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Uses and Vision for the Learning Center Student Usage Report

Posted on: May 14th, 2015 by learningws No Comments

A Learning Center student usage report was established by the Office of Strategy, Planning and Accountability here at MCTC to understand the way the Learning Center was affecting students’ grades.

All of the popularly used courses at the Learning Center were analyzed to try to engage the efficacy of our tutorials. Some of these courses are the following:

  • College English 1
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Intro to Chemistry
  • College English 2
  • Math 0070
  • English 0900
  • Nursing 1000
  • Math 0080
  • Phil 2110
  • College Algebra
  • ESOL 0051
  • BIOL 2200

By clumping users’ (Learning Center participants) grades together, and by clumping non-users’ (Learning Center non-participants) grades together, analysis was made for comparison and the distribution of grades were represented by bar graphs. A general statement can be made that the Learning Center participants received higher grades than Learning Center non-users. This trend is not fool-proof though. In Chemistry we see that non-users were more likely to earn an A in the course. And the proportion of people failing this course was equal among non-users and users.

The issues surrounding students’ ability to perform well in a course are severely complex. We would do students and staff an injustice by assuming that they can be understood easily. We would do them an even greater disservice by telling them that the goal to understand their ability to learn was impossible. I do believe simple answers can be afforded worth, i.e. “if you work hard, you can earn good grades.” This is somewhat true, but there are cases when students put forth their greatest efforts and they do not see A’s on the page.

It is a general statement to say that students that come to the Learning Center are willing to put in the time to do well in their courses. This statement contains some truth, but there are also students outside of the Learning Center who put in even greater amounts of energy and time into their studies. There are student’s that come to the Learning Center that do not wish to work hard, but merely want a quick fix. Again, there are students that do not work hard and still earn A grades.

The complexities of issues that affect our ability to earn grades are evident in the varying results of the Learning Center Student Usage Report.

As tutors, it is our job to meet students where they are at. We have the privilege of walking alongside their academic ambivalence, and we have the greater privilege of calling them into scholastic fervor. I am one who does not have the fire of scholarship within me, so what can I do to encourage and serve students in the Learning Center?

If there are others who join with me in this dilemma, let us not be discouraged at our reluctance to be gung-ho about our various academic pursuits. Let us be gung-ho for what the students are gung-ho about! And let us also not be scared to share the reasons why we continue to pursue hard-work and excellence in academics. Perhaps our need to provide for our families spurs us toward a good work ethic. Or perhaps our dreams of being a/an __________ someday beckons us onward.

It is clear that what we are doing in the Learning Center is working. Users’ grades are markedly higher then non-users grades in the Learning Center’s popular courses. What remains unclear and yet to be discovered completely is how and why the Learning Center is working. Above I submit my understanding of mutual encouragement and companionship and their ability to further our fervor in academic pursuits. There are undoubtedly other ways that the Learning Center serves students as well. Through research, these hidden things can be fleshed out and understood by students and staff alike to help further our future pursuits.

If we can provide a longitudinal summary of student’s progress of their time at MCTC we could further draw correlations between coursework load, and/or student development over time. If we can take a further look at the best practices of successful non-users and compare them to users, we could possibly create a hybrid approach to serve the academic middle (the students that neither excel, nor desire to attain services from the Learning Center). A way to continue to grow using the already given research is to inquire. Why do non-users fail? Why do students drop out? Why do students succeed? Etc. There need not be a limit to the specificity of the questions to best serve tutors and students in providing specific services. If a comprehensive list of questions could be generated, then these could be inquired of students upon completion of an academic semester. With systematic answers we would continue to flesh-out strengths and weaknesses for academic progression at Minneapolis Community and Technical College

–Jared, MCTC Writing Tutor


Works Cited

Cressman, Leigh. Fall 2014 Learning Center Student Usage Report. Rep. Minneapolis: Office of Strategy, Planning and Accountability – Minneapolis Community & Technical College, 2015. Print.

Reducing Stereotype Threat

Posted on: May 8th, 2015 by learningws No Comments

Stereotype threat has been a large focus for us in Level II training, and although we recognize its detrimental effects on performance and engagement, we are left with lingering questions on how we as tutors can play a role in reducing it. The article, “What Can Be Done to Reduce Stereotype Threat?” skips the kind of social narrative we have in dialogue with stereotype threat, and gives us specific and clear prescriptions to the issue that we can practically apply as tutors.

The article’s strength lies in its clear description of practical methods that we as tutors can employ to reduce stereotype threat. Additionally, its inclusion of research scenarios offer powerful insight into how prototype threat manifests itself differently within a wide range of students. This is great because it gives tutors a chance to recognize which techniques would be great to consider when dealing with students struggling in particular performance scenarios. For example, understanding that “[positive] feedback reduces perceived evaluator bias, increases motivation, and preserves domain-identification” while fostering an environment where a student’s, “abilities and ‘belonging’ are assumed rather than questioned” – is incredibly useful when speaking with a student about standards and capabilities (Stroessner, Steven, & Good). I just think this is a great resource for educators and tutors, and can really be considered a cheat-sheet of perspective when dealing with students you think may be experiencing stereotype threat.

We have been rehashing the idea of mindset throughout the semester, yet I was still surprised to see that emphasis on sharing incremental views of intelligence, was listed as a deterrent for stereotype threat. This link speaks heavily towards the type of identity crisis students are facing, as they study and perform in a competitive educational setting. Its truly disheartening to know that stereotype threat is real, and is fostering a sense of educational dejection within students; however, through this lens I believe that tutors have the opportunity to redefine their educational philosophies and counteract stereotype threat through reassurance, and creating atmospheres which deemphasize social identity stigmas.

–Tyrese, MCTC Writing Tutor


Works Cited

Stroessner, Steven, and Catherine Good. “What Can Be Done to Reduce Stereotype Threat?” N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.<>

The Second Chapter of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success — Inside the Mindsets

Posted on: May 8th, 2015 by learningws No Comments

Carol Dweck’s accessible rhetoric is probably the most notable facet concerning her foray into the realm of widely-published literature; in the second chapter of her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck plainly elucidates her thoughts on the divide between what she calls an undesirable “fixed-learning mindset”–one that holds the notion of innate intelligence paramount–versus a “growth mindset,” or the belief in intelligence being much too hard to quantify to attempt to wrangle down and identify oneself with. This perambulatable style of writing becomes all the more enjoyable to read after Dweck touches upon her own fixed-mindset tendencies; writing with a quarterly journal-esque voice really wouldn’t have driven the humbling point home nearly as well. I was finding myself more and more embarrassed as I read along in this introductory chapter on the subject, as I realized how many attributes of a fixed-mindset person I used to possess (or still do, if we’re being honest). Given that her thesis, in sum, is that a fixed mindset is supremely harmful to the process of learning, I thought I’d share some of her assertions so that you can identify with future students (or, just as important,  yourself) these traits and try to steer clear of stimulating them; one can certainly grow into a primarily growth-based mindset, after all (hence the name of the got-dang mindset).

A fixed-mindset person is focused mostly on expounding upon their self-concept; proving that you’re smart becomes the focus in the mind rather than challenging oneself (opening oneself up to potential failure) and actually mastering something new.  This can lead to validation being the only motivator in learning, and in topics that typically don’t offer quick gratification (such as college-level chemistry, calculus, etc.), fixed-mindset students can often lose interest in a subject fast. Fixed-mindset students would much rather solve variations of an easy puzzle repeatedly rather than risk failing at a harder one, as this suggests lacking some sort of intellectual endowment. According to Malcolm Gladwell, journalist and author, they fawn over “natural, effortless accomplishment over achievement through effort” (qtd. in Dweck 41). If something doesn’t click right away, it’s likely indicative of a natural deficiency.

Growth-mindset students, however, don’t necessarily draw a connection with ability and results. It’s not even an issue of “effort is just as important as smarts,” or that effort and talent form a binary, diametric relationship; it’s more about simply decoupling self-concept from success. “Everyone can change and grow through experience… a person’s potential is unknown and unknowable (7).” Growth-mindset students generally speak with a more earthbound tone concerning a subject and its requirements, rather than speaking hyperbolically about its perils and difficulties.

