Courage to Take Risks

In our second Innovators’ Toolkit, “Risk Taking and Managing Student Expectations,” we discussed the challenges of risk-taking in the classroom and strategies to address them.  As fellow Richard Bautch reminded me, one of our distinguishing characteristics drawn from our Holy Cross heritage and expressed in our mission is the “courage to take risks”.

Here is a round up of challenges and strategies discussed by our fellows:

Student discomfort

Concerns

  • can affect climate in the class
  • negative effects on student evaluations

 Strategies

  • Figure out if they are uncomfortable
    • Pull students aside – spot interviews (if there was something you could change, what would it be?) or group interviews
    • Mid-semester evaluations/anonymous poll (but, sometimes you can’t fully address discomfort) (minor adjustments – small extensions for assignments, etc.)
    • Google surveys, anonymous student feedback. Find out about their expectations early in the semester (What have you heard from a friend?), track their feedback periodically.
      • Caveat: it may be dangerous giving students a voice if you are not able to address concerns
  • Acknowledge discomfort
    • Address concerns in person, in class. (Break down the us vs. them dynamic.)
    • Class discussion about the risky item/subject.
      • Video of other groups who have addressed the subject.
  • Reading the assignment sheet, looking for limitations; what are my own self-imposed limitations and what are theirs?
  • Minimize discomfort through scaffolding:  Break down a portion of the assignment: are there questions about this portion of the assignment?  Putting in smaller number of points to lead up to the largest part of the assignment
    • Submit a portion of the assignment ahead of time
  • Encourage them to take steps to minimize their own discomfort (e.g., follow the course schedule)
    • Send out regular reminder announcements
    • Giving lots of examples to clarify expectations
  • Include students in experiment and explain why you are implementing it and the research that supports the project/teaching method. Team effort!!!!
  • Try risky topics in areas that are of interest to students. Pick items that connect to students.

Big project without proper preparation

Concerns

  • Students wait until last minute
  • Student discomfort

Strategies

  • Structure, guidance. Giving them the big picture along with iterative steps, benchmarks, iterative feedback.
  • Clarify and repeat expectations; explain how knowledge and skills will be applied and transfer to new contexts.
  • Minimize discomfort through scaffolding:  Break down a portion of the assignment: are there questions about this portion of the assignment?  Putting in smaller number of points to lead up to the largest part of the assignment
    • Submit a portion of the assignment ahead of time

Student fear of the unknown

Concerns

  • Confidence versus comfort. How do we help students overcome self-criticism?

Strategies

  • Start with small steps. Build confidence and help them establish and recognize early low-stakes successes. Ungraded early assignments to help students understand and gain from their own failures too.

Managing the unknown

Concerns

  • Takes more time than expected (challenges of being able to plan ahead)
  • Flexibility and perception that it is disorganization.
  • Be flexible, but how do you maintain flexibility but also define limits for students as they may expect or need?

Strategies

  • there is not one way * (methods will vary by professor and style)
  • Balance between being flexible and maintaining authority: built on trust that is established over time, or even during the course
  • establish patterns in the class for how things work “after you do this one module, the rest will be similar”
  • Reflection as a way to measure unknowns (or if they learned certain things that aren’t measured in the artifact)
  • Minute papers: last thing they do in class, as a “ticket” to leave class…quick reflections give an up-to-the-minute pulse of how students are feeling at a more granular level.
  • Building in flexibility in the course timeline so if you need to rearrange/wiggle the schedule, you can without adversely affecting the rhythm of the course.
  • Negotiate the language of TBAs in explicit ways in the syllabus and schedule.
  • Make flexibility part of the plan.

Giving up control in class

Concerns

  • Challenges of being able to plan ahead

Strategies

  • Balance: decide in what contexts students will lead discussion and in what contexts the instructor should recover control. Trust your own experience to recognize where a safety net is needed.

 

 

 

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