We like to talk about standards, but leaving standards in a vacuum doesn’t do anyone any good. It’s much smarter to make sure that we are encouraging new methods of getting the material, and arming students with the tools they need to be successful outside the classroom. After all, it would be foolish to assume that all of the attendees of the class are going to remain in academia. We’re supposed to be teaching them skills they can use in the private sector, public sector, or even with their families.
So, what are those skills? We’re glad you asked!
1. Critical Thinking
Thinking deeply about a problem is the key to success in other areas of life. One way that we do this in the classroom is through book discussions. We like to have the class read along at their own pace, but then go in to discuss the book on as deep of a level as possible. For example, we don’t want to just talk about the cast of characters in a book. We want to look at their motivations and ambitions throughout the book, and if they grew as a person. It’s very important to consider how people adapt over time in a work, so that we still capture the message that the author wanted to create.
2. Asking Real Questions
Asking to understand is far different from asking to make jokes or to be sarcastic. Frankly, the world doesn’t need any more sarcastic people. It has plenty of them, and needs more people that are seeking to understand the world around them. Real questions about a topic are always in season, and they help students decode what’s really going on. We need to encourage people to be bold and ask, rather than silent and just assume that everyone else knows the answer. Unfortunately, questions of self confidence always come into play. Some students feel like they can’t speak up because they will be teased by the class. If this happens, you need to simply carry on without getting too involved. At higher levels of education, a serious classroom promotes less of the teasing. At lower levels, you may need to make a few comments so that the lecture doesn’t veer off course forever.
3. Gathering Evidence
In order for students to really learn something, they need to get good at gathering evidence. Building up a research file that you can turn to over and over again is wise, but it’s not something that everyone does all the time. Evidence can come from everywhere, and there may be some temptation to tell students their limitations early on. Get them in the habit of researching, making notes, and asking more targeted questions. That’s far better than just making them feel rejected before they begin. After all, we have plenty of time in the classroom to help them refine the data that they collect.
4. Evaluation of Data
Remember how in the last section we discussed collection of information? Now we have to sit down and process it. Obviously, not everything is going to be useful. That means that we have to look at where we get the information, and how verifiable it is. Obviously, something that has the weight of an old urban legend isn’t going to be acceptable in a research paper. Primary and secondary sources of information are still going to play a role in research. Other levels of information can help you begin eliminating paths that you don’t really want to discuss, which is what this step is good for.
5. Testing Theories
Experimentation should be something that we encourage all of the time. It’s really sad to see that so many students fear rejection so they don’t even bother exploring all of their options. They go with the accepted answer and try to avoid rocking the boat. That isn’t the way to go either, because if we don’t experiment we don’t get any new information.
Sometimes these encouragements mean that you’ll have to take a bolder approach instead of being quiet. But as teachers, we believe that it’s our job to “lead the way”, so to speak. Feel free to sound off in the comments about this topic; we’d love to hear from you.