I want people to like me. I want to be seen as being worth listening to. I want people to miss me when I’m not there. That means I want to belong.
My students want to belong, too.
“Learning is social” (Schwartz, Tsang, and Blair 13) and the classroom particularly shows the social aspects of learning.
Students are placed into a class and we then say they belong there. BUT if they don’t feel they belong there, they will not work optimally.
They might feel they don’t belong because this is too easy for them. How can we get them to feel they belong? They are the leaders? They can offer others their expertise?
They might feel they don’t belong because they perceive the work as too hard for them. If that is their feeling, can we talk about placement and how we can support each other?
Changing Feelings of Belonging:
For at-risk students
There was a study (Walton and Cohen 2011) that had students read essays written by college seniors saying that as freshmen they felt like they did not belong, but that as they engaged with the learning environment they came to see that they did, in fact, belong in college. Students then wrote about their own feelings and recorded them on video.
The study found that some students who did this was were more successful than those who did not. AND that students who had been at-risk (in this study African American students who generally had a lower GPA than the European Americans, but I can see where it would matter for first gen folks too and probably other at-risk groups that I am not thinking of) closed the GPA gap between themselves and the non-at-risk by 79%–which is a significant improvement in GPA.
This particular study did NOT find an impact on the European Americans.
For all students
Facilitate discussions about classroom norms and values. What is most important? Turning in homework on time or checking understanding and asking for help? Students might think that turning in homework on time is most important because that is what I grade. BUT if they check understanding and ask for help, their homework will be easier and will be done correctly and they will see the reflection of understanding and getting help reflected in the grade.
Students can see themselves as belonging to the group through collaborative activities and discussions.
The first few days are probably particularly important for creating a feeling of belonging. Having students meet each other in groups right away might be useful. Or having everyone in the class introduce themselves, using Vicki’s toilet paper idea, might be better. After that perhaps have groups discuss ideas about some other aspect of the class or classroom. I definitely need to think about this before school starts in the fall.
Belonging increases persistence, so feelings of belonging challenged when the work gets harder needs to be countered so that students persist in the course (19). This is relevant right now as well as at the start of next semester.
Being part of a group within the class increases persistence. For FYC-semester2 the casebook essay groups would increase persistence. Perhaps also dividing the research paper groups into categories (like social science research or health research) might increase persistence. That is worth thinking about.
For middle school students
Middle school students who were asked to do a self-affirmation where they wrote about their most cherished values reduced negative issues and had improved performance in both the course they did the self-affirmation in and their other courses.
While I don’t know if this would translate to college, I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t and having students write about their most cherished values could easily be a second-day exercise. It would introduce me to their writing and it might give them a stronger sense of connection to the course.
Would it be worthwhile to discuss these in small groups? Would it be counter-productive to ask how the values apply to the class?
A student may seem feedback as the teacher saying “where they aren’t any good” OR as “a place they can improve.” How do we get students to see feedback as something they can improve?
RIGHT NOW: I have no idea if it will, in fact, make a difference, but if I go change the titles on the rubric from Excellent, Good, Needs Work to Done Exceptionally Well, Done Well, Can be Improved maybe that would make a difference. Need to do this.
The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair