Leaving Home

In A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Payne looks at the difficulties associated with moving from poverty to the middle class. She suggests that “. . . in order to move from poverty to middles class or from middle class to wealth, one must trade off some relationships for achievement at least for a period of time (Payne 65).” At points in the book, she goes so far as to say one must break off ties with friends and family during the transition from poverty to middle class, adding that once you have established yourself in the middle class, you can revisit former relationships.

Her argument feels extreme at times, but it underscores the need for students to join the academic community–especially students that are coming from families with lower levels of education. I’m not so sure it is critical to break relationships, but I am certain that students from lower SES backgrounds need to form new relationships with faculty, students and college personnel if they are to have a successful college experience.

My question goes out to faculty and staff that work at commuter schools serving lower income students. How do you get your students to transition from their pre-college network of relationships to a new network of relationships at the college?

See more ideas at www.cerritos.edu/ifalcon.

Posted in Student Engagement | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Building Relationships with Lower SES Students

First generation college students and lower SES college students often come to us with relationship deficits (Payne 107-117). What Payne means by this is while they are just as likely to come from backgrounds with loving relationships, they are less likely to have relationships that can help them with cognitive strategies, college coping skills, goal setting, etc. The implication is that building relationships with lower SES students is critical to their success. In fact, when ” . . . students who have been in poverty (and have successfully made it into middle class) are asked how they made the journey, the answer nine times out of 10 has to do with a relationship–a teacher, counselor, or coach who made a suggestion or took an interest in them as individuals (Payne 110).” This need is partly why there is so much positive literature around the simple act of memorizing students’ names. Knowing a student’s name is a first step toward building a relationship. Building a relationship is a critical step toward helping students (particularly lower SES students) succeed.  

How do we consciously create an environment where students are compelled to develop rich relationships with faculty, staff, managers and each other? How do we measure and track this? What are the policies we need to shape the goals and limits of these relationships?

Posted in Learning Support, Student Engagement | 4 Comments

Student Resources

Academic success for college students correlates closely and directly to student resources. As student resources decline, academic performance declines (Payne 87). This is an important concept to grasp if higher education is to be a leveler or equalizer in society, because students from upper SES backgrounds routinely come to college with more resources than students from lower SES backgrounds. Be definition they have greater financial support, more stability via higher levels of home ownership and lower levels of divorce, greater support for college attendance because of education levels, and more. And not only do they come to college with more resources, but they also tend to attend colleges and universities with greater resources for success–better facilities, more private aid, deeper alumni connections, higher quality library collections, more expansive computing resources, and more. This often mean that colleges who serve lower SES students are serving students that have resource inequities at two levels. Their personal resources are lesser and their college provided resources are often lesser than the resources available to their higher level SES counterparts. 

This has always felt like the same old “separate but equal” problem Brown v. Board of Education was supposed to address.  

Q: Do you know of anyone working to rectify this? How do you recommend we approach this issues? What strengths do lower SES students bring that we can leverage for success?

Posted in Learning Support | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Matching Students with Campus Groups

On Sunday, our minister announced a new online service called GroupMatch (www.groupmatch.org). The goal of the service is to help individuals that attend the church find various groups at the church they may like to join. Looking to help with the food bank–go to GroupMatch. Want to find a women’s Bible study–go to GroupMatch. You get the idea.

The announcement prompted a thought. Are there similar services available for colleges and universities? Literature is pretty solid on the finding that College students need to get plugged into their campus communities if they are going to be successful; however, it is often difficult for new students to find their groups. This is why so many students experience a case of mild depression during their first few months.  I know Facebook and Myspace have dedicated group areas and I thought there would be a few sites dedicated to this service; however, a simple Google search does not yield as many resources as I assumed would exist.

Q: Do you know of any  best practices in this area? Do you know of model examples where Facebook or Myspace are used for organizing, promoting and finding campus groups? Any particularly good examples from offices of student activities?

Posted in Student Engagement | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Multivariate Model

Just read an interesting post at Phil Ebersole’s Blog titled “Can we grade the teachers?.” Ebersole talks about the recent LA Times coverage of LAUSD teachers and the evaluation of their performance. A substantial string of comments follow the post and most of them are interesting; however, many of them smack of push-back from teachers and professors.

I’ve often felt frustrated with our general hesitation to measure teaching practices and effectiveness. Many of us (especially the faculty trained in social sciences) routinely measure or accept measurements of phenomena as complicated as pedagogy. However, we often collectively balk at measuring the effectiveness of teaching under the common criticism that it is too subjective to measure. This is a thin argument that does not speak well of us as professionals. If we were to seriously accept this argument, we would need to stop measuring and analyzing other subjective human endeavors like law enforcement, marriage, parenting, healthcare, disaster response, discrimination, etc.

