Students experiencing difficulty in challenging courses will sometimes blame their professor, especially when their professor’s identity does not align with the student’s cultural stereotype of who is a professor. In this episode, Melissa Eblen-Zayas joins us to discuss how she uses metacognitive reflection exercises to address student biases.
Melissa is a Professor of Physics in the Department of Astronomy and Physics at Carleton College. Melissa has served as a Director of a teaching center, and has published extensively on a wide variety of topics such as STEM education, student metacognition, and diversity, equity and inclusion. One of her most recent publications is a chapter in Picture a Professor, edited by Jessamyn Neuhaus.
- Neuhaus, Jessamyn (2022). Picture a Professor: Interrupting Biases about Faculty and Increasing Student Learning. West Virginia University Press.
- Heilman, M. E., Wallen, A. S., Fuchs, D., & Tamkins, M. M. (2004). Penalties for success: reactions to women who succeed at male gender-typed tasks. Journal of applied psychology, 89(3), 416.
- Heilman, M. E., & Okimoto, T. G. (2007). Why are women penalized for success at male tasks?: the implied communality deficit. Journal of applied psychology, 92(1), 81.
- Heilman, M. E., & Okimoto, T. G. (2007). Why are women penalized for success at male tasks?: the implied communality deficit. Journal of applied psychology, 92(1), 81.
- Eblen-Zayas, M., Burson, K. M., & McDermott, D. (2022). Course Modifications to Promote Student Mental Health and Move toward Universal Design for Learning. The Physics Teacher, 60(8), 628-631.
- Judith Littlejohn (2017). The Metacognitive Cafe Online Discussion Forum. Tea for Teaching podcast. November 8.
John: Students experiencing difficulty in challenging courses will sometimes blame their professor, especially when their professor’s identity does not align with the student’s cultural stereotype of who is a professor. In this episode, we examine how one professor uses metacognitive reflection exercises to address student biases
John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.
Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…
John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…
Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.
Rebecca: Our guest today is Melissa Eblen-Zayas. Melissa is a Professor of Physics in the Department of Astronomy and Physics at Carleton College. Melissa has served as a Director of a teaching center, and has published extensively on a wide variety of topics such as STEM education, student metacognition, and diversity, equity and inclusion. One of her most recent publications is a chapter in Picture a Professor, edited by Jessamyn Neuhaus. Welcome, Melissa.
Melissa: Hi, great to be here.
John: Today’s teas are:… Melissa, are you drinking tea?
Melissa: I am. I’m drinking a black tea with cranberry orange.
Rebecca: Oh, that sounds really good.
Melissa: It is, and it’s finally cool enough that it’s tea weather.
Rebecca: Oh, it’s tea weather year-round.
Melissa: I am a cold weather tea drinker.
Rebecca: Okay, well, it’s definitely cold today, and empty [LAUGHTER]. I just finished a pot of eight at the fort. Eight, the number eight, once again. It’s a black blend. I don’t know what’s in it still. We’re recording an episode a couple days ago, I was drinking the same thing. I still don’t know what’s in it.
John: And I am drinking ginger peach black tea today.
Rebecca: So we invited you here today, Melissa, to discuss your chapter in Picture a Professor. The title of your chapter is “Reflect to Deflect: Using Metacognitive Activities to Address Student Perceptions of Instructor Competence and Caring.” Could you tell us a bit about why you started using metacognitive activities in your classes?
Melissa: Yeah, so when I was a junior faculty member, just starting out teaching physics, I found that I would get a lot of pushback from students. When students didn’t understand a topic right away or do as well as they had hoped on an assignment or an exam, they’d often be disappointed or frustrated. And some of those students would then come to my office, and the implication underneath their visit to my office was that if I was a better teacher, or if I just did things differently, they wouldn’t be in the situation that they were in. And of course, there’s always room to grow as a teacher, but that wasn’t the primary issue. I think the research literature shows that for younger women faculty members, they often encounter challenges from students as a persistent problem. And particularly as a woman in physics, where there aren’t many women, I think a lot of what I was seeing was there were some students who just had trouble seeing that this young woman in front of the class was actually a competent physicist and in a position to be able to effectively teach them. And in reality, there’s some additional research, Madeline Heilman and colleagues have found that women in male-dominated fields face this double bind in terms of expectations, and they can either be seen as competent or likable, but not both. And in some follow up research that they did, they found that women can try to mitigate this double bind by displaying a caring and nurturing demeanor. But my natural demeanor… I tend to be a sort of reserved person, I’m not a super outgoing, cheerful kind of person, I tend to just be sort of quieter. And so I was looking for a way to demonstrate to students that I cared deeply about them and I cared deeply about their success in this class, but to also demonstrate that maybe I could help them do this, as opposed to having them just pin their lack of success on my failure as a teacher. And so I found that introducing metacognitive activities was a way for me to navigate some of the pushback that I got from students, and to help them take responsibility for their learning, but also to demonstrate to students that I cared deeply about their success. And I wanted to help them learn how to navigate the ways of thinking, studying, and learning that are important to my discipline. And so I found that this is a way that I could demonstrate a caring that is what students expect from female faculty members, but in a way that felt more natural to me, as opposed to trying to pretend that I was a caregiver or a cheerleader in a way that just didn’t feel natural to me. And so the place where I introduced these metacognitive activities were actually on two very different ends of the spectrum in terms of course level. I found that one place where I got a lot of pushback from students was in my intro course. And then the other place where I actually got a fair amount of pushback from students was also in the advanced lab course that I taught. And both of these classes are classes where there was the opportunity for students to be frustrated a lot, and I find that when student frustration is high, finding ways to try to mitigate that frustration is important. And so the metacognitive activities are a way that I have now incorporated into my teaching in an effort to both help students succeed, but also mitigate some of the pushback that I would get from students.
John: Could you describe these metacognitive activities? How do you get students become more aware of what they know and what they don’t know?
Melissa: Yeah, so this has been a long evolutionary process over which I’ve developed these activities. And so I’ll start by describing the first activity that I introduced, which was really in my first or second year of teaching, when I was getting a lot of this pushback from students. And in particular, in intro physics classes, I’d hand back any item of student work, and students would always come in and challenge me about the grades that I had given them. And I would say now, I’ve moved away from grading in a traditional manner. So this isn’t quite as much of an issue, but at the time, I was using traditional point- based systems. So I started by instituting a policy that if you had concerns about homework or exams, before you could come in and see me at office hours, you had to send me via email, a summary of how you approached the problem that you wanted to talk to me about, you had to write down why you think I might not have given you full credit for your work. And then you had to talk to me about your rationale for why you think there was a discrepancy between your understanding of the material, how you did the work, how I viewed the work, and what I was hoping to see in terms of learning, and then why you thought there was this discrepancy. And that ended up being really interesting, because first off, it limited the number of students who just came charging in without having really looked at or thought about the work that they had done and the feedback that I had given. But the other thing is that then it started as a discussion about the learning that the students were doing, and how the students were perceiving their learning, and how I was perceiving their learning. And so that’s really where I started as a way to directly respond to the student challenges that I was facing. But then I really liked the opportunities that this provided for conversations with students about how they were thinking about their work in the course. And so the next activity that I started to include was homework wrappers. And so when students would submit problem sets, I would also ask them to submit a cover sheet to their problem set. And it will be questions about “who did you work with on this problem set?” “Where did you work on this problem set?” “How long did it take you?” “Did you ask people for help?” And that was a great way for students to monitor not just: did they get the answers, but sort of how were they engaging with the homework that they were working on. And it was also a great way for me to get some insight into what students were doing, so I could see if there were students who never listed that they worked with anyone, never listed that they reached out for help, I could then proactively reach out to those students and say, “I see you’re doing this alone, that’s fine. But that’s really not my expectation, I’m expecting that this is a community, we’re learning together, and I’m expecting that people will talk with each other about this work.” Or I could also report back to the class and give some summary statistics of saying like, “Oh, I saw that most people are spending this many hours on the problem set, but here’s the distribution. And so if you’re either way on the short end or way on the long end, just be aware, and maybe come in and talk with me.” And so that was the next step of including metacognitive activities that I introduced. And I think since then it’s just taken off in terms of the ways in which I include those activities. And so I’ll give you one example of more in depth metacognitive activities that I do in my intro physics class, and one example of some of the more metacognitive activities that I do in my advanced lab course. And both of these actually have to do with the idea of what is the error climate of the classroom? And how much room is there? And how acceptable is it for people to make mistakes. And I first really started thinking about this actually in the advanced lab course that I was teaching. And so this is a required course for all physics majors. But the focus in this course is really having students design an experiment, and then carry out their experiment. But the focus being more on the design of the experiment and in the confines of a term, they may not actually get to a completed project or a result. And so things fail, things don’t go according to plan, and students are inevitably frustrated by that. And so the first time I taught this course with this focus on lots of independent projects, I just didn’t address the frustration that accompanies the failure and the uncertainty and the confusion that inevitably occurs in a course like this where students are doing these independent projects. And so the next year when I taught this course, before the first day of class, I asked students to write down in two sentences, what their definition of a successful experiment was. And I would say the answers fell into two distinct categories. There was one subset of answers of students who said, “a successful experiment is where I get a high precision result with little error that closely matches theoretical predictions.” And indeed, I think sometimes how we set up laboratory work in early courses, what students are doing is they’re trying to get a result that will match a particular theory. But in these open-ended projects, they were designing things they were asking questions that maybe there weren’t clear answers for. And so if that’s your definition of success, you’re going to have trouble when you deal with the messiness that inevitably exists. But the other group of students in defining what their successful experiment was, there were students who would say, “oh, any experiment is a success, if I keep a good record of what I’m doing, and I learned something from the process.” And so I would start the first day of class and pick out some of these different definitions of successful experiments from students in their own words. And we begin by having this conversation about what are our own expectations for what learning and experimenting looks like. And then, throughout the course, I continued to normalize that things wouldn’t work, that things would fail, by having opportunities, both for individual reflections. And so about every two weeks, I would ask them questions that just reflected, “how did you approach work in the lab?” “When you ran into problems, what was the strategy you employed in trying to troubleshoot those problems?” And I didn’t ask if you ran into problems, I started the question “when you ran into problems” with the assumption that everyone is going to run into problems. And I’d ask “when you sought help, who did you seek help from?” “What kinds of questions did you ask?” And then I’d always say, “and what’s one thing you would do differently as you move forward in tackling this kind of work?” And so it was really getting students to articulate how they thought about this process and how they dealt with setbacks. And sometimes it was individual reflections, but sometimes we’d actually spend a class period with students talking about their approaches, so that they could see how different individuals had different approaches. And so the whole idea about learning is an iterative process. And when things don’t go according to plan, you need to reflect on how you dealt with those setbacks, and then how you might deal with setbacks differently going forward was really important. And so I’ve taken this focus on error climate and making mistakes, and translated that a lot into my introductory course. And one of the ways I’ve changed my introductory course, which is also consistent with the pushback I would get from students about grades, was problem sets and homework and physics are really designed to be practice. It’s your chance to practice that you know how to apply these concepts to solve problems. And yet we grade those, or traditionally, I had graded those. And so that was part of what contributed to the course grade. But that’s sort of against the idea of practice. And it makes it high stakes in that you can’t make mistakes, or you’re worried about making mistakes because you’re worried that that will then reflect in your grade. And so I took this idea of “okay, if I really am serious about changing the error climate in my classroom, and making sure that it’s okay to make mistakes, not just in the lab, things won’t go according to plan. But also, when you’re working on problems, you might hit roadblocks that you don’t know how to deal with, and that’s okay.” And so one of the things I did is I now have an approach to problem sets that in some ways mirrors what my colleagues who teach writing do. And so in writing, of course, you submit a draft, you get feedback on that draft, and then you respond to that feedback, and you revise to submit a next version. And so I’ve started doing that actually, with problem sets in my introductory courses. And so I give students an initial set of problems. I asked them not to consult with each other, but just to try on their own to see how far they can get, submit whatever they have, get feedback on that. And so that’s a way for them to check how much do I understand on my own, they get some feedback, and then they can come back, they can consult with peers in their class, they can consult with me, they can make revisions, and they can resubmit that problem set. And so that really helped address this idea of it’s okay to make mistakes, that learning is a process and you can learn from your mistakes as you go forward. And I think accompanying that, I also have started giving students these prompts for weekly reflections. And so I call them learning reflections and in intro physics, they submit them once a week, and they’re asking students about lots of different aspects of the class. So it might be asking them, “where did you read the textbook?” “How did you read the textbook?” “How many times did you revisit particular parts of the reading?” I might ask students, “how do you think about translating the concepts that you’re learning and connecting it to the visuals that you’re seeing in the chapter?” The weekly reflection might be asking students about “what’s one topic that you found confusing?” And “how did you try to deal with that confusion?” And so in addition to the physics work they’re doing, I also asked them to do this reflective work. And then I can once again use that reflective work as the basis for either individual or whole class conversations about how students are thinking about engaging with the material. So that’s a big range. But it gives you sort of a sense of the variety of types of metacognitive activities I include.
Rebecca: I know one thing that I’ve experienced when I do metacognitive, or reflective activities with my students is that if they don’t have experience doing it before, and many of them don’t, they think, “Well, this is a waste of time, I’m gonna spend two seconds on it,” unless you really take the time to set it up, and help them understand the why, so I’m curious what some of the setup looks like for you and what some of the conversations have been, or the kinds of negotiations you’ve had with students about the importance of reflective activities.
Melissa: Yeah, so I actually have begun being really intentional, both about talking about it during class time, and I think talking about why I’m asking them to do this before I ask them to do it, but also making sure that when I ask them metacognitive questions, or these reflections, then I bring some of their responses back into the discussion during class time, so that they don’t feel like this is just an extra thing, but I weave this into how we are doing things in class. So for example, the reflection about how do you navigate making connections between visual representations and the physics concepts that we’re doing? The next time I come to class, and I’m giving a short lecture on a topic or something, and there’s a visual component, I might actually bring in the response that one of the students said about, well, I really have trouble doing this, or I find this helpful, if it’s relevant to the problem that we’re doing. So then it’s not as if it’s an extra thing that I’m asking them to do busy work on. I try to then also model a little bit during class time, how some of the responses might be relevant to our approaches to engaging in problems or things like that. The other thing that I’ve done, in addition to bringing this in in class time, is it used to be when I gave out problem sets in physics, my problem sets were: here’s the deadline, here are the problems. And that was it. But once again, taking a page from the folks who teach writing, when I see the assignments that my folks who teach writing-rich courses teach, there’s often quite a bit of prose that provides some background for the expectations for the written work that’s going to be done. And so I actually will include some background to my problem sets about, “okay, here’s how I want you to tackle this. First go through and do this; second, go through and do this.” And “here is why I am asking you to do this.” And I think that’s helpful. The other thing that I would say is I also give students feedback, particularly in the advanced lab course, where these reflections are sort of a central part of the course. And I’ll explicitly write to students, “I’m disappointed. This seems like it’s not really getting at how you tackle this.” And I’ll just let them know that and usually, I will then use that as a conversation starter when I’m interacting with the students to talk about ways that other students have thought about it, or why I’m asking them these questions. But you’re right, you can’t just ask students to do this, you have to build this into the fabric of the course, so it’s relevant and make sure you explain why you’re doing this.
Rebecca: One of the things that you’re describing, this worth probably noting, or talking about, is that if you start building in more reflective activity, that takes time, that then has to take priority over other things, which means other things have to be deprioritized. So what are some of the things that you allowed to let go to allow this to come in?
Melissa: I think there’s a couple of things that I have allowed to let go. One is I have just come to realize that covering lots of topics in physics is not that important. It’s really more important that they understand how to solve problems or how to take concepts and really try to dig into their understanding. Because to some extent, this is teaching students how to learn on their own, which is what’s important. I do cover less content. I will say the other thing, though, is, I think, because I don’t have as much grading that is like, let me figure out the points that I am going to give you for these problems, and it’s much more holistic feedback, I spend less time on the grading in terms of points. And I’m actually grading in terms of you’re on track here, you’re not on track here. So I’m not sure it actually requires that much more of my time. And I will say, some of these weekly learning reflections, I just go through and check if students have done them. And then I fold that into other conversations that I will have with students either during office hours or during class time. So it’s not as if I have to give lots of individualized feedback on every reflection. Maybe the best way to say it is a lot of these activities I use to enrich my interactions with students during class time, because I have this little bit of insight into how they’re thinking about approaching the material. And so when I see them working in class or working in the lab, I can talk with them not only about the physics, but I can also talk with them about what are the strategies they’re using, and maybe they might want to try using a different strategy.
John: In our very second podcast, we talked about a technique that Judie Littlejohn and I had been using, and I think we’re both still using it. It’s an online discussion forum, we call it a Metacognitive Cafe. And it’s addressing many of the same types of issues with these types of reflections. But one of the things that’s really jumped out at me over the years is just how much students have enjoyed hearing about successful learning strategies that they picked up from other people. Because students generally don’t talk very much or think very much about how they learn, and they generally don’t share it. Most years, I have one person who says, “I don’t understand why we’re doing this, because it’s not part of the course.” But everyone else has talked about in a reflection on the use of that, how beneficial that was. How have students responded to these metacognitive reflections?
Melissa: My sense is that students are quite positive about this. I think you’re right in that oftentimes, this is something that we take for granted in our students, that they know how to learn, or they know how to engage in material. And I think some of our students have sort of figured things out on their own without necessarily knowing that they’ve figured it out. And so I think just providing students the opportunity to really think about what they’re doing and hear what their classmates are doing is useful because it normalizes that there is not one way to do this, it normalizes that different strategies are going to work for different people. I think oftentimes, if you don’t talk about this, the minute students feel confused, or the minute students hit a block, they see it as a reflection on like, “Oh, my goodness,” and particularly in a subject like physics, which has a reputation or a stereotype, they immediately think, “oh, physics is not for me, I’m not cut out to do this.” But if they hear that everyone in the class faces confusion or runs into things that don’t work according to plan. I think that can be really liberating for students. And I will say, one of my favorite comments right after I started doing this, in my advanced lab course on student evaluation, at the end of the course, someone said, “I have never failed so much and felt so good about failing so much as I did in this class.” And they didn’t fail the course, but they just realized that experimental physics is about experiments not working out the first time you do them, and then you’ve got to figure out how to make them work better. And so I do think there’s something that reduces a little bit of students feeling that they need to keep up their barrier of “I understand this, and this is going well,” by having these conversations.
John: Going back to those discussions that I’ve been using. One of them is at a point in the class where students face some really challenging material that they all struggle with. And the question I give them that week is, “How do they deal with challenging material?” …and it helps to normalize that type of failure and the benefits of working through it.
Rebecca: As you’ve been talking about your advanced physics class, I’m thinking about an activity I do in my Advanced Design class, which is have students keep a process log. So as a project develops, their constantly reflecting and documenting what they’ve been doing. And part of what the students have indicated as helpful about that is that sometimes they feel like they have nothing to show for hours of time.
Melissa: Yes, [LAUGHTER] that also happens. Yes.
Rebecca: But actually a lot was happening. They were researching something, they were trying something, they were experimenting with, they were troubleshooting. But now there’s a place for them to make that visible to themselves as well as to me, and that’s been really useful to also help them figure out more efficient ways of doing some things.
Melissa: And I think that’s exactly right. In our advanced lab course, what it is, is they’re keeping a lab notebook. And I think in previous courses, where students are working on more structured labs, where it’s sort of laid out, “here’s the first goal, here’s the second goal.” They’re used to lab notebooks just sort of saying that they followed what was laid out in the lab handout, whereas here, we look at actually some lab notebooks of famous scientists, where it’s like, “Well, I’m thinking about doing this, but I don’t know.” And there’s room for emotion and some “I’m gonna go down this way.” And then like, “Ph, this didn’t work for this, so now we’re going to go back to the idea that we talked about a couple of days ago.” And so having that all recorded, I think you’re right, it makes them feel like they can see that they are moving forward, even if they don’t have anything to necessarily show in terms of nice plots of data that they have collected.
Rebecca: Yeah, it makes all that decision making visible because there’s many decision points. And sometimes they just make a decision, and they don’t really know why they made it, but, reinforcing the idea that like, “Well, you had to have made it based on something.”
Rebecca: What was it?
Melissa: As experts, we have sort of hidden that we’re doing all of this. And so for these advanced students, they’re not at the introductory level, and they see experts, but they don’t really see all of the things that are internal to us that it’s helpful to actually make visible to them.
John: So have other people at Carleton adopted similar strategies?
Melissa: Yeah. So one of the things that I love about Carleton is that this is a place where we have a lot of conversations about teaching. And so I would say that I’m not unique in using these kinds of activities. And I think one of the beautiful things about metacognitive activities is that, although the details of some of the questions you might ask students might be specific to your discipline, really, anyone who is teaching in any discipline can actually work with students on metacognition, and so ot’s a topic where I can talk with colleagues really in any field, and we can share ideas and hear from each other. I would say that one of my reflective prompts that I ask students is about who has assisted in their learning, so it’s called the learning assist prompt. And this is actually something that I got from a colleague in Classics, Chico Zimmermann. And he asked students to reflect: “In this past week in the course, who has assisted in your learning?” and he explicitly talks to and gives examples of what assistance might look like to assistance could be, they made a mistake that helped you understand something that you didn’t understand before, or they were confused about the same topic as you were confused about and in discussing it together, you began to make sense of a topic. So he very clearly articulates the way that individuals can learn from each other in confusion, or in making mistakes. And I really just loved his framing of that. And so that’s something where we don’t share very much content between classics and physics, but we can share ideas about how are we going to help our students learn. And I think the other thing that’s really nice is, I do feel, Rebecca, you mentioned students don’t necessarily know how to engage in metacognition. And so I do feel like the more students are asked to do this in different disciplines across campus, the better they become at it, because it is something that you need to practice and get a sense of. And so I’m excited when I hear about colleagues who are using similar approaches, and we share ideas about how we’re using it in our classes, because then I know that students who have thought about this in a colleague’s class in American Studies might bring some skills to my class that would be useful.
Rebecca: It kind of goes back to that same idea of normalizing failures, normalizing this reflective behavior as well. We know that you have a forthcoming publication, addressing student mental health and moving toward UDL. I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about how that work connects to this work around metacognition.
Melissa: Yeah, so it actually, I would say, builds quite nicely on some of this work. So this is a piece that’s written with two of my colleagues, one, Kristen Burson is a physicist at Grinnell College, and the other Danielle McDermott is now at Los Alamos, but was teaching before. And one of the things that we found is that physics is one of those fields that because of the stereotypes, students just get really stressed and anxious sometimes in their physics courses in a way that sometimes they don’t in other courses. And so one of the things the three of us spend a lot of time talking about is what are ways that we can actively try to reduce the stress and anxiety that we seem to see in students who are coming to us in physics courses. I think, these days, stress and anxiety are rampant on campus in general. So I don’t think anything is unique to physics. But Universal Design for Learning has some suggestions about how to make courses accessible to folks. It also, though, is quite overwhelming. And so we were thinking about the students who we see in our courses who come with a lot of stress and anxiety, sometimes clinically diagnosed depression or anxiety, what are ways we could take some of the UDL principles and take what we know about physics education research and use it to modify our courses to try to make them places that students feel like they’re supported in being their whole selves and doing their best work and not having to be overly anxious about it. And so one of the pieces is what I’ve already discussed with you, this idea of increasing mastery oriented feedback and assignments. And so some of the ways that I’ve changed