7 things I learned from being a student or Statistics is really Mean

Post by: Ruth Moeller

Image by: s.schmitz @ flikr.com

As I was teasing my students about their anxiety over the assessment they had to complete, I urged them to remember this when their own students ask obvious questions that they should know the answer to “if they had read the assessment sheet properly, or at all!”

Reflecting on this exchange, I was reminded of the learning experiences I have had and how humbling it can be to be put in to the role of student.

There was the kayaking course I took, where every time I even looked at the kayak I ended up in the water, but I succeeded, even getting accreditation to teaching kayaking up to grade 3 rapids. This was due to the kindness, patience and persistence of the instructor, who never once suggested that perhaps white water wasn’t for me and would always make sure that the group waited for me and fetched my paddle when, once again, I ended up separated from it and the kayak. Note to self: patience, support and a sense of humor go a long way to helping students.

Or the practical mosaics course I did, where the teacher, passionate about her subject talked about mosaics, their history, design, options for use, while all the time a pile of plates and tiles sat in front of me begging to be broken. My learning styles are that of kinesthetic activist, I love to touch and do, so sitting and listening for two hours takes me to the end of my patience and I would not have been the only one. Note to self: some want to listen, some want to break, others watch or even read about it; remember there are a range of learning styles, try to cater for them all.

In terms of formal education, my most profound learning experience came in the field of statistics. Having studied on the edge of psychology, a couple of years ago I decided to do an undergraduate course in psychology. As part of this, I had to complete three core statistics units and this has been some of the most powerful learning for me as an educator. I came to the field as a true novice and mathsphobe and left battered, bruised and with three passes.

What did I learn?

• You can go to the lecture and tutes, but if you don’t know how to use the scientific calculator the stats worksheets are still a mystery. Learning should be seen as a process of building,  you need a stable foundation before you start to add – ensure students have the underpinning knowledge and skills required before you add to them. If you don’t teach it, direct them to support services and resources.

• If they aren’t interested in me, why should I be interested in them and their subject? In tutes, at least, find out the names of your students, their experience, interest in your subject, humanize them and yourself: teaching is much about the relationship as it is about the content, especially for those who are struggling.

• You can learn and copy the formula for Anovas, and other stats tools but if you don’t know what they actually mean, when and why and how they would be used in real life what have you really learned? We learn better with a context, knowing the formula and being able to do get the right answer is one thing but being able to apply and work with it is a deeper and ultimately more useful form of learning.

• If you don’t understand it all, being asked if you have any questions doesn’t help. Find ways to check understanding; activities such as the muddiest point can help, or try questions such as “People often struggle with this, what would like me to go over again?” This gives me permission not to know, and lets me know that you will help me to understand.

• When the tutors offer extra time and help, it’s probably a good idea to take them up on it rather than try to work it out yourself. This is the ongoing frustration for teaching staff – you offer help and many students don’t take you up on it. Perhaps it’s a pride or embarrassment thing or perhaps they are unsure of how you can help. This could be why peer support and online forums can be so successful.

• Being told you are “wrong and does someone know the right answer?” is humiliating. All students deserve to be treated with dignity, and the way you treat those who struggle will be noted by all and can have a profound effect on class engagement.

• Even the best of us turn up with our calculator, bottle of water and 3 HB pencil to take the Stats exam that was on yesterday. Students, like the rest of us are human, they make mistakes, usually not deliberately. Take a breath and solve the problem, don’t create a punishment.

In my opinion, being a life long learner make you a better teacher.

What has been your learning experience? How has is impacted on your teaching? Does anyone want to go kayaking?