Reflection on Low-Stakes Assignment-Health Sciences

This semester, students in my Social Welfare & Social Policy course were required to complete an assignment that was designed to introduce students to one local social welfare program of interest. This low stakes activity encouraged students to use critical thinking by allowing them to become actively involved in their learning by taking the concepts of social welfare policy and analysis and connecting it to the role of a social worker within a clinical setting. In order to complete this assignment, students must visit a community based organization (clinical setting) that provides social services in any of the following fields of practice: family and child welfare, addictions, health care, mental health, disabilities, services for older individuals, services for minority populations, and correctional services. This activity interrelates with my research on investigating, “How can UDL and its principles be implemented within a clinical environment?” “What are the best practices for clinical practice using UDL to measure competency for students with disabilities?”

Utilizing UDL within the course and with assigning students this activity allowed students to illustrate connections with real life experience to the practical and theoretical knowledge on Social Work & Human Services and the role of a Social Worker/Human Service professional within a clinical setting. The activity went very well. The students responded that they were highly engaged and pleased with being provided with an up close opportunity to see the actual work of a Social Worker and to engage in a conversation that outlined the clinical skills needed in the field.

The challenge with incorporating UDL and the three principles with a Health Science course is that the most of the skills required of students to demonstrate competency and mastery of concepts, coursework and hands on patient care are, in most cases, determined by federal, local and state regulatory, accrediting and licensing bodies not affiliated with the college. One idea that was sparked was the thought of assisting students in establishing a “professional identity”. This would involve more interactions with course assignments that take students out of the classroom so that they could develop an interest to the extent that they are able to successfully demonstrate the ability to apply classroom theory and practice with personal life experiences by synthesizing and transferring learning beyond the classroom (Integrative Learning).

What may work better would be to think about ways to best assist students to who must complete an internship or fieldwork experience in a clinical setting would be by providing the student with some supports and/or accommodations. I am not sure what those supports and/or accommodations would look like; however, the goal would be to make any supports and/or accommodations individualized and flexible in order to incorporate UDL within the clinical setting.

 

From Low-stakes to High-stakes: Scaffolding Assignments for a Mid-term Exam

I designed a low-stakes, in-class exercise, structured on finding appropriate direct quotations and formulating paraphrases, for my students’ ENG101 mid-term exam. Because the mid-term is a two-hour in-class essay, I thought it best to design this particular exercise, as it eliminates a few steps in the writing process and allows students to focus their full attention on drafting and revising during the actual exam.

Since my research question involves identifying best practices for composition classes, this type of scaffolded assignment provides a seamless combination of efficiency and self-directed measures that are encouraged to assist students in becoming more comfortable with the drafting, revising, and editing steps in composition best-practices pedagogy.

All of the students were able to find direct quotations and/or develop appropriate paraphrases that related to the following themes from the narrative essay, “The Back of the Bus,” by Mary Mebane and The Autobiography of Malcolm X: institutional racism, segregation, anti-black violence, dehumanization, internalized racism, white supremacy, and Black nationalism. This portion of the exercise went very well; however, the challenges that followed were related to properly citing the source and formulating proper analyses.

The pedagogical strategies/ideas that were sparked during my conversations with students were the following: 1) I need to create another low-stakes exercise on how to develop strong analyses of sources; 2) I should have students work in pairs on this analysis exercise, since some students were particularly gifted in generating strong analyses while others needed more mentoring; and 3) I learned that these types of low-stakes exercises should be done at least once a week, since ENG101 meets twice a week. Incorporating these changes would allow for continuity, reinforcement, and eventual student mastery of these necessary steps in the writing process.

For my spring activity, I will definitely implement the exercise on developing strong analyses of sources. From past experience, when I have directed students to work together on different types of peer-critique exercises, I have learned that this type of partner-based activity is one that benefits both student mentor and mentee. The added bonus of these partner-based activities is that the students actually enjoy learning from each other. This exchange really creates a welcoming and engaging culture of learning in the classroom.

