Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
The end of the fall semester at Metropolitan State University of Denver – which to many was another challenging, stressful, sometimes-chaotic one – it is a great time to remember the critical need to prioritize self-care and wellness. The importance of unwinding to give yourself time for a healthy, revitalizing winter break must be near the top of your to-do list. Or even better: Throw out that to-do list and work on your personal wellness to rejuvenate.
Take a SIP of this: Rejuvenation
Take the time for a temporary respite every day, even if it is only 15 minutes. If you can, let that time grow to 30 minutes, an hour, an afternoon, a day or, if you dare, a week. Allow yourself to put down your responsibilities, work or problems. Did you know that getting away from everything teaches you exactly what you love? It is rejuvenating, therapeutic and healthful to step away. When was the last time you took time just for you? Take a step back to care for yourself.
In the early stages of the pandemic, we had “too much time” and some folks even became bored. People started new hobbies such as baking bread or fine-tuned their golf game; some even learned to play cribbage. Then, life started to get back to a sort of new normal, and life’s realities ramped up again. Let’s remember the slower pace that life can be. Schedule your self-care and commit to your schedule. Know that you can control only the controllable and that you can control yourself. To help you rejuvenate over the winter break, below is a list of possible ideas to help you unwind.
- Say “no” to more things without feeling guilty.
- Do one thing every week that scares you. Challenge and grow yourself – you’ll feel better as a person, and your confidence will soar.
- Learn breathing techniques. Take a deep breath and hold it for five seconds. Slowly release the breath, and wait five seconds before taking another breath. Do this multiple times a day.
- Schedule two-week or monthlong holidays throughout the year, just because.
- Schedule days in your month to do absolutely nothing.
- Allow buffer time (30 minutes to an hour) in your schedule, so you’re not rushing from one thing to another.
- Be a little unpredictable; be spontaneous.
- Do what you love. Give yourself time to be creative.
- Pamper yourself. Get a massage. Spend a day at the spa or give yourself a manicure and enjoy a long hot bath. Add bath salts and fragrant bubbles to your bath.
- If it is at all possible, turn off your cellphone and computer without having a panic attack.
- Create a self-care ritual that includes exercise, meditation, reading, writing or saying affirmations.
- Make time for meal breaks, including breakfast, lunch and dinner. Turn technology off, don’t try to multitask and just enjoy your meal.
- Practice extreme self-care weekly as a non-negotiable. Have a checklist with your favorite self-care practices and tick them off as you complete them throughout the week.
- Keep a journal at the end of each day. Share your thoughts and feelings for the day. Write in your journal like you’re talking to your best friend – let everything out.
- Keep a gratitude journal – listing three positive/gratitude items a day may change the way our brain is wired to see more positive things.
- Practice daily meditation and/or yoga. Attend an introductory class at the gym or use a yoga app.
- Take a few minutes to review SIP 12.10: Prioritizing self-care and SIP 13.8: Taking care of ourselves first.
- Take time to care for you. Making your revitalization a priority will reinforce the teacher you want to be.
Still thirsty? Take a SIP of this:
Rankin, J.G. (2016). First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and Success (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315622477
Schwartz, T. & McCarthy, C. (2007). Manage Your Energy Not Your Time. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2007/10/manage-your-energy-not-your-time
Skovholt, T.M. & Trotter-Mathison, M. (2010). The Resilient Practitioner: Burnout Prevention and Self-Care Strategies for Counselors, Therapists, Teachers, and Health Professionals, Second Edition (2nd ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203893326
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
Let’s be honest about writing.
In the professional world, writing timed essays isn’t common. And yet, in most academic disciplines, students are expected to produce quality writing, often research-informed, under the constraints of our prompts and deadlines while managing other end-of-semester projects and exams as well as off-campus life and work.
Moreover, students have been taught to adhere to hetero-cisgender White-supremacist rules and rubrics for “good writing” (Inoue, AB.; Poe, M. Poe and Elliot, E. 2019; Kendi, I.X. 2019; Condon, F. and Young, V.A. 2017; Petrosi, K. 2015). BIPOC students carry with them stories of forced unlearning of their English and writing styles; for more information about more-equitable grading practices, see SIPs 3.6, 3.7, 4.4, 5.14, 10.9, 10.11 and 14.6.
The hard truth for students: Most students readily list their writing weaknesses and undervalue their writing strengths. You may hear students complain about essays’ time-consuming nature, which they may or may not enjoy, that produce highly subjective grades. Students may have internalized a lack of confidence in their writing or catastrophize writing as fruitless or a conduit for unexplainable or unreasonable grades based on a history of red-penned papers. They express feeling discouraged and defeated. (Check out SIP 4.8 on ways to challenge students’ negative mindsets.) Some semester projects and exams may be weighted so heavily that student success requires near-perfect research and writing above and beyond understanding and applying the course’s core concepts.
That’s a lot of pressure on students. And yes, all instructors have been through the same end-of-semester writing crunches when we were students. Does it have to be this way now just because it was then?
Meanwhile, we instructors start with scholarly intentions, confident that our assignments and exam questions showcase learning in many areas. Then stacks upon stacks pile up, and we find ourselves in a similar time crunch brought on by grade deadlines and semester weariness. We’ve addressed the frustrations of grading and the seemingly subjective evaluation of student writing before: SIPs 4.5, 5.13, 10.7.
The hard truth for instructors is that written assessments take demonstrably longer to read, evaluate and assign a grade to than multiple-choice exams and practicums. In end-of-term hurried and harried submissions, student writing can be harder to decipher. Ideas may be repeated. We have been encouraged, through the tradition of student writing, to provide feedback through white-supremacist hierarchical feedback – a stackable mix of comments, rubrics and summary comments for each student’s submission. Instead of looking forward to the pleasure of reading student successes, instructors may feel overwhelmed.
Final projects don’t need to be drudgery. What if students and instructors employed more compassion to end-of-semester writing? Grading with compassion for students and yourselves will minimize the time crunches of quick-turnaround deadlines for you and will minimize students’ apprehension toward writing.
Take a SIP of this: Self-compassion and Compassion for Writers
If you have five minutes
- Validate that writing is hard, time-consuming and laborious. Seventeenth-century metaphysical poet John Donne called writing “labor of the mind – a job like laying bricks.” Students’ writing experiences are real.
- Set expectations for students and yourself. Remind everyone that the hard work of learning the core of the course is mostly behind them and that this is the moment to draw on that learning. See SIPs 2.12, 4.12, and 14.3.
- Check in with students in different ways before the deadline or exam. For take-home projects and essays, ask students to write a one-paragraph project update. This update encourages students to think about their topic over a period of time and provides you with an opportunity to clarify the assignment. See SIPs 2.8, 9.4.
- Encourage students to put ideas on the page. Renowned writer Anne Lamott recommends writers of all levels to celebrate their “shitty first drafts” and resist the temptation to judge the quality of writing in early drafts (Lamott, 1995).
- Do quick reviews of writing-style pet peeves and preferences. This is a moment to communicate with students (and to remind yourself) how small proofreading mistakes are easily made and easily avoided. If missing or mismatched citations bother you, then share your pro citation tips and tricks so students may limit them. Don’t give a grammar lesson. For more in-depth suggestions on how to address writing and citation pet peeves see SIPs 6.11, 10.3, 13.7 and 13.10.
- Share free or subscription proofreading apps such as Grammarly and ProWritingAid and citation sites such as Citation Builder and Purdue Owl or Microsoft Word’s grammar-, spelling- and citation-checker tools. Explain that these tools are great places to proof their work.
- Show students how to use Unicheck in Canvas to check their citations.
- Introduce to students Metropolitan State University of Denver’s helpful writing and researching resources, such as free one-on-one conversations with the Writing Center, the Tutoring Center and the STEM Tutoring Center, and other services such as Doc Drop, an online content-read-through consultation offered by the Writing Center.
- Practice stress management. Leading students in deep-breathing exercises and other destress activities resets end-of-term anxiety. See SIPs 6.15, 9.7 and 11.3.
- Set Canvas assignment options for anonymous grading or flip over the title page on projects and GreenBooks before you begin grading. Anonymous grading can reduce implicit bias.
If you have 30 minutes
- Provide class time to work on writing. For take-home projects, ask students to bring materials to work on, no matter where they are in their writing processes. This can work for timed in-class essays, too. Ask students to practice writing on a prompt that relates to (or will be) the exam question(s).
- Give more time and feedback to prewriting, such as outlining and drafts, so that students can incorporate more-critical conceptual feedback during their writing process. SIP 3.12 presents the value of rough drafts.
- Share one of your marked-up drafts with your students. This reminds you and them that writing is a hard, messy process. The pressure for perfection lessens as students see that the professional in front of them doesn’t create perfection all at once.
- Provide examples and samples from former students as guides for current students (SIP 7.14).
- Incorporate contract grading for anti-racist grading practices that support MSU Denver’s multiple-Englishes stance. SIP 5.5 offers ideas on applying contract grading for all disciplines.
- When you’re grading, set a timer. Pace your grading. The average time to grade a first-year college essay is 15-25 minutes. Set reasonable amounts of time for the learning level and the subject matter of the papers.
- Chunk grading. It’s OK to grade five essays from one class and then grade five essays from a different-subject class. Marathon grading sessions may seem productive until you’re taking longer and losing focus. See SIP 7.9 for more tips on dividing grading into doable tasks.
- When time is up, get up. Reward yourself with a good stretch, grab a fresh cup or walk around the floor. Return to the grading with fresh eyes and renewed grace.
- “Sit on your hands.” In other words, resist marking up the writing and instead offer summative feedback. Joseph Williams (1981) argued, “When we read for typos, letters constitute the field of attention; content becomes virtually inaccessible. When we read for content, semantic structures constitute the field of attention; letters – for the most part – recede from our consciousness” (p.154). While it might be tempting as a scholarly reader to elaborate on research or offer deeper critical questions, remind yourself that this writing is the culmination of a student’s learning within a timed environment. Student-writing feedback need not be comprehensive, because students’ learning on this particular topic in this particular moment has ended.
- As you grade, remind yourself that any student product is not a reflection of you-the-scholar. When you find yourself mumbling back to the paper, it’s time for a break. Use sticky notes, find humor in a meme or text or call a friend. Intellectually, you already know that a student’s work is not your work. Yet many professors take on the burden of student performance as a reflection of their own job or scholarly expertise. Build in reminders that you are not a product of the students’ writings. You’ll feel better during and after grading.
If you have an hour or more
- Learn more about compassionate grading (SIP 11.12), contract grading and labor-contract grading for an anti-racist approach to grading writing.
- Share and compare grading tips with colleagues. Norming rubrics equalizes the grading playing field and removes some of the internalized pressures on individual graders.
- Reimagine writing prompts. Ask students to write suggested prompts, which you may tweak.
- Explore with your students the importance of real-world writing in their future career fields. Create assignments in which students research the writing within their discipline.
- Consider redesigning course assessments to include more writing and researching or to better integrate discipline-specific writing earlier in the semester. Stagger small-stakes writings with larger assessments so that big-investment writings seem more doable. See SIP 14.5 for suggestions on diversifying your course and for incorporating student voices in the design: SIPs 4.11 and 14.9.
Danielewicz, J., & Elbow, P. (2009). A Unilateral Grading Contract to Improve Learning and Teaching. College Composition and Communication, 61(2), 244–268. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40593442
Ferlazzo, L. (2021). “I No Longer Give Grades on Student Writing Assignments, and It’s the Best Thing Ever!” https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-i-no-longer-give-grades-on-student-writing-assignments-and-its-the-best-thing-ever/2021/01.
Inoue, AB., and M. Poe. (2020). “How to Stop Harming Students: An Ecological Guide to Antiracist Writing Assessment.” Composition Studies, vol. 48, no. 3, fall 2020, pp. 14+. Gale Academic OneFile, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A656822421/AONE?u=auraria_main&sid=summon&xid=e5fcc181.
Lamott, A. (1995) Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Anchor Books.
Williams, J.M. (1981) “The Phenomenology of Error,” College Composition and Communication, 32(2), 152–168. https://www.jstor.org/stable/356689
Zakharov W., H. Li, M. Fosmire, PE Pascuzzi, & J. Harbor. (2021). A Mixed Method Study of Self- and Peer-assessment: Implications of Grading Online Writing Assignments on Scientific News Literacy, College & Undergraduate Libraries, DOI: 10.1080/10691316.2021.1889426
As Metropolitan State University of Denver moves back toward some version of “normal,” faculty members are asking: How can we do effective and efficient professional development while bearing the post-pandemic burden? The answer: The struggle is real! Faculty and staff members have all experienced the emotional and physical stress of teaching, service and scholarship during the pandemic. How can faculty and staff members become more efficient and reduce this stress while still managing to produce professional scholarship?
Take a SIP of this: what is Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and why do it?
See Figure 1 above for an illustration of what SoTL entails.
The Center for Engaged Learning at Elon University says Scholarship of Teaching and Learning “involves faculty (sometimes in partnership with their students) undertaking systematic inquiry about student learning – informed by prior scholarship on teaching and learning – and going public with the results.”
