Thursday, August 25, 2011
Addressing Bad Habits
A lot of your college students have been students for most of their lives. They have been trained by all of the teachers who came before you. Unfortunately, the students have not always been well-trained. They pick up bad habits. And, they don’t even realize they have those bad habits.
So, on my first day of class (this past Monday), I tried to alert my students that I wanted something very specific from them and what I wanted might just be different from what previous teachers had wanted. No matter how successful they had been in the past, they needed to realize that they might have to adapt.
“Here’s exactly what I want from you this semester. I want you to get to a point where you can be presented with a fresh and unique situation and then figure out how to respond or act based on what we’ve learned previously or what you have uncovered in your studies. It seems so simple: (a) fresh situation, (b) figure it out, (c) based on what we have learned or you’ve found. However, most students have been brought up in an educational system that often rewards a ‘copy and memorize’ mentality. I have students with 4.00 GPA’s who become very frustrated with me because they copy down every word in class and memorize them all and then cannot figure stuff out on a test and do poorly. They are frustrated because copy and memorize has worked so well for them in the past. And, maybe, in the 4th grade, that was appropriate. But, this is a college education.
“Students who stress copy and memorize often prepare too little for class. Why prepare if you are just going to write everything down? They want to learn by following along. They come to class a blank slate—ready to be inscribed. I don’t think that’s what a college education should be. You’ll be in the ‘real world’ in another 18 months. Nothing in the real world as far as I know is copy and memorize so I see no reason for my class to be that.
“If I am going to give you a completely fresh situation to figure out on a test, then I need to help you learn how to do that before the test. That’s only fair. So, every day I’ll try to present you with some new stuff and we’ll try to reason it out together based on your preparation and what we have already learned. In fact, if we are successful, you’ll get pretty darn good at this before the end of the semester and you’ll wonder why you ever copied stuff down for memorization purposes.
“But, you have to be willing to walk into class very prepared and you have to be willing to try to use what we have studied to come up with viable solutions. 'Figure it out' are my three favorite words in education. You can’t tell me ‘this makes my brain hurt.’ You can’t beg ‘just give me the answers.’ In fact, most of the time, there are no ultimate answers. Most of the time, you and I (hopefully, mostly you) will be coming up with logical and reasonable possibilities.
“To me, that’s what a college education should be.”