Okay, But Did It Work? — A Reflection on Consent-Based Participation Practice

Last term, as a pilot faculty member with the Designing for All project, I joined my colleagues in creating a low-stakes assignment for a course that I hoped would increase access to my classroom. I have publicly outlined the parameters of this “low-stakes” activity, but in brief, I was teaching HUT 101 at LaGuardia, which is Art of Theatre.

Many of my students were theatre majors: some were not. When we were designing our grading contracts together (something else that’s an essential part of my consent-based pedagogical practices), one of my students said, “so, we should all try to get comfortable being uncomfortable.” This insightful comment followed an extensive discussion we had about risk, vulnerability (which, incidentally, in the middle of the term, I got tattooed on my arm and they were delighted), and keeping ourselves healthy. This discussion focused on the fine line between pushing yourself to do something that scares you and then feeling good about it, versus knowing that the very act of pushing yourself to do a certain thing at a certain moment will give you a panic attack and/or make things worse. We’re all constantly trying to find that line in our theatre classrooms, and in our class, we were explicit about our commitments to supporting each other in pushing ourselves healthily, rather than destructively; and caring for each other when lines were accidentally crossed.

The cornerstone of this discussion — and of our class in general — was our consent-based system of participation. We each (myself included) had red, yellow, and green index card name tags that we changed with our mood. These Personal Traffic Lights signaled to ourselves and each other whether or not we were feeling able to participate physically and readily (green); whether we were feeling tired and/or unsure, but ready to try something new, if tentatively (yellow); or ready only to be physically present in class, not feeling up to engaging in a more direct way than simply being there (red).

The persistent criticism and caution that I heard from fellow faculty members was that students would elect to always be on red; and, since I made it clear that no one would ever be penalized for being on red, they would get a free pass to not participate (in traditional ways). This consent-based system, people argued with me, was setting my class up for disaster, for exploitation, for an utter lack of participation and gaming of the system.

As it turned out, nothing could be further from the truth.

Both on a classroom-wide level and on a one-on-one level, we negotiated what students could do to participate while they were feeling red. Perhaps they’d write their thoughts and give them to me quietly; perhaps they’d email me after class with their comments; perhaps they’d help their team, in the case of group work, by quietly researching, even if they physically wanted to sit far from the group. All of these things happened, and so much more.

My students who were on red participated in profound — and profoundly unexpected — ways.

One of my boys, when we were presenting our monologues, was on red. He usually was on red during class. Nonetheless, he got up and performed an absolutely beautiful monologue with passion and poise, even though he showed signs of panic right when he (voluntarily) stood up to begin. When the other students were offering feedback, one raised his hand and said, “Man, I notice that you’re on red right now, and you did a kickass job anyway. That’s badass and brave. Thanks for sharing with us.”

And the rest of the class applauded and snapped while this student beamed and bowed.

There was a chain reaction, then: more and more students who were feeling red that day performed, and they were all congratulated with particular fervor.

Even during peer reviews, students on red were extremely productive. One of my students was on red during peer reviews and quietly backed out of interacting with others. His partner gladly joined another peer review team, without comment or criticism; just a supportive clap on the shoulder. The student emailed his work to his partner; they both agreed to look at each other’s work later, in the comfort of their own spaces. In the meantime, the student worked on editing his own ten-minute play, sometimes coming up to me and softly asking me questions and for guidance; but for the most part, he stood alone in the corner, working on his own piece. Which, by the way, turned out to be amazing.

I had students who were never on green; who were perpetually on yellow. One of these students never spoke during class; ever. She talked to her group mates in small group work, and she talked to me (sometimes) one-on-one. But never, ever, ever, in front of the class. She even went so far as to ask a classmate to read out her monologue for her, because she wasn’t feeling able to read it aloud herself; it was a spectacular piece of writing. However, on the last day of class, this perpetually yellow student gave a bold, confident, organized, poised presentation as part of her collaborative group project: in front of everyone.

So, I found that the criticisms — the gaming of the system that people kept cautioning me against — had no play in my classroom. Students on red and yellow often participated in the most creative and incisive ways, and the bonds between the students were higher than I’d ever seen in another class. They developed group Snapchats just for them, and I know many of them are keeping in touch now, after term has ended.

