Opening Lines of Communication to Get Students to Take Responsibility for Their Actions

megan-wagaman-no-excuses

By Megan Wagaman
Math Department
Delaware Technical Community College
George Campus

Recently, the research discussion group of the Stanton/George Instructional Innovation Committee met to discuss an article by Scott Gaier titled Understanding Why Students Do What They Do: Using Attribution Theory to Help Students Succeed Academically. In this post, I wanted to share some highlights from the article as well as a the fruits of our group discussion.

One of the greatest challenges in helping students learn is identifying why they do what they do.

Scott Gaier, 2015

Attribution theory, developed by Bernard Weiner, was extensively investigated throughout the 1970s, and is still used today, partly in an attempt to meet this challenge.

The main idea behind attribution theory is that we naturally attribute causes to behaviors we observe; these “attributions” we make about students affect how we handle issues. Attributions made by students (their explanations for their own failure or success) affect how they handle these same issues. Attributions can be a factor in motivation and willingness to expend effort.

The article emphasized that to best help students, teachers need to understand to what a student attributes his or her success or failure, so that the teacher can guide a student to perhaps a better understanding of the situation, and appropriate interventions. As Gaier notes, “ … the more a teacher understands the cause for a student’s behavior, the more likely and able the teacher is to influence the student’s future behavior and decision making.”

For example, if a student thinks he fails all the tests in a class because the class meets at 8:30 and he is not a morning person, the teacher could help the student understand that, morning person or not, the student needs to study, do homework, and thoughtfully review class material — maybe at a time of day when he can better process it.

Essentially, we can push students towards success by helping them get past faulty attributions and take responsibility.

The article emphasized communication and caring as the keys to help students and teachers understand actual reasons underlying observed results.

Our discussion centered on the implications of this idea. How can we help students take responsibility for their learning? How can we find out what students think are underlying causes of lack of success (what students are attributing low achievement to)? How can we help students make the right sort of effort for success?

We did not arrive at one fail-safe method, but we kept coming back to the importance of keeping communication lines open, and how to best do this. It may be by stopping class 5 or 10 minutes early every session so that students know that is an easy time that they can talk to a teacher.

It could be by collecting an “exit ticket” at the end of each class that students hand to you personally, so you have at least a brief personal interaction with each and every one of them.

It could be sending check-in emails to students who have missed class or fallen behind — maybe with a “hope everything is OK” or something that could open the door for them to say more, without opening the door for excuses.

It could be though a quick Google Form survey to see how the each member of the class is doing with course content and expectations.

It could be just finding those casual moments to say hi or have a brief conversation with students, and being sure they realize that coming for help is not a sign of weakness. I

Or, it could simply be remaining ready and aware to not let those teachable, communication-opening moments pass by. Once communication begins, we can help students focus on the factors they can control, help them understand what constitutes effort, and let them know we care.

Gaier concludes with three key take-aways. First, he stresses that “Just having an awareness of attribution theory … is important for teaching and learning.” Second, once we have developed this awareness, “… it is very important to have student-teacher interactions that encourage and foster good communication… teachers need to genuinely care about students and the students’ learning.” Finally, during these interactions, “we need to be willing to be wrong,” and change our beliefs about the reasons for students’ behavior.

Students are ultimately the ones who set their own goals and priorities, and establish their study methods, but by keeping our minds open to their attributions for events, we can help students learn to better manage their situations to find success.


Reference

Gaier, S. E. (2015). Understanding why students do what they do: Using Attribution Theory to help students succeed academically. Research and Teaching in Developmental Education, 31(2), 6 – 19.

Why I Added Research,Writing, and Presentation to My Math Class

Why I Added Research,Writing, and Presentation to My Math Class

By Rachel Chase
Mathematics Department
Delaware Technical Community College
George Campus

After attending an undergraduate research conference, I was inspired to implement a research driven assignment into the statistics courses I teach. Over the last few semesters of trials and tribulations, I have learned much about what works and what doesn’t. Continue reading

Engaged Students Are Successful Students, But Only When We Do It Right

Raising Hands

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Design
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

If you work in higher education, you know all the buzz words: learning styles, differentiation, backward design, active learning, and so on. While it’s easy to scoff at buzz words as just another fad, it is also important to realize that common terms like these help educators start conversations about what matters most in the moment. The buzz word that seems to capture what matters most right now in higher education is “student success”. Students at Delaware Technical Community College are said to succeed when they achieve educational goals through their experience at the College, whether these goals come to fruition through a degree, certificate, transfer, or other achievement. Continue reading

Tests That Teach: How Exams Can Be More Than Mere Evaluations

by Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Special thanks to Jade Burris for sharing this New York Times article by Benedict Carey.

Our typical understanding of quizzes, tests, and exams is that they are useful tools for evaluating how well students have grasped the material we are trying to teach them. In, “Why Flunking Exams is Actually a Good Thing”, Benedict Carey looks at a long trail of psychological research and theory (starting with Francis Bacon in 1620) in order to show how testing—in particular pre-testing—primes the brain to learn better. It’s a bit of a long read, but it’s worth the effort. The article suggests some pretty practical, research-based ways that you can use tests to boost your students’ learning rather than just calculate their grade.

Read the full article here.

What are your thoughts? How would you feel about giving students a pre-final on day 1?

A Synopsis of “How Learning Works” (Part 4 of 7): To Develop Mastery, Students Must Acquire Component Skills, Practice Integrating Them, and Know When to Apply What They Have Learned

Puzzle

by Cory Budischak
Energy Management Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Welcome to part four of seven of my synopsis of How Learning Works by Susan Ambrose et al. If you’ve missed out on the first few posts, you can catch up here. Today, I’ll take a look at the fourth principle proposed in the book: To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned. As in previous posts, I’ll start by summarizing the authors’ analysis of this principle based on three questions. After that, I’ll address a fourth question of my own: How do I plan to incorporate this into my own instruction? Continue reading

A Synopsis of “How Learning Works” (Part 3 of 7): Students’ Motivation Determines, Directs, and Sustains What They Do to Learn

Motivation

by Cory Budischak
Energy Management Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

This is the third post in a series of seven focused on the book How Learning Works by Susan Ambrose et al. You can find my previous synopses here. Today, I’ll take a look at the third principle proposed in the book: Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn. As in previous posts, I’ll start by summarizing the authors’ analysis of this principle based on three questions. After that, I’ll address a fourth question of my own: How do I plan to incorporate this into my own instruction? Continue reading

A Synopsis of “How Learning Works” (Part 2 of 7): How Students Organize Knowledge Infulences How They Learn and Apply What They Know

Catalog

by Cory Budischak
Energy Management Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

A few weeks ago, I examined the first “principle of learning” proposed in the book How Learning Works by Susan Ambrose et al. If you haven’t already, check out that post here. Today, I’ll take a look at the second principle: How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know. I’ll start by summarizing the authors’ analysis of this principle based on three questions. After that, I’ll address a fourth question of my own: How do I plan to incorporate this into my own instruction? Continue reading

Stuck in the Mess: Learning Citation by Mucking Around

Mud

by Ernie Kulhanek
English Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

If you’ve ever read a research paper, you know that students struggle with citation. As a result, they often rely on citation machines widely and freely available on the internet, as well as other resources, such as the “cite” button embedded in EBSCOhost and other library databases. While I typically encourage students to use every resource available to them, I also warn them about the trustworthiness of these machines. Frankly, these programs get it wrong fairly often, and students need to realize that it’s their responsibility to check for errors. In order to instill this lesson, I created a straightforward activity to help students get stuck in the mess that is APA citation, muck around a bit, and then pull themselves free. Continue reading

Move It! How Motion Relates to Learning

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

A special thanks to Ernie Kulhanek at Stanton campus for sharing this article from Slate. Author Annie Murphy Paul explores the educational implications of “embodied cognition”, a scientific theory which asserts that almost everything we learn is “understood in terms of the experience of our senses and of moving ourselves through space.” Paul cites various research demonstrating the validity of this claim–from physics students who learn better when they get to move virtual gears and roller coasters to students who are primed for history lessons by playing the video game Civilization. Check out the full article to see why students learn better when they get to manipulate something and how educational technology plays a role in the process.

A Synopsis of “How Learning Works” (Part 1 of 7): Students’ Prior Knowledge Can Help or Hinder Learning

Prior Knowledge

by Cory Budischak
Energy Management Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

In their book, How Learning Works, Susan Ambrose et al. classify “seven principles of learning”, which are basically general rules that can be applied to almost any learning experience. The seven principles are as follows:

  1. Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning
  2. How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know
  3. Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn
  4. To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned
  5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning
  6. Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning
  7. To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning

Throughout the book, the authors analyze each principle by asking three primary questions:

  1. What are examples of learning issues that this principle can address?
  2. What does research say about this principle?
  3. How can instructors teach with this principle in mind?

This post will be the first in a series of seven. In each post, I will examine a different learning principle by summarizing the authors’ response to these three questions before addressing a fourth question of my own: How do I plan to incorporate this into my instruction? So let’s get started with the first principle: Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.

Continue reading