Mental health – supporting colleagues and students

Now that the disruption of the last few weeks is beginning to settle down, we are faced with a long period of isolation. During this time, it is incredibly important to focus on mental health – our own, and that of our colleagues and our students.

On the PGCert, each of the four student teams recently completed a team teach, and Team Red’s focused on the pastoral aspects of working in Higher Education. The team put together a useful list of links and resources for supporting mental health, and they have kindly agreed to share them with the wider community. Please makes use of these, and share them with your colleagues and students as needed.

Useful links

UCA Health and Wellbeing services

UCA Inclusivity Guide – Mental Health

CALM: Prevention of male suicide 0800 58 58 58 open 5pm-midnight 365 days a year

Nightline: 0207 631 0101 open term time 6pm-8am

Papyrus: Prevention of young suicide also see https://papyrus-uk.org/help-advice-resources/
Hopeline 0800 068 41 41

SamaritansFree phone 116 123

Students Against Depression

Students Minds

UCA Student Union: Mental health advice page

Young Minds

UCA Health and Wellbeing policy

Suicide – advice on how to respond to someone talking about it:

suicide

Further reading

Hughes, G. et al (2018). Student mental health: The role and experiences of academics. Oxford: Student Minds, pp 14-24.

Anderson, J. and Houghton, A (2017). Embedding Mental Wellbeing in The Curriculum: Maximising Success In Higher Education. [online] York: Higher Education Academy, pp.9-12. Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/42c2/0fa9c74d2327e05294e7e1381817f946d409.pdf  [Accessed 11 March 2020].

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Inclusive assessment example 3: sensitive to criticism

criticism

Lynn Winfield is a very sensitive student who has a history of reacting badly to criticism. The last time she was given a low mark there was a temper tantrum, tears and threats of filing a complaint. For the current project she has again given herself a high mark on the self-assessment. You’ve looked carefully at the work for submission and sought a second opinion. You both agree that like last time it should be awarded a low mark. What will you feed back to Lynn?

You have no choice but to follow the rules and assess to the marking criteria. You will certainly follow the Houghton Ten Top Tips (see below) and you may do something that counts as being kind to yourself immediately before you see Lynn. Certainly you need to pause. Perhaps some yoga breathing? Mindfulness? A cake? And, yes, Lynn may be hell to deal with again.

She’s in her own personal hell, so that won’t be surprising: she knows she’ll fork no lightning in the creative world, but she has to tell herself something very different because, if she can’t succeed here, she really is rubbish. From early on, she’s been told she’s talented – when her parents realised she was ‘slow’ (the dyslexia assessment didn’t come till much later), they did as many parents do: they encouraged her to see herself as good at art (a strategy that has brought rich rewards for many dyslexic art students). As a result, she spent a lot of her school life in the art room at the expense of cultivating other potential interests.

At university, this isn’t her only issue: she is exhausted much of the time because of her dyslexic difficulties, partly because she doesn’t have the automaticity that non-dyslexics have (Nicolson and Fawcett, 1990) – ‘It’s never comfortable; everything requires more concentration and alertness,’ says psychologist Rod Nicolson (2017). She also has two major dyslexic difficulties to deal with: her very poor (‘severely impaired’) processing speed and her restricted working memory, both of which impact on her understanding of feedback – and much else. (You have probably noticed that she often needs you to repeat things and her responses are not immediate. The word ‘stupid’ has crossed your mind but you have immediately quelled it.)

Lynn’s verbal comprehension and perceptual reasoning are average, according to her educational psychologist’s report, but her processing speed is at the 2nd centile, i.e. 88% of the population can process information faster than she can. David Grant (2017:23) describes the problem: ‘This is rather like a slow broadband speed taking more time than it should to download and upload information, and the connection sometimes failing because it is taking too long for different regions of the brain to talk to each other.’ Stress, such as the assessment situation (presentations also spring to mind), exacerbates this weakness.

Working memory tests examine skills in remembering verbal information for a short time. Lynn’s working memory speed is below average at the 15th centile. Allied to her slow processing skills, she may forget the first part of what you say to her before she has processed the second part, and she may be relying to some extent on what she thinks you are telling her – her tantrums may, in fact, come from her fears rather than anything you have said: in this stressful situation, her working memory and processing speed are further impaired.

Lynn’s dyslexia tutor has begged her to record her feedback sessions with you so that she (dyslexia tutor) can get a grip on what’s been said. This never happens. She knows Lynn is damaging herself – and damaging you too, she suspects – at these alarming feedback sessions. Her dyslexia tutor concentrates on clarifying your written feedback with Lynn, who arrives at her dyslexia sessions bearing this feedback and a hugely distorted view of what it says – you are not the only one here who is frightened for Lynn.