There are several reasons why faculty members engage in SoTL. First, it allows faculty members to gain perspective and understanding of our students that enhances their learning and informs our teaching. It also improves the quality of education and instruction within departments, schools and the University. Third, it catalyzes teaching by providing an implicit indicator of commitment and focus on teaching, and it involves and empowers students in their learning. As MSU Denver is a teaching-focused institution, SoTL allows faculty members to scientifically approach improving the practice, which will in turn retain students and even increase enrollment.
Most important, conducting SoTL allows faculty members to “double-dip” and even “triple-dip” in the RTP and PTR (Reappointment, Tenure and Promotion and progress through the ranks) processes. For instance, a faculty member could do a small-scale SoTL project on strategies for advising students on career readiness. This could improve teaching evaluations. The results of the in-class study could be published, increasing faculty members’ likelihood to receive promotion and/or tenure. The findings could be shared within a faculty member’s academic department and used to improve advising practices. This type of professional efficiency can improve time management and reduce some of the stress that has accompanied professional development during the pandemic and the return to campus.
How to do SoTL? The big picture
So just how is SoTL conducted? This is a large question with a large answer. But in a nutshell, it starts with a question: How do you increase rapport with students? Next, investigate the research on rapport (look up SoTL journals such as the International Journal of SoTL). Then, design a study (if you are new to SoTL, ask someone who has done SoTL research successfully to collaborate with you). Apply for and get Institutional Review Board approval. Collect data in your course. Analyze the data and then present it at a conference with the hopes of publishing it in a journal or as a book chapter. Finally, reflect on your results to see how it may inform your teaching practice. See Figure 2 for a summary of the process.
See Figure 2. Cyclical Process of SoTL (below)
A SIP of SoTL
- Read some SoTL research: There are many discipline-specific journals (e.g., Teaching of Psychology, Anatomical Sciences Education, International Journal of Music Education, Journal of Political Science Education, etc.) and general SoTL journals (e.g., College Teaching, International Journal of SoTL, ). For a comprehensive list, click here (https://guides.library.utoronto.ca/SOTL_journals_databases/Discipline_Specific).
- Talk to your students and colleagues about how to improve your class. Ask specific questions, such as: What would make this class more engaging? What would make this class more practical for you in terms of post-graduate preparation? What would make you feel more of a connection to your professor and peers? What would make discussions in our class more fulfilling for you? Why is this specific assignment or activity working well for some of my students but not for others?
A slurp of SoTL
Once you have read a bit about SoTL, it is time to engage. Take baby steps. Start with a small idea and create a small-scale study. Collaborate with someone who has experience designing, implementing and publishing this type of research.
A gulp of SoTL
Now that you have dabbled in the SoTL waters, start to conduct a few SoTL studies each year. Reflect on how your results inform your personal pedagogy and even curricular designs and programmatic assessment issues within your department or school or the University. Consult your departmental guidelines or talk with your chair about how to use these studies for promotion and tenure and what requirements your department, school or college has for presenting and publishing your work. And finally, let your students know you are conducting SoTL research and ask if and how they would like to be involved. Knowing that you care enough about their learning and your teaching may have a positive impact on their engagement in your class and at MSU Denver.
Check out these fabulous resources on SoTL:
- Jhangiani et al., (2015). A Compendium of Scales for use in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.
- Bartsch (2013). A Guide to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
- Designing SoTL studies—part I: validity.
- Bartsch (2013). Designing SoTL Studies—Part II: Practicality.
- Bishop-Clark & Dietz-Uhler (2012). Engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning: A guide to the process, and how to develop a project from start to finish.
- Fleck & Ropp (2015). Using students as participants: Gaining IRB approval for SoTL Research.
For more information on conducting SoTL research at MSU Denver, please contact Aaron S. Richmond at firstname.lastname@example.org or @AaronSRichmond.
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
Gender equity is a foundational element of a high-functioning society. As we know, this long-held goal has yet to be reached in the United States and around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic set back progress toward this goal. Many of us have been or know someone affected by gender inequity during the pandemic.
The pandemic has highlighted the fact that women disproportionately carry the burden of unpaid care in our society. When Covid hit, more women than men left or compromised their jobs to provide child or elder care for family members. A 2020 report by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that women’s jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable to the crisis than men’s and that women accounted for 54% of all job losses during the pandemic. The job market has changed: Businesses have streamlined and cut positions, and there are fewer jobs for women to come back to. This has resulted in a regressive effect that is predicted to have a potentially trillion-dollar impact on U.S. GDP before 2030 if not corrected.