We as professional teachers and faculty members should acknowledge that teaching is as measurable as any other social phenomenon and embrace a dialogue around analyzing our practices. With that said, I am often frustrated with the measurements used to assess teaching because they frequently ignore the well established idea that learning is a multivariate activity. Many factors influence the learning process. Teaching is definitely one of the factors, but so are student engagement, academic infrastructure, learning support services, parental (or significant other) support, financial resources, and more. The consistent measurement of teaching’s  impact on learning, conducted without consideration for the other factors that impact learning is bad science and in this sense warranted of push-back from the academic community.

The Cerritos College Student Success Plan (www.cerritos.edu/studentsuccess) attempts to establish a multivariate approach by measuring five general variables that impact learning: teaching practices, student engagement, academic infrastructure, instructional programs and learning support services. As we roll this model out, we will need to work toward bringing all five together into a composite model. 

Q: What do you think of this approach? Do you know of anyone that is already practicing a multivariate model as described above?

Posted in Teaching Practices | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ridiculed for Learning

Students that enter the academy as first generation college students typically grow up in communities where degrees from institutions of higher education are not prevalent. This means that while they may be raised with deeply loving relationships, they are also likely raised in environments that do not understand or embrace the culture of higher education. This can pose great conflict for the student that is from this environment and trying to excel with his or her college studies. 

I personally made a transition of this sort and distinctly remember absorbing the ideas and language of higher education and carrying them back to my support structures with an eager enthusiasm. I was often surprised to find them held in suspicion and sometimes ridiculed. I eventually started censoring my conversations to avoid the awkwardness and occasional conflict.

This poses a challenge for first generation students that is often overlooked. They are not only dealing with a lack of support, but often an unconscious discouragement from the very people who love them most. 

Q: How can we as institutions/individuals mitigate this conflict for our first generation students?

Posted in Learning Support | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Measuring Pedagogy

Hacker and Dreifus’ (Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — and What We Can Do About It) have recently taken the university system to task, arguing that American colleges and universities are no longer focused primarily on education. They point to several reasons for this; however, they lay most of the blame on research. The academy’s inordinate emphasis on research over teaching has left the prior to flourish and the latter to stagnate. And the victim in this approach is the student. 

I believe a major reason for this (perhaps THE major reason) is our collective resistance to treating pedagogy as scholarship. As Lee Shulman has argued, we are public with our research, developing and vetting it through a rigorous system of academic conferences, peer review journals and university presses.  In contrast we are private with our pedagogy. We hide behind a curtain of academic freedom and use poorly conceived systems to acknowledge and celebrate great teaching practices. As such, we as a nation are able to accurately measure the production of research by any individual, department or institution and in contrast unable to measure the quality of teaching with comparable metrics.

In response, assessments conducted by U.S. News and World Report, the Princeton Review, internal tenure granting committees, and others place emphasis on faculty achievement indicators that can be measured (e.g., publications) while deemphasizing indicators that are not rigorously measured (e.g., teaching). 

If we as academics are interested in raising the importance of teaching across the disciplines, we need to develop systems that measure the quality of teaching with the same rigor that we measure research.

Q: Any ideas how we do this?

Posted in Teaching Practices | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Formal vs. Casual Register

A colleague (Sue Parsons) gave me a book three years ago and I finally got around to reading it over the last week. A Frame for Understanding Poverty by Payne is an intriguing read, exploring the role that class plays in student success. I will hit several of her key points in subsequent blogs, but the one I would like to discuss today is related to language.

Payne (citing Joos) says that all languages have five different registers or discourse patterns: frozen, formal, consultative, casual and intimate. She argues that formal language is predominant in higher education. In the register of formal language we use complete sentences, choose words deliberately and construct patterns that get right to the point. It is a language that is part of the middle class and in particular part of professionals that belong to the middle class. It is also a language or register (according to Payne) that is distinctly absent from the poverty class. Students that come to us with a background of poverty primarily use casual language to discuss ideas. Casual language is usually restricted to a very small vocabulary (400-800 words), is heavily augmented with non verbal cues, and follows an elliptical pattern that often goes round and round before a point is established.

Q: If this is the case, and I believe it is, how do we address this as educators? How do we make higher ed accessible to students with limited formal register skills without compromising the integrity of our curriculum?

Posted in Student Engagement | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments