Progress Report

Since it’s mid-term time, I decided to make appointments with each of my FSEM students to see how the course was going for them. They thought they were making appointments with me, and they weren’t sure what it was all about. The appointments, which took five to ten minutes at most, were helpful to me in getting a sense of how each student was perceiving the course. One question I asked each student was what changes I could make to the course to make it a better learning experience for them. I also asked how they felt about the loose structure of the course, where they have the freedom and responsibility to what to read on each topic and when to complete writing assignments within certain broad parameters. I learned a little something from each student, and several offered thoughtful (though minor) suggestions, which I appreciated for their honesty. Most, but not all, said they liked the freedom the course offered and weren’t bothered by the loose structure. Two students made particular impressions on me with their remarks.

The challenging student apologized for not having more time to devote to the course, and expressed a concern that she didn’t contribute enough in class. She admitted that she never did anything for the course that wasn’t explicitly assigned. She said that she wished she found the material interesting and that the lack of interest made it hard for her to find things either to say in class or to blog about. Interestingly, I didn’t prompt these comments with specific questions. She then offered an example of something that interested her, the practice of international surrogacy, where women in India carry fetuses to term for American parents, at roughly half the price charged in this country. I observed that that would be an excellent topic for a blog post, and she expressed surprise but also some satisfaction that she had something to contribute.

The second student who impressed me was one who has been hot and cold about the course, missing class on a fairly regular basis, but being attentive when she attends. We were discussing in general terms the recent essay I asked students to write, when she responded in what I found to be an extraordinary way–certainly, no student has ever said this to me before.

I’m uncomfortable with what you’re asking us to do. …I’ve never had to have an original thought before. I’ve never been asked what I think about something. It’s been enough to report what the experts say on a topic. I did learn in high school, though, never to use “I” in a formal paper.

As with the previous student, this wasn’t a response to a particular question. There was just a moment in the conversation where my silence apparently prompted them to reveal something. I told the student that what she was expressing was common among first year students, that she shouldn’t feel bad about it, but that one of characteristics of college level thinking and writing was using what others have said to draw your own conclusions about a topic. She took in what I had to say and I had a sense that perhaps real learning was taking place.

Why don’t we faculty have conversations like this with students more often? Perhaps because it’s not directly related to course content? Is this an example of teaching or advising?

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