Yesterday when I was at LaGuardia Community College I was asked about methods for boosting retention. Students from stressed environments, who work full time, sometimes at one or two jobs, who have family and other obligations, have many things competing for their time and attention and money. Retention rates in such circumstances are low, graduation rates are too. Boosting both is a challenge. So I reported on the single best method I've ever learned. I learned it many years ago, working in an after school program in a distressed community, from one of the veteran teachers. I've done this many times in my classes too. It works. Brilliantly. I realized I have never written about it on hastac.org. So here we go.
This one does not require index cards. It is best done with post it notes.
Pass out six to each student, three in one color, three in another color.
First have students write on each post it of one color (let's say blue) one skill they have that is relevant to the course and that they can teach someone else. Three things total, in other words. It might be HTML, English grammar, the ability to understand