Applying these flags towards students while in the midst of tutoring seems like a pretty efficacious practice, however inchoate in breadth it may be. If a student appears to not want to budge when encountering something new and difficult, or appears to glow after effortlessly solving a problem in relation to their peers, it is likely

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that they possess a fixed belief in their abilities and do not wish to harm their self-concept. Speaking in an objective manner about a concept in a given tutoring session helps to decouple the two (not utilizing value statements at all–even something like, “this is a hard concept to grasp”), allowing the student to actually learn rather than intertwining their ideas about their intelligence into the matter.

–Jack Johnson, MCTC Economics and Math Tutor


Works Cited

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006. Print.

Attitudes Toward Intelligence

Posted on: May 8th, 2015 by learningws No Comments

As a part of the CRLA Level II certification, I reviewed an article entitled “Longitudinal Changes in College Math Students’ Implicit Theories of Intelligence” by Rebecca Shively and Carey Ryan. As the title suggests, the article discusses the results of a survey of college math students regarding their attitudes toward the origin of intelligence. The two theories are the (1) entity theory and the (2) incremental theory. The entity theory describes the attitude that “intelligence is a fixed, unchangeable trait,” that is present in a predetermined amount. The incremental theory describes the attitude that “intelligence is malleable,” or that it can be increased by doing certain things.

The researchers asked 243 students in college algebra classes to rank the degree to which they agree with two different statements. The entity theory statement said, “You have a certain amount of intelligence, and you really can’t do much to change it,” while the incremental theory statement said, “You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.” They also asked students to divide intelligence into two components, effort and ability, and assign percentages to each one. The researchers also asked students about their attitudes toward math intelligence to see if they differed from students’ attitudes toward general intelligence. The surveys were given at the beginning and end of a single semester. After the semester was over, the researchers compared the reported attitudes toward intelligence with the help-seeking activities of the students and their grades.

They found that attitudes toward general intelligence were more incremental than toward math intelligence. They also found that more students gave entity views of math intelligence toward the end of the semester than at the beginning of the semester and that this effect was less pronounced for general intelligence. They also found that students with more incremental attitudes had slightly higher course grades and were more likely to seek help (i.e. tutoring).

I was not surprised to see that many students in a rigorous math course had or adopted an entity view of math intelligence. I’ve heard the phrase, “I guess I’m just not a math person,” a number of

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times this semester. It makes sense students would adopt this view after struggling through a math class where they may have just found themselves struggling through this material.

The one finding that did surprise me was that students who reported seeking help had somewhat lower grades than other students. This is a bit disheartening to see that our efforts as tutors may not be as effective as we hope. But, there were a number of weaknesses in this study that may call this finding into question. First, only 61 of the 243 participants took the survey at both the beginning and end of the semester. Ninety-eight participants took the survey at the start of the semester and a different 84 students took the survey at the end of the semester. This left a rather small number of students that were actually tracked throughout the semester. Second, peer study groups may not have been considered by students to be “help-seeking” even though they may serve that function. As a result, their may have been more peer-to-peer help-seeking than was measured. Finally, they did not ask the help-seeking students the reasons why they sought help, why they sought help, or whether they thought the help was effective. Examining these things more closely may yield a more complete picture of the true effect of help-seeking and why these students received lower grades than others.

This article shows some of the results of our efforts as tutors. Although these results are a little disappointing, there is more information that can be gathered about this topic. In spite of this, I think of my own learning experiences involving help-seeking and recall how helpful they were. Sometimes students go as far as they can on their own and need a little help to get over a learning hurdle. Those are the times when I know I have helped students get to the next level of learning. Every time I doubt my effectiveness as a tutor, I think back to those times and give the student my best effort to help.

–Amy, MCTC Math and Chemistry Tutor


Works Cited

Shively, Rebecca L., Carey S. Ryan. “Longitudinal Changes In College Math Students’ Implicit Theories of Intelligence.” Social Psychology of Education 16 (2013): 241-256. Print.

