The New Rs of Teaching and Learning

On October 21, I attended the New England Faculty Development Consortium (NEFDC) Conference at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. NEFDC’s two annual conferences feature a keynote presentation and workshop followed by a range of small workshops to choose from. They are geared toward faculty who want to stay abreast of new and useful teaching strategies.

This year’s presenter, José Antonio Bowen, focused on inter- and intrapersonal strategies for engaging students and helping them learn. In contrast to “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic,” he presented three new Rs:

  • Relationships
  • Resilience
  • Reflection

Bowen noted that these three Rs, as opposed to the proverbial ones (and much of what ends up happening in college classrooms) are about facilitating the process of learning. Too often we end up falling back on our disciplinary equivalent of the “old” three Rs: emphasizing content over process. That’s understandable, especially when we have outcomes to meet and we see content as essential to meeting those outcomes. But…do our students learn to digest the content, use it, and demonstrate the skills to meet our outcomes in ways that they can apply later? Do they have the tools they need to continue learning?

On the other hand, if we build relationships with our students that demonstrate that we care about their learning, if we teach them how to “fail forward,” and if we provide opportunities for them to reflect on and understand their progress, we are facilitating and teaching the process of learning and doing.

The Importance of Motivation

We are in the motivation business!

José Antonio Bowen

Bowen discussed one big theme tying his three Rs together: “we are in the motivation business.” He compared the work of faculty to being a cognitive coach, paralleling the work of a fitness coach. A good coach (and I can testify to this as someone who has gone from “I loathe running” to “how about I try lifting something a little heavier today” under the guidance of a coach!) does not just set a daunting goal, demonstrate how to get there, and make sure you show up for practice. Instead, they set goals you can push for, and then up those goals as you demonstrate you’re ready. They pay attention to how you’re doing and intervene if you are about to drop a dumbbell on your foot or if you are slacking off. They motivate you by showing that they are motivated to support your growth. And they get out of your way when you’re ready, providing opportunities to develop autonomy and make appropriate independent choices.

So how do we do that in a college classroom?

There are many strategies we can use (and Bowen provides some free resources on the website for his book Teaching Naked). We already encourage many of them at Champlain, including:

Interested in Attending?

If you’re interested in attending a future NEFDC conference or the spring virtual brown bag series, click for more information.

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