Complicating matters is the tricky job market that is complicated by the emotional backlash of the pandemic. In an Oct. 21 article in Time magazine, Abby Vesoulis reports that 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in August alone and that they are not applying for the roughly 10.4 million jobs that are open, citing poor working conditions, low wages, burnout and inability to achieve work/life balance. Women make up a large portion of this exodus. In a related article, Vesoulis quotes Rachel Thomas, CEO of Lean In, a gender-equity advocacy group co-founded by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, as saying, “If we had a panic button, we’d be hitting it. We have never seen numbers like these.”
Take a SIP of this: curbing the ‘Shecession’
Research is being done across the globe to find ways to stem the effects of the “Shecession” – the exodus of female workers from the job market. The Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce, women’s business group Tarra and Metropolitan State University of Denver have partnered to explore the issues surrounding the “Shecession,” with a special focus on how to improve conditions for women as they reenter the workforce. Preliminary suggestions from their research offer guidelines for how we can create equitable work environments and support women as they come back to their jobs.
If you have five minutes:
- Ask a woman colleague how she has been doing amid the pandemic. What are her responsibilities at home, outside of work? Ask how you can lend support.
- Be gracious with deadlines and due dates for your women colleagues. Flexibility and consideration may be just what they need to keep them motivated and engaged in work.
- Opt in to the flexible spending program in your benefits for dependent care. This allows you to spend pretax dollars for your child-care expenses, saving you money every year. MSU Denver’s open-enrollment season runs through Nov. 19, so take advantage.
If you have 30 minutes:
- Engage in a mentorship relationship. Women employees can seek out a mentor with a desired skill set or who is in a position they might aspire to. They can also provide mentoring to a new faculty or staff member. Mentoring can occur across industries. While the mentoring relationship itself may require more than 30-minute meetings, the initial outreach can occur in this shorter timeframe.
- Consider working on stackable credentials that might incrementally bump up your pay. Ask your department chair or dean what may be available in your discipline.
If you have an hour or more, and especially if you are in a leadership role:
- Advocate for affordable child care for employees.
- Employers can pay for it, subsidize it or at least negotiate lower rates for their employees.
- Advocate for menu-themed pay structures and offer more inclusive ways to compensate employees for their work.
- Some employees may choose to work fewer hours for less money; some may want to donate part of their income to charity, etc.
- Provide genuine flexibility in work schedules.
- Advocate for increased family-leave time.
- Work to increase access to loans and microlending for women entrepreneurs.
- Award equity badges to units on campus that demonstrate intentional and transparent methods of recruiting, promoting and retaining women employees, especially at the management level and especially women of color.
Check out this May 9, 2020, New York Times article by Alisha Haridisani Gupta: “Why Some Women Call this Recession a ‘Shecession.”
Or Amanda Holpuch’s piece in the Guardian on “How the Shecession Will Cause Long-term Harm for Women in the U.S.”
Here’s how other universities are confronting the “Shecession”: Loyola Marymount University published this internal article called “Cura Personalis for Whom? The New ‘Shecession’ Highlights Gender Inequities Across Campus”, and the University of Colorado Denver talked about “How the Pandemic is Impacting Women’s Careers” in the July issue of its alumni magazine, The Coloradan.
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
William Butler Yeats famously said, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” Regardless of our academic disciplines, as faculty members we hope the university experience sparks students’ curiosity, opens their minds and promotes the habits and values of lifelong learning. We strive to ignite those sparks in our classrooms. But powerful experiences of engagement often occur outside of the classroom as well.
Take a SIP of this: engaging students through 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform
For more than a decade, 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform has been sparking interest, empathy and social justice through reading. This common reading program is built on the idea that we can be transformed – and perhaps can transform our communities – by what we read and how we engage with others. And Metropolitan State University of Denver faculty and staff members and students are invited to participate each year.
This year’s 1B/1P/2T selection is A Mind Spread Out on the Ground (Melville House, 2020), a book of essays by Alicia Elliott, an award-winning Indigenous (Tuscarora) writer. Her “raw, unflinching memoir” (New York Times) weaves in topics of colonization, intergenerational trauma, racial justice, gentrification, interpersonal violence, health disparities, missing persons, parenting and family, and mental health. “Elliott writes with honesty and empathy of her life and the lives of family, constantly reckoning with institutional racism and less intentional private prejudices” (Kirkus Reviews). This is a perfect selection with which to kick off Native American Heritage Month .