Stereotype Threat and Identity at College

Posted on: May 7th, 2015 by learningws No Comments

I work as a tutor at Minneapolis Community & Technical College. I am writing regarding one of the requirements from CRLA Level II Tutor Training. I will summarize a chapter called “Identity and Intellectual Performance” from Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude Steele.

The purpose of this chapter is to explain that students can succeed no matter what identities or races they have. The study has been done by observing how well minority students do at a big campus at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Their main focus is on black students among other minorities. It all sums up into one summary: the achievement problems of black students at Michigan weren’t caused entirely by skill deficits (Steele 20).

Two social psychologists, Edward Jones and Richard Nisbett, stated that there are two big main objects that people should consider when they want to describe other people’s behavior, such as observer’s perspective and actor’s perspective (qtd. in Steele 18). The observer’s perspective is a perspective of a person observing the others’ behavior, while the actor’s perspective is a perspective of him- or herself doing the behavior. They concluded that we tend to look only at the actors–which is the observer’s perspective–while the actors themselves usually dominate our literal and mental visual field as they conduct themselves. We tend to emphasize the things we can see (Steele 18). While on the other perspective, we do not even know what problems or struggling the actors have. Therefore, without looking from the actors’ perspective we can’t draw conclusions about their behavior.

I was surprised when the author implied that common black student underperformance was across the curriculum, and it became a national phenomenon. He read studies saying that blacks student show underperformance throughout the education system such as in college classes, in medical school, in law school, in business school, and often in K through 12 schooling (Steele 22). The research also said that it also happens among other minority groups of students, such as Latinos, Native Americans, and so forth. Steele says that that information was based on the observer’s perspective, which attributed underperformance to a lack of motivation or cultural knowledge or skills to succeed at more difficult coursework–which is certainly not right.

Steele conducted research, based on the actor’s perspective. He created a seminar to support his research towards this issue by getting closer to the minority groups such as black students. He came up with a result that black students were certainly capable to get good grades in college, as it was shown in their good SAT scores while they entered the college. The only problem that mattered was when they thought of campus life as racially organized by whites, than by the minorities. Their sense of marginalization was affecting their performance in college. Black students also worried about lacking a sense of belonging in the campus, which the people who had observer’s perspective might not have noticed.

As I work as a tutor at the Learning Center, I have been helping many people from many races and identities. I never let them feel marginalized by the situation on campus. By giving them a few words of courage, I can simply bother their mind from feeling anxious that they can’t succeed in their class. Skin color can never determine how successful they are in the future, but their motivation can. As Steele conducted the research, he stated that the minority student groups often feel that they don’t belong which impacts their performance in college. Therefore, I always open my arms and give them a friendly approach, so that they will feel that they belong at the school and nothing can stop them from getting success.

–Joshua Purba, MCTC Math and Geology Tutor


Works Cited

Steele, Claude. “Identity and Intellectual Performance.” Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011. Print.

All About Attitude

Posted on: May 6th, 2015 by learningws No Comments

My name is Cassandra, and I am a writing and Spanish tutor at MCTC’s Learning Center. I completed the CRLA Level 1 training program in Fall 2014 semester, and am currently finishing the Level 2 program.

During the Level 2 training, we learned about many different types of roadblocks facing students. We also learned how to help students get over or around these roadblocks and back on the path to success. We were presented with academic writing about each week’s topic to help educate us about the problem, and then we discussed how it affected us as tutors and as students. The topic that most interested me was implicit theories of intelligence.

Implicit theories of intelligence are how students view their intelligence and how it can change. Many of us have said, “I am not a math person,” or, “I am just not a good writer.” This is called entity theory. Entity theory is described as the idea that intelligence is predetermined. If you believe in entity theory, you think that you are just not good at something, and no amount of hard work and effort will affect your progress. On the other hand, incremental theory is the belief that intelligence is gained by effort. Incremental theorists will focus more on effort than performance, while entity theorists will focus on performance and will put in little effort if they do not see positive results (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, and Dweck 246).

