Whether I am teaching statistics to undergraduates, leading a graduate or undergraduate seminar, or providing intensive one-on-one supervision to practicum students, one of my highest priorities as a teacher is to determine the best way to share responsibility for learning with my students. In my experience, when this responsibility is balanced optimally, students benefit from the instructor’s knowledge, expertise, feedback, and help but at the same time take ownership for what they have learned. I believe this approach to instruction facilitates the development of critical thinkers and life-long learners. If students leave my classes knowing more than they did at the beginning of the semester that is good. However, if asked how they know that information is true, I would be sorry if my students’ only response was “Dr. Meyers said so” or “it was in our textbook.” Instead, I want students to learn how to judge for themselves what is important, true, logical, or theoretically sound.
Some specific strategies for sharing responsibility with students include encouraging them to assess and monitor their own learning, and teaching them to reflect upon and improve their own performance. For example, In PSY 474 (consultation) and in practicum I require students to develop personalized training goals and complete self-assessments regarding their progress. For example, in PSY 474, students complete interview skills self-assessment portfolios in which they articulate goals, present evidence of their developing skills in the form of practice interview transcripts, reflect on these transcripts, and ultimately comment on their skill development over the course of the semester. Because I want students to develop balanced judgments about their performance, I push them to reflect on positives (i.e., things they did well in a session or mock interview) as well as negatives (i.e., things they wish they had done differently or want to improve).
I believe that students who participate actively and responsibly in their own education discover truths (and areas of uncertainty) for themselves. To that end, I attempt to provide as many opportunities for active learning as possible. In small classes and seminars, I devote significant amounts of class time to discussions, student presentations, and small-group activities. In practicum classes, students are by definition engaged in active application of skills they have learned in previous coursework. In addition, I often use a “Socratic” approach, asking questions to guide students’ learning. In PSY 340, I have incorporated a number of skill-development activities into the class meetings. In addition to listening to my lectures on conceptual and computational aspects of statistics, students spend class time working with peers to practice the skills they are learning.
A central tension that characterizes my instructional efforts concerns calibrating the levels of support and demandingness in my stance towards students. This requires me to consider the developmental level of the students I am teaching. Because I believe that more advanced students are capable of taking greater responsibility for their own learning, I expect them to do so. In particular, the amount of structure and modeling I provide to students decreases as they become more advanced. I tend to provide more explicit instructions and examples to undergraduates than to graduate students, and in some classes I reduce the amount of structure over the course of the semester. As a practicum supervisor, my expectations also change as students develop. Early in practicum, most students are seeing clients for the very first time. In this context, I focus on building students’ confidence, and I am more likely to offer specific suggestions and directions. Later, I expect students to come up with more of their own ideas, and to implement them more independently. I may push students harder at this point to try strategies that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable for them. When I supervise advanced doctoral students, I am even more likely to push students to try new things, and I have even higher expectations about their ability to function independently. With some of my strongest students at this level, I function more like a consultant and less like a supervisor.
I believe that by reflecting my confidence in students’ skills and judgment, I contribute to their professional development. In general, and at all levels, I hope that by conveying confidence in students’ ability to think for themselves I encourage them to stretch their capacity to do so.
List of Recent Courses
- PSY 474 Theory and Practice of Mental Health Consultation in the Schools
- PSY 440 Statistics: Data Analysis and Methodology
- PSY 590.01 Advanced Practicum in Intervention
- PSY 590.04 Advanced Practicum in Consultation and Program Evaluation
- PSY 340: Statistics for the Social Sciences
- HON 202A75 Advanced Honors Seminar: Critical Perspectives on Mindfulness-Based Interventions in the West