What I’m Teaching – April 20

When launching a pedagogical experiment, it’s better to keep the students in the loop. Mid-semester, I decided to not give the students feedback. It’s been more of a social experiment for me than I anticipated. One that I’m starting to question. I’m questioning it because I’m feeling the students’ anxiety. My conviction is waning. Maybe I’ll give in….
The intention was to put students in a place of unknowing that was more like the real world. With entrepreneurship, you often have to go with your gut and do what feels right. My opinion doesn’t matter. It’s the people who will eventually support your proposal, be your partner, or invest in your idea.
To be a successful change maker, one must be observant, find problems and understand how they came to be. This kind of success won’t be measured in a grade.
But I wrote in my own syllabus how their grade would be determined. I haven’t held up my end of the bargain. 
A few years ago a friend gave me a link to this post from a writing professor in Indiana, Brad King. I’m not sure I would have been so completely with him when I was a college student. But having traveled the road of life with lots of bumps and disappointments, I was moved by his efforts to offer this wisdom to his students. If you haven’t read his Tigger Talk: On Life, the Process, and Everything, please do.
Learning outcomes are more important than a letter grade.
I come from the mind set of getting evaluated for a musical performance. I couldn’t cram the night before a concert. I had to show up for all rehearsals, identify my weak areas, and work them out on my own. There is not one judge of my performance. Feedback was from the audience, the ensemble, the conductor, but more critically, my self. The true test was whether or not I would win the audition. I had to learn how to identify all the problems I needed to fix in order to be successful.
I want the students to identify problems, find solutions, and create effective ways to present innovative ideas and solutions. The judge of their work will be their peers, their partners, their clients, their customers, their investors, their audience.
I have intentionally kept grading and feedback vague because I’m also experimenting with the course. The opportunity of minimal feedback is for students to see if they will be more intrinsically motivated for their own learning instead of being accountable to me. Every one of my pedagogical experiments have never negatively impacted students grades; only my course evaluations. I’m willing to take risks to make learning more meaningful. If students have been attending regularly and contributing to class discussion, they will be fine in this course in their final grade. I also expect them to submit all the assignments. For those students who are missing work, I track them down and we have a conversation.
This weekend is the big engagement weekend. The students are supposed to volunteer for a festival in some capacity, or participate in some other meaningful way. I’ve offered them the opportunity to experience the chili tasting part as an option as long as they buy a pass.
I’m still working on how I can guide their accountability. Having them write reflections are good ways for them to demonstrate what they’ve learned; but I’m more interested in what problems they’ve discovered. All along this semester, questions have driven conversation and reflection. I want them to go one step beyond the usual, “I learned more about Bethlehem’s Southside.” I’m interested in what they’re wondering about. Why didn’t they know the discovery before they participated in the festival? What factors might have led to them learning about these discoveries? How might they improve sharing the knowledge they acquired? Who will care about what they learned?
I’m prone to overthinking. This keeps me up at night, and makes me get out of bed in a panic. Maybe I should post grades. But I still want them to care more about what they are learning than their grade.
I can’t make them care. But I can keep encouraging them to experience and to tell me what they learned.
Help me, readers. Be bold. Judge me.
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