There have been a few studies that seem to prove that incremental theorists perform better in school, and that entity theorists who are taught an incremental theory can turn their grades around. However, researchers Lisa Blackwell of Columbia University and Kali Trzesniewski and Carol Sorich Dweck of Stanford University found these studies lacking in a few places. The first was that these studies were only short term. No study had determined if the increase in grades after being taught incremental theory were maintained or if they returned to their previous state. Another shortcoming was that these studies had not looked for changes in the classroom atmosphere, specifically if the motivation of the students changed. Students who hold an incremental theory have a higher level of motivation than their entity theory counterparts, since entity theorists believe they cannot change their intelligence. Lastly, these studies did not compare teaching incremental theory to the class versus an academic intervention that taught incremental theory to underperforming students. Due to these constraints, researchers could not say whether students’ theories of intelligence affected their long-term performance, and if changing their theory could turn around a downward grade trend (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, and Dweck 248). Blackwell, Trzesniewski and Dweck attempted to answer these questions in their paper, “Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention.”

In this study, the researchers followed incoming seventh graders in a mid-performing school in New York City. They followed them for two years. What they found was that students who had an incremental view of intelligence performed above average, while most with an entity view of intelligence had a downward trajectory. They also found the same results for those who had a high level of motivation over those who had little motivation. There was a positive correlation between having an incremental intelligence view and high motivation. An important result was that downward trending entity students who were given an intervention and taught an incremental view of intelligence were able to change their grade trajectory upward, and keep it upward. This is important because it proves that changing how students view their intelligence can change how they perform in the long run. It also means that it is important to locate these lower-motivated students early. The earlier their trajectory changes upward, the more likely they are to succeed in the future. The report points out that this is especially important for subjects like math, since new knowledge builds on previous knowledge.

Something that was surprising to me was the ability to change the trajectory of student grades by teaching them that their intelligence is not fixed. As a tutor, I see students who lose motivation throughout the semester, who believe that they just aren’t good at writing, or that they are too old to learn a foreign language. It is important that these students realize that their performance isn’t the most important. What is most important is that they are learning. Building connections in the brain when a student learns new material may take more time for some than others. Some students may have had a poor educational background. That doesn’t mean that they are not meant to be a good writer or fluent in Spanish. What it means is that they may have to try harder or in different ways. By teaching my students that they can grow, I can help give them the motivation they need to keep learning.

–Cassandra, MCTC Writing and Spanish Tutor


Works Cited

Blackwell, Lisa S., Kali H. Trzesniewski, and Carol Sorich Dweck. “Implicit Theories Of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across An Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study And An Intervention.” Child Development 78.1 (2007): 246-263. ERIC. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.

The Water Wings of Higher Education

Posted on: May 1st, 2015 by learningws 1 Comment

“Keeping your head above water” is a frighteningly accurate image in higher education. Keeping up with coursework can feel like treading water, looking around and hoping for sight of shore. To try and lessen this feeling, legislation and educators created developmental education (or remedial education), supplemental courses to ready students for college-level courses. Lately there has been talk of removing developmental education, so the article, “Minnesota considers bill to scrap remedial college courses” by Maura Lerner, looks into the debate.

The article opens with Tiara Carr, one of the many students who thinks that remedial courses are bunk. She took her story, which is one among many, to legislature in order to hopefully remove them from college curriculum. The idea is growing, but those in higher education are going to take quite a bit more convincing.

Those that are in favor of removal are making some good points, mainly that the added courses put strain on the wallet and the workload. And I was among them. Like Carr, when I took the Accuplacer, I was placed in MATH 0080, a developmental math course here at the college. I had taken a college-level math course before I began at MCTC but had to take another because my credits didn’t transfer, so I looked at the added credits as throwing off the tightly-constructed, four-semester plan for my major, not to mention as setting me back a few hundred dollars. It was disheartening to find that I needed to take college courses before I could really begin taking college courses.

The biggest problem with these courses, as seen by those who oppose them, is that they seem to actually have a reverse effect. These “helpful” courses make “it less likely that [the students will] ever finish college” (Lerner). In the article,  Bruce Vandal, vice president of Complete College America, states that only about 10 percent of the students in developmental education end up graduating, which seems to confirm and strengthen the argument pretty well. But Vandal is not without a solution. He proposes a sort of helping hand for the students who would have had to take developmental classes: meeting with tutors and/or having extra class time to keep up. He goes on to tell us that five states have already implemented this structure with raving success. In just one semester, “the rate of students completing a college-level math class more than doubled, from 29 to 64 percent” (Lerner). What growth indeed!