Engagement with the 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform program comes in many forms. Faculty members can “adopt” the book for their course in any discipline. And when they do, they receive free copies for all of their students. In the past, faculty members have formally integrated the book into their syllabi, while others have assigned readings as complementary or extra-credit work. Opportunities to perform service projects associated with the topic of the book have been offered on and off campus.
MSU Denver partners with Denver Public Schools students via the Center for Urban Education, and these young students come to campus to hear the author speak and to engage with the University community. And each year, an essay contest is held to encourage creative writing that corresponds thematically with the topic of the book. Winners of the contest get to introduce the author at their on-campus presentation.
The 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform program is run by a committee composed of faculty and staff members and students. The committee reviews selections from multiple publishers to choose a book that will meet our students where they are. Past topics have included homelessness, environmental concerns, navigating the foster-care system, institutionalized racism, water conservation and urban farming in food deserts. While traditional common reading programs are geared primarily toward incoming freshmen, MSU Denver’s nontraditional entry path (transfer students, spring starts and the lack of a true first-year-experience program) has led to the adoption of an approach that includes all levels of students. The books that are chosen broach topics that are pertinent to the many lived experiences of our students.
The 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform committee sponsors the development of an extensive Teaching and Learning Guide that suggests numerous ways the book can be incorporated into courses in any discipline. For example, check out the book chapter called “34 grams per dose” to learn how the book approaches the topic of food as a starting place for cultural exchange. Then, connect students to Tocabe – the “only American Indian owned and operated restaurant in Metro Denver specializing in Native and Indigenous cuisine.” Explore Tocabe’s menu or the Decolonizing Diet Project, which works to inform about and share foods of Indigenous peoples before colonization. Topics like this can span many courses in the humanities and sciences and can also touch on business or economic aspects of Indigenous culture in our city.
While it may be too late to integrate A Mind Spread Out on the Ground into this semester’s syllabus, it’s definitely not too late to encourage students to attend Alicia Elliott’s keynote talk Nov. 10 at 11 a.m. in the Tivoli Turnhalle. Or adopt the book for your spring course – there are still copies available for your class.
For more information about 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform and the events listed here, visit msudenver.edu/1Book.
Check out this article from the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Peer Review on the importance of a common reading program.
This presentation called “Creating a 360º Experience: Common Reading Programs” offers detailed information on how programs such as 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform support academic and social-emotional growth for students on campus.
Interested in serving on the 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform committee? Please contact Randi Smith, LCSW, Ph.D., professor of Psychology, at email@example.com.
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
If you are like many faculty members at Metropolitan State University of Denver, you take pride in differentiating your instruction for students: taking care to integrate visuals into your lectures, making sure classes involve lecture and activities, being available during office hours and through other mechanisms outside of class to offer support and clarification.
You are motivated by seeing the lightbulbs go on for students who may have struggled in college. You work hard to be creative in your teaching and go above and beyond to help students succeed.
At the same time, you may feel frustrated when students request disability-related accommodations that require you to put what seems like an inordinate amount of time and energy into meeting the needs of a small number of students. You sometimes don’t understand how the requested accommodations will help the student succeed, or you provide the requested accommodations and the student still doesn’t succeed, or you go to a lot of trouble to provide a particularly cumbersome accommodation and then it appears that the student doesn’t need it. It can feel disheartening.
Take a SIP of this: eliminate ableism from your teaching
While this frustration may be shared by many, it’s a form of ableism – discrimination in favor of able-bodied people. When we think of the needs of able-bodied people as “normal” and the needs of disabled people as “special,” our thinking gets distorted. We adapt things for able-bodied people all the time; when we think of students having diverse needs, we may take pride in meeting those needs. But when we think of students as having “special needs,” suddenly those needs can feel like a lot of work.
Examining commonly requested accommodations reveals them not to be special at all. The needs of students with disabilities are often the same as any other student: having enough time to finish an assignment, being able to attend class regularly and sit through it in relative comfort, knowing what is being said in a discussion or video, being able to read handouts or slides. These are not strange or unusual or special needs; they are unremarkable. Simply shifting how you think about accommodations can help you approach them with more enthusiasm.
You also might think you don’t have any disabled students this semester, so these ideas don’t apply to you and your students. Think again. It’s probable that you have students with disabilities in your classes who have chosen not to register with the Access Center or who have not requested accommodations.
