February 21st Session Summary: Raising the Bar While Providing a Safety Net for Taking Creative Risks

Raisingthebar

Click here to access the audio recording from the session!!

Our first Provisions session of the Spring 2017 semester explored the theme of “Raising the Bar While Providing a Safety Net for Taking Creative Risks.” Presenters shared experience and expertise with the various topics pertaining to the theme, in which sought to explore creativity and increasing student expectations. An audience of approximately 20 faculty and staff members attended to hear presentations by  Christina Pfizer from Teacher Education and Sophia Paljevic from New York City Public Schools, Dave Clark of the Criminal Justice Department, and Risa Faussette from the History and Political Science Department. 

Christina Pfizer from Teacher Education and Sophia Paljievic from NYC Public Schools, a graduate from the College of Saint Rose, presented on Using the Classroom Community as a Safety Net for Encouraging Students to Take Risks . Christina and Sophia began by explaining how they use literature as a basis for their approach to teaching, emphasizing the importance of care. Specifically, both use Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs framework as a foundation of support for what you believe, what community you latch onto and the need to feel safe in order to take risks and complete higher level work. Sophia discussed her experience in the Bronx with her third grade students. She emphasized that building a school community can be achieved despite the school being located in a  ‘bad community.’ Within her classroom, there are 29 students whom she is responsible for instructing. Both presenters stressed the importance of knowing each students’  individual strengths and weaknesses in order to know how to help them do better without pushing them too far (scaffolding). Christina then discussed her teaching experience and how she aspires to learn names quickly, usually within the first and second classes. Christina also uses scaffolding with her students by beginning with easier assignments to help her students feel that ‘they can do it.‘Additionally using groups as a way for students to get to know one another, creating opportunities for students to integrate prior knowledge, and emphasizing that it is okay t be wrong are a few strategies Christina uses with her students to maximize student success. 

Dave Clark began his presentation by expressing the importance of intrinsic motivation for student success. Dave stressed how students are afraid to take risks in learning and thus need to be stimulated with motivation and the desire to learn. One way Dave encourages creativity and motivation in his students is by using images to stimulate interest. He asks his students, what are you seeing in these images” through a partner activity where one students is asked to describe an image to the other. Dave expressed that these types of activities teach the students to see environment in their own way and that each person has their own perspective. This demonstrates to the students that ‘no one sees things the same way.’ Throughout work with his students, Dave has witnessed improvements in the ownership of student work, which thus raises the bar because the students learned that they have to produce good work for it to be displayed. In his classroom, Dave asked the students describe and talk about images because perspective is crucial in ethics. In doing this, students are able to find out about the subject matter, use a multidisciplinary approach, and demonstrate creativity. This method is designed to stimulate interest and to show students that they can be creative in school, rather than just regurgitating information they are taught. Exercises like these provide students with a safety net, as they are not graded and allow the teacher and students to take risks together. 

Risa Faustete discussed how she sets the classroom environment prior to the first day of class, which demonstrates that ‘this is a real course’, which is crucial for development as a student. A main component of Risa’s course is learning the rules and methods of argumentation. Risa explains to her students the downside of not being able to recognize the components of an argument in the real world (politician, salesman, banker, etc.) and how decisions in an argument can affect others. Risa emphasized that her teaching philosophy is to make sure that students have this skill and can use it in the world. She tells her students that they will be able to read and compose arguments by the end of the course, but they must first be able to read and understand what they have read. Additionally, engagement is a key component for successful learning. In her classroom, Risa does not let any of her students sit in the back row. Instead, all students are to fill in the seats in the front of the room. If you want participation in your classroom, you need to take away some of the fear that students experiences. Some do not feel familiar with reading text or comprehending text. By explaining to the students, here is what I mean by ‘reading’ the text, you can alleviate some of the fear of the unknown. It is also helpful to start by having certain assignments ungraded and explain that it is just for practice and constructive feedback. Here are some of the handouts from her course that Risa shared during her presentation:


Following the brief presentations, the floor was opened up for discussion and questions from the audience. Here are a few points and observations that arose from the discussion:

  • Failure is a part of learning- use it!
  • Students come in wanting one answer and need to be pushed to learn that there is more than one answer
  • Link to creating community in the classroom
    • Being vulnerable
    • A ‘real person’ with personality
    • Make community between students
  • Assignments are up ahead of time- bring your best game, extended hours, demonstrate a lot of examples
    • Use rubrics to grade samples
  • Teaching and learning is a developmental process
  • Time as an issue?
  • Accountability?
  • Teach skills that can be transferred across disciplines (core skills)
    • How do we ensure the delivery of those skills?

