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Enjoy Temporary Hostility

This is important to describe because it is such a common experience for instructors who attempt to engage their students in hard thinking. Students resist and can exhibit behavior that can only be interpreted as hostility. Instructors need to know that this is a sign that good thinking is happening for students who are accustomed to being told what to do.

Make a link to Eleanor Duckworth, The Having of Wonderful Ideas, to the page in which one of the teachers actively stops another teacher from explaining about the moon, she says something about “give me time for my confusion”. She didn't want to be told the answer, she wanted to figure it out herself. She had gotten to the point of valuing the experience of trying to understand something rather than being angry that she was not being told the answer.

Corinne”: one of my scientific collaborators, DAvid Fairlie, often commented about the power of random rewards. He talked about the experiments with pigeons which showed that if you rewarded them by feeding them at random times that they would drive themselves crazy trying to figure out which behavior would allow them to attain the reward. He felt that really figuring out something new was a very definite reward and that scientists who had come to feel that way about the act of doing science behaved a lot like the pigeons but truly discovering new science was an experience that happened rarely and somewhat randomly.

We need to discuss how to distinguish productive hostility from unproductive hostility.

productive vs unproductive is about whether or not you can scaffold the thinking enough within your own course structure.

“enjoy” - an experienced instructor can hear the resistance and anxiety and angry with a sense of contentment that progress is being made and look forward to the changes that hopefully will occur. Corinne is comfortable with using 'pleasure' and 'amusement' to describe this feeling. I'm not sure I am (evz).

Getting to the stage where you can be pleased and amused is good for the students. It's conveyed in your body language, Corinne compares this picking up someone else's baby. You know that it's going to be a good experience for both you and the baby, you know it, and if you doubt it for an instance, the baby reads that in the way in which you're holding that and will start to cry. If when students get hostile, you know in your heart of hearts that what they're going through is good for them, they will read that in your voice, your body language and the way in which you ask questions, and they'll respond to you totally differently. Teachers who get into behavior problems in the classroom are the ones who have doubts.

Corinne: there were a couple of times this past year when I was talking with LIz and Len about my presentation before class that they raised criticisms that were substantial enough that they made me doubt what it was what I intended to do in class so close to the time in class that I couldn't resolve it. I had to cut off the conversation because I knew I had to work myself back up into the state where I had confidence that the class would go well. Students are like piranhas, they'll go instantly for the dead meat in the water.

LTC: I remember one time my vice principal was observing my class. He usually took verbatum notes. He said he couldn't do it in my class because in one case I said with enthusiasm and a challenging smile, “This next problem is really hard. It's awful, and none of you will probably get it, but I want you to try it anyway.” The students enthusiastically plunged into solving the problem.

While it doesn't necessarily solve all problems of student hostility, I think hostility can be greatly reduced by giving students notice in advance they are about to do something really hard and that you respect the challenge that they face.

Emily's example of a Physics 111 student (Fall 2009) who wrote a very negative student evaluation at about the 8th week but then after the course was over, wrote a very positive view in written responses to interview questions from the graduate assistant about the course. You wouldn't have known that it was the same person.

Ask Janet for her student evaluations from Physics 421 Fall 2009. Show an interesting array of early responses to the active engagement, some loving them and some being very articulate about not likely ambiguity and compare to typical evaluations later in the year. (KB: maybe ask a specific question because later in the year they may not mention anything)

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