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Episode 19 Transcript
Caring For Students Helps Them Succeed
Kevin Patton: You’ve probably heard that students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Hold that thought.
Aileen: Welcome to The A&P Professor. A few minutes to focus on teaching human anatomy and physiology with host Kevin Patton.
Kevin Patton: In this episode I ask, should we give slides to students before class? And I also ask, can we catch up with our sleep on the weekends? And then I chat a bit about how a caring attitude can help our students.
Kevin Patton: Hey, don’t forget that I’m on my summer schedule now, so that means I’m doing new episodes about twice a month, rather than once a week. So if you were wondering why it’s been a little while since the last episode, now you know.
Kevin Patton: Hey, you know how students are always wanting to make sure they get a copy of our PowerPoint slides before a lecture? Maybe in the form of a handout, so that they can have those in front of them as we go through the material with them, and they can just make little annotations and so on, and that’s how they take notes in class? Yeah, right, I mean they do that all the time, and there was a really interesting post at the Learning Scientists blog. I have a link to it in the show notes and on the episode page where they talk about some brand new research that went into how effective or not that strategy is.
Kevin Patton: They cited some research done by Coria & Higham that’s very new, it’s not even published yet, but they presented their findings at the most recent Psychonomics meeting which was held in Amsterdam in May, and what they found was that of the 247 students that were surveyed as part of this research, 87% of them would like to have the lecture slides available before the lecture. Well, duh, of course. I’m surprised it was as low as 87%. I’m surprised it wasn’t like 99%. But, either way it’s really high, and that goes hand in hand with my experience, and probably your experience, as well.
Kevin Patton: And they did a series of experiments to see, well, is this an effective way of taking notes? Does that help them with their learning, or not? And so they did some Natural Sciences’ lectures, and there were different groups of students, and they were either given the slides as a printout to make annotations, as I just mentioned, or they were provided with a blank paper to make notes in longhand, or they weren’t supplied with any paper or material and just sat and passively viewed the lecture. And then they followed up with some assessment and they found out that, of course, the students who made the longhand notes, because they had to process things more deeply, and really kind of wrestle with what to write down, and how to organize the information, they ended up perhaps learning more because they did better in the assessment. They did better than the students who had been given the slides as a printout and just wrote a few annotations in those slides.
Kevin Patton: Another interesting thing they found out is the group that just passively sat there and did nothing did about the same as those who were making the annotations on the printouts. So, what that says to me is maybe giving them those printouts is as good as just having them sit there and watch you and not do anything at all. That they’re maybe kind of useless, and that really the way to learn is to give longhand notes.
Kevin Patton: So in the Learning Scientists blog by Carolina Kuepper-Tetzel, she points out something that I think is very important, and that is that we can’t say that giving out slides is 100% bad, because there are some students who need that kind of support. For example, there are new language learners. That is folks who are struggling with English and students, maybe, that have different kinds of learning difficulties like dyslexia, or maybe they’re on the autism spectrum, or have some other learning challenge, and so maybe they need those kind of things, so maybe it’s good to have some of that, or maybe have that for some of our students. I mean I think there’s something to be considered on that end of it. I don’t think it’s 100 percent black and white, nor does the author of this blog article think it’s black and white.
Kevin Patton: Now, what she does to kind of sort of meet students in the middle here is something very similar to what I do. She provides sort of a stripped down version of her slides to the students ahead of time. So she takes out all of the questions that she’s gonna ask ’cause she doesn’t want the students to know what those questions are ahead of time. And she also leaves a lot of blanks in her slides. Now I do something similar. What I do is I provide sort of a skeleton outline. Of course, that’s very appropriate for math and physiology course, to have a skeleton outline. And so, it sort of helps the students kind of organize my story so they can kind of see the main scenes in the story, where I’m coming from and where I’m going, and sort of a loose scaffolding on which they can start to build their own ideas and their own notes. So they’re still doing a lot of longhand note taking ’cause they don’t have everything. And I do put in there the more difficult to spell terms so that the terminology is in there. It’s not really got a whole lot of explanation of those terms, but they don’t have to struggle with writing out the terms or at least getting the spelling right.
Kevin Patton: They’re still gonna have to write them in order to write down what I’m talking about regarding those terms, but they’ll get the spelling right. So there’s probably a lot of different strategies that are like that, that don’t hand the whole thing to them, which is what the students want. But we shouldn’t always give students what they want if it’s not going to help them, if we know it’s not going to help them. So I have a link to this blog article and also some other links in there in the show notes and in the episode page. And let me know what you think about it.
Kevin Patton: I wanna take just a moment to remind you of a very easy way to listen to this podcast and to keep up with new episodes. And that is with a dedicated app on your mobile device. If you listen to the previous episode, you’re aware that an android app had been released just before I recorded that. And if you look at the show notes for that previous episode, you may have figured out that the Apple app had also come out right before that episode was released. And so now, pretty much any mobile device that you have, you can download an app. You can go to the Google Play store if you have an Android device. You can go to the Apple app store if you have an IOS device. You can go to the Amazon app store if you have a Kindle Fire. Then you just type in “The A&P Professor” and that should bring up the app. And you just click “install” and it’s done. And our new episodes will be automatically downloaded. Now the nifty thing about these apps is that it’s a far easier way to listen.
Kevin Patton: There’s a lot, a richer set, of features and options that you have in the app than you probably have in your podcast or radio app that you might be listening to already. And certainly much easier than listening to it on your desktop. So just go to either the link in the show notes or just go to your favorite app store and type in “The AP Professor” and download it, and let me know what you think.
Kevin Patton: I think most of us are already aware of the big influence how much sleep we get has on learning, and on teaching for that matter, that it really does help us focus and stay alert throughout the day, and do our learning better when we’ve had a sufficient amount of sleep each night. And that varies from person to person how much sleep that needs to be. And of course it varies throughout the lifespan, how much sleep that needs to be. And you probably are aware of the other health effects that not getting enough sleep can actually affect mortality, how long we live. And if you follow my [inaudible 00:09:38] newsletter, you probably already saw this article that challenges this idea that we can’t catch up with our sleep. The idea for a long time has been that if you don’t get enough sleep tonight, I’ll catch up on it tomorrow. And some evidence indicates that that really doesn’t work, at least doesn’t work as well as we think it should work when that happens. It’s not like putting money in the bank. You really have to get a good night’s sleep every night if you can, and really work on trying to do that.
Kevin Patton: But a recent study of more than 38,000 adults showed that the higher mortality rate among young and middle aged adults who slept for five hours a night, but then who caught up with that over the weekend, they’re mortality rate kind of went back to normal again. And so now we’re getting some evidence that maybe, and at least under certain circumstances, or at least for some people, that it doesn’t hurt to catch up and it may actually help to do some catching up on the weekend. So very interesting article worth looking into, and it’s just another example of how, boy, there’s a lot more research we need and a lot more thinking we need to do about the health benefits and the health effects of sleeping and not sleeping. So I have a link to this in the show notes and on the episode page. Take a look.
Kevin Patton: A number of years ago, the book store at Saint Charles Community College was selling a tee shirt that became very popular among the faculty. On the front side of the tee shirt it said, “Hey SEC student, I love ya!” And then on the back side of the tee shirt, it said, “But you can’t have my parking space.” Well, I think both sides of that tee shirt reflect a sentiment that I wanna spend a few minutes talking about. Now, what got me thinking about this most recently, I guess began at the HAPS Conference which I recently returned from. That’s the Human Anatomy Physiology Society Conference that was held in Columbus Ohio. My friend Aaron Fried from Mohawk Valley Community College walked up to me and said, “Hey, you wanna play a game?”
Kevin Patton: And I said, “Sure”. And he reached down in his bag and he pulled out these two stuffed characters. One was a brain and one was a heart and he said, “Pick one.” And I said, “What?” And he said, “Just pick one.” So I picked the heart. And he says, “Why’d you pick that?” And I said, “What do you mean?” And he says, “Just tell me. Why’d you pick the heart?” So I told him. And he took my picture and wrote down what I said. And I said, “What is this all about?” Well, it came out that what he was doing was taking pictures for the HAPS Instagram account. And if you wanna see what I said and what a lot of other people at the HAPS Conference said and whether they picked the heart or the brain and why, then go to the HAPS Instagram account. I’ll have a link to that in the show notes and on the episode page.
Kevin Patton: But when I got home from HAPS, I immediately ran across this posting in Education Week. It was a little article by someone named Kyle Redford. And it was entitled, “What happened when I committed to loving my students unconditionally”. Now he had a K12 focus, but I think everything he said in there really does apply to college students as well. And it got me thinking along these lines of: Do we really love our students enough? And how does that affect them and their learning?
[POST-PRODUCTION NOTE: I refer to Kyle Redford as “he” but she is a woman. My apologies.]
Kevin Patton: And so I strongly suggest that you read this article, keeping in mind your students as you read it. And I have a link to that also in the show notes and in the episode page, so you can get to it easily. And it really sort of lays out what Kyle did over the course of a year when he really focused on the idea of loving his students, and really tried to apply that, and the struggles and the triumphs he had in doing so. And one of the things that he mentioned in his article was this idea of trauma informed teaching. That is teaching while we keep in mind that our students, whether they’re children or adults, they have maybe experienced some trauma in their life, and maybe are experiencing at least some of that trauma while they’re in our course, and that caring for them can really help them as individuals, not only help them learn, but also help them as people
Kevin Patton: And that’s part of what I think that we should be doing as professors, not just teaching our subject, but teaching the people and being mentors to our students. Now a reference that Kyle makes in his article is to another Education Week article by Lauren Dotson. And one of the things in her article that struck me was a quote where she says, “The single most common factor for children who develop resilience, is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, a caregiver, or other adult.” And then she went on to say, “It’s never too late to build that resilience.” And so again, even though her focus was on children, I think it applies equally well to our adult students because, as she said, it’s never too late to build resilience. And if we can help our students build resilience, then we are being good mentors to our students. And again, that’s going to help them learn the concepts that we want them to learn. But it’s also going to help them as they move through the rest of their training and into their careers.
Kevin Patton: Now it’s a well known and well documented fact that students in general learn better if they believe that their teacher cares about them. And so that’s where this unconditional love that Kyle Redford mentions in his article comes up. And I wanna emphasize that term unconditional love. That is loving them even when they don’t love us, even when they screw things up, even when they ignore our advice, or maybe when they do exactly the opposite of what we want them to do, or maybe they’re disrupting the class or disrupting the whole learning environment. Maybe they’re doing something truly bad. But can’t we still love them while we’re dealing with that? The 14th Dalai Lama once said, “A truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change, even if they behave negatively or hurt you.” So looking at the effect of this caring or this compassion that we have for our students, the effect it has on the students themselves in terms of their learning and their success, I wanna emphasize that a reaction that I have when I think about this is, well, that’s great if we love them. But isn’t it really up to them to learn and to succeed?
Kevin Patton: Well yeah, but I believe, and I think a lot of people believe, and probably you believe that our caring for them can help them learn and succeed. So yeah it’s up to them, but let’s help them do that for themselves. And we can do that by caring for them and expressing our care for them. There are a lot of our college and university students who don’t feel like they have the caring support that they need in their lives. Maybe they feel like their family has let them down. Maybe they feel like their friends have let them down. Maybe their friends and family have not let them down. Maybe their friends and family … Probably their friends and family, or at least some of them, do care for them. But they’re at a place in their lives where they’re not seeing it, where they’re not believing it, so it’s important that they believe that people care about them, or that at least one person believes in them and cares for them.
Kevin Patton: And so, maybe that needs to be us, or maybe at least it can be us. So that’s a pretty big challenge to care for all of our students, and not only care for all of our students, but make sure they know that we believe in them and care for them. So if you know me at all, if you’ve been listening to my podcast or reading my blog, or chatting with me at the HAPS Conference, you probably know that the next step that I need to take with this, the next step I always take with everything is, yeah, that’s all well and good but what does that mean for me? What can I do? What are the practical aspects of that? What’s my next step? So I jotted down a few next steps that I think can be very useful for us. One is something I’m going to do is to re-commit myself to really verbalizing my care and my belief in my students. So what I’m going to do to verbalize that is that when I chat with them, I’m going to make sure that I’m asking questions about them, not only their experience as a student, not only questions about what they’re doing in my class or how they’re preparing for their tests, or how they’re studying and learning the material.
Kevin Patton: I’m gonna go beyond that a little bit and ask about them as people. I’m going to look for shared experiences or shared interests. I’m gonna look for a way to identify with them so that they can identify with me and see me as a person as well. Another thing I’m going to commit to is to try and maintain a kind and caring affect when I’m dealing with students. And that’s not just in the classroom during class, during discussions and lectures and demonstrations and various activities that we do, but also outside the class, that is, on my way to class, on my way from class, when I see them in the hallway, when I encounter them in the lunchroom, or in the bookstore when I buy my tee shirt about the parking spaces, in all of those encounters. But not just in person, but also other ways of communication, when I speak to them on the phone and when I’m emailing them, or responding to them in discussion forums and so on online.
Kevin Patton: Another thing that I’m gonna commit to doing is to really listen to them, and I mean stop and listen. That means putting my phone down, putting my notes down, stop fidgeting with things, stop looking through things, stop straightening things on my desk. Okay, I never do that. If you’ve ever seen my desk, you know that I never straighten anything on my desk. But you know what I mean. That is, get rid of all those behaviors that send a signal, whether it’s an accurate signal or not, they send a signal to the listener that you’re not listening. And I think they really do distract from our listening. So really do look at the person, really do stop and listen and ask questions and so on. And I think just that act of listening, active listening, really does send a signal to the person being listened to that they’re being cared about, that we’re interested in them.
Kevin Patton: And so that leads me to another commitment that I’m going to make right now on the air, and that is that when I respond to emails and phone calls and messages, that I’m going to do so with that kind and caring affect that I’m committing myself to, that I’m not going to get angry and say, “Well, it’s in the syllabus. I told you a million times about that.” I’m not going to do that. I’m going to try not to do that. That’s what I’m committing to is to try and meet that goal of being kind and compassionate, to really treat people in that loving manner even when they’re irritating me and not reading their syllabus. Another thing, sort of related to that, is that I think it’s important for us to acknowledge their frustration when they express it to us. Students often acknowledge frustration. Sometimes it’s even directed at us personally, even though we know that it’s not really our fault. But it’s important to acknowledge that those feelings of frustration are valid, even if it’s misdirected. So I think that we should acknowledge their frustration and mean it.
Kevin Patton: So when a student comes up to us and says, “This course is too hard. You’re making it too hard for me. You’re asking too much of me. I have all these other things going on in my life. And you’re making it hard for me to learn here. You’re not doing what all the other teachers are doing. You’re the only class where I’m not getting an A or a B.”
Kevin Patton: How many times have we heard that, but that frustration is real. The students are really feeling that frustration even though it’s misdirected at us, even though it’s an unreasonable … in our minds at least, it’s unreasonable to be frustrating. But I think it’s important to use our customer service skills and say, “I understand that you’re frustrated. I emphasize with your frustration.” Maybe even personalize a little bit and say, “Yeah, when I took my first anatomy and physiology course, or when I took my first science course, or when I was in college, I had some of those same frustrations. I had some courses that I just thought were totally unreasonable. And the workload was very heavy. And here’s what I did. This is what helped me.” But acknowledge it and say, “Yes, your feelings are legitimate. You’re having legitimate feelings.” And if you ask a few questions about it, here’s that opportunity we have to really stop and listen, and really look for those shared experiences, and in this case, shared feelings like, “Yeah, I get frustrated with stuff like that too. I understand what you mean.”
Kevin Patton: Some of my students’ frustrations come in terms of technology, the educational technology I’m asking them to use where some login isn’t working as it should, or a server goes down and it throws off their study schedule, and there’s all kinds of things that can go wrong. You say, “Oh yeah man, that drives me crazy too. I can feel that. I know what you’re saying. Here’s how I deal with it.” And so that can help diffuse their frustration a little bit. Another thing that I do, and I think this is a caring and loving things, is to point out to them that sometimes the frustration of a learning process is a good kind of frustration, that there’s that discomfort of learning that really makes learning work. And so that, yeah, I get a little bit frustrated. It’s like learning anything. When you’re first learning it, it’s very frustrating to get it right. And you fail and you have to try again. And you fail and you try again. But then it sticks. And so let’s push through that frustration.
Kevin Patton: Yeah, it’s real. Yeah, it’s annoying. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and painful. But I’m there with you. I’m this caring mentor that is there to help see you through that frustrating part of the learning process and get you to the end where you’ll be successful. And I guess all of this sort of boils down to being courteous. That is using our manners and treating students like they’re adults, even if they’re not acting like adults and they’re not acting like responsible people, and they’re whining and they’re complaining, we can still have that kind affect and use our manners. And I think that in itself calms them down and kind of brings them back around again, and gives them a model that they can then start to emulate. The one thing that this idea of being loving and caring does not include is being easy on them. That’s not what I mean. I don’t mean that we should always be easy on our students and never push them.
Kevin Patton: It doesn’t mean that we should not have high expectations for performance, and high expectations for student behavior. Yes, we should have all of those, but you can do that in a caring way. We can push them harder in a caring way. Now one other thing about this whole idea of committing to being more caring and more loving to my students is it can make me a little more vulnerable. It can hurt a little worse when my students cheat or do some other type of academic dishonesty, or they treat me badly, or when they treat other students badly. It can make me feel bad because I’ve been nurturing this caring relationship with my students and then they treat me badly, but it’s sort of like when a parent has a child that they love deeply, treats them badly. That happens from time to time, no matter what age the child is, that can happen. And that can hurt the parent. But the parent still goes on. Why? Because they still care about them.
Kevin Patton: Their love isn’t damaged. They might be annoyed in the moment and try to really struggle to present themselves as caring. And that’s the same challenge we have as teachers and mentors, and that is to maintain that love, maintain that caring attitude, maintain the belief in our students, even when they’re being bad. That is when they’re annoying us and they’re doing things that are harming their own success. I think the great challenge in all major religions and philosophies and ethical systems is this, that we love one another. So I invite you to join me in that struggle to love even the most challenging student. As Kyle Redford says in his article that I mentioned a few minuets ago, he said, “My difficult students represented puzzles to solve and relationships to improve, not dreaded obstacles that threatened to drain my teacher joy.”
Aileen: The A&P Professor is hosted by Kevin Patton; professor, blogger, and text book author in human anatomy and physiology.
Kevin Patton: I’m a proud member of American Federation of Teachers, local 4803.
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