Monday, February 19, 2018

Feedforward: Save Time, Save Students

     No matter what our subject, our level (K-12, College, Graduate) our modality (online or classroom) we are serving increasingly diverse classrooms of learners. The topic of underprepared students has come up in many places in my life recently; in departmental meetings, conversations with faculty, and on social media. "If only the students were better prepared, they would not have: flunked/dropped the course or program/stopped coming to class." You pick the ending; frustrated teachers are feeling that students aren't "ready" to succeed in their classes.  "How can we make them prepared?" they ask, heads shaking, and hoping someone will come up with a remedy for the problem. What they don't seem to ask as often is, "How can I reach these students?"  (Not because they don't care; faculty tend to be busy.)

     Remedies to this issue are now being written about from various perspectives; one excellent example is the  book, "Become a Student-ready College: A New Culture of Leadership for Student Success" which addresses various aspects of this dilemma, and the chapter "Becoming Whole-Person Educators" is especially pertinent.  But for those faculty who don't have the luxury of time or money to purchase and read largely on this topic - or any other -  are simply looking for something that will:

     Unfortunately, I fear there will not be a magical week zero course that will prepare the incredibly wide range of students walking into our real or virtual classrooms, although I am one of many who is at least half-tackling the concept. And we have learned already that admissions testing has very little to do with predicting student success, in spite of some faculty hopes that we can just admit the "ready" students. But as I explore this issue, I am stumbling upon some ways that faculty can address this issue on their own. 

     Without too much fuss. 

      One do-able step faculty can take is to utilize the concept of giving  "Feedforward" - a pathway to success for their specific subject. I recently heard this term used by  Dr. Jean Mandernach in her presentation, "10 Tips for more Efficient and Effective Online Teaching" at the fantastic virtual conference, "Transforming the Teaching and Learning Environment" offered by the University of Idaho. 

     In a nutshell, Feedforward turns Feedback on its head.  Her focus was the online environment,  but I would assert that this could be used for all modalities, with an intentional  focus on the students in your own area who are struggling. Do you find yourself sighing with despair quarter after quarter, with students making the same kinds of mistakes? Then change the way you are presenting your material by inserting a Feedforward aspect to your course.  Instead of spending so much time telling students what they did wrong afterwards, tell them how to do it right before they do an assignment. Give them tools for success before they start. (We may think we already do this. We may need to do it more.) This takes some time shifts (you have to allow some space in your course for this to happen) but the time and frustration you ultimately eliminate will be more than made up for.  

     Feedforward ideas: Show examples of what you are looking for. Walk students through rubrics, and explain what they mean.  Give them some links to online tools to help them improve their English/writing/reading skills. Offer multi-lingual vocabulary lists or important concepts, easily put together at sites such as Start with an example of a past exemplary student work, or have past students give advice on how to succeed. Building curriculum with the Feedforward concept in mind can help catch those struggling students in myriad ways. 

What are your thoughts? How might you incorporate this concept? 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Hey Liz! Your shoe's untied!

     Sometime between June 2017 and November 2017, it became alright to address colleagues in work email with "hey."   I am not sure when who or what started this, but one day we only used it in casual, spoken interchanges and the the next day my email inbox was full of "Hey, Liz". 

     I remember when I was in elementary school and kids were using the phrase "hey!" and every time we did, whatever adult was in the room (back then, usually a parent) would invariable respond with, "Hay is for horses."  The gist being, it is not a word for people to use with each other.  In spite of  - or because of - this, the word continued to thrive in casual, spoken settings. The kind of situation where you wanted make sure you got someone's attention. As in, "Hey Liz! Your shoe's untied!" 

     Since then it started to be used as a spoken greeting; "Hey, how are you?" But I had not seen it in my academic work email until this year.  And then suddenly, they were everywhere.  And every time I see it, I have a visceral reaction: This is inappropriate, and I don't feel like you are treating me very nicely.  I consider myself open minded and inclusive of various voices and ways of expression.  But being asked to do something via email with an "Hey Liz" start does not make me feel very included. It makes me want to check to see if my shoe is untied. (Ah. So this is what it feels like to get old!)

     I write this after a lot of reflection.  After all, it does matter how we address each other in professional situations. Last year, I changed the greeting from "Dear RTC Student" to "Dear Awesome RTC Student' in my welcome student email from eLearning, and I was surprised that for the first time ever, I got several responses of "Thank you" from students.  Buoyed by that response, I have started sending emails to faculty groups with "Dear Awesome Faculty" headings as well.  It makes me feel good to write that.  It makes them feel good to see that.  Language matters, especially the language that sets a tone for a written exchange.

     I know that language changes is inevitable ("Hi Liz" seems fine to me, but at one point "hi" was not used as a written greeting in the workplace) but being aware of nuances is crucial for effective communication.  The ability to adjust language to fit with different situations seems like a skill we should be both using and teaching our students. At this point, I would model that approach.  What do you think?