“Inquiry-based learning is an umbrella term, encompassing a range of teaching approaches which involve stimulating learning with a question or issue and thereby engaging learners in constructing new knowledge and understandings.” (p. 57) Teachers who use these approaches act as facilitators of learning. Students start becoming more self-directed learners. A hodgepodge of approaches gets put under this umbrella, including case-based learning; problem-based learning; and discovery-oriented learning, which involves undertaking original research.
Teaching and Learning
As a sociology teacher, not only do I discuss topics related to oppression and inequality, but these topics comprise a pervasive and substantial portion of our pedagogy. The chapters on class stratification, race and ethnicity, and gender and sexuality are a required chunk of the curriculum by the social science department, and an obvious pedagogical necessity to the social scientist who knows that our location on the social hierarchy is tremendously dependent upon the “isms”—on an individual and institutional level. When covering a lesson on privilege and oppression—almost inexorably, and amongst others—at least one of the following responses from students ensues: denial, defensiveness, and/or diminishment. Aptly enough, their reactions exemplify a part of the lesson, and therefore can be used as a learning device in the liberal arts and social sciences classroom.
My students have taught me some invaluable lessons during my first two years as a college professor. I’d like to share three of the most important ones here. They aren’t new lessons and I didn’t use any unique methods to learn them. I collected data midsemester from students, I talked with them, and I looked closely at what was happening in my classroom. The lessons were there for me to learn, and taken together they have helped me think more clearly about what I want my students to know and do, and who I want them to become. They are lessons that have made me a better teacher.
When you look around your classroom, do you see students texting under their desks, or worse yet, right out in the open? Do you have students who skip class, arrive late or leave early, or come unprepared? If so, Christy Price, EdD has some words of advice for you.
Motivation—there are two kinds: intrinsic, which involves doing something because we want to do it, and extrinsic, which is doing something because we have to do it. A negative relationship exists between the two. Extrinsic motivation undermines intrinsic motivation. Students won’t be attending class because they want to if attending class is required. As a result of this negative relationship, students don’t have much intrinsic motivation because it’s been beaten out of them by most extrinsic educational experiences. And that’s a nutshell version of how most teachers understand motivation.
Today’s college instructors are expected not only to be engaging in their classes, but to engage students outside the classroom. Whether it’s supervising service-learning, taking students to professional conferences, leading study sessions in coffee houses, or inviting students into our homes, faculty are now expected to be with students in ways that change the kinds of relationships teachers and students have in the classroom. Teachers now interact with their students in a variety of contexts, many of them informal and some of them purely social. These new roles blur the line between being friendly toward students and being a friend of students. This matters whether you’ve been teaching for a while and no longer look like a student or whether your academic career is just starting. All faculty need to know how to build supportive and positive, but businesslike, relationships with students.
I have long pondered a phrase I learned from a mentor: “Witness the struggle.” Frances, my mentor, used the phrase when she talked about working with students in emotional pain. She was referring to those students who sometimes lash out in frustration over missed assignments, family dynamics, or other stressful life issues. As a career educator, I have a deep desire to help students and a strong tendency to offer solutions and suggestions. I want to fix their problems and tell them what to do. The wise words of this phrase offer a more powerful and profound answer to the part of me that thinks I need to rescue students. Its simple urging suggests that I be fully engaged and present, that I use silence to clear a space, and that I guard against telling students what to do. More often than not, students simply need to know that their voices count, that they have been heard, and that who they are matters.
“A disservice is done to any student cohort when they are globally defined by a single set of character traits. Within any generation, there is diversity and in the Millennial Generation, there is considerable diversity in background, personality and learning style.” (p. 223) So concludes a lengthy and detailed article that seeks, among other goals, to “demystify” the characteristics commonly attributed to students belonging to this generation. “Analysis of research data suggests that these students may not be as different from other generations in the fundamental process of learning as is regularly proposed.” (p. 215) These authors believe that’s important because “it is crucial to accurately assess which specific ‘stable characteristics’ truly impact the learning process and should be targeted for consideration in instructional design.” (p. 215)
The final portfolio of student work (be it writings, drawings, or a collection of different kinds of work) presents the instructor with a conundrum. As the culmination of student work, it needs to be submitted at the end of the course, but feedback opportunities then are severely limited. Those of us who use portfolio assignments do provide feedback at multiple points throughout the semester, but when the portfolio is completed, the course has ended and this final version cannot be discussed with students. Worse than that, for years, I cringed as I saw the graded portfolios accumulate outside my office. Some were never picked up.
The content of many courses is too focused on the facts—those details that students memorize, use to answer test questions, and then promptly forget. That criticism has been levied against many introductory college-level courses, especially by those of us who think faculty are too focused on covering content. But is it a fair criticism? Do introductory courses ignore the higher-level thinking skills, like those identified on the Bloom taxonomy? Is the evidence empirical or anecdotal?