Cheering Students Across the Finish Line

april_lidinsky
2 0 538

Photo of pink blossoms blooming on tree branches. Photo by April Lidinsky (2023).jpg

Here in Northern Indiana, spring has swept across the wintered landscape like a magic wand. Daffodils trumpet sunny joy, hyacinths perfume the walk to campus with clustered purple blooms, and, now, cherry trees and magnolias are foaming pink and white into the sky. What could be less appealing than buckling down and finishing the semester?

I’m sure most of us feel our students’ pain.

I was glad, then, to have James M. Lang’s thought-provoking Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It on hand to remind me why it’s not enough to simply inspirit students: “Keep showing up!”  The premise of Lang’s book, which I’ve written about before, is for instructors to construct class experiences—think High Impact Practices— worth students’ time and attention.

In these final weeks of the semester, with thinning attendance, I realized I needed to check my messaging and class structure to be sure I was making my class worth attending.  After all, even those of us who incorporate a lot of active learning in a classroom can fall into ruts: Opening question, pair and share, work with the text in small groups, share out insights again. Next class: Often more of the same. I needed to shake things up.

I appreciate Mim Moore’s recent post about High Impact Practices (HIPs) offering a range of ways to re-orient our classrooms. And with Lang and Moore as inspiration, I have been sending out emails a few days before each class meeting with teasers about why attendance is worth each student’s time. Only in class, for example, would they have the chance to:

  • Interact with a guest speaker who has made a career out of researched writing;
  • Practice revision strategies that are essential for final drafts;
  • Help design the self-evaluation rubric for class participation, and then evaluate themselves;
  • See a brief scene from a new play and discuss theatrical rhetoric with the playwright;
  • Collaborate on a summer reading list, movie list, and song playlist on course themes;
  • Collaborate on advice for the next class; and,
  • Cheer one another on as we celebrate the community we have built together while emerging from difficult times.

These concentrated efforts have paid off, and not only in student attendance. I’ve found that when I design a class that I think will make students excited—or at least curious—to attend, I look forward to class so much more, myself. In this way, students are cheering me across the finish line, too—despite springtime’s beckoning call.

Photo by April Lidinsky (2023).

About the Author
April Lidinsky (PhD, Literatures in English, Rutgers) is Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Indiana University South Bend. She has published and delivered numerous conference papers on writing pedagogy, women's autobiography, and creative nonfiction, and has contributed to several textbooks on writing. She has served as acting director of the University Writing Program at Notre Dame and has won several awards for her teaching and research including the 2015 Indiana University South Bend Distinguished Teaching Award, the 2017 Indiana University South Bend Eldon F. Lundquist Award for excellence in teaching and scholarly achievement, and the All-Indiana University 2017 Frederic Bachman Lieber Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence.