May 7, 2012
Disposition Development: A Neglected Voice for the Pursuit of Excellence among College Students
Have you ever wondered what motivates students to come to class without reading and studying the assigned chapter? You are not alone! Faculty members across the nation are becoming increasingly challenged by students’ lack of dispositions that enhance learning. Every discipline has learning standards and achievement expectations that help drive students’ success. However, such expectations do not equal success. It is the motivation to pursue excellence, a work ethic that reflects the determination to solve problems, the attention to the smallest details, and the desire to be the very best that distinguishes students who make a difference in their given professions.
Unfortunately, many students miss class, come in late, fail to read and study assignments, text message during lectures, and do not value the body of knowledge shared in class. Such behaviors are influenced by dispositions detrimental to not only their learning, but also to their profession. Faculty members must pay significant attention to those student behaviors critical to the pursuit of excellence and those behaviors that sabotage learning.
Many faculty members assume students enter the college classroom with the disposition to be successful. The reality is many students enter the classroom lacking the dispositions to be successful or make the necessary improvements to positively impact their learning outcomes. Although it’s easy to identify such problems, it is harder to address them. Faculty must find ways to influence students’ thoughts that impact their behaviors and achievement of the body of knowledge and skills sets prescribed by the discipline.
Students’ awareness of disposition development is the first step. They must learn that dispositions involve habits of thinking which influence their actions and behaviors. Explicit instruction about specific dispositions becomes a critical part of such awareness. Students need to know how dispositions, such as initiative, diligence, integrity, responsibility, and determination, influence their actions and behaviors in the classroom and how those actions and behaviors impact their level of achievement and pursuit of excellence.
Developing and Valuing Dispositions
Movement of students from an awareness level to a level where their thoughts become actions requires development. Faculty members must organize not only instruction that addresses the body of knowledge and skill sets, but also the dispositions that help the students’ pay attention, work hard, take risks, and go beyond the expectations. This explicit instruction should naturally integrate with the existing course content and support students’ valuing the dispositions, just as they value their content knowledge. More importantly, faculty must help students reflect on their commitment to transform disposition deficits into disposition strengths. This valuing of dispositions is a necessary part of disposition development. As such, disposition development should become an integral part of the faculty members’ roles and responsibilities; a part that includes explicit discussions and assignments that represent the awareness, development, and valuing of dispositions.
Assessment of Disposition
Formal and informal ways to measure student performance is a commonly accepted practice. We use tests, quizzes, projects and papers to measure the level or depth of knowledge. However, measuring dispositions is uniquely challenging because it is influenced greatly by the social and cultural context in which one lives. In fact, the difficulty in assessing dispositions is what keeps many faculty members from engaging in dialogue about disposition development or assessment.
One solution to consider is a multi-tiered system to include students’ self- assessment and a formal assessment administered by faculty. This allows for students and faculty to reflect on the dispositions that are strengths and dispositions that impair students’ learning and pursuits beyond the classroom. Assessment is an important part of the process. Some would argue the most important factor to consider.
In summary, students’ attention to dispositional development will enhance learning. Such learning should translate into more knowledgeable and skillful practitioners. Those students who internalize or value their dispositional development will more likely reach an optimal level of development. The students will also become more cognizant of the impact the dispositional development has on their pursuit of excellence post-graduation. Subsequently, it becomes critical that faculty take an active role in promoting disposition development and that the voices expressed about professional development no longer be neglected.
Dr. Candice Dowd Barnes is an assistant professor at the University of Central Arkansas. Dr. Janet Filer is an associate professor at the University of Central Arkansas.