Reef Youngreen, Associate Professor in Sociology
Social Statistics (Sociology 350) provides an overview of quantitative data analysis techniques. Though students often enroll in the class with much trepidation, consistently claiming, “I’m no good at math!” I receive tremendous gratification in helping them come to the conclusion that they are far better than they thought. I am also pleased when students come to the realization that the importance in taking such a class is in becoming active, critical interpreters of statistical results because such skills have many, direct, real-world applications.
The way I approach teaching this course begins with my perspective of the students themselves. To develop a context of personal responsibility among students, I treat students like the adults that they are. I have found that this approach quickly creates an intensive, inclusive learning environment, one in which mutual respect is allowed to thrive. Concretely, this sometimes means allowing students to dictate the pace at which course material is covered. That is, at times I believe it is important to abandon the carefully developed plans that I have for a class in favor of facilitating emerging, student-lead discussions around the material of focus. While this can result in getting off-track of the detailed schedule of topics according to the course syllabus, these allowances provide the context for the long-term learning I hope for my students, and give students a sense of collective control of, and responsibility for, the course.
I gauge the success of my teaching by the success of my students. Some students will always succeed in their courses, no matter the subject matter or course structure. Other students will determine what they need to do in a class to get a decent grade and do just the necessary amount of learning to achieve that grade, while others will perfunctorily submit assignments, putting forth little effort. My goal as a teacher is to challenge the last two types of students to push themselves harder, while casting my instructor’s net wide enough to engage the entire class. Students who settle on a grade before the class begins and work just hard enough to achieve that grade are often the brightest, yet least motivated students in the class. Motivating these students to reach higher than they intended to from the outset of class is an important goal I have. The result is not simply that they learn more in the class, but that the learning they experience occurs at a deeper level and remains with them long after the class concludes. Motivating students who enter the class with lowered expectations for their performances – which translates into poor performances – is a different goal that requires different techniques. The method with which I’ve found success in these cases is to work to change the expectations these students have for their own success by showing them how it is not only possible, but likely, that they can do well and learn more than they thought with hard work.