Student Feedback: Stress-O-Meter

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Steven Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

 

Stress matters, whether you call it stress, pressure, anxiety, or the affective filter.

How stressed your students are will definitely impact their attendance, participation, and their performance on assignments.

Do you know how your students are doing in this regard? How do you know – are you guessing? Or are you finding out too late, during an outburst in class?

Try this: create a very simple online form (I like using Google Forms) that you can send out to all your students on a regular basis – at least weekly. Ask no more than three questions, targeting their stress levels.

Stress Report Sample

 

What would this data show you about your course, your assignment instructions, your deadlines, and your students’ lives outside of your course?

What might it mean to a student who’s overwhelmed in his personal life, to be able to click that first 5 and know that he’ll get a kind word from you in class?

How would you change these questions to suit your own classroom?

It’s Still Spring Break!

More Spring Break metacognition:

  1. How does taking breaks support our performance as learners and teachers?
  2. Do your students typically get a break over Spring Break?
  3. What are you doing to recharge? What would you recommend for your students?

Spring Break!

In honor of Spring Break, a few questions for our teacherly metacognition:

  1. What does Spring Break typically look like for you: a break, or catching up on work?
  2. In an ideal world, what would your Spring Break look like?
  3. What is one thing you can do to bridge any gap between the ideal and the real world?

 

Journal: Comfort Food

Students: 14

One thing that went well:  Today’s long reading was about comfort food.  I think it went well from beginning to end: it started with students’ experiences with comfort food, modeling and practice of figuring out confusing words from context only, and munching the cookies I’d brought in.  The timing of the lesson was pretty good too, and we ended class with a nice, up-beat feeling.  No complaints from me!

One thing to improve:  Making writing less stressful to students.  I’ve been trying with process writing (as opposed to one-shot, get-it-right-or-fail writing), examples, and pointing out my own writing’s shortcomings in said examples.  But I think I need to focus on it even more, especially framing writing stress as something the students can exert a degree of control over.

One surprise:  I thought that a few students in particular would struggle with today’s writing assignment, which was basically to map out the purpose and main points of the letter they’ll be drafting tomorrow and perfecting (inasmuch as writing is ever perfect) next week.  I kept an extra eye on them, so I can proudly report that they did just fine!

Journal: Quizzing and Stress! (but it went fine)

Students: 18

One thing that went well:  I gave them a six-question grammar quiz as part of our accuracy review this morning.  Honestly, my motivation for doing so was to get data that was meaningful to them for our daily mini-demo on spreadsheets.  But the data turned out to be very informative for me.  I found that one of my questions was unduly difficult and why (whoops), about 2/3 of the class was pretty solid on the grammar point, and about 4 people (I was surprised at who they were) were struggling considerably.  Very good to know!  Note to self: low-stakes quiz more often.

One thing to improve:  The warm-up was weak and lacked any structure at all.  This was not a choice, but a result of saying during my planning, “I’ll come back to the detail of how exactly they should practice each other’s names” and then doing so when I didn’t have enough time to figure it out.  I ended up telling them that they had 7 minutes to study each other’s names, first and last.  It actually seemed to go pretty well: many of them used their grids from Monday, everybody was involved, and later on during the break I heard snippets of “how do you spell your name?”  Free-form seemed to have been a good idea – I’d just like to use it intentionally in the future.

One surprise:  This week, several students have mentioned to me that they’re stressed in class.  Not in tears or anything, and always with a laugh, but still.  In some ways this is not actually a surprise because a couple of them just moved up from Level 2.  But one of the students has been Level 3 for a while now, and though her writing is excellent, she mentioned that it really stresses her out.  I guess I’m surprised that I could both be stressing out my students and that they’d be willing to tell me so – you’d think they’d be mutually exclusive.  Also, I’m not really sure what to do.  Thoughts?

On Getting Upset

Oh, Cookie! by esti- on Flickr
Oh, Cookie! by esti- on Flickr

When I do something badly, I get upset.

When people around me make decisions I disagree with that impact me, I get upset.

When I set a goal and then am moved in a different direction, I get upset.

Someone asked me why I let these things upset me.

The answer is change.  Because when I’m upset, I think harder, faster, and more creatively to make the situation change.  When I’m upset is when I say, “That’s it, I’m not letting [mistake] happen again and here’s how,” or “I know [this] is the right answer and I just have to make sure I’m heard,” or “Ok, [goal] just got harder but so help me I’ll get there anyway.”

Because if I don’t get a little pissed off sometimes, a one-time goof becomes a habit, what was once a mishap becomes normal, and the standards bar slides down unchecked.

A life of anger is not the answer, but neither is one of complacency.

Brains, Stress, and Behavior

Brain electrodes by laimagendelmundo on Flickr
Brain electrodes by laimagendelmundo on Flickr

The NY Times had an interesting brain science article written by Natalie Angier.  It basically said that chronically stressed-out people’s brains change: their habit-forming neurons multiply while their decision-making neurons languish.

The result of these changes is that stressed-out people rely on habits, and that these habits can become “ruts” and downright counterproductive behavior.  From the article:

“Behaviors become habitual faster in stressed animals than in the controls, and worse, the stressed animals can’t shift back to goal-directed behaviors when that would be the better approach,” Dr. Sousa said. “I call this a vicious circle.”

Angier also emphasizes the plasticity of the brain, noting that the brain returns to normal when the stressors are removed.

Some interesting groups of stressed-out people whose brain chemistry might be favoring habits over goal-driven behavior:

  • Refugees and immigrants
  • People struggling to pay bills (be they heat or private college tuition)
  • Overworked, under-supported teachers
  • Doctors

This has some pretty interesting ramifications.  What I see applying to my students (many of whom are refugees):

  • they need a safe, relaxed, predictable environment to help them think
  • many would respond well to repetitive exercises, vocabulary drills, etc.
  • teaching them basic survival habits will help them through future stressful situations

Also, this talk of stress and habits in relation to the brain begs the question of how this research fits in with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and addiction.  These conditions aren’t addressed in the article.

Interesting read!