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Quantitative Literacy and the Humanities

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Attitudes, page 1 of 1
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Classroom Culture


How do we foster the attitudes conducive to quantitative skills?  There is evidence that interleaving skills in the classroom and homework fosters students' ability to independently identify what skill is needed.  We want students to struggle productively to locate, use, or report that evidence--to decide which skill is needed--but not to the point that they are overwhelmed.  While we may focus on one particular skill in a session, we should not isolate that skill from other skills or from an authentic application of it.

Resources for Promoting a Classroom Culture that Fosters Quantitative Literacy

Consult the Carnegie Foundation’s “Productive Persistence” driver diagram: The aim of Productive Persistence is, in the words of the Carnegie Foundation, that “students continue to put forth effort during challenges and when they do so they use effective strategies.” This evidence-based document links certain characteristics of productive persistence to actions that teachers might take.

Consult the Carnegie Foundation's “Learning Opportunities for Pathway Classrooms.” This document gives advice on helping students to struggle to own the material during in-class exercises and group work, and how to support them when needed. (“Pathway” classrooms refers to a series of courses aimed at community colleagues; the quantitative literacy pathway is called Quantways.)

Fight math phobia:
  • Encourage students to rephrase “I’m not good at math” as “I’m working on my math skills” or “I’m learning a new technique.”
  • Focus on the fact that quantitative methods will help students be better scientists, historians, philosophers, etc.
  • Emphasize that quantitative skills involve paying attention, slowing down, focusing on the matter at hand.
  • Avoid discussing the math as “simple” or “easy.” If students are struggling with it, it is not easy for them and they will be embarrassed to ask for help.
  • Emphasize the process of working through material, rather than the results.
  • Funnel students’ intuitions about solving the problem without numbers into a more precise method—if they want to write down a nonmathematical approach, allow them to start there but not to finish there.

Focus on QL:
  • Emphasize QL throughout the course, in on-going conversation.
  • Use class time to work through problems, individually or in groups. Consider preparing videos for pre-class.
  • Remind students that numbers have a concrete reality behind them--they are not just abstract, they do not exist just for the purpose of mathematical calculation.
  • Encourage students to attend events that highlight or celebrate quantitative methods.
  • Reduce the content and give students time to think.
  • Interleave homework or in-class problems so that students are constantly asking themselves, what kind of a problem is this? how do I solve this problem? (This may involve asking students to tackle some problems before the skill has been formally presented.)
  • Start the course with open-ended tasks. Do not wait to build students up to them.
  • Use performance tasks that require students to sift through data, question assumptions behind the data, decide on their own path to a decision, make a decision, and defend that decision.
  • Require students to hand in process notes and calculations.

Attend to good metacognition practices (from Saundra Y. McGuire):
  • Use attendance to show students that you care about their success the course. Keep attendance not to reward and punish, but as a tool to help you acknowledge their choices as adults, and to help you communicate to them that you are concerned when they miss class.
  • Encourage students to learn how to study—see for resources. When giving advice on how to study, first ask them specifically how they study. Encourage students to use McGuire’s Study Cycle: preview the material, attend class, review class material immediately, engage in intense study sessions, and assess learning strategies.
  • Remember that faculty clarity is not the key to student learning. Students need to process material so that it moves from short-term memory to long-term memory.
  • Convey the message: “you’re brilliant, we’ll help you soar,” rather than “you were great in high school, but you don’t know how hard college is going to be.”
  • Provide context for the material so they know what the task is and why they are doing it.
  • Establish high expectations.
  • Define student success.
  • Clarify student responsibility.
  • Establish a learning community of scholars.
  • Meet students where they are.
  • Remember that students ask themselves: Can I do this?  Are there others in the room like me?  What is the importance of it to me?  Students need to answer or suspend judgment on these questions in order to engage with the course.
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