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How Students Feel Matters

June 4, 2021

This past year I incorporated something very simple into my instructional sessions, a question asked at the start of class: How do you feel about research and research papers? I posed this question (or some form it) using the internet anonymous polling tool Mentimeter, which allows for quick, easy, and visible participation.  Predictably, the answers to this question consistently spoke to student anxiety: including such words as dread, pain, and struggle, and always prominently displaying the words overwhelming and stress/stressed/stressful.

At first, I didn’t have a rationale for starting class this way and wondered whether it was a good use of class time. Still, amidst the pressures and challenges of the pandemic, taking a minute to gauge the emotional temperature in the room felt right. And as I persisted in asking this question, I came to appreciate the way it helped to build community in the room and normalize students’ feelings. Those who felt anxious or worried could literally see the evidence in front of them that they were not alone, and I, as their instructor, was situated to authentically speak to their fears and to offer encouragement, support, and help.  

This past spring, attending ACRL 2020 Virtual, I was delighted to hear a pedagogical argument for this type of question in Liz Chenevey’s presentation: An Emergent Pedagogy of Presence and Care: Addressing Affect in Information Literacy Instruction. Chenevey makes the case that teaching for affect (emotions, moods, motivations, and attitudes) can positively impact not only students’ mental health but also learning, cognition, and behaviors. One way to do this she shares is through the nine principles of Emergent Strategy developed by adrienne maree brown:

  1. Small is good, small is all (the large is a reflection of the small)
  2. Change is constant (be like water)
  3. There is always enough time for the right work
  4. There is a conversation in the room that only these people that this moment can have. Find it.
  5. Never a failure, always a lesson
  6. Trust the people (if you trust the people they become trustworthy)
  7. Move at the speed of trust. Focus on critical connections more than critical mass
  8. Less prep, more presence
  9. What you pay attention to grows

I am only myself beginning to explore how emergence may inform or transform my teaching, but I see my seemingly inconsequential question reflected in Emergent Strategy – it’s a small but good way to find a conversation between myself and my students, it’s a conversation that happens in the moment and not one that I can entirely plan for, and it’s worth the time it takes.

Further reading:

Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds  by adrienne maree brown

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