SIP 6.2 Meeting Students Where They Are

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

A professor talking to three students

At MSU Denver, we are dedicated to promoting equity for our very diverse student body. There are two facets of equity to consider:  access equity and equity in outcomes. MSU Denver fosters access equity in a variety of manners: we have a modified open enrollment policy, we have a differentiated rate of tuition for ASSET students, we work with traditionally underserved high schools to promote a college-going mindset and to provide students with the tools they need to make college a reality, etc. MSU Denver also sets a high academic bar and requires that students reach that level in order to progress in their coursework and graduate. Our goal of equity in outcomes, though, requires that all students who come in to the university be able to get out with a degree—no matter what their preparation is when they start. So how can faculty support the students we have in order to achieve equity in outcomes?

Take a SIP of This: Meeting Students Where They Are

Sometimes it can be difficult to visualize how students who are here are going to finish their current courses and, eventually, their degree. We cannot do much about the skills that students come in with, but faculty can control what we and the institution can do to address academic needs. For example, if you see a student who struggles with college-level writing, don’t ask, “Why isn’t this student prepared?” but rather ask, “What can I do to support this student so that they can do the work that I am expecting?” and “What university supports are in place to assist this student with their learning goals?” The student must do the work to meet expectations, but framing the conversation around how we as faculty and staff can intervene to assist better promotes equity.

How can YOU meet students where they are in your classroom? 

  • Remember that you may have both unprepared learners and students who are well prepared for college level work in the same class. Understanding that you may have to provide extra support for some and extra challenge for others can help you to create lesson plans and materials that support a wide range of learners. For example, a faculty in Spanish may have a native speaker and a second language learner in the same class. Developing activities that allow both students to engage and interact with the content and with each other is fundamental to success. By setting the bar high and challenging the native speaker while supporting additional growth for the second language learner, the class will be more effective while providing access for all.
  • Do a baseline assessment at the beginning of every course, or even at the beginning of every unit. Use a KWL chart to find out what your students know—you may have to fill in a few blanks for some before continuing with your lesson with additional lecture or added readings/activities.
  • Employ frequent low-stakes assessments in your class. If you only give a midterm and a final, or if a student’s entire grade is based on one big project, there are more areas in which a student may be unprepared and need help that are missed. Classroom Assessment Techniques can be useful to help incorporate low-stakes formative assessment into your lesson plan. A simple “Minute Paper” at the end of the class can show you what your students learned in class and what kinds of responsive alterations you need to make to your plans for the next class in order to get everyone up to speed. This technique works as well in humanities courses as it does in STEM.
  • Remember that social/emotional factors can influence a student’s academic preparedness and present roadblocks to success. Even if a student is doing well on assignments in your class, don’t forget to consider their level of engagement, understanding of institutional supports like financial aid, and other parts of a college experience that determine persistence.

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Meeting Students Where They Are

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  1. Familiarize yourself with all of the supports that exist on campus from the Writing Center and Tutoring Center to identity supports like the Center for Equity Student Achievement, and refer your students to them consistently! THANKS

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