Reflections of a FIN Co-Director (Continued)
By Katie Hern, Ed.D
Students’ Capacity to Learn
Paying close attention, and being willing to re-examine our own practice as teachers, seemed to create a different lens for viewing students. FIN faculty were less likely to speak from the deficit orientation that has characterized so much of the “basic skills” dialogue across the state (with its emphasis on what students “don’t have”). Instead, they tended to get down to the business of trusting, engaging, and supporting students’ capacity. In several cases across FIN, faculty ended up relinquishing some of the control they’d held over the classroom and relying on students as co-teachers.
This theme can be found in just about any team site you might browse, but a few key examples are highlighted below.
Math professor Myra Snell’s experimental Pre-Statistics course was designed from a fundamental assumption about student capacity. She allowed students with any math assessment score to enroll, including those who would have been placed into basic arithmetic, four levels down from college-level.
A video made by her student co-inquirer during the first semester of the course provides dramatic evidence of students’ capacity. In it, students explain statistical concepts in collaborative groups and at the board, develop fluency in the technical language of the discipline, engage in debate, and correct each others’ misunderstandings. They even discover an error in a national Statistics examination, creating their own data sets to prove that the answer key was incorrect. Further proof of students’ capacity: students from this open-access course passed College Statistics at a rate 3 to 7 times higher than from the traditional developmental math sequence. They even outperformed Honors section students on the common final for college-level Statistics.