Monday, March 12, 2018

I'm First! Supporting First-Generation Students

submitted by Elisabeth Fredrickson, Associate Dean for Instruction at EdCC

Recently, I listened to a Teach Better Podcast episode on Inclusive Teaching with A. T. Miller, director of Cornell’s Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives. The episode focused, in part, on the valuable perspectives that first-generation students bring to the classroom and on practical strategies we can use to help level the playing field for them.

Financial obstacles and lack of family support are common among first-generation college students. But these students share other characteristics as well.
First-generation students . . .
We can help by . . .
often have more life experiences than the prototypical college student. They have had to figure things out for themselves--and have gained some wisdom in the process.
treating their experiences as an asset. Give them an opportunity to write, speak, and build projects around their lived experiences. We can also help by framing their past experiences as an advantage. They have done hard things and learned new skills before, and they can do it again.
may not speak the insider language of the institution: program, dean, prerequisite, syllabus, objective, transfer.
interpreting the language for them and creating motivational syllabi that are welcoming and inclusive.
might feel alone, or suffer from “imposter syndrome.”
identifying first-generation faculty on campus and providing opportunities for students to network with those faculty. Cornell’s “I’m First!” campaign identifies faculty who were first-generation college students themselves, so that they can be positive examples and mentors to first-generation students.
might struggle in self-selected, unmonitored group work. When students pick their own groups or teams, academically-advanced students may partner up and rush ahead with the project, while less confident students, including those with limited English proficiency, may find themselves grouped together, with less collective knowledge between them than other groups have.
ensuring every group has a confident person who can provide leadership and direction, and by creating clear rotating roles to ensure that less-confident students don’t always get stuck in lower-level “task” roles, like being the notetaker or timekeeper.
may not feel comfortable asking their instructors for extensions, even in the case of family emergencies. In fact, they may not be comfortable asking for favors from authority figures at all.
“practicing paradox,” (clear deadlines, plus reasonable flexibility) and by reaching out to first-generation/non-traditional students who are falling behind and explicitly offering an alternative deadline schedule.

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