A sharper, clearer vision of ourselves, followed by changes to practice
At the beginning of FIN, we stressed that every inquiry should focus on understanding something about students. When teams posed questions related to their own teaching (e.g. How can we get students to do the assigned reading?), we would coach them to reframe the questions (e.g. Why aren’t students reading?).
An interesting thing happens when we use inquiry to understand our students: we end up staring into a mirror. And if we’re honest as we look in that mirror, we have to acknowledge that our own teaching, or curricula, or even institutional processes are not serving students as well as we’d like. This happened again and again in FIN, on matters great and small. And it is a testimony to the professionalism across the network that as teams began to see the limitations of their current approaches, they began making changes:
Doing more to support students’ reading and thinking across the disciplines
Inquiry provided a way to break through the frustration and powerlessness faculty often express when students don’t perform well (“They don’t even know how to…”). Instead of simply blaming the students or advocating for stricter pre-requisites, FIN faculty studied how students were approaching their coursework and then experimented with new ways to guide their learning.
Doing more to build students’ confidence and sense of belonging
You can’t learn if you’re afraid, if you’re clenched with mistrust, if you’re certain that you’ll fail. We all know this from experience. But as teachers, and experts in our disciplines, we can forget that this is what our students may be experiencing as they encounter unfamiliar material. And it doesn’t help that students often conceal these vulnerabilities. Inside FIN, inquiry enabled faculty to connect with the basic truth that for students to learn math, or try to figure out a complicated reading, or speak English in a woodworking shop, teachers have to be intentional about addressing these affective elements that can block — or catalyze — learning.
Sharing effective classroom approaches with fellow faculty
Ideas spread virally inside a good network — moving from instructor to instructor, within a college and between colleges, inside FIN and beyond. The process of collaborative inquiry — combined with regular opportunities to go public and make visible what you were learning — generated an incredibly rich environment for the spread of ideas.
Transforming curricular and institutional structures to foster student success
FIN has also been a fertile ground for changes beyond the classroom. Two faculty took the classroom approaches they had been studying and used these practices to transform their college’s orientation process for new students. Another group of faculty were shocked by what interviews with students revealed about placement testing, and by the end of the grant they had implemented significant changes to help students understand and prepare for these high-stakes tests. Finally, promising results from accelerated Math and English curricula at several FIN colleges have inspired colleges within and beyond FIN to begin redesigning their own long developmental sequences.