We as a society too often associate consent — explicitly or not — with weakness. With a lack of masculinity. With wishy-washy-ness. All of this, of course, is wrapped in a misogynist culture that associates gentleness and consent with negativity, with being less-than. Throughout education, but also in the humanities — which is already mired in feminizing tones of not being ‘hard’ subjects — countering these attitudes (especially when we’ve unconsciously internalized them) is a tremendously important aspect of designing classrooms.

Consent-based pedagogy, then, can be a very important part of explicitly inviting, welcoming, and validating students whose bodyminds are disrespected and disregarded by more mainstream pedagogical practices.

Reflections on low-stake group activity

I implemented a low-stake group activity in my Environmental Psychology class when introducing students to the Henri Lefebvre’s concept of social construction of space. Based on my previous teaching experiences, this was the most challenging concept for students, especially when they were expected to apply it in their own theorizing of place.

I was hoping that this exercise would provide students with an opportunity to engage in exploring the core ideas of this concept (e.g. three dimensions of space: perceived, conceived and lived space) as the activity prompted them to generate data (i.e. concrete situations of how space is used, designed and reimagined) that illustrated the concept and enabled students to make their own inferences and conclusions. Students were thus later able to connect abstract concept and their everyday experiences of places they encounter on campus at LaGuardia (e.g. classroom, library, cafeteria, halls, outdoor space, etc.). I hoped that this collaborative activity would allow students to engage in collective exploration of their relationship with places, provide each student to contribute with their own ideas, reflections and observations of the space as well as consider use of these spaces by members of other social groups (based on gender, age, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, dis/ability, religious beliefs, etc.). I also believed that working in small groups would provide more intimate environment for students who might not feel comfortable voicing their ideas in a larger group or are hesitant to articulate and write their ideas when asked to work individually. Working in small groups allowed students to distribute responsibilities, and find the niche for their ways of preferred contribution and expression (e.g. speaking, writing, drawing). Students were provided with written and visual prompts (written questions and prompts, and images of the assigned spaces) on posters that they used to generate their ideas.

 

Specifically, students received the handout with the following instructions (besides the oral instructions):

As you read in the assigned chapter, Henri Lefebvre suggested that spaces are not mere containers of things and people, they are not static and passively ‘given’, rather they are ‘socially produced’ by human beings through our relationships to other people and places, and through activities we carry in them. As you learned from reading the chapter, Lefebvre proposed that humans produce three types of space: conceived, perceived and lived space.

As a group think of your assigned space and collectively answer the three sets of questions and probes on the poster. Try to come up with as many ideas as possible and describe the space in detail.

Poster probes and instructions for students:

CLASSROOM

[Images of the classroom HERE]

  • What makes this space a …classroom….? How do you know it is a … classroom ….? What are the indications that this is a …classroom …? What kind of activities (spatial practices) are usually carried out in this space? By whom? Who belongs to this place (or does not?)
  • Who decides that this is a … classroom …? Who decides what this place looks like? How is this place conceptualized (thought of and planned)?
  • How else could this place be used? How else it could be ‘imagined’? For what purposes? By whom?

When considering these spaces think of yourself as well as members of other social groups (e.g. based on gender, race and ethnicity, dis/ability, sexual orientation, or different social roles at the college, such as students, faculty, staff, etc.)

In my Design for All research I am in interested in how collaborative learning can facilitate students’ engagement and accessibility to learning and how dis/ability can be integrated into curriculum and teaching. The implementation of this low-stake assignment enabled me to explore both of these questions.

Based on students’ responses and my observations of the class students enjoyed reflecting upon their every day use of space on campus and coming up with their ideas. Many students reported that they have never thought of space this way, other social and cultural groups’ use of space and considered it an eye-opening experience, especially when considering space from the perspective of other members of social and cultural groups. Students engaged in lively discussion, especially when considering students diagnosed with physical, intellectual and emotional disabilities, as well as power relationships that space often promotes or reproduces.

This was a simple group activity, however, students’ engagement in this assignment made quite a difference in their understanding of the concept. (I was also able to compare this with another class from the last year). In our further discussion of Lefebvre’s ideas and other two related articles that applied his concept, I could utilize ideas generated by students in this class activity. Even more importantly, students could readily use their own examples from the assignment in making inferences, asking clarifying questions and understand connection between their and other authors examples.

I believe that my expectation of this exercise promoting inclusivity were fulfilled as it addressed all three aspects of UDL principles. This exercise offered if not multiple, certainly alternative or supplemental means of:

  • representation – the concept was also explored by reading an article by Lefebvre describing the concept of social production of space and work of other two scholars that illustrate application of Lefebvre’s concept
  • expression – as activity offered various means by which students could contribute to learning activity and demonstrate their knowledge,
  • engagement – as students engaged in active exploration of their own (and other social groups members’  relationship) with space. Students vigorously interrogated spatial aspects of social relationships in the spaces they use and are familiar with. Furthermore, by exploring the relationship of members of various social identities and categories with environments, students’ awareness of diversity and differences was addressed and their own sense of inclusive environment was promoted.

In my research I am interested in developing a curriculum and instructions that will integrate dis/ability and social justice in teaching. I am also interested in developing teaching instructions based on collaborative learning that would lead to increased engagement of students and access to learning and thus promote their inclusion in learning.

In addition to creating inclusive environment by implementing UDL principles in my teaching practices, I believe that teaching instructions need to be organized in a way that the students can actively contribute to co-creating inclusive environment. In other words, I am thinking of the accessibility to learning as not something exclusively created by the instructor and delivered to the students. Rather, I prefer to think of accessibility as a part of classroom culture which is collectively co-constructed by all learners as they engage in learning-teaching process.

One of the goals of my research and teaching practice is to develop such curriculum and design such teaching practices. I am planning to design and implement instructions and assignments (in my Social Psychology class this spring) that would allow for collective construction of accessible learning culture of the classroom that would promote equitable education.

 

Are You Listening? Presentation at CUNY IT Conference

On Thursday November 30th, as part of the CUNY IT Conference, several Designing for All team members will be presenting a session called “Are You Listening? Supporting Inclusive Learning Design”. You can access a pdf of our presentation slides here.

Here’s the description of our session (from 1 – 2 pm on November 30th at John Jay College):

As faculty, IT, librarians, and Accessibility Services, how do we actually provide fully accessible learning materials and foster an environment where every single student feels completely welcomed and acknowledged? What are the ramifications of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Open Education Resources (OER) for those of us with different roles in supporting inclusive pedagogies?

Facilitated by LaGuardia’s Designing for All pilot project team of faculty, students and staff, this session offers opportunities to share and learn from each other. Which pedagogical frameworks ensure that students are not hindered from accessing their curricular materials or learning environment due to financial, physical, or other reasons? How can we – the key players in the landscape of accessibility and inclusiveness – recognize different priorities for providing access while effectively supporting students and faculty in meaningful and effective ways?

Come learn how we are working with these issues at LaGuardia. Tell us what you are thinking and doing on your campus, and help us build the CUNY-wide initiative to move the University towards becoming a truly inclusive learning environment!

Joy, Shame, and Care: Updates from Our First Student Meetings

While our five magnificent DfA student leaders work on designing their bios for our site, as well as the student survey we intend to conduct during Fall II, they’ve given me consent to draft our meeting notes into a public-facing post. During our first few meetings, we focused on developing truly shared expectations, and explored what each of us brings — intellectually, personally, emotionally — to our joint project.

Immediately, our students dove into experiences — both shared and unique, both interpersonal and structural — of learning in classrooms that are not, fundamentally, structured for them. While one student spoke beautifully about the complexity of being able to speak comfortably to a lecture hall full of people, as well as on an intimate one-on-one basis, but not to a group of five people, say — which got vigorous nods and murmurs of agreement from the rest of us — others swapped stories about the power of representation on mainstream television shows and the need for increased humanity in both media portrayals of dis/ability and in classroom interactions.

When we discussed what students wanted to learn throughout our time together, responses ranged from finding more abilities of their own to thrive in classrooms to discovering the specifics of how academic policies are made at LaGuardia, including examples, to provide a possible roadmap for structural change. How, our students wanted to know, can undergrads effectively convey ideas about what they need in classrooms? How can we influence not only what policies are formed, but how they are formed, at the level of our school and beyond? And how, one student asked poignantly, can students tell when professors are truly dedicated to our students?

This struck me as a tremendously important through line in many of the students’ comments: the interpersonal affect and structural impact of, simply, care. How, our student leaders kept asking, can students with various mental dis/abilities be not only accommodated, but welcomed, into classrooms? How can structure and consistency meld with, as one student put it, professors who “let everyone be human”? Pedagogically, students were seeking a balance between clarity and consistency with the empathy and care of flexibility, understanding, and approaching students as human beings.

This, though, was just our first meeting. If the first was a crucial outpouring of ideas and buzzing excitement for where the students are going to lead this project, the second was an emotional breakthrough that left most — if not all — of us in tears.

Students shared stories — stories that are not mine to share for them — of being shamed, of being taunted, of being passive-aggressively targeted, by teachers, by administrators, by classroom and university structures that do not interweave any concept of care into policies, that actively refute the humanity of students with a range of dis/abilities and language experiences. The ways that structures of racism interlock with structures of ableism rang strong throughout their stories, their experiences, my stories, my experiences, our tears and our hopes.

One student spoke extensively and beautifully about shame. He said that shaming people is framed as “a way to help you improve,” when in reality, it’s just a way to make you feel dirty and less than for the way you move in the world.

Another student wanted to make it clear that no one should “have to force [themself] to learn the way other people learn.”

There were silences and there were long bouts of laughter; there were giggles over my veganism and eagerness to eat the cheese of my pizza. (Because yes: there was pizza.)

There was, at the end of the day, the settling of a powerful feeling into our bones. As one of our students brilliantly said, he felt profoundly shaken and sad, telling his stories, sharing them with us; but he also felt, inexplicably, happy. Because he was finally in a room with people whose nods weren’t pitying, but rather empathetic; with people who had stories of our own, and shared them, not to overshadow his, but to make him less lonely in the ways he’s been shamed.

Because we were all in a room, for a purpose, that intends to transform what has been imposed on our students as shame, and transform it into structural changes that will last, that will, as one student put it, teach us how to not apologize for the ways we exist in the world.

Resources for Practicing Accessibility

Here are hands-on practices to use with word docs, pdfs, powerpoints and videos that will enable more people to access them, including, of course, students!-)

A key concept to keep in mind when formatting documents (and webpages) is to organize information using headings and subheadings. This crucial point not only makes a big difference for screen reader tools, it is also helpful for anyone reading the document.

Thanks to the Media Accessibility Project for developing these materials.

Full Manual with How-To’s
Creating Accessible Course Content Manual

Guideline Sheets
VIdeo Captioning 
PowerPoint

Microsoft Word
PDFs

 

10.4.17 Team Meeting Recap (Ft. Group Work, Gallery Walks, and Collaborative Decisions)

On October 4th, our team (sans our wonderful students, whose selection will be publicly announced soon!) met on campus to explore the resources already available at LaGuardia and connect the dots between our various, inter-departmental goals, needs, and skills.

Having faculty and staff in the room from as diverse a spread as Health Science, Theatre, the library, IT, and the Office for Students with Disabilities helped us gather an abundance of information, all by using the principles of inclusive design to get us there.

Creating and representing information verbally, visually, kinesthetically, and in written form allowed us to model, in our own meeting, some classroom practices that allow as students to latch onto the way they learn best while also practicing other kinds of skills.

We split into groups and discussed six questions; as groups, we wrote the ideas down and taped them to different sections of the room walls. Each section corresponded to a different question. Examining the gallery after our group discussions allowed time for social decompression/alone time, individual processing, and reading what other groups had come up with. We then synthesized the information in a very generative group discussion.

Below, I have compiled the questions and the notes we all took to start answering them. Please feel free to hop into the comments to add ideas and questions!

What resources can you offer to support and expand inclusive design at the college?

  • Increase education about already-available tech access
  • Increase education about accessibility features of Windows 10
  • Increase education about using built-in accessible features of smart classrooms
  • Distribute PDFs on how to make documents accessible (with reminder that you only need to learn how to do this once)
  • Design a library website that all students can use equally
  • Constructing a UDL-design syllabus template

How can you help with the student survey this fall?

  • Promotion through the library website and social media
  • Online via Blackboard
  • FYS
  • Can send to any group/sample of any group of students
  • Can make it available in study halls and library open area (on the desktops)
  • Offer freebies (“a chance of winning…” for filling out survey)
  • Department meeting announcements

How do we build the CUNY network for inclusive design?

  • CUNY CTL Council
  • Present at CUNY IT Conference
  • CUNY Accessibility Conference
  • Teach@CUNY Day
  • CUNY-wide library listservs
  • CUNY dis/ability listserv
  • Populate CUNY Commons site (here!) and form public group on Commons (forthcoming!)
  • Invite Queensborough, Lehman, to show us some UDL practices
  • Cross-CUNY workshops
  • UDL toolkit with syllabi template
  • UDL certification for educators (professional development, certified in UDL practices after 4 seminars, for example)

How can we promote/implement Accessibility 101 — UDL for educators?

  • Framing it as Decolonizing the Classroom rather than Accessibility 101
  • Enlist faculty to run educational/enrichment opportunities, partnered with experts from outside the college
  • Present information as a talk/sharing research rather than a workshop per se
  • Citing work toward these goals already underway at other campuses
  • Tying our work to retention and graduation rates
  • Host student-led panels about barriers to learning
  • Branding — make UDL something people have heard of and are curious about
  • Connect our goals with LGCC competencies, thinking through how to expand concepts with other class activities
  • Open up pedagogical practices
  • Create a culture of continual learning
  • Remind people that many faculty already are using these techniques
  • Demonstrate possibilities for faculty
  • Reframing and translating what this is (e.g. decolonizing practices)
  • Creating concept maps that transcend and include all elements within/across different professional development opportunities

What do YOU really need to be effective in cultivating inclusive design at the college? 

  • Student feedback and input
  • Interdisciplinary partners
  • Student usability study of website
  • Activity sharepoints/space for faculty exchange [of pedagogical ideas, struggles, practices]
  • Supportive systems for encouragement of faculty around skills and knowledge already within each of us
  • Solid theoretical frameworks
  • Internal systems to assist in design/activities (eg. closed captioning creation)
  • Finding ways of sharing the burden/raising people’s consciousness

Low-Stakes Activity — Jenn Polish (Consent-Based Pedagogy)

Things that other people generally find low-stakes? I often find my pulse thrumming extra hard and my clothes starting to get soaked with sweat and my brain hitting a loop of “I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna.” I know — because they’ve told me — that many of my students experience this, too.

So often, we think of “low-stakes” activities as things we do in the classroom that aren’t graded; writing we submit that will only be checked off as having been completed or not; etc. But for me, and for many students with anxiety (for example), these activities don’t feel low stakes at all. This is also time-dependent, of course: what’s low-stakes one day can feel extremely high-stakes the next, and vice versa.

Margaret Price writes about “kairotic space” as:

“the less formal, often unnoticed, areas of academe where knowledge is produced and power is exchanged. A classroom discussion is a kairotic space, as is an individual conference with one’s advisor. Conferences are rife with kairotic spaces, including the Q&A sessions after panels, impromptu elevator encounters with colleagues, and gatherings at restaurants and bars on the periphery of formal conference events. Other examples from students’ experiences might include peer-response workshops, study groups, or departmental parties or gatherings to which they are invited.”

Drawing on her logic, here — that the definition of low-stakes is directly linked to the production and reproduction of power — I’d like to draw attention to a classroom activity that seems to me to operate very explicitly along that line of low- and high-stakes learning. I do this to complicate what we mean — and whom we’re including and excluding — when we uncritically/neurotypically assume that what’s low-stakes for us is low-stakes for everyone.

This classroom activity is an ongoing invitation into acknowledging the classroom as being, as Price says, “rife with” kairotic spaces. When this truth goes unacknowledged, we continue to privilege those identities and modes of learning which are so dominant as to be deemed invisible (eg. whiteness, able-bodymindedness, etc.) In order to acknowledge this and explicitly negotiate consent in a space inherently full of unequal power dynamics, in my Theatre 101 class, we (myself included) use “Personal Traffic Lights” to try to establish a consent-based system of participation.

The explanation that appears on my syllabus is as follows:

Each class, you will be expected to bring with you the cards I give you in the beginning of term: these cards will be our Personal Traffic Lights, colored green, yellow, and red. Though we will discuss these extensively in class, I want to explain our Personal Traffic Lights here as well:

Green: When you are feeling up for anything, ready to take intellectual and emotional risks with the rest of the class — or, just when you’re feeling ready to participate generally and speak out in class — please make the green Personal Traffic Light visible to myself and to your classmates.

Yellow: When you are feeling cautiously ready to participate — perhaps you’re nervous (a little or a lot), or having an off-day/you’re tired, but you’re ready to take some risks and dive into theatre class activities — please make the yellow Personal Traffic Light visible to myself and to your classmates.

Red: When you are feeling unable to participate in a traditional way — when you’re having a bad day, when it’s enough of a challenge and risk to be present in class so you would rather learn by observing, listening, and taking notes instead of directly engaging in the day’s activities — please make the red Personal Traffic Light visible to myself and to your classmates.

You can always change your Light in the middle of the class, because of course, our feelings fluctuate all the time.

You will never be penalized for how you’re feeling, of course, but you might find that I’ll check in with you privately if I’m noticing a lot of reds and yellows from you; this is to see if there’s anything I can do to make the class a safer and more comfortable and accessible space for you to learn.”

When we start doing projects and activities together, we will make sure we have roles for when you’re feeling yellow and red. We will work as a team to find various ways for everyone to contribute to the class experience; perhaps the greatest thing about theatre is that there is always a role for everyone, from the most outgoing spotlight-seeker to the most introverted behind-the-scenes writer.”

This piece of the syllabus — when my students did group investigations of the syllabus on the first day and first reported this finding to each other — evoked immense emotions in my students (and myself). One student asked, near tears, “why has no one ever done this with us before?” It should be noted that this student, a few weeks later, was showing his “red” card, but he still went up to perform a short piece for the class. The other students congratulated him on his (very high-stakes, but in a “low-stakes” context, since they don’t get graded either on mini-class performances nor on their Personal Traffic Lights) bravery, performing in front of everyone while he was feeling red. Upon hearing this, another student — also feeling red — immediately volunteered to perform for the class.

It was a very moving moment, and one that will continue to shape my pedagogy going forward.

Another note from my syllabus: the following discussion of risk in my classroom seems relevant to their Personal Traffic Lights, and in the way I first proposed this system to the class.

This is a theatre class, and as such, we will be doing a lot of theatre-oriented activities in the classroom. Sometimes, this might involve moving our bodies in socially unexpected ways or using our voices in unusual ways. Always, we will be taking risks together: it can be a very vulnerable experience to speak or be silly (or be serious!) in front of people, as those of us who are shy and/or experience social anxiety know!

I want to do my best to make sure that the level of risk involved in our class challenges us — myself included — to push ourselves beyond what we’re used to (perhaps that means talking in front of the whole class, or perhaps that means performing an emotionally vulnerable monologue), but at the same time does not overwhelm us. That is the reasoning behind the Personal Traffic Light system described above: please let me know if this system is working for you, and how we can adjust it if it isn’t.”

For my peers: Since we are already engaged in this activity in my class, are there tweaks you can anticipate — either in the instructions or implementation — being needed for next term? What objections to this should I anticipate (I’ve already heard… well, a lot)? What am I not thinking about?

 

Low Stakes Assignment

DfAlowstakes

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