Over four years of study, Kevin Binning and co-researchers replaced student doubt about “Do I really belong here?” with the belief that adversity is universal and temporary. Their 30-minute exercise includes narrative writing, peer testimonials, and small group discussion that not only closes performance gaps between underrepresented and majority groups, and between genders, but also bolsters attendance, retention, and long-term performance for all students.
Introduction of Exercise: The instructor introduces the idea that everyone struggles. (“Hi, my name is X, and we’ll take a break to talk about learning in this field. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed or to sometimes wonder to yourself, ‘Do I really belong?’ I failed my first X class, but now I teach it.”)
Writing prompt (10 mins): “Coming to college is a big transition. Write about the experiences and challenges you’ve had since coming to IUB. You can think about your experience with making friends, taking classes, adjusting to dorm life. Please write about how some of the difficulties and challenges have begun to improve as you have spent more time in college.” Collect the essays. Briefly scan and read from a handful of essays. “As I’m looking at some examples of what you all have written, I see a lot of very common concerns. I am also not surprised; I had some of the same concerns when I took first year physics.”
Peer testimonials: Show students quotes from graduating seniors collected in advance and chosen to highlight overcoming challenges and initial loneliness (and be sure and have examples of men, women, and diverse groups.) Some example quotes: “Sometimes I had difficulty with an idea that my classmates understood. But the important thing is not to give up and help each other out.” OR “I felt unprepared for the increased workload and differences in grading of college. I felt stressed as a result. But then I got some help from the instructor and AI. I found a study group and was able to turn things around. Looking back, I think my struggles were pretty normal. Even though they seemed overwhelming at the moment.”
Discussion Prompts (7-8 mins. in teams):
- Why do you think people often think they’re the only one who worries about whether they fit in the in college?
- How do you think your life will be different when you’re a junior or a senior?
Debrief: “Will someone share what you discussed in your group? This will help summarize the discussion for all of us and will give feedback for the physics department.” (The debrief is important to synthesize and summarize this exercise.)
This exercise pops the belief bubble that “I don’t belong.” It works great on the first day of class or when the class approaches a known bottleneck (a difficult concept or challenging test).
If you want to talk to other IUB instructors interested in advancing equity and inclusion in their courses, visit the SEISMIC at IU website. Instructors from all disciplines are welcome to join the project.
Binning, K. (2019, October). Fostering a Sense of Belonging in the College Classroom: Peer Interactions that Improve Student Success. Sloan Equity and Inclusion in STEM Introductory Courses (SEISMIC) event, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. Link: http://d-scholarship.pitt.edu/36006/