I give assignments to my students with guidelines that look much like grant applications. I don’t give them any idea of what I’m looking for. They don’t need to please me, or tell me things they think I want to hear.

I have them experience community assets, find problems or areas of improvement. They come up with theories on why that problem exists, and wonder how many ways to fix it. More importantly, they need to know how best to approach the solution.

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Some of my students are lost. They want feedback. They want to know how they are doing on their grade. I teach them how to face frustration and anxiety. I’m teaching them how to prepare for facing problems with not really knowing how to do it. Through their frustration, they come to be their best critic; judging their work on merits that mean something to them first; me second.

Could it be my own musical training that leads me to structure the learning experience with this outcome in mind. It’s not that I’m trying to pass along the “suffering” as a rite of passage. It’s that through the working things out, the answer and the process of getting the answer is theirs – not mine. It’s not only knowledge, it’s confidence in knowing they can figure it out.

This week I did something I should have done a long time ago. I had them pitch their idea to their peers in a three minute “Shark Tank.” I also invited the Southside District Coordinator to hear the pitches; for a “stranger with idea judgement authority” to balance the “professor with grade authority.” It was also a good chance for her to hear their ideas and theories on why there are social and cultural challenges between Lehigh and the Southside. I videotaped their presentations. After they all gave their pitches, we talked about what they could improve if there was a grant officer in the room. When they review their video, they’ll find much more to think about in terms of their presentation.

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Students need to perform more. A final presentation at the end of the semester doesn’t help them deal with performance issues. They need to present many times in order to get familiar with the performance anxiety, and understand that preparation, practice, and a polished presentation will have better success than the ones slammed together at the last minute. We can tell when students put in more effort on their suit than their speech. We also know when we are getting b*llsh*t.

I’m sure many of my colleagues have figured this out already. I’m just glad I started this on week 8 so that students have more chances to perfect their pitch.



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