What Lynn really wants to do, she realises late in her second year, is to work with animals. She does get her degree first – a painful business for you both to the end – and the last you heard, she’s finished her City & Guilds diploma in animal welfare and is working in an animal sanctuary near home. There’s a picture of her on Facebook holding a bedraggled otter; you know otters bite at the first opportunity (and the second and third), but finally she looks relaxed, happy and fulfilled.

You adjust your inclusivity goggles and remind yourself you are not God.

 

Assessment feedback: Ten Top Tips

. Encourage
. Feed forward more than back
. Provide session time where students reflect on and implement feedback (This could happen at the start of the next unit)
. Make the feedback you give reflect the level of learning
. For tutoring, consider making a checklist of points to cover
. Identify what needs to be done rather than what’s wrong (every negative can be turned into a positive, while making the same point)
. Use language that’s easy to understand; avoid expressions that may not be understood by international students
. For written feedback, aim for parity of length
. For written feedback, write different feedback for each student and never copy and paste
. Feedback should concentrate on the learning.

(Houghton, n.d.)

 

Bibliography

Grant, D. (2017) That’s the Way I Think: dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and dyscalculia explained (3rd edn) London: Routledge

Houghton, N. (2020) Assessment (online lecture, UCA, 4 March 2020)

Houghton, N. (n.d.) ‘Ten Top Tips’ in: The Knowledge of Nicholas: a compendium (limited edn) vol. 3, p.350

Nicolson, R. and Fawcett, A. (1990) ‘Automaticity: a new framework for dyslexia research’ in: Cognition, 30: pp.159-182

Nicolson, R. (201) The Dyslexia Debate: moving forward! London (lecture at the Dyslexia Guild, June 2017)

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Inclusive assessment example 2: low confidence

confidence

Tracey Dillon really lacks confidence and this prevents her taking risks. The trouble is, you’ve found that if you tell her this it only makes her even less confident and more reluctant to take the kind of risks which she needs to, in order to produce good work. You’re struggling to know how to balance praise and criticism, since you’ve found that it’s only through praise that she gains self-belief and improves. What will you feedback to Tracey?

You know the rules, and you know you can’t change them: your feedback must be in line with assignment learning outcomes. However, you have recently come to realise that, when giving feedback (written or oral), there’s good mileage in identifying what needs to be done rather than what’s wrong, that you can turn every negative into a positive and still make the same point (Houghton, 2020): criticism can be avoided. You are hoping this will help Tracey’s confidence and allow her to consider taking risks.

This will probably make her happier and, yes, more confident, but she is still unlikely to work outside the box. This is her safe place, and she is very unlikely to leave it, for Tracey is the first student in her family to go to university, and, as with many other first-generation students, it is putting enormous pressure on her. Says first-generation student Michelle Vasquez (2019), ‘Being the first in your family is tough, and the expectations weigh heavily.’ In Tracey’s case, her father is carrying a grave misconception about Firsts: he has made his way in the world and expects his children to do the same, and he feels certain that, if Tracey doesn’t get a First, she is not trying hard enough and is letting the family down. The rest of the family are clear about this too.

Under this pressure, she works relentlessly hard and because of it, she hasn’t made any friends: she expects those doing groupwork with her to work to her standards – to leap into action the minute a group assignment is set – and they resent the pressure she tries to exert on them. In her turn, she resents them for holding her back.

To add to the pressure, she’s dyslexic, and her anxiety levels are almost certainly higher than most of her non-dyslexic peers (Carroll and Iles, 2006; Jones, 2019) – without the added worry about her family. Her wobbly confidence is almost certainly connected with her dyslexia too.

She appeared for a session with her dyslexia tutor on the Monday after Freshers Week (unheard of before this) and has never missed an appointment since. After the first month, she broke down and cried, and it all came out – but the dyslexia tutor couldn’t get permission from Tracey to talk to academic staff so her hands are tied.  However, she knows that the Unconditional Positive Regard (Rogers, 1959) she gives Tracey counts for something, and she works hard with Tracey on organisation, reading, written work and, importantly, listens to her anxieties and  xxxxx her frail self-esteem to see that Tracey does as well as she can and is free from anxiety at least some of the time. But Tracey is never going to get the First that her father demands.

Two years later

Tracey got a 2:1 and was devastated. Her dyslexia tutor went along to the Private View of her show, where she found one of the sisters being, she felt, rather patronising and Tracey looking miserable. The tutor made it clear to the parents (keeping eye contact with father throughout) that their daughter was a remarkable person who had worked harder, she felt, than any student she had ever seen before; they must be very, very proud of her. This was repeated until the tutor was sure father’d got it – she was pleased to see the patronising sister looking discomforted, not to say slightly anxious.

