Last week, I participated in a workshop about addressing social-emotional learnings (SEL) and cultural awareness issues in the classroom. One of the articles the facilitator had written about was building confidence in teachers. It made me think about how we build confidence in our students.
I have had many students express frustration with a lack of support from faculty and supervisors in the past. I have often reminded students that they will get through the academic process and everyone else in the course is also going through the academic hurdles for the first time. I thought maybe an ounce of prevention would be more effective and reduce student stress levels. I have watched my own college-aged children struggle with the “new normal” of a difficult academic year for many.
Often, faculty are difficult to get ahold of, and both of my own children have had faculty not respond to queries. We need to make sure we are responsive to student emails, calls, and other queries. Beyond that, we should be proactive and available to students. A good practice is to ensure your university email and phone messages are forwarded to your phone so you can respond to students even when away from your desk.
I created a simple two-question survey after the first session of my courses this semester. I asked students for three things I could do to assist them in order for them to be successful and confident of that success in the course. Secondly, I asked if they had any questions about the course that were not answered in the first session. I responded to those issues by posting an announcement in the LMS addressing all the issues raised for each course. However, responses to the first question are more generalizable.
The word cloud below shows that feedback, questions, and examples were all important terms. Specific and clear feedback was asked for in many cases. One student wrote, “Gentle constructive feedback.” As many of us know, reviewers and faculty can be a bit rough when reviewing materials. Winston Churchill once said, “When you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.” It is something to remember as we respond to students and our peers.
Another student wrote, “Give me advice about what needs to be improved, but with the advice give me guidance. My last research professor did not do that. … I do best when there is some guidance with the advice, and I feed off of that.” In many ways, it is important for faculty to model civil and courteous behavior to students.
Students asked for clear examples and templates. I explained that sometimes I provide examples in the form of past student exemplars. (Don’t forget to obtain permission to use them from the previous students.) At other times, the nature of the course is such that part of the assignment is for the student to analyze the issue and determine the best approach. In those cases, I do offer to provide feedback to students prior to submitting a final version.
It is also a solid practice to allow students who miss the mark to revise and resubmit assignments. This is because mastery of the material by each student should be a faculty member’s primary goal. Students ask for “high expectations” and to be supported as they “grow.” It is our job to support that growth in a humane manner. Remember, Carl Boyd has been quoted as stating, “No one rises to low expectations.” Dr. Boyd was correct. Students do need high expectations, but they also need to be reasonable and achievable. I have never understood the mindset that failing students makes the faculty member better.
Faculty are engaged in ensuring students learn. If students fail, we have failed. One way to ensure student success is to ask the students themselves. Asking at the beginning of the course is also a way to communicate to the students that you want them to be successful. Sometimes simply knowing that the professor cares can be a significant bump to student motivation–and all they need to fuel their success for the rest of the term.
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