But how do I get my students to talk?!?!

One of the most common frustrations of U:PASS leaders is “I can’t get my students to talk to each other!”

Here’s some tips that I share:

1. Room arrangement is crucial. If the students are sitting in rows, facing the front, then it’s very hard for them to talk to each other and collaborate. At the minimum, get them to move and sit next to each other – ideally in grouped tables facing each other

2. Structure your class so that talking is not just optional but necessary. This can be via group work or pair work, such as: brainstorming, multiple choice competitions, breaking into teams, or allocating specific exercises to different groups. If you just give students a worksheet, they will work on it individually. You need to actively design your class so that they HAVE to talk.

3. Know that talking in front of people is scary. There’s a reason a lot of students stay quiet. And sometimes that reason is that they have no idea! But sometimes it’s because they’re scared to speak – scared to look foolish or stupid in front of others, scared to show they don’t understand something. Two things help: your own humanity and how you manage it. Be yourself – be kind, compassionate, genuine. Explain that you get stuff wrong sometimes. Be human in the classroom. Be relatable. The second thing: get them to share their ideas with each other before they speak up – or ask them to tell you privately. That way the risk of looking stupid is reduced and shared – after all, if you both think that’s the answer, and you’re both wrong, well, that’s less intimidating!

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3 months later

In late March I interview L, who is an international student from China. She completed the U:PASS training and then has been leading all semester. This is her final evaluation – look at this understanding of what students need and how to help them!!

“Q: What went well in your sessions this fortnight and why?
A: As final period is coming, we mainly focused on practise question in these weeks. Told the students that they should finish the question in limited time (e.g.5 mins, 6 mins) and do questions individually (try to practise them in an exam mode). Then asked them to write answer to the whiteboard and explain, then see whether other students agree or disagree, and discuss (volunteers and other participants can get lollies). Giving chance to student to explain the solution is a good way to make them remember how to work with it. Besides, for the students who make comments on it, it also helps them understand and remember how they . This could be a good practise before the exams.

In the final week, as the time was limited, it was a bit difficult to cover two topics. So, for the final topic – international finance, we went through the steps for solutions that could benefit them to answer question on exams.

Finally, i found that some students felt panic about the exam and didn’t know how to do the revision, and they have kept asking me about the exam since week 9. In the final session, i shared some of my experience for exams and revisions. and told some students who didn’t finish the practise question in time during the session, should go for more practises and speed up answering the questions.”

Fireworks!!!

Q: What went well in your sessions this fortnight and why?
A: MY STUDENTS STARTED TALKING WITHOUT ENCOURAGEMENT (insert fireworks and other celebratory things). The students seemed comfortable this week. There was chatty banter going on, and they worked together quite cohesively. Breakthrough for all, and the best thing that has happen thus far.

I’m really glad…

Q: Students lead in U:PASS for a wide variety of reasons – to mentor, to gain leadership skills, to improve communication skills, to get educational experience, to see what it’s like working for UTS.  What’s something you feel you have gained in one (or more) of these areas over the last fortnight? Why? (You may also choose another area if you wish!) 🙂

A: Leading U:PASS session has definitely been one of the best experiences I have ever had. I am so grateful to mentor students and facilitate a casual and relaxed learning environment that is geared towards their needs. The most uplifting thing these past few weeks is seeing shy students gradually gain confidence in themselves, and share this confidence by helping other students. My ultimate goal is to facilitate a learning environment that addresses their academic and social needs, which I believe is important for first year students, as I did also struggle with this. I am really impressed with how inquisitive the students are about (subject/name removed), and how passionate they are about learning at UTS. By seeing their motivation in tertiary education, it has influenced me to keep motivated as a third year student. I’m just really glad to be a U:PASS leader 🙂

 

It’s ok to do not much….

I remember walking into a leaders’ session a few years ago. All the students were sitting around in a semi-circle, there was a lot of chatting – students were peering over each other’s shoulders, and pointing out things. A couple of students were working on the whiteboard with a bunch of students huddled around.

I couldn’t even see the leader. Eventually I spotted him, sitting back, just letting the students work.

It’s easy to think that the leader is “not earning” their money if the students are working almost without the leader interfering at all. But this is not the case – actually the leader is _really_ earning their money – they’ve facilitated to the point where the students are almost independently learning.

And that’s where we want to get to once the students stop having U:PASS.

So, leaders, it’s ok not to do much…. it doesn’t mean that you aren’t earning your money, it means you’ve worked so hard that they students now take ownership of their own learning.

Really understanding why things are

Great feedback and reflection from a first semester leader:

Q: Students lead in U:PASS for a wide variety of reasons – to mentor, to gain leadership skills, to improve communication skills, to get educational experience, to see what it’s like working for UTS. What’s something you feel you have gained in one (or more) of these areas over the last fortnight? Why? (You may also choose another area if you wish!) 🙂

A: I think I am improving myself to become a better person, sounds weird but I mean it.

Before I became a U:PASS leader, if I really got confused with some questions in calculations, I would simply make my brain to memorise the processes mandatorily without knowing a ‘why’, I would persuade myself, ‘deal with it, that’s just the way it should be. I get the right answer anyway.’ This may also reflect my personality of being too free, if I can achieve the same purpose, I would avoid any difficulties or troubles and pick the easiest way. Being able to choose the easiest way to achieve a goal is good, but if I do the questions for the purpose of only getting the right answers, this seems like beginning at the wrong end. I should do the questions for the purpose of learning something, and getting the right answers is only a way of proving that I understand the things I am learning.

In the U:PASS, since I cannot force students to accept things they do not understand, I need to find a way to make them understand, this is on the basis of I really know the stuff well. Everytime before the U:PASS, I would think what problems students may have and how could I response to make them understand. Just like what we are told in the training, we learn from students, and now I cannot agree more.

I’m not even needed anymore

From a leader:

Q: Students lead in U:PASS for a wide variety of reasons – to mentor, to gain leadership skills, to improve communication skills, to get educational experience, to see what it’s like working for UTS. What’s something you feel you have gained in one (or more) of these areas over the last fortnight? Why? (You may also choose another area if you wish!) 🙂
A: My biggest educational experience this fortnight was that I’ve done my job so well that I’m not even needed by my students anymore! In today’s session we formed a large table and the 10 students sat together around it. One of the students who has attended every week, who typically stresses out that she struggles with the material, knew all the answers to the questions and was teaching her peers all the concepts. The other students actually clapped and cheered her when she was getting everything right. One student said to her “you could teach the class”. I had a big smile on my face that the students had formed such good bonds with each other and also at the progress this particular student has made.