‘Not so cocky, now, little sister,’ she said to herself callously.

 

Bibliography

Carroll, J. and Iles, J. (2006) ‘An assessment of anxiety levels in dyslexic students in higher education’ in: British Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 651-662

Houghton, N. (2020) Assessment (online lecture, UCA, 4 March 2020)

Jones, A. (2019) ‘The voices of university students with dyslexia and their experiences of anxiety and coping’ in: Patoss Bulletin 32(2), 10-29

Rogers, C. (1959) ‘A theory of therapy, personality, and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centred framework’ in: Koch, S. (ed) Psychology: a study of Science Vol. 3 Formulation of the Personality and the Social Context. New York: McGraw Hill: 184-256

Vasquez, M. (2019) ‘Pressure comes from within for first generation college students’ in The Blue and Gray Press 25 April 2019

FOCUS ON COLLEGES, UNIVERSITIES, AND SCHOOLS VOLUME 6, NUMBER 1, 2012 1 The Influence of Parents on the Persistence Decisions of First-Generation College Students Steven B. Westbrook, EdD Vice President for University Affairs Stephen F. Austin State University Nacogdoches, TX Joyce A. Scott, PhD Associate Professor of Higher Education Department of Educational Leadership College of Education and Human Services Texas A&M University-Commerce Commerce, TX

 

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Writing aims, learning outcomes, and assessment criteria

aims

Curriculum design expert Nicholas Houghton explains how to approach writing these core aspects of a curriculum.

Writing aims, learning outcome and assessment criteria can seem onerous. However, it’s well worth spending time to get them as you want them. Once they’re in the validated document, it’s complicated and time-consuming to make changes.

Yet you really want to make assessment as easy and clear to everyone as you possibly can. If you think they look like ‘education speak’ then it’s because they’ve been written that way. The best ones use simple, clear language which all students and staff can readily understand.

Things to watch out for when writing this part of a validation document.

Try to avoid jargon and obscure words!

If you’re writing documents for revalidation, take the opportunity to take a fresh look at the course. Don’t look at the existing aims, learning outcomes and assessment criteria until you’ve written your own.

A common mistake people make is to write aims, learning outcomes and assessment criteria that are very similar to each other. Often they only make a slight change in the wording when an aim becomes a learning outcome. However, aims should be very different from outcomes, and there can also be a different number of aims from outcomes.

Before writing any of these, think hard about two things:

  1. what do you want your students to achieve through studying on the course?
  2. what do they need to have learned?

Once you have answers to these two questions, identify what they need to have learned at the end of each unit. Remember that:

  1. what they achieve does not need to be measurable, and should feed into the aims.
  2. what they need to have learned should be used as the basis for writing learning outcomes.

Continue reading

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Inclusive assessment example 1: varying effort

Ray Martin shows how to interpret an assessment issue from an inclusive perspective.

nick-fewings-7cLIUI6rVDc-unsplash

Marek Wirksa has established a pattern. When he achieves a good mark, the next time he slacks right off and produces weak work and when he achieves a poor mark he works really hard, so he’s really up and down. You’ve discussed this with him, but it makes no difference. At this assessment point his work is outstanding. You’re worried that your positive feedback will cause him to once again become complacent. What will you feed back to Marek?

There may be precious little you can do for Marek. You certainly can’t tinker with the marks: you have to mark against the learning outcomes and the grade descriptors, however tempted you are. There is no other option.

Why does he operate like this? Among the endless possibilities, there’s a likelihood that Marek is ADHD with a support tutor and/or mentor. And maybe you can enquire about their work together. They may do a lot on timetabling or building an online diary (and using it) because he’s likely to have difficulties with time management, planning and prioritising. He may also have major problems getting started – particularly if a project doesn’t sound sufficiently exciting (and if he gets a high grade in this last assignment, the challenge for the next assignment may seem insufficient to arouse him). The support tutor may wring his/her hands over Marek’s more or less intractable procrastination – ‘you can’t get passed it’, says Philip Asherton (2019), an ADHD specialist.

This procrastination is often accompanied by a tendency to favour high-risk situations – Thomas Brown (2014) suspects all stand-up comedians may, like Rory Bremner, have ADHD, living on the edge, creating shows more or less on the fly. This tendency may well appear when Marek is confronted with a presentation: he blags it. (His tutor/mentor will be wringing his/her hands about this too, no doubt.)

