Sunday, August 25, 2013
I run a study group program in which 2L's and 3L's lead study groups for first-year students. Assisting me is a "senior study group leader" who visits the groups (because I am a professor, I do not visit the groups for fear of disrupting the dynamics). The senior leader observes quietly, and meets later with the group leader to discuss what the group leader thought went well and what he would like to have improved. I always tell my senior leader to spend the first three weeks popping into the groups and waiting until she "catches the study group leader doing something right." She then jots a note or dashes off a quick email to the leader telling him what he was doing effectively and why she thought it so effective.
I used the approach when I was a secondary school administrator working on staff development. The effect was amazing. I quickly became perceived as a supportive coach rather than a critic, and therefore a welcome visitor to the classroom. Within a short three weeks, I could meet with the instructor and simply ask what the instructor thought went well and what might have gone better. The instructor would nail both questions with uncanny accuracy 99.9% of the time. We would then brainstorm how to capitalize on the successes and improve the weaknesses. Most of the time, the instructor discovered both answers with little or no prompting from me.
We would do well to use a similar approach in our individual meetings with students. Perhaps we should always first try to catch our students "doing something right" and tell them why it is "right" -- i.e., consistent with what we know are effective learning strategies. Then we can ask the student what she thinks may not be working as well as she would like. A little guided reflection will probably yield not only an accurate assessment but a predictably useful solution as well, generated not by us alone, but by the student herself in partnership with us. She will own the solution and will be more likely to implement it. A little follow up may be all that is needed after that.