Common Ground

I listened to a podcast recently that talked about the relationship between teacher and student that really resonated with me as I was reading through Friere’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” The podcast, titled “In The Classroom, Common Ground Can Transform GPAs” talked about how common ground between teachers and students can improve student’s scores. The researchers gave a survey to students and teachers of 9th grade classes, and then shared with each participant examples of things that they had in common with their student or teacher. As a result, student’s scores jumped nearly half of a letter grade. Maybe even more importantly, this trend was even more pronounced for minority students, leading to a closure in the achievement gap between black and latino students with their classmates by 60%! While the initial assumption was that students who could relate to their teachers would be more motivated to learn, but this really didn’t seem to be the case. It turns out that it was the teachers who were changed by learning that they had more in common with their students than they had realized and were able to be better mentors to their students. In the case of the pronounced impact on minority students, the researchers suggested that this may be because the primarily European-American teachers had not previously perceived that they had much in common with minority students.

It seems that this sort of understanding and common ground between teacher and student is fundamental to moving away from the banking concept of education where students are not lifeless receptacles of knowledge, but rather relatable, unique humans who have much to contribute. When we talked in class about how some instructors may try to meet individually or in small groups with each student at the start of the semester in order to get to know their students better, I think I was subconsciously a little uncomfortable with the idea. The idea of being able to maintain a healthy level of authority in my classroom is already something that scares me, but breaking down that barrier even further by inviting students to lunch or an individual meeting gives me pause. But after hearing this research and reading Friere’s work, I think I’m becoming much more open to the idea. If finding a way to relate to my students can help them to learn, and especially if it can offer me an opportunity to close an achievement gap for minorities in my class, then I am open certainly open to the idea.

6 Comments

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6 Responses to Common Ground

  1. yesim

    Hi Emily, the podcast you mentioned sounds like a great example of Freire’s argument of inseparability of teaching and learning as well as the teacher and the student. Thank you so much for sharing.

    This idea also reflects itself in psychotherapy research. It is also found in many studies that the clients perceived as similar by their psychotherapists improve a lot quicker compared to the ones perceived as different by their therapists.

    While thinking about education, we tend to focus on the techniques we apply a educators to improve the students’ level of involvement, but it certainly makes sense that the self-of-the-teacher contributes to the learning outcomes a lot more than we imagine. Thanks for bringing this out!

  2. I appreciate the connection you make between the NPR Podcast and Freire’s conception of the learner-teacher. I also completely understand being worried about maintaining authority in the classroom. What I most appreciate is that you are so open to the idea of embracing a bit of discomfort for the sake of supporting a better learning environment. These are tough realizations and I salute your insight.

  3. I’m still in an agreement with your initial concern about one-on-one get-to-know you interaction with students. I’ve heard people say (and I tend agree) that by getting on a ‘buddy buddy’ level with students, you open yourself up to avoidable trouble with the department or student if you end up having to make a decision that would break the friendship pact.

    Interestingly, when reading your article, I couldn’t help but recall a “Philosophy of Religion” course I took as an undergrad. As an engineer who works 100% with theory, taking this course proved itself to be nearly an impossible task. In fact, I was actual near failing by the midpoint in the semester, when I decided it was time to talk to the professor. When he and I met at his office, we discovered that we both held very similar political views, so we spent an hour just talking about non-course related topics. At the end of our discussion, he told me that I don’t worry about my grade, since he was convinced I’d make an A. While in one respect this could potentially be considered a corrupted event, I also like to think that after having this discussion, he learned that how my mind thinks, and the method of his teaching that might work with the other students (mainly philosophy majors) doesn’t work with me, especially with respect to my writing.

    With this said, I suppose the personal interaction just might work, but how how do we implement this while also maintaining control and professional appearance?

  4. Yanliang Yang

    Hi, Emily, thanks for sharing your idea. I have similar concern about interaction with students like you before. But as the reading in recent weeks evolves, I am more open to this idea. This common ground help students to relax and remove the barriers between teacher and students. I once had one of such teacher in my own class. She mentioned that she lives in Blacksburg, so come and say hi if you see me shopping in Kroger. I immediately find this lady adorable and is willing to pay more attention in her class.

  5. akin01

    In addition to the points you mentioned, I think that an over emphasis on grades will actually make students focus more on grades than on learning. They may end up with good grades but most will not learn much beyond what is required to make the grade. A common ground, like you mentioned in your post, goes hand-in-hand with de-emphasizing grades which will make students less anxious and more receptive to what’s being learned.

  6. qzhilei

    Learning and teaching are also paralleling for teachers and students. When students tried to learn from some course while they will have opinions for teacher’s teaching method. Their potential hope is to follow the way if they feel comfortable; or to change the way in the future if they did not enjoy the class. The similar situation is for teachers. Therefore, the essential reason is that students and teachers should be open to each other in order to make a good communication for concerns of their.

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