problem sets where I make problem sets, not really about right or wrong, about the process of: you practice, you learn and you can revise until you get it right. And that’s really consistent with some of the UDL principles around organizing courses towards mastery oriented assessments and feedback. And so that’s one of the modifications that we pointed out as something that’s valuable. Another thing that we’ve done a lot with is thinking about the social aspects of physics courses. And as physics has moved away from being lots of lecture to a lot more small-group activities, we’ve seen that for students with anxiety and depression, some of those small group activities can actually be a source of significant challenge. And so they really can find that difficult. And so they’re thinking about how you design group work, and thinking about when you provide students choices not to engage in group work, and how you help students interact with each other, if they aren’t normally comfortable interacting with each other is something that we explore as a second way that physicists, or really anyone who’s doing active learning that involves small-group work, can think about, and this is something that I’ll say I’ve evolved a lot in terms of how I do this. I used to have when students walked into the room, every class, they would get a number and then they would sit with the other students with the same number. And that would be their group for the day. And research by Katie Cooper at Arizona State University has really shown that constantly mixing up small groups is a significant source of anxiety for a lot of students. And it doesn’t give students who need help learning how to interact, learning to trust their groups, to develop a rapport so that they can work effectively together. And so now, when I have students work in small groups, I still have them work in small groups just as much, but I really structure how those groups interact. And I have them interact for a long time so that they can begin to develop approaches and rapport that will help reduce some of the anxiety of that small group work. And then the last element that we talk about is providing students with more choices, that’s UDL all the way… is about providing choices. And so we talk a little bit about what does choice look like? For example, I ask students to turn in written problem sets. But there’s no reason why, even before the pandemic I would invite students if they wanted to, you could actually record yourself talking through a problem set instead of writing down a problem set. And so that’s one example of how you might provide choice for students in a physics class, but also explicitly bringing up the importance of student well being and help seeking in a class. And so some of this normalizing the expectation that students will ask questions, asking students to keep a record of where do they seek help, and how do they seek help is important. And my colleague, Kristen Burson, she even has on her problem sets occasionally, an activity… it’s a problem where students must choose one activity for the week that they think will make them feel physically, mentally or emotionally better. And so it’s like, are you going to take a nap? Or are you going to go out and hang out with friends? She actually has that as a like, what’s one thing you did this week that you did to promote your health as a person who is in this physics class. And so just bringing that element of the whole person, and that the instructor is encouraging the student to be a whole person and make choices that support their wellness in that holistic manner. So those are some of the examples that we talk about in this forthcoming paper. And indeed, some of it is very similar, it’s built on some of these ideas from the metacognitive element. But just generally trying to focus on there’s a lot more to creating a classroom environment where students can succeed than just giving them the content.
John: We always end with the question, “what’s next?”
Melissa: One thing that I’m working on right now is I’m working with colleagues at Luther College and St. Olaf College, on a program that’s designed to foster a more robust and thoughtful culture of peer observation of teaching. And this is thinking about peer observation for formative development. We have peer observation for evaluation. But I’m not sure even in that context, we’ve necessarily done a great job of talking with each other as colleagues about what that looks like and what that means to make it the best possible experience for everyone involved. And so having the opportunity to get folks together from these three colleges to talk about how we can create cultures that foster teachers observing each other’s teaching has been really fun. And it’s fun to think about how we might also learn across campuses and from teachers across campuses. And this project also ties in a little bit with the Picture a Professor anthology, because one of the things we’ve been thinking about in this peer observation is thinking about how we can encourage colleagues when they’re observing each other to be mindful of how embodied authority might be in play in terms of the choices that people make, and how they observe other people in the classroom. And so we just started this program at the end of August. And so it’s going to be a trial for this year. And so I’m curious to see where it goes, and I think it’ll be a fun opportunity to engage in conversations about teaching with colleagues on some other campuses.
Rebecca: Sounds like a meaningful activity and endeavor for sure.
Melissa: So it’s fun.
John: Well, thank you for joining us, and we’re looking forward to sharing this with our listeners.
Melissa: It was great, thank you.
Rebecca: Yeah, thank you so much.
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Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.