A recent email from a colleague offered support to his opinion that the teaching of mathematics in a community college has become more difficult over the last decade. The colleague is teaching in his last quarter before retirement so he speaks with a depth of experience in the matter. In one of the articles that he referenced (on declining student resilience) I found the following interesting words of wisdom:
“Growth is achieved by striking the right balance between support and challenge.”
The sentence peripherally addresses what my colleague has been arguing, that the balance between support and challenge has shifted over the last decade to require more support and less challenge. But, is this a bad shift? The article argues that current students, for a variety of reasons, are less resilient to failure and more needing of scaffolding and second chances to repair poor outcomes. And isn’t that in part a description of some of the students that arrive at campus with a different standing in terms of equity? Is this yet another tug-of-war between rugged individualism and community support? Or is it really a warning that the butterfly of intellectual achievement is being damaged by external intervention in the struggle to emerge from the chrysalis?
And what about the changing role of the teacher? No longer a peripatetic scholar (if only from classroom to classroom) but a shepherd of bleating sheep?
And, can we ever find “the right balance between support and challenge?” This quarter I have been experimenting with test corrections and challenging extra credit assignments and I have seen the methods help some students to progress. But it is more work for me. (Another new reality of the information age: any challenging assignment in one quarter will not be challenging in the next quarter since it will be shared online. Challenges have a very short shelf-life unless you go for those that are insolvable.)
I’ve said enough without really saying much of any real value. I’ll leave this week with a quote that should remind us as teachers not to take ourselves too seriously.
“The power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy, except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous.”
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Vol. 1, 1776; Vols. II-III, 1781; Vols. IV-VI, 1788) by Edward Gibbon, Volume 1, Chapter 4.