Please join us for our upcoming March 28th session on “Using SSC (Student Success Center) to its Fullest Potential.” Our esteemed presenters for the March 28th session include:

  1. Jess Brouker – Assistant Director of Intercultural Leadership & First-Year Programs
  2. Shirlee Dufort – Director of the Writing Center
  3. Marcy Nielsen Pendergast – Executive Director of the Academic Success Center

Provisions’ sessions are held from 12:00-1:15 in Standish A&B. All are welcome and no reservations are required. Free lunch and refreshments will be available! Hope to see you all there!🙂

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PERTS: Project for Education Research That Scales

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What is PERTS?

PERTS (Project for Education Research That Scales), located at Stanford University, is a center for applied research that focuses on academic motivation and achievement. PERTS team members conduct research that explores ways of improving motivation, using the information they received from partnered schools, colleges, and organizations.

The PERTS website provides many great resources for teachers, students, and other professionals. The site lists projects that are currently being conducted by PERTS team members. PERTS publishes findings from relevant literature that support student motivation. Research has shown that students will achieve more motivation if they are in a resilient environment. Having a “growth” mindset encourages more success and motivation within the classroom. The PERTS program is dedicated to helping students maintain a growth mindset that will foster motivation and success within the classroom.

In addition to literature on academic motivation, the website includes a Mindset Kit that contains resources on mindfulness techniques for teachers, parents, and students. The resources are divided up by categories for: teachers, parents, math, and team educators. In each category there are lesson plans that lead each mindfulness training technique.


Carol Dwek, author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, describes the two types of mindsets, fixed and growth. In her book, Carol explains the benefits of a growth mindset, and how to obtain one. In addition, she describes the short-term and long-term outcomes of each mindset. The PERTS program appears to be grounded from Carol Dwek’s growth and fixed mindset theories.

In 2014, Carol Dwek presented “The Power of Believing That You Can Improve” during a TEDTalk. The short video clip gives great background information on the power of the growth mindset. Edutopia provides a clip Carol Dwek discussing “Envision Education” and its success with student motivation and academic success.

March Provisions Session – Teaching Lives: What Keeps You Motivated

To listen to the podcast from this session, click here

Our second provisions session of the year explored the theme of “What Keeps You Motivated”. An audience of 30 were in attendance to hear presentations from Dr. Mary Ann McLoughlin, Professor of Mathematics, Prof. Julie Demers, Adjunct Professor of English, and Dr. Stephen Birchak, Professor of Counselling.

Dr. McLoughlin kicked things off by providing us with a history of both The College of Saint Rose and her own journey that brought her there. She graduated from St. Rose in 1963 before continuing her academic journey with graduate school at Washington University in St Louis. After successfully obtaining her Master’s Degree, she went on to teach geometry at high school level. In 1965, Dr. McLoughlin returned to St. Rose as a teacher, where she was younger than many of the students in her current class. Speaking back on her time as a student, Dr. McLoughlin stated that she could have studied anything, given her overwhelming motivation to learn. As a teacher however, given that St. Rose was a Catholic College at the time, it was not initially easy to gain authority due to her age and the fact that Dr. McLoughlin was not a Sister. Throughout her time at the College, she took on the roles as Chair and Head of many committees. As chair of humanities, Dr. McLoughlin carried out formal class observations, running the rule over teaching staff and learning from them in the process. Ever seeking to learn and improve, Dr. McLoughlin also spent two years teaching at the Albany County Jail.  During these 50 plus years of teaching experience, Dr. McLoughlin emphasised the importance of mentors. Her parents were her very first mentors, followed by teachers in her Elementary and Secondary Schools, as well as important figures at St. Rose. Dr. McLoughlin noted the value of having retired mentors familiar with the world of academia, who can offer outside yet expert perspective. Dr. McLoughlin herself has acted as a mentor to student teachers, sharing with them her experiences and wisdom. Variety, too, has been an important factor for Dr. McLoughlin; she explained how she took her students all the way to Egypt on a field trip. To conclude, Dr. McLoughlin stressed that teachers must have a passion for their subject and be able to convey the most important elements of their subject to their students.

Second to present was Professor Julie Demers from the English department. Demers announced that she wanted to focus her presentation on her favourite subject and biggest motivation: her students. As a student herself, Demers recalled an activity organised by her teacher where the students would have to write down in a letter what they like about class and what they would change about it if they could. Having now adopted the same activity with her own students, despite initial dread about what they would say, Demers found that it proved to provide an insight into the lives of her students as they both informed her of the positive feelings they had about the class and of constructive changes that they would like to make. Thanks to this activity, improvements were initiated and the classroom experience was improved. In her moments away from teaching, Demers explained that she felt a longing to get back in the classroom with her students, who fuel her passion for the profession year after year. Demers confessed, however, that even with the passion, it is not all plain sailing. Despite all the hard work and detailed, engaging lesson plans, her students do not always match her enthusiasm. For Demers, the most rewarding side of teaching comes when her students ‘give back’. In order to achieve this process, Demers uses reflective and metacognitive based assignments as well as free writing activities to foster introspective thoughts from her students. Demers encourages her class to ‘stop and think’ so as to reflect on their own learning and growth as a student. This is what is most motivating for Demers. Rather poignantly, Demers brought proceedings to a close by showing examples of students’ admissions of struggles and revelations of progress.
Here are the handouts Julie brought for the audience – Reflective Exercises2 ProVisionsWriter’s Reflection in 3 Parts

Last up on stage was Dr. Birchak from the Counselling program. He began by reflecting that we should all ask ourselves the question“What keeps us motivated?” every day, such is its importance. Having taught since 1980, Dr. Birchak failed to recall a single year when he was not excited about the upcoming teaching term. Positive psychology plays a big part in Dr. Birchak’s life right now. Although it involves a lot of hard work, Dr. Birchak insists that we can make ourselves happier if we really want to do so. Rather worryingly though, Dr. Birchak explains that suicides have doubled in the last 50 years, and accompanies that statistic with a quote from Earnest Hemmingway – “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know”. He, however, fervently disagrees that there is a meaningful correlation between intelligence and unhappiness, stressing that some of the most intelligent people he knows are very happy.  Dr. Birchak proceeds by pointing to research revealing that our happiness or indeed unhappiness is in our own hands. 50% of our happiness is genetic, only 10% is said to be due to our circumstances, while 40% is down to intentional behaviour. Dr. Birchak validates this research by referencing Viktor Frankl’s inspirational perspective on his days imprisoned in a World War II Concentration Camp. Dr. Birchak listed five active reflections that help to maintain happiness and motivation: I am free, I like my best me, I have grateful perspective, I promote kindness and calm aggression, and I love and I am loved. True freedom, Dr Birchak says, is to hold the ability to choose your own attitude and rise above the insanity. Perspective, too, is particularly crucial, as is avoiding any forms of pettiness and drama. In terms of motivation, Dr. Birchak falls in love with each and every new year. He chooses to cherish the new moments that he experiences, and, significantly, avoids becoming apathetic. Dr. Birchak described how by becoming apathetic, cynicism enters the equation, and soon enough one loses the control of their own life. He explains the importance of finding freshness of appreciation, enjoying every new class, and in turn, every graduation. Finally, Dr. Birchak declares that sharing his passion with his students is what motivates him and drives him to continue.

Unfortunately, due to time constraints, there were only a few minutes of the post presentation discussion. Despite this, the following points were made:

  • Former teachers acted as great motivators in each of the presenters’ lives.
  • Students will benefit from teachers seeing the best in them and showing unwavering faith.
  • There is always hope in every situation, and it can help you triumph in adversity.

To listen to the podcast from the session, click here.