1 score, I encourage you to rethink your approach to exam prep for the next 2 exams. You might want to consider the following questions: How comfortable was I with the material from the textbook? Did I attend class, take good notes, and incorporate those notes into my study materials? Did I prep as if this was a closed book exam? Did I use the study guide to compile my study materials? Did I prep for memorization or understanding?”
I try to build a class that rewards practice and process. My emphasis on process occurs on both a micro and macro level. Within individual assignments, I weight a student’s analysis and reasoning more heavily than a final conclusion. On the course level, I explain to students during class that I intentionally created the course grading criteria to incentivize them to undertake activities that are likely to lead to learning and that are likely to help them develop learning skills applicable other courses. My grading criteria heavily weight class participation, homework, and review activities. Students view these activities as having a positive effect on their final grade, and I view these activities as having a positive effect on their learning. Most importantly, these activities afford them chances to practice the skills and competencies before an exam.
Sal Barone, Mathematics
What specific interventions do you use to help students learn from stress or failure? Mostly these would one-on-one interventions. This happens maybe about 20 times per semester (I have ~1,050 students in Math 1554 this semester which is a coordinated course and many students who have a different instructor may come to me to ask for advice). I talk to the student about study habits, and at times relate my own personal experiences with (academic) failure. I tell them that (truthfully) the syllabus is very forgiving and show them with a grade calculator what they need to get on the rest of the assessments to get a good grade in the class. After the chat, the student realizes that there is hope (so long as it is not a few days before the final exam!) And they realize that they need to work on better study habits, but they leave feeling motivated and prepared for doing hard work in order to improve and gain better understanding of the course concepts through drilling of problems and utilization of available course resources.
How do you create supportive learning conditions that promote student growth? I am very available to help the students, in person and on Piazza or email. Also there are many available course resources which can be very useful for the students who are working hard to understand the course materials.
What conditions have you created in your course that encourage students to persist? Math 1554 Linear Algebra is a bit of a grind. Students need to work consistently and diligently to improve over time on understanding not just the mechanical processes to solve problems, but **what solving the problems means**, and to some extent why the mechanical processes actually work. The class is a process, where we first show them the mechanical aspects and build upon this knowledge to attain a deeper understanding of the concepts. Students who only understand the mechanical knowledge will do ok on the exams, but a higher level of knowledge is required to do very well on exams. While it is possible to do well in the course even without doing very well on exams, most students will strive to learn the material deeply in order to try to do very well on exams. Through hard work over a long period of time, the students gain a better and deeper understanding of the course materials and start to see the *big picture*. When this happens, the picture snaps into focus and the mechanical knowledge that they have built up through persistent effort helps to support the conceptual picture. It is our goal in Math 1554 Linear Algebra that the students learn this strategy *in general* for their classes: building conceptual knowledge on top of mechanical knowledge. “A sequence of small efforts can add up to a big accomplishment.”
Wenjing Liao, Mathematics
I try to be very clear about the course material, the goals and the exams. Students are usually stressed about the exams and, sometimes, are not sure what is to be tested. In my class, I make exam problems similar to HW problems. I convey this practice to my students clearly at the beginning of the semester. Some students told me that having exam questions similar to homework made taking the exams less stressful.
To promote student growth, I always encourage students to ask questions or respond to my questions in class. I believe a positive attitude from the instructor when asking and answering questions is beneficial to students and helps create a supportive learning environment.