Meet Them Where They Are

I remember several times throughout elementary, junior, and high school where teachers deemed me as “slow.” I experienced various difficulties with comprehending class material, how to interpret exam questions, and frequently worried about looking incompetent. Furthermore, I found it hurtful when I compared myself to my peers, many of whom excelled quite well academically. It was not until my college years when I seemed to significantly pick up my learning skills and performed much better than before. Some may have called me a “late bloomer,” although I honestly feel the result was majorly due to college offering more independence in learning.

This lead me to think about why college seemed easier for me, when there is a generalized belief that college would be more challenging. Upon reflection, I realized that my K-12 teachers were mostly ones who taught the class in the same manner. I call it “cookie-cutter” teaching. Everyone pay attention and sit in a chair, listen to the teacher who writes on the board, take notes, and ask questions at the end. Go home and do homework by yourself. Study by yourself. Do a project by yourself. Work in a group if it is a group project (good luck!). Same style, different day and teacher.

Then college came along. I remember many high school teachers saying that college professors do less hand holding with students, so prepare for a more difficult transition. I completely disagree. For me, college was a time I bloomed best. There were many instructors who were inspiring and taught in various modalities that better accommodated students’ unique learning styles. Perhaps high school teachers can do the same, although my experience was not this. I felt that college was a time to fly and it offered me wind – I chose the direction.

I think about the diverse FC students and wish that each one of them experience the same exposure to independence and supportive instructors as I did. FC has a very large international student population as well as an ethnically diverse population, all of whom have a unique way of perceiving material. Should each of them learn the same way? I understand that many professors may share that accommodating every single students’ learning style can be time-consuming and nearly impossible. I agree with them on that statement. I also believe that instructors have their own styles of teaching. With this, is there a match or a comprise with how students learn and professors teach?

I’m curious of how other professors teach to accommodate students’ specific learning styles, and how much time and energy it takes to do this. I see a win-win situation here, although there comes another thought about over-accommodating students to where they become more dependent on such assistance. Some may say that life is not fair, and learning independence comes from experiencing situations that may not accommodate you perfectly. I don’t disagree with this statement, although I do wonder if there is a balance between inspiring students in their unique ways versus teaching them ways to adapt.

Being a Psych Counselor at FC, I felt it most beneficial to meet students where they are at. I find that building therapeutic alliance is key to students attending consistently and engaging in the session. To me, alliance means matching students’ motivational level, utilizing their input, and asking about cultural values that affect the counseling session. Although not quite the academic teaching side, counseling sessions do involve teaching students ways to progress toward their wellness goals. My experience has proven that doing cookie-cutter counseling to each student does not always result well. I believe it would cause students to not attend session consistently, not fully engage, and not receive the maximum benefits from my services. Tailoring modalities to each student, and even asking each student about preferences, has taught me to slow down, reflect, and adapt my ways to better support the therapeutic process. Students who share very personal and sensitive information during session may need a counselor who can slow down or speed up the pace as appropriate. I often check in with students during session and ask for suggestions about the pace of session.

As one who is not yet a part of the academic teaching yet (next quarter I will), what do other professors do regarding this subject?

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One thought on “Meet Them Where They Are

  1. From time to time I try to think about ways to make the format of my class flexible to the students learning styles, but I definitely struggle with this. Thanks for posting about this, it’s a good reminder to me that I should put in more effort so that I’m able to reach more of my students.

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