While the Access Center is a strong advocate for students with disabilities, there are many reasons a student with a disability might choose to not register with the center. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of stigma associated with disability that many people would prefer not to deal with. Or the student may not be aware that their condition could qualify for accommodations. That is why it is helpful to review information about the Access Center during your first class meeting. When a student first meets with someone from the Access Center, they can be granted provisional accommodations for one semester while they work on securing documentation. However, getting medical documentation of a disability can be a confusing, time-consuming, expensive process that can take longer than one semester. A student in your class may be somewhere in the process, saving money for a doctor’s appointment, waiting for test results, trying to determine the right specialist to see or something else. The fact that they haven’t completed the documentation process does not make them any less disabled than they will be when they have the documentation.
Some students who have secured the necessary documentation and registered with the Access Center may decide not to request accommodations. Even with the backing of the Access Center, requesting accommodations can be exhausting. Scholar Annika Konrad calls the work of managing the stigma around disability, educating others about disability, the pressure to show immense gratitude for even the most basic accommodations and being openly vulnerable to being seen as lazy or looking for shortcuts “access fatigue.” Konrad’s research indicates that “the everyday pattern of constantly needing to help others participate in access (is) a demand so taxing and so relentless that, at times, it makes access simply not worth the effort” (https://library.ncte.org/journals/ce/issues/v83-3/31093?fbclid=IwAR076DprOAk7UJl60FTveHvUAzbnVwsEgSOVCQg413UjZYxPdRRo4zi8uI0).
Ready to push back against ableism in your teaching? Here are some steps you can take:
- Use the principles of Universal Design for Learning to make your courses accessible to everyone. You can get started learning about UDL by reading SIP 1.12. Teaching using UDL principles is a great way to help students with disabilities who are not registered with the Access Center succeed in your class.
- Notice how difficult it might be for a student with physical disabilities to find your classroom. The buildings you teach in are required by law to have ramps making them wheelchair-accessible, but take a moment and consider: Do you know exactly where the ramp is? Is there any indication at the building’s main entrance where the ramp is? Often, the answer is no because most buildings are designed with able-bodied users in mind. Ironically, the least mobile among us often have to wander around the outside of a building looking for the way in while the able-bodied get clear visual cues allowing them to easily enter. Before the first class meeting, email the class with instructions on how to locate the classroom, including how to get into the building using a ramp. Mention where stairs and elevators are. Consider barriers that might be encountered by students who are vision-impaired.
- Recognize that asking for accommodations is a stressful process for students. Praise and support them when they make their accommodation needs known. Konrad notes that “people with disabilities are often encouraged to advocate for their own access without consideration for the mental and emotional labor required to do so” (180). Consider this before assuming that the student is looking for a way to do less work or be held to a lower standard when asking for accommodations.
- Understand that students with approved accommodations may have accommodation needs that fluctuate during the semester. Be prepared to have conversations throughout the semester to identify what might help them succeed in the course. The idea that disability is stable and unchanging once diagnosed is an ableist assumption and not the reality for many people. You could use a Classroom Assessment Technique to gather feedback from the whole class about what students would benefit from (for more information about Classroom Assessment Techniques, check out SIP 12.11.
- Accept that the accommodations students ask for may not make sense to you. It may not appear to you that a student needs an accommodation they are asking for. Depending on a student’s disability and other circumstances, such as the student’s current stress and energy levels, their work schedule, the weather, their ability to eat a good diet and even their hydration level, their needs may change. It’s OK if the accommodation doesn’t make sense to you.
- Invite students in your syllabus and/or in a statement you make to the class during the first meeting to talk to you about what they need to be successful, whether it’s accommodations or something else. Opening up a conversation with your students about the limits of a “one size fits all” approach can help you and them begin to recognize and push back against internalized ableism.
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
Over the past few years at Metropolitan State University of Denver, we’ve increased our conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion in the classroom. We are a diverse community of learners and educators committed to educational equity.
One way we can work for educational equity is through incorporating justice principles in course design and development. Students are the group most impacted by our curriculum and design decisions, and yet they are often completely unrepresented as we make decisions about our course content, develop assignments and create syllabi.
Take a SIP of this: how to incorporate student voice in your course design
One way to better incorporate more voices in course development is by using the list of 10 design-justice principles developed by the Design Justice Network. These principles are intended for a wide audience and are particularly applicable in course creation. “Design justice rethinks design processes, centers people who are normally marginalized by design and uses collaborative, creative practices to address the deepest challenges our communities face” (Design Justice Network, 2018). As educators, we can use these principles to center marginalized populations, seek student voices in our course development and use collaborative efforts to improve our classes and course organization.