All that said, those opposed—those that see developmental classes as a necessity—don’t think the numbers apply to all students. Sure, those at the tops of their developmental classes would have to struggle in a college-level course, but they’d survive. But those opposed ask, “What about the average or the below-average developmental student?” Some students I’ve worked with haven’t been to school in twenty years. And as we all know, math is one of those skills one loses quickly if he or she doesn’t use it often. How would those students be expected to keep their heads above water? Laurel Watt, a teacher of a developmental reading class at Inver Hills Community College, says, “They won’t!” To students like these, developmental classes are just that–developmental. They are stepping stones that allow a student to remember how to swim before they’re thrown into the lake again.

So, once again, we are asked the question of what to do when something helps some and hinders others? David Arendale, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota who studies remedial education, says there isn’t any “one-size-fits-all solution” (qtd. in Lerner). He agrees with Vandal in that there are some students who would do just fine if thrown into college-level courses, but goes on to add, “I’ve not seen research that says you can go to the middle and the bottom [tiers] and those students will do fine” (qtd. in Lerner). Lerner then finishes her article with a quote from Arendale, “Why don’t we do a small pilot at a couple of colleges before we propose doing this statewide?”

I’ve had the pleasure of working with my fair share of students in developmental courses, and I’d have to agree with Watt. To remove those courses entirely would be to punch holes in many students’ boats that are barely seaworthy as is. Tutors like me are here to help as much as possible, but it is always up to the student to struggle through it—and struggle we do. College can be terrifying—more so if you haven’t been here in a long time—but with developmental classes the lake seems a little smaller.

–Ezra, MCTC Writing Tutor


Works Cited
Lerner, Maura. “Minnesota Considers Bill to Scrap Remedial College Courses.” StarTribune. StarTribune, 29 Mar. 2015. Web. 01 May 2015.

Mindset – Motivation and Personality

Posted on: April 27th, 2015 by learningws No Comments

During our Level II Tutor Training, we discussed several articles on a variety of topics that are related to the way people learn and perform academically, and how we as tutors can help students get past the challenges that they face in their efforts to be successful academically. One of the topics we discussed that interested me the most was “Mindset,” which has to do with an individual’s beliefs about what they are capable of, and how their motivation affects learning. I chose the article “A Social-Cognitive Approach to Motivation and Personality” by Carol S. Dweck from the University of Illinois, and Ellen L. Leggett from Harvard University.

This article discusses patterns of adaptive and maladaptive behavior along with the research the authors did that demonstrates the psychology behind the patterns, and how it relates to the goals and motivation of an individual. The studies I chose to focus on were based upon research with children and how their goals, personalities and belief differences seem to lead to different responses and behavior toward challenges. They then expanded the model to cover a variety of applications.

In these studies, grade-school age children of equal ability were given problems to solve, beginning with eight that they would be able to successfully solve, followed by four problems that were more difficult than children their age should be expected to solve. Several observations and measures were taken along the way to be able to identify when any differences in behavior or attitudes occurred.

The researchers described two main types of approaches that they observed in children of equal ability, which they called the mastery-oriented patterns, and the helpless patterns.

The mastery-oriented children sought out the challenging tasks, and kept at them even when experiencing failure and struggles. They were optimistic that they could succeed, and stayed positive throughout the challenges along with being able to either maintain their problem solving performance ability or even improve it.

The helpless children generally tried to avoid the challenges and their performance declined when faced with the difficulties. Even when they had enjoyed the activities originally, once they started experiencing failure, they tended toward accrediting their failures to lack of intelligence or other abilities, and didn’t believe they could overcome them. When their motivation for the tasks waned, they began to look negatively at the problems, and “instead of concentrating their resources on attaining success they attempted to bolster their image in other ways” (Dweck and Leggett 258).

