How Will We Know Whether Students Are Getting Back on Track?
We hope you and your loved ones near and far stayed safe during and after Hurricane Ian. We are grateful for your flexibility and your care for your students during the cancellations and as we resumed classes this week. As the Provost has reminded us, many of our students hail from badly affected areas and may not yet have been able to return to school. Their families may have been without power for an extended period of time, or they may have lost their homes or businesses or even their loved ones. Some may not be able to return this semester, and others may be rattled and destabilized even if they do return.
If you haven’t already, we recommend checking in to see how your students are doing and how your courses are going after the disruption.
Checking on Students
Many students are experiencing or have experienced trauma because of the hurricane. Trauma affects learning in many ways. Stress floods our brains and bodies with adrenaline and cortisol; when our systems are focused on survival, we have less capacity for memory-making, and less for such luxuries as higher-order thinking. We are less able to focus.
Instructors are best able to support students’ return to learning if we follow some principles of trauma-informed pedagogy. Since the practice is rooted in research on the brain, many of the principles of learning-centered teaching that we regularly recommend, and that many of you practice, are also important tenets of trauma-informed pedagogy, though there are additional considerations.
A trauma-informed approach focuses foremost on the people doing the learning. If you’re able, checking in often, about students’ well-being as well as their learning, makes an important point to them about how much you care. Even if you have hundreds of students, you can survey them about how they’re doing, how they were affected by the hurricane, and what might help them get back on track. You can also project a warm and supportive tone in class and encourage them to reach out if they’re struggling.
Providing regular opportunities (and guidelines) for students to connect with each other can help to build a supportive community in your class, so students can also help one another.
Checking on Courses
In addition to checking on how students are doing, we also need to check on how our courses are going from their perspective. Since SACS requires us to make up our lost contact hours, and students take many courses, there is potential for overwhelm, confusion, and logistical issues. For example, one student mentioned that three of her exams from last week were rescheduled, and now they were all happening on the same day. Since scheduling conflicts may be inevitable, it will be helpful for us to check on whether the catch-up plans we made are both feasible and clear, or if we’ll need to make some adjustments. We may need to work with some students case-by-case so they can get back on track.
By checking in, we can also find out whether they’re still doing the learning we intend for them to do in the course or if they’ve gotten lost. You can use an informal knowledge check or other low-stakes assessments, such as a formative quiz. If you’re already surveying students about how they’re doing, you can also include questions about the course. You can ask what is helping them learn, what’s presenting an obstacle for their learning, and what suggestions they have. You can also ask them how it’s going with the (often asynchronous) work they’re doing to make up the lost time.
In any semester, checking in on how things are going for students, and making sure they have some feedback on their progress by this point in the term would be important, so if you’d like some support to design a way to check in with that takes into account the disruption as well, please reach out for a consultation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to working with you.
Food for Thought
If you are able, this is a great time to donate to FSU’s Food for Thought pantry. The Department of Student Support and Transitions runs this food pantry for currently enrolled students who are facing food insecurity. Many students in need stocked up before the storm, so new donations can help replenish their supply. The Pantry is open from 8:00am to 5:00pm Monday through Friday and is located in University Center A, Suite 4148. For more information, and to view their wishlist, please visit their website.