Intervention in students’ learning

I really enjoyed Howard Rheingold’s Elluminate session today and there was lots there to comment on, but I would like to listen to the session again and reflect a little further before doing so.

But Howard’s session, and thinking about how teachers and learners are changing, for some reason reminded me of a past student of mine. I think it was when Howard was talking about how much and when he felt it necessary to intervene in his students’ learning. Here is the story of one time when I tried to intervene in a student’s learning.

Paul was a mature student in his late 30s, training to be a primary school teacher. At the time I was teaching science. Because of my subject I have only ever done a minimal amount of teaching in lecture theatres – it has normally been with students grouped round tables, working practically, problem-solving, discussing ideas and so on. Paul was very interactive in these sessions, contributing to discussion, thoughtful, creative and intelligent – also with a great sense of humour. As his tutor, I thoroughly enjoyed learning alongside him.

Then it came to the time when he had to hand in his assignment. I was very surprised and somewhat disappointed when Paul didn’t get the high mark that I had thought he would. His work just didn’t meet the marking criteria. All the students were always given the marking criteria, and of course we had discussed them in a session, so I didn’t see that he could have been unaware of them.

After the assignments had been handed back, I spoke to Paul about not meeting the marking criteria and suggested that if he wanted to get a higher mark on the next assignment, then he would need to address the marking criteria more explicitly. I have never forgotten his response.

He said he hadn’t come on the course to jump through hoops to get high marks for his assignments. He wanted to pursue his own lines of enquiry and follow his own interests. If he was going to spend a lot of time writing an assignment, he wanted to be sure that it met his own needs. He would do enough to pass, but he wanted to enjoy writing the assignment for himself. If he could do that and pass, then he was quite happy with the mark he got.

At the time I was surprised but admiring of this stance. In my experience – although I suppose it does depend on what job you go for – the final grade of your qualification or class of your degree is not always taken into account when you apply for a job. In Paul’s case, he was going to be a good teacher. That would get him a job despite the low marks on his science assignments, and in the meantime he had shown that he knew what he wanted to learn and how he wanted to go about it. It would be the latter that would go on his reference!

6 thoughts on “Intervention in students’ learning

  1. Keith Lyons November 12, 2008 / 10:03 pm

    Hello, Jenny.

    I enjoyed both your posts about teachers and learners.

    I do hope there are enough people in the education world that treat credentials as an indicator not the indicator of ability. I have not been involved in teacher interviews for a long time and hope that they can elicit Paul’s skills.

    I lived through the BEd changes in the UK in the 1970s and lamented the difficulty natural pedagogues had in getting on to courses.

    My post about education resonates (I think) with what you discuss here.


  2. suifaijohnmak November 13, 2008 / 11:43 am

    You have supported the adult learner Paul, and inspired him to become a good teacher, and that’s fabulous.

    I have been a convenor in teacher’s recruitment and interview panel. What we are looking for are teachers who are passionate in teaching and learning, and are able to empower their learners in their learning journey.

    Besides I would be looking for those who could facilitate learning using technologies if possible, in addition to great professional, communication and interpersonal skills at this digital age.

    Many thanks for your sharing.

  3. Kyle Mathews November 13, 2008 / 4:41 pm

    All I have to say is that Paul is my hero.

    There’s been a lot of research on this subject. I quoted this in my blog post.

    Creativity researcher Dean Keith Simonton points out: “To obtain high marks in school often requires a high degree of conformity to conventional ways of looking at the world and people.” People who get good grades are often fast learners of social cues. By contrast, smart people who get bad grades are listening to their inner voice, doing what they believe is interesting and right. Simonton observes that “one of the reasons creative talents often dislike school is that it can interfere with what they really want to know. When faced with the choice of reading a good book or studying for an exam, the extracurricular but still instructive diversion may win out.”

  4. Maru November 13, 2008 / 8:13 pm

    Hi Jenny!

    As usual, a pleasure to visit. It was great to get in touch with you at Howard’s live session. Thanks.

    You touch a sore point in teaching, assessment, marks.
    I believe it’s very difficult to assess students work, you never know if the one with an “A” learned something useful or just covered the marking scheme. I wish I had come across a student like yours, some of my students come to pass an exam not to learn English which is a sad case.

    See you around. Besos. Maru

  5. Sarah Stewart November 18, 2008 / 6:38 am

    Loved this post because it ties in with what I have been thinking about assessment.

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