Maybe it’s the wrong question, Dan. Why don’t students like school? “Like” may not be the word we want to use. In our new faculty seminar this week, we discussed replacing our assumptions that people do and don’t like learning with questions of process and capacity: Are we ready for school? Do we know how to learn?
This week, we took another look at the syllabus (see the Files section in the Lehman Professional Faculty Development group) and prioritized our individual pedagogical objectives for the seminar. A quick comparison with our boardwork from week 1 reminded us that the syllabus was following rather than leading our motivations to work together this term.
As a frame for this spring, we spent time in small groups discussing the key themes of the introductory and concluding chapters of Willingham’s book. We generated definitions of learning and teaching and found that our groups split perspectives between “left-brain” and “right-brain” approaches: one group listed practical outcomes and methods to learning and teaching; the other group described more relational and introspective experiences. As we transferred our discussions to the whiteboard, we started to see intersections between left and right that began to bridge the gaps between the sciences and humanities represented in the room.
Jennifer Poggiali, our new Assistant Professor in Library Sciences for Art History, reminded us that it feels good to learn. Glen Johnson, Associate Professor in Health Sciences, added that we feel a sense of power when we learn: adding to knowledge means adding to capacity. This seems to support the argument that liking or not liking to learn is not really the question; we resist or embrace learning based on our own senses of what we can take in and use (and of course, our senses of our own capacities and opportunities may be faulty!).
Our group this week included health sciences, languages, and library faculty with specializations in biostatistics, community health, Spanish languages and literature, art history, philosophy, and health systems management. As we shared our responses to a teaching self-assessment survey, we began to share anecdotes of changing our teaching methods (and assumptions) in response to particular student needs. Our library faculty teach numerous workshops each term in addition to one-on-one consultations with faculty and students. The workshop audiences change as faculty bring in their classes for one or two sessions, and the workshop goals remain consistent, incorporating the latest research techniques and resources to teach students how to match finding and citing appropriate evidence for class projects with the assignments and their instructors’ expectations.
This differs from faculty who teach semester-long courses to consistent audiences, with individual session content that changes throughout the term. The conversations between our library and discipline faculty are thus filled with discoveries and distinct pedagogical concerns. We began to address these by designing our own logic models for teaching objectives that begin this term and continue through next spring. Emma Tsui, Assistant Professor in Health Sciences, did a great job of walking us through the concept and process of logic modeling. As we began to share our short-term objectives, Poggiali and Johnson found common ground in field trips for art history and biostatics students: next fall, Johnson’s undergraduate students may be traveling to the Bronx Zoo and the Botanical Gardens, and his graduate students may be taking water samples upstate in the Poconos.
We debriefed with a quick review of our discussions and activities, and yes, just like our students, found we had forgotten much of what we’d done. Using our meeting agenda helped us to recover group memory and fill in gaps in our notes. Sharing notes online and engaging in regular debriefing exercises seems to be good strategies for improving our learning!
Over the next weeks, we will take on Willingham’s 9 principles and begin to share our teaching challenges with each other. Each week, we post seminar handouts, notes, and pictures on our Google site and share selections with our CUNY Academic Commons groups for those who want “distance” participation.