— Jeanne M. Slattery
My colleague, Marité Rodriguez Haynes, is retiring this May. I couldn’t let her escape without observing what a great colleague she has been (the best), but more importantly, describing the interesting things that she has been doing in her classes. Marité teaches primarily through team-based learning (TBL; Sweet & Michaelson, 2012). This approach may not work for everyone, but as we reflect on our teaching goals, we should consider TBL.
I have heard Marité talk enthusiastically about TBL on numerous occasions, but first observed her using it in her master class in 2013. I walked into the second half of that class to find her sitting in another classroom with a team of students who had spread outside their classroom. She has divided the class into five teams, each of about seven students. Each team was active and engaged with the assignment (i.e., deciding whether individualistic or collectivistic cultures would be more child-centered in their parenting) without her needing to closely and immediately monitor their progress. It should be noted that teams are ongoing, with team membership maintained over the course of the semester.
After teams had completed this application exercise, Marité asked them to give simultaneous responses to the assignment on whiteboards held up for the class (see last photo). Team reponses diverged, with two teams perceiving individualistic cultures and three perceiving collectivistic cultures as more child-centered. She asked teams to identify their rationale for their conclusions, then asked for evidence supporting the opposite.
Their responses to her question were interesting, as students seemed unusually prepared for class, referencing examples and ideas from their text to support their position rather than only their experience. Their responses also indicated considerable divergent thinking, as both students and Marité approached this question from varying points of view. Further, although initial responses (individualistic/collectivistic) were solicited from only one member of each team, about one-third of the class made at least one comment during this mini-lecture/discussion part of the course. Rather than needing to prompt student responses, Marité often had to choose from among students who had their hands enthusiastically raised. I heard no awkward silences nor observed any reticence to responding. Interestingly, Marité did not provide an easy answer to her question about parenting practices, as the process rather than the conclusion seemed to be her goal. My reactions might be a good example of the Zeigarnik Effect: because no easy answer was provided, I continued to think about this question outside of class, looking for evidence supporting or contradicting each position. Isn’t that what we want to happen?
What’s led to her success? First, team-based learning requires students to come to class prepared: by the time I entered the class, students had already taken individual and team quizzes on the chapter and had written rebuttals to questions with which they’d had difficulty. Preparation is not just taken for granted, and slackers are not left to hide in the group. For example, in mid- and end-of-the-semester peer evaluations, learning teams hold team members responsible, giving each other feedback on how they could become stronger team members (e.g., by being more active on the team or coming to class more prepared). Second, Marité created a task with no easy answer, one that was not answered in the book. Clearly, the text provided information that could help students respond to this question, but students could not turn to page 327, for example, to find the answer. In order to answer the questions posed, students had to understand individualistic and collectivistic cultures, as well as child-centered parenting styles and strategies.
High-impact practices emphasize engaging students, having students work closely with peers and faculty, and getting them to think and approach their world in new ways (Kuh, 2008). This seems to be an effective description of Marité’s class period. As her students must process course content more deeply than in traditional lecture courses, they probably retain that information more effectively. Further, as our discussions outside class clearly demonstrate, Marité has been energized by this process and sees students being more energized and engaged with the material as a result of TBL and her own energy.
Marité’s discussions of content and pedagogical practices were strong, but these alone can fall flat unless accompanied by a positive relationship between faculty and students. Her classroom had a relaxed, but active atmosphere, where students clearly felt safe discussing abstract and difficult material—both in their teams and with the class as a whole. She made strong eye contact with her students, responded respectfully to their questions, reframed weaker responses so they were useful to the class, and encouraged students to consider both their conclusions but also the evidence for the opposing position.
When I see her teaching, I think about how effectively Marité encourages her students to become active learners, life-long learners. When her students talk about their experiences, though, they focus more on how these classes encourage their interpersonal skills, especially their ability to work as members of a team. For example, in a paper evaluating what she’d learned in her psychology major, Kaylyn Brown observed:
Through the extensive use of group work…, I learned that when working in a team, you all have to focus on reaching the same goal together. It’s not about the individual, but doing what is best for the group in order to succeed. In other words, the group success is your success. Being able to set aside differences and get along with people that you don’t necessarily like is a crucial lifelong skill that I’ve learned by attending college…. I used to hate group work because I was too shy to share my thoughts with other people, feeling they wouldn’t understand my thoughts, or they would judge my opinions. However, after being unsatisfied with the quality of work my groups were presenting, I learned to speak up and take on leadership roles. Now, I have to make an effort to share responsibility with other members of my group and let everyone have a fair chance to contribute their ideas!
So, it’s with considerable sadness that I see Marité retiring. I will miss her collegiality, her enthusiasm about teaching and our students, and the ways that she has pushed me to think differently about teaching and learning processes. Thank you, Té!
Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter (pp. 9-11). Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from http://www.aacu.org/leap/hip.cfm/
Sweet, M., & Michaelsen, L. K. (2012). Team-based learning in the social sciences and humanities: Group work that works to generate critical thinking and engagement. New York, NY: Stylus.
Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She is interested in thinking about what makes teaching and learning successful, and generally describes herself as a learner-centered teacher. She has written two books, Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy, and Empathic counseling: Meaning, context, ethics, and skill (with C. Park), and is writing Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Research and clinical perspectives. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org