It is quite interesting to see what this study revealed. Children of equal ability demonstrate very different responses to challenges, and even some of those who are highly skilled will display helpless behaviors and attitude. Therefore, the researchers hypothesized that the beliefs and goals people have, rather than their abilities, lead to their various approaches to the challenges they are faced with. They conclude that “conceiving of one’s intelligence as a fixed entity was associated with adopting the performance goal of documenting that entity, whereas conceiving of intelligence as a malleable quality was associated with the learning goal of developing that quality” (256).

Even though this research was performed with children, observations in settings with adults demonstrates the same patterns. College students are constantly facing stressful situations and challenges as they try to attain their education, and their mindset about learning, what they are capable of, and how they face those challenges make a notable difference in their performance and in their ultimate motivation to continue forward. A tutor can be a positive example and an encouragement to students who are struggling with motivation and who have a fixed mindset about their abilities. By helping them see even the small successes and by encouraging them along the way, helpless patterns that may be getting in their way can be replaced by master-oriented ones, and there motivation to move forward can improve.

–Colleen, MCTC Math and Science Tutor


Works Cited

Dweck, Carol, and Ellen Leggett. “A Social-Cognitive Approach to Motivation and Personality.” Psychological Review 95.2 (1988): 256-73. Stanford University. Stanford University. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.

Stereotype Threat and Social Cues

Posted on: April 23rd, 2015 by learningws No Comments

Claude M. Steele’s book Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect us is an enlightening psychological approach to learning-barriers like stereotype threat, which offers cutting-edge ideas to scenarios that we are likely to encounter at Minneapolis Community & Technical College and beyond. The quality of the research that is documented and analyzed in this text is incredibly valuable because it not only directly relates to the work that we do as tutors in the Writing Center, by discussing minority underperformance in higher education, but can also be applied to virtually any social setting that one can imagine. I chose to focus specifically on chapter 8, “The Strength of Stereotype Threat: The Role of Cues,” to both hone in on a smaller portion of the text, and also because I was particularly fascinated by the way that one can and often does perceive stereotype threat, which is through social cues.

Steele gives the example of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor being the first and only female Court Justice until Ruth Ginsburg joined the bench twelve years later, and how being the only female on the bench affected her professional life. She called the experience “asphyxiating” (Steele 134), due to the added pressure because she was always viewed as a female judge, rather than a judge that happened to be female. O’Connor was a minority as a woman in her work setting, and she had social expectations to both embrace and reject her female identity as a judge. Once Ginsburg joined the bench, O’Connor said the difference was “night and day” (Steele 134), and the media interest in her being a female Justice, died down. Tragically, the stereotype threat was passed like a baton onto Justice Ginsburg after O’Connor retired, again reinforcing that this type of social pressure is very real and very possible in virtually any social setting.

A study that Steele used to illustrate a similar situation to Ginsburg’s and O’Connor’s, was conducted by an organizational psychologist at Harvard named Richard Hackman and his associate Jutta Allmendinger, in which they examined women in symphony orchestras around the globe–a population where females are often outnumbered by their male counterparts. They found that women in orchestras that were 90-99% male, gave similar accounts to former Justice O’Connor: feeling an “intense pressure to prove themselves and to fit a male model of what a good orchestra member is” (Steele 137). It wasn’t until the demographic reached about 40% female in the orchestra, that women claimed feeling a “critical mass,” that is, where they no longer felt like minorities.

Steele attempts to pinpoint the cause of this discomfort, and proposes that the amount of stereotype threat one feels is based upon the number of cues we perceive based upon identity contingencies. In O’Connor’s case, the fact that she was the only woman amongst a workforce of men was the cue that underscored her identity contingency and ushered in the stereotype threat. Steele suggests that what determines if and how much the impact of identity threat is felt is “more than individual traits, it is cues, contingency-signaling cues in a setting” (139). Age cues can manifest in the workplace. Race cues can appear in a classroom. Gender cues can be summoned at a family gathering. Cues can be subtle, which make them difficult to measure by those not perceiving them, but that does not mean that they are any less significant to those who feel them.

