The authentic teaching self: Treating students as individuals

This week’s blog prompts in GEDI F18 focused on finding your teaching voice. I found Professor Deel’s essay “Finding my teaching voice” most interesting for several reasons. First, Deel’s presented several of the same questions that I have been asking myself about teaching and my teaching style. Second, she describes herself very much the same way I would describe myself (e.g., detail-oriented and uncool). I think we could be best friends. However, what I would like to discuss are Deel’s comments on assessing students individually and setting individual goals for students. Deel’s says “assessing [students] equally by a common rubric is very difficult.” I am inclined to agree.

Some students enter class with previous knowledge and skill sets that help them excel over other students. This doesn’t mean that they have nothing to learn, they may just have the potential to learn more or at a faster pace. Should instructors then use the same measures to assess these students compared to others or is it okay to set the bar higher and expect more? Another question can be asked for the other students, should their small yet important achievements be given greater acknowledgement?

This reminds me of coaching youth soccer. In sports, every player enters at a different level. Some pick up on the game very quickly, others struggle with the basics. It’s natural for me to treat each of my players as individuals. I push the players who are near the top of the ladder and I applaud the players who are climbing up from the rungs near the bottom. This approach works, everyone is improving and learning the skills they need to be successful, though learning occurs at their own pace.

Should and can this model be applied in the classroom? Is it already being applied through providing student’s feedback? Last week, we discussed assessment. Is it enough to give the high-achieving students A’s and other students lower grades with more positive feedback (that they can choose to ignore)? Does this push students to achieve greater learning? Should students be pushed? Can instructors set the same learning outcomes for students but assess them on different scales? I’m not sure.

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