I saw this blog recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education and want to share it with you. It’s short, so rather than trying to summarize, I’ve copied it in its entirety.
What’s Going Well?
March 21, 2012
By Natalie Houston
My training and experience as both a teacher of literature and as a personal productivity coach have shown me time and time again the value of asking simple questions. A good question doesn’t have to be long or complicated. A good question shouldn’t be an argument misleadingly packaged as a query. A good question often opens up other questions.
So here’s today’s question: what’s going well for you right now?
I like this question for several reasons:
Most people don’t spend enough time thinking or talking about what’s going well. At a deep neurological level, our brains are designed to pay more attention to potential danger than to neutral or beneficial things. Learning to pay more attention to the good stuff, even just with simple journaling exercises or breathwork, can help create new, more positive neural pathways.
Most people find it easier to focus on or complain about what’s not going well. I’ve written about this before, in relation to the social scripts that academics often engage in. (Have you heard anyone say, “oh, I didn’t get enough done over spring break” lately?) Rewriting those scripts has the power to shift your energy and that of people around you.
It’s also the case that our intellectual training tends to be organized around critique and competition. It’s much more challenging to sustain a conversation about what you liked and agree with in a text than about what you disagree with (try it with your next graduate seminar and you’ll see what I mean). There’s nothing wrong with intellectual critique – but it’s good to experience appreciation and celebration too, of yourself and others.
We can learn from what’s going well. By exploring what’s going well, you can discover core values and habits that you can extend from one area of your life to another. Do you prefer to be alone or with others? What do you find motivating? What helps you be persistent? Whether it’s writing, exercising, or cleaning the garage that you want to improve, you can apply strategies and ideas from some other area in which you feel more successful.
If we take this article to heart, and think about how we can apply this to our own work in an academic setting, what might be some questions we can pose to our students? I can think of a few examples.
Let’s imagine the beginning of the class period (for face-to-face) or a discussion item in an on-line course immediately following a lengthy reading assignment. We typically ask students if there was anything they found confusing or didn’t understand in the assignment. What if we turn that around and instead we ask our students to name one thing they really understood well and to give us a summary of their understanding of that one thing. This serves a similar purpose, in that we would be getting information about what our students learned from the assignment. It also provides a nice review and can help students who may not have understood the item.
I liked Natalie’s suggestion that using journaling could “help create new more positive neural pathways.” I wonder what the result might be for students if we asked them to keep a journal in which they must identify things that are going well in the course but with a focus on how they personally are doing well in the course. Perhaps by asking our students to focus on their own feelings about themselves as learners and by targeting what’s working and going well, students may come to see themselves in a more positive light and this might improve their confidence. It might also help students to better understand the important role they must play in their learning and thus, take more responsibility over their learning.
I’m sure you can think of many other ways to use this approach with your students. Please add your ideas or experiences with using this approach with your students (or coworkers). Tell us what is going well.
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