Steele and an associate did an experiment, in which they created two newsletters from phony Silicon Valley corporations, and asked subjects to evaluate how likely they could see themselves working in that particular setting. One of the newsletters depicted a workforce with few people of color, and also included a diversity policy of “color-blindness.” The other newsletter showed a larger number of people of color, and stated its diversity policy as “valuing diversity.” Interestingly, white people overwhelmingly said they would feel comfortable in either setting, which reinforced the theory that the dominant social group is much less likely to feel discomfort or stereotype threat in a variety of social settings. However, people of color overwhelmingly said they would choose the company that pictured more people of color and that valued diversity. Steele’s research also concluded that when one is experiencing stereotype threat, there is a physiological reaction as well, such as an elevated heart rate, blood pressure and sweating (149).

In response to all this data, I can only acknowledge that from my own personal experience, I have and do pay attention to cues in an attempt to assess my own level of comfort or stereotype threat in a particular social setting. I have experienced stereotype threat and understand the pressure that comes with feeling like a representative for an entire demographic, and I do notice a physiological discomfort that accompanies a more extreme situation. I think that at MCTC, and more specifically, in the Learning Center, it should remain a top priority to employ a staff that is as diverse as the student population of the campus, and the city that it rests in. I believe that the Writing Center is successful because our tutors are diverse in virtually every identity contingency imaginable and trained to do the quality work that MCTC has earned a reputation for producing.

–Alexei, MCTC Writing Tutor


Works Cited

Steele, Claude. “The Strength of Stereotype Threat: The Role of Cues.” Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010. 134-51. Print.

Two Hands Can Save One: Student Success in Developmental Education

Posted on: April 16th, 2015 by learningws No Comments

I am a tutor at Minneapolis Community & Technical College, and as a part of our Level II CRLA Training we are asked to give a summary and response to a peer-reviewed journal article.  My article is called, “Campus-Based Practices for Promoting Student Success: Developmental Education,” by John G. Asmussen and Aaron S. Horn.

This article was about how developmental education programs and placement testing are assessed throughout long periods of research studies and trials. The purpose of this article was to inform educators and students on the problems on how developmental education programs are run as well as pointing out their inefficient methods. On the bright side, there were some solutions to the problems. These solutions showed promising facts and studies. One problem that caught my attention was under the “Accelerated Models” section; many researchers argued “that development course sequences require too many semesters to complete”(Asmussen and Horn 6). In contrast, “Some colleges adopted accelerated model programs which provides remedial instruction over a shorter period of time” (6). these models consisted of mainstreaming, course compression, and modularization. What didn’t surprise me was the fact that most students who were placed into three or more levels below college-level courses will not continue college past the first year. Wow!

Some strengths on the accelerated models are supplemental support services, course compression, and self-paced programs. Weaknesses showed negative peer effect, persistence, and lack of rigorous research.

In order to achieve effective results I believe that educators should see that even though these accelerated programs are designed for short term goals, I think that programs should expand for longer periods. Also, by implementing longer terms this allows further studies into retention, and annual reports on completion rates to forecast the trends of how effective this method can be for the process of learning.  Also, in the article there were a few other points of practice that can be implemented as well, such as: “ensur[ing] that program requirements reflect the appropriate levels of English language and math skills that students will need to succeed in academic disciplines, occupation contexts, and civic roles” (11).

Lastly, another recommended practice that can ensure student success in developmental education is to “encourage or mandate enrollment in student success courses for students who lack skills needed to adapt to academic, emotional, and social demands of college” (11).

This relates well with my work as a tutor because I work with a lot of developmental education students. Even though my work is designed for the short term, I am trained to assist those types of students with supplemental support services and modularization. Also, my work consists of one-on-one appointments which can focus on key components of the course and the content of the material. I feel as tutors, it is very important that we study these methods so we can apply them towards our work to help out students who have a hard time transitioning from high school to our school’s developmental courses.

–Maceo Jones, former developmental education student and current MCTC Writing Tutor


Works Cited

Asmussen, John G., and Aaron S. Horn. Campus-Based Practices for Promoting Student Success: Developmental Education. Issue brief. Midwestern Higher Education Compact, Sept. 2014. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.