It starts with a story:
I teach at a college that tends to serve many students not quite prepared for college. Don’t we all? In fact, the American Association of Colleges and Universities reports that 53% of students entering colleges and universities are academically underprepared, i.e., lacking essential skills in at least one of the three fundamental areas of reading, writing or mathematics (Tritelli, 2003). Frustrating for these students and those of us who teach them is the fact that many have entered college believing they are prepared. Unfortunately, high school accomplishments often do not reflect the level of engagement and performance expected in a college-level class. Of course not all students we teach are underprepared, so we face the additional difficulty of supporting and encouraging these students as we try to bring them up to college-level expectations, while at the same time needing to keep our more prepared students challenged and engaged. A colleague of mine refers to this as bowling down the middle and hitting no one! Teaching from an integrated perspective is a way to reach every student, hopefully “bowling down the middle” and hitting that center pin which then goes on to hit them all! To this end, my students often work in groups which I organize as heterogeneously as possible. I mix gender, major, academic preparedness, and class year. All students have some strengths and this heterogeneous grouping encourages each student to participate in some way. They draw on the skills they have and reach out to others in the group for help with the skills they are lacking. If students feel encouraged rather than discouraged they will embrace learning, and reading, writing, and math will improve naturally. An example that comes to mind is a non-science major that I taught in my Human Genetics class last semester. With poor reading and writing skills and a belief she “wasn’t good in science” she struggled through the beginning of the semester. A group presentation following a case study on sex chromosome disorders gave her a chance to shine. Did she care how the particular disorder occurred? Not particularly. What she did care about was the perspective of the girl with the disorder as well as her family dynamics and the way she was perceived by society. She had to read to support her point of view and she had to write to present her view to others. She even had to do a bit of math to consider the likelihood of others in the family being affected with the disorder. All of a sudden she found a reason to work at those global skills so necessary in every discipline. Can we reach every student? If only we were so lucky. Integrated case based teaching, however, goes a long way towards achieving this goal.
And leads to learning.
We design workshops to:
- share strategies for reaching underprepared students;
- engage in dialogue regarding approaches to match teaching styles with diverse learning styles.