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IMPACTful Thought - Small Changes for Student Success

By Kelly Spoon posted 08-01-2022 20:45:13


Back when the Statistics Anet hosted IMPACT Live! in May, Mark Earley posted the following discussion question: “What is the biggest change you've made to your introductory statistics class in the last 3 years? Why did you make the change and what impact has it had on your students?“ While there are some big changes I’ve made in my classroom over the years (like flipping my class or trying standards-based grading), some of the most impactful changes in terms of student success have been small changes. This ties into the theme that the Innovative Teaching and Learning Anet and Project ACCCESS had for this month’s Impact Live! : 

A small idea can create a big IMPACT: Taking that first, brave step to implement innovative and equitable ideas that create ripples for student success

When we were discussing this idea as a group, the following graphic was shared.

This graphic seemed to perfectly fit our theme and promote the idea that these small changes will all add up. And they will, but in my experience, the actual trajectory looks a bit more like this image.

When we step outside our comfort zone and try something new in our classes, it isn’t guaranteed to have the impact that we expected. In fact, it probably won’t go perfectly, but the important thing to do is try something - to start small and keep in mind why you decided to make that change. If it doesn’t work, consider whether you can adjust it or need to try something new. The entire process is iterative and reflective. As Allan Rossman once said, “The moment I think I have this teaching thing figured out, I’ll know it’s time to retire.”

So let’s dive into these changes together from a reflective place. First, why might we make a change? Perhaps we realize we aren’t serving all students as well as we had hoped and want to find ways to support, reach, and highlight the diverse voices in our classes. Maybe we saw something at a conference or in a webinar or in a colleague’s classroom that we think could help our students. I decided to move from a final exam to a final project in my statistics course because I wanted students to see the entire data cycle, how statistics can be used to answer a question, and get practice with soft skills they would use in future courses or careers. I tried video explanations in precalculus because I wanted a way for students to work on their mathematical communication while being able to create a set of videos for future classes - a renewable assignment that will be valuable long after they’ve finished my course. A final project might seem like a bigger change, but you could easily add a data analysis assignment that’s smaller to replace a more traditional exam or assignment.

There are so many innovative assessment strategies (see Maria Andersen’s webinar on Five Authentic Assessment Strategies) and grading schemes. If you’re interested in having students create a video demo, just assign one to see how it goes and make adjustments to your instructions or rubric. If you’re curious about an alternative grading method like ungrading or one of the possibilities mentioned on the Grading for Growth blog, consider having students answer a final question in class explaining what grade they believe they have earned and why. Changing my assessments or adding a few alternate assessments led me to realize my students weren’t learning the skills I was really hoping they were learning. I had to reconsider how I was helping students work through content. Like I said, it’s an iterative process. And a humbling one, at times. 

Some of the biggest impacts we can make as instructors aren’t actually innovative, they are simply about connecting with students. As I considered innovative small changes to write about in this blog post, I was reminded how important it is to build relationships with our students - to listen to them, highlight their voices, and care about them as individuals. There are so many tiny changes we can make to help build a learning partnership with students so that they view us as allies:

  • Read through your syllabi mindfully, possibly using the Center for Urban Education (CUE)’s Syllabus Review Guide.
  • Weave trust generators into your course announcements, feedback, and lectures. 
  • Consider how you will intentionally get to know all of your students and their interests.
  • Practice mindful reflections on your initial reaction to students’ actions and or interactions with students.

As we move into this month’s Impact Live! we hope you’ll be inspired to try something new for the Fall. If you do, consider the following questions as you move forward:

  • What change am I going to implement? How do I plan to implement this change?
  • How do I expect this change to impact students, especially ? Why do I believe that to be the case?
  • How will I gauge the success of this change?

This month of IMPACT Live! is hosted jointly by the Innovative Teaching and Learning Anet and Project ACCCESS and we’re focusing on the final pillar of mathematical PROWESS in the Impact document: Student Success. If you’re looking for new ideas, the Innovative Teaching and Learning Anet is a great place to start! And while Project ACCCESS is only open for fellows in the first four years of full-time teaching, the projects completed by the ACCCESS fellows (shout out to cohort 15) are another excellent resource for finding inspiration!