The Emotional Rhythms of College Learning

Stephen Brookfield
University of St. Thomas,
Minneapolis-St. Paul
Situating Myself
• How we learn frames how we
• Exam Failure – Subverting
standardized measures / the
importance of secretaries
• My Doctoral Study - the relational
underpinning to teaching
Core Assumption (1)
• Good teaching is equivalent to whatever
helps students learn
• Much more complex than it appears
since what helps one student learn may
be confusing or intimidating to another
• Example – Walking out of the 1st class &
leaving the students with no teacher!
• When working with resistant students your
own justifications for a course are dismissed.
The only voices students will take seriously are
those of former resisters.
• Therefore, a good strategy is to begin with a
panel of former resistant students who pass
on any advice they wish to new students.
• During the panel you exit so new students
don’t think you’re scripting what’s said
Helpers of Learning
• Departmental Secretaries – the sympathetic
ear & the hub of all knowledge
• Janitors – the power to make or break learning
• Support Staff – the ‘face’ of the institution /
troubleshooters & systems designers for
• Administrators – enablers of faculty learning
Core Assumption (2)
• Best teachers constantly check out the
assumptions they’re making about how best to
help students learn.
• Examples
• Circles encourage small group discussion & make
students feel welcomed members of a
democratic classroom
• Visiting small groups as they conduct discussions
helps students understand the material better
Students’ Contrary Feedback
• Circles are intimidating configurations in
which students feel pressured to participate in
a highly surveyed environment – a personal
experience I discounted for many years
• Teachers visiting small groups cause students
to change behavior to perform for the teacher
as ‘good’ students & actually inhibit good
listening & silent processing
Core Assumption (3)
• The most important knowledge we need
to do good work is an awareness of how
students experience learning, week in,
week out, in our classrooms.
• This means we need to find ways of
gathering accurate & valid data from
students – anonymity
Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ)
• Most Engaged Moment
• Most Distanced Moment
• Most Helpful Action
• Most Puzzling Action
• What Surprised You Most
How It’s Administered
• Last 5 minutes of last class of the week / staff
• Anonymous
• Mandatory when possible
• Frequency Analysis
• Reported back to class
• Negotiation not capitulation to majority
CIQ – free download
• My home page has a link to the CIQ & to many
other materials on …
• teaching
• using discussions
• developing critical thinkers
• becoming critically reflective
• teaching about race
How Do Adult Students Experience
• Impostorship – I don’t deserve to be
here & I’ll soon be found out
• Cultural Suicide – Sharing enthusiasms &
successes leads to exclusion from the
• Road Running – incrementally
fluctuating 2 steps forward 1 step back
• Peer Support Group – the parachute
What Do Students Say They Look For
in Us as Teachers?
They need teachers to be CREDIBLE
• Expertise – answering unexpected
• Experience – using good examples
• Rationale – explaining what’s
• Conviction – individual feedback
What Do Students Say They Look For
in Us as Teachers?
They need teachers to be AUTHENTIC
• Congruence – words & actions
• Full Disclosure – expectations, agendas,
• Responsiveness – to students’ concerns
• Personhood – autobiographical
• Error – against a backdrop of earned
Core Assumption (4)
• Context Changes Everything – the
teaching learning dynamic is so complex
that we should be appropriately skeptical
of ‘best practices’ that purport to cross
disciplinary boundaries & that ignore
differences in learners, topic complexity,
models of information-processing,
students’ readiness to learn, prior
knowledge etc., etc.
RESOURCES from Stephen
Books that Emphasize Practice:
Teaching for Critical Thinking (2012)
The Skillful Teacher (2006, 2nd. Ed.)
Discussion as a Way of Teaching (w/
Stephen Preskill, 2005, 2nd. Ed.)
• Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher
RESOURCES from Stephen
• Books that Emphasize Theory:
• Radicalizing Learning (w/ John Holst) 2010
• Handbook of Race & Adult Education (w/
Vanessa Sheared et. al.). 2010
• Learning as a Way of Leading (w/ Stephen
Preskill) 2008
• The Power of Critical Theory (2004)
All published by Jossey-Bass

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