CTL Newsletter: October 26, 2017


Here’s a report from the CTL “Teaching Unprepared Students” workshops, held September 27 and 28. In each workshop, we discussed three scenarios from this year’s Common Reading Experience book, Make Your Home among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet. We then asked: If Kathleen Gabriel, author of Teaching Unprepared Students, were faced with this scenario, what would Kathleen do?

The main character in Crucet’s novel is Lizet, a first-generation Cuban-American student at a small liberal arts college. Partway through her first semester, she is failing chemistry and has unintentionally plagiarized an English paper. Her cohort of first-generation students has been told that, in all likelihood, only 1 in 5 of them will graduate.

Kathleen Gabriel’s teaching philosophy intentionally ignores this statistic. She operates according to five principles:

  1. All students, including those who are unprepared or at risk, can become lifelong learners.
  1. Significant change requires commitment and time.
  1. Struggle is a necessary and important part of life.
  1. Students must accept responsibility for their learning progress.
  1. Professors should never do for students what students can do for themselves (p. 13).

If Kathleen were Lizet’s chemistry professor, then, what would she do? She would make sure that Lizet knows the highest grade she can achieve, explain that Lizet could get this grade if she put in some time and effort, and then point her towards the necessary strategies and resources — strategies and resources that Lizet never needed in high school but does need in college.

In the novel, Lizet finds the academic skills center and joins a study table. She passes her first semester and, in January, finds herself in a biology lab. The professor instructs the students always to write their lab notes in ink. They should never erase their mistakes. They should just cross them out and keep going. That’s just what I’m doing now, thinks Lizet. Crossing out my mistakes and moving on.

— Jocelyn McWhirter, Religious Studies



Mindset. The psychology behind Kathleen Gabriel’s teaching philosophy. It’s a game-changer. From Stanford’s Carol Dweck.

Transparent Methods. Students like Lizet come to college with very little knowledge of how college works. We, who know quite a lot about how college works, sometimes forget to explain it to them. Mary-Ann Winkelmes (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) shares some strategies for how we can be more transparent about what we’re doing and why.


CTL News

Stereotype Threat: When the Teacher Feels It. If you think that students are stereotyping you, there’s something you can do about it. Join us in discussing strategies for resilience on Wednesday, November 9 from 5:00–6:00. Look for an invitation coming soon to your inbox!

GLCA/GLAA Consortium for Teaching and LearningThe website’s newest feature is the first in a five-part series on “Key Goals for Liberal Arts Learning.” It’s an article titled, “Civic Engagement: Connect the Needs of Students and the Community.” Our own John Carlson is one of the co-authors. Thanks, John!

Talking about Teaching. You can always talk about teaching. Find a partner, trade classroom observations, and talk about teaching while having a Baldwin Cafe lunch on the CTL! To register, contact Jocelyn McWhirter by replying to this newsletter.

Teaching Reflections. Each of these bi-weekly newsletters begins with a Teaching Reflection. If you’d like to contribute a brief essay about teaching and learning, please contact Jocelyn McWhirter by replying to this newsletter.


Upcoming Conferences

Teaching Professor Conference, June 1-3, 2018 in Atlanta. “There’s simply no better place to explore and celebrate the art and science of teaching.” Call for proposals closes October 31.

Teaching Academic Survival and Success (TASS) Conference, April 8-11 in Ft. Lauderdale. “The Teaching Academic Survival and Success Skills Conference is a forum for faculty, staff, student support personnel, administrators and others who help under-prepared students succeed in college and beyond.” Call for proposals closes December 15.

About Jocelyn McWhirter

Jocelyn McWhirter is the Stanley S. Kresge Professor of Religious Studies at Albion College in Albion, Michigan.
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