ADHD adults may have entrepreneurial skills and make and lose several fortunes, partly because they’re risk-takers but possibly too because, when they’re doing well, the challenge goes – and this seems to connect with Marek’s behaviour. As one ADHD parent said to me once, ‘When I’ve made a lot of money, I get bored and let things slide.’ (At that point, he had suddenly found he had two boys at an expensive school and needed to hyper-focus on paying the fees.)

If Marek has not been assessed as ADHD, one possibility is that he has mental health problems and the ADHD has been missed, which is not uncommon (Asherton, 2019). ADHD students may suffer from low self-esteem and – paradoxically – anxiety; their sleep problems are likely to be remediated only with drugs. You may not know about the mental health problems either because only 1.5% of students are likely to disclose their difficulties to their HEIs (Abrahams and Chappell, 2017).

Keep your inclusivity goggles on at all times – it may be that Marek really can’t do much about the roller coaster he’s on, but he and his support tutor may be doing their best.

Bibliography

Abrahams, H. and Chappell, M. (2017) Mental Health in Higher Education for Students with SpLDs (Lecture at Patoss Conference, 20 June 2017)

Asherton, P. (2019) ADHD in Higher Education (Lecture at Bloomsbury Institute, 21 Feb. 2019)

Brennan, L. (2017) Understanding Mental Health in SpLD Learners (Lecture at Patoss Conference, 20 June 2017)

Brown, T. (2014) ADHD (Lecture at the Dyslexia Assessment Centre, 4 Mar. 2014)

Colley, M. (2009) in Pollak, D. (ed) Neurodiversity in Higher Education: positive responses to specific learning differences Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, pp.169-194

 

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Why you should care about Gert Biesta

Inclusive education specialist Ray Martin introduces the educational philosophy of Gert Biesta.

‘Education is about arousing the desire in another human being for wanting to exist in the world in a grown-up way’ (2017: 38)

I think it is important to show why weakness and risk matter in a time when there is such a strong tendency to control education and make it into a machine for the production of a small set of ‘learning outcomes’.

‘If we take the risk out of education, there is a real chance that we take out education altogether’ (2013: 1)

Gert Biesta is an unsung hero who can – and does – speak for the many who think education is in a disturbing state. In an interview for The Beautiful Risk of Education (2013), he says: ‘What I try to do with my work is to generate language and arguments that can help to indicate what precisely is going on, why that is problematic, and what might be more productive and meaningful ways forward.’ He says we treat education as a shopping experience, which means we must give students what they want and must, among other things, avoid asking any questions that might cause a student difficulty. Student satisfaction surveys make no sense for him:

If my students are satisfied, I have failed as a teacher. I haven’t gone to more difficult places

One response to the ‘fix and control’ form of education that currently dominates is a child/student-centred system where teachers are facilitators and students are free to explore their own ideas, an approach that can, he thinks, remove education. And the question arises: what if these ideas are, say, destructive or racist? He thinks there is a need for a third position – and is quick to say that this is not a position around teaching morality; ‘the educational gesture must remain hesitant and gentle’ (2017: 59).

For Biesta, there are three important domains in education. Qualifications (knowledge, skills and dispositions), socialisation (becoming part of existing ‘orders’, e.g. social order) and subjectivity (‘the question of how we can be or become a subject of action and responsibility’) (2013:142). Good teaching – its ‘art’ – is, in his view, getting the balance right between these three domains, but crucially, if the question of the subject disappears, ‘we have ended up in an uneducational space’ (2013: 147).

Gert Biesta is Professor of Public Education at the Centre for Public Education and Pedagogy, Maynooth University, Ireland; Professorial Fellow in Educational Theory and Pedagogy, Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh; NICVOZ Professor for Education, University of Humanistic Studies, The Netherlands; and Visiting Professor, University of Agder, Norway

Bibliography

Biesta, Gert (2013) The Beautiful Risk of Education London: Paradigm

Biesta, G. (2017) Letting Art Teach: art education ‘after’ Joseph Beuys Arnhem: ArtEZ Press

Naughton, C., Biesta, G. and Cole, D. (eds) (2018) Art, Artists and Pedagogy: philosophy and the arts in education Abingdon: Routledge

https://www.philosophy-of-education.org/publications/author-interview-gert-biesta.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMqFcVoXnTI

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4 tips for teaching online

There are some key principles that will help you teach effectively online. In this short video, Tony Reeves suggests four key tips to help you keep your students engaged in an online session:

  • make it seamless
  • make it discursive
  • make it relevant
  • make it inclusive
Posted in Creative Education, How Students Learn, Learning Technology, Student Centred Learning, teaching tips | 2 Comments