What does it mean to create a course, let alone a curriculum, designed to foster this change in our students, to allow them the ability to surprise you with how m? I personally don’t have a clue but I feel like I’m getting a better grasp as I age more into my role and into what I’m more comfortable believing now as a teacher, and a quote from a very wise Developmental Educator sticks in my brain as I think about it, “they always have the right to surprise you”: I must build a class where change is possible, at any point, and where I reward that change at any point.
It’s easy to place a moratorium on students if for any other reason than because teaching Developmental Education can be challenging on teachers. If we took every failure among our students on an emotional level most of us would be emotional wrecks – no other department has higher failure rates than we do, and most teachers find ways of making sure their work doesn’t turn them chronically depressed because they’re haunted with all the students they couldn’t save, as per the previous entry. (Teachers often feel like their students succeed on their own merits, but fail because they weren’t good enough.)
For many years, it was easy for me to tell who was in serious jeopardy to fail based on the first exam – because I teach Math, which much like Reading is a constructivist discipline where one lesson’s mastery is critical in understanding the next lesson – it often feels like trying to teach higher-order concepts like algebra to students who count on their fingers is like trying to build a skyscraper on mud. And, many times, it turns out to be.
But I really try to build my classes now to catch as many students who would fail without my help, and would pass with my help, and to give them the techniques to succeed. I don’t want you to think I have some panacea – my hunch is my success rates are just like everyone else’s. But here are some things I do to foster change in my classes:
- Try to integrate study skills into every aspect of the course to build mastery. I have no shame in admitting I allow my students to use their notes during tests. It’s easier for them, and me, to see the rewards in good note-taking if they can see immediately how it will allow them to benefit. As a Math teacher most of my students don't understand the difference between notes and scratch work. Without me teaching how to take notes, directly - and I don't say this because I believe I'm an Educational Messiah, because I definitely don't - many of my students will never learn how to take notes in a Math class, let alone actually do it.
- Allow retests, with a cost. There are two main problems I see teachers having with a retest policy: it cheapens the original attempt (because a student can knowingly blow it off), and it puts a more work on the teacher. The compromise I’ve used in my classes is I make students demonstrate that they’ve changed their ways by getting tutoring and by doing an online re-test before being eligible for another re-test. I tell my students on the first day of class that I will not give up on them, and the only way they will ever fail my class is if they stop trying, and I believe these policies make this statement (which gives them a great deal of confidence) true. It also makes my workload more efficient because students aren’t just spinning their wheels and repeating their mistakes – and, in repeating them, entrenching them to make them even harder to overcome.
Do you believe change is a necessary part of Developmental Education? What do you do to foster change?