Two Design Justice Network (2018) principles that are particularly relevant in the classroom are:
- Principle 2: Center the voices of those who are directly impacted by the outcomes of the design process.
- Principle 6: We believe that everyone is an expert based on their own lived experience and that we all have unique and brilliant contributions to bring to a design process.
Centering the voices of the students who are most directly impacted by course design gives them a chance to influence their course outcomes. Sometimes in our courses, the voice of the faculty or the course materials take center stage without leaving room for student contributions. Stepping back from this traditional classroom power structure to leave room for student voices at the heart of our curriculum allows room for collaborative exploration of course topics.
Students are creative about expressing their learning needs and realistic about their expectations in courses. Their feedback can enrich courses and curriculums as we apply Principle 2. Balancing the voices of faculty, students and course content in course development allows us to learn from one another in a classroom community.
Similarly, students bring a rich diversity of thought to our classrooms and online spaces through their lived experiences. We can provide activities that honor their experiences and help them make critical connections between their lives and our course content by implementing Principle 6. Although students may not (yet!) be experts in the content area of the course, they are experts in their experiences. MSU Denver has many diverse and nontraditional students who bring unique and creative contributions to the learning space, helping the learning community identify connections between course content and practical application. Re-centering students in the classroom and in course design allows for deeper, more equitable learning that supports our entire learning community.
If you have five minutes:
Read the whole list of design-justice principles and consider how you might apply them as you develop your course. What stands out to you? What is a simple way you can make changes in your course design?
- Do an exit-ticket activity as students leave class or as they wrap up the week on Canvas. Allowing them to identify the challenges they face or areas where they would like to spend more time gives them a voice in their educational experience and guides the learning process.
- Take time in class to normalize students’ lived experiences, particularly as they relate to challenges they might encounter in the learning environment. Remind students that their strengths and contributions matter in coursework and class discussions (Mulnix, 2020).
- Shift a class discussion toward a synthesis of how that content applies to students’ experiences. These conversations provide a rich application of course materials and enhance learning in the class as students connect their lived experiences with the course content.
If you have 30 minutes:
- Conduct a midterm course evaluation in your class. Not only does this process improve your SRIs, but doing an anonymous survey or feedback session and responding to student suggestions let them know you are listening and allows you to make changes to your course within the semester (Duquesne University, 2021).
- Choose materials for your lesson this week that reflect the diversity of your students’ experiences. Consider whose voice is represented and seek readings, podcasts and videos from experts whose identities align with those of your students. Examining your course content through a unique lens may shed new light on the concepts you are exploring in class (Portland State, 2021).
If you have an hour or more:
- Invite a student to consult with you on your course design ahead of the new semester. What aspects of your class are working for them? Where are some areas where they feel you could make some improvements? Having one or more students collaborate on your course-design process helps you see the course content and organization through their eyes and allows you to make appropriate changes as you respond to student feedback.
- Plan a final class project that allows students to share their lived experience in a way that honors their voices. You might consider providing options for how to complete the final project through writing, video or visual methods that speak most to each student.
**Bonus: Try to provide some form of compensation for participating students such as a small gift card or through a mentoring relationship. This avoids exploiting students who are giving their time to improve your course.
References and resources
Alber, R. (2015, June 30). Teach using the lived experiences of your students. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/teach-using-lived-experiences-your-students-rebecca-alber
Design Justice Network. (November, 2020). Design Justice Network Principles. https://designjustice.org/read-the-principles
Duquesne University (2021). Benefits, impact and process of early course evaluations. https://www.duq.edu/about/centers-and-institutes/center-for-teaching-excellence/feedback-on-teaching/benefits-of-early-course-evaluations
Edutopia (2015, June 23). Gaining understanding on what your students know:
Quick, ungraded assessments help teachers know what their students understand from the day’s lesson. https://www.edutopia.org/practice/exit-tickets-checking-understanding
Mulnix, A. B (2020, September 11). From inclusion to equity: Pedagogies that close achievement gaps. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/equality-inclusion-and-diversity/from-inclusion-to-equity-pedagogies-that-close-achievement-gaps/
Portland State University Library (2021, September 30). Culturally responsive and inclusive curriculum resources: Creating culturally responsive curriculum. https://guides.library.pdx.edu/c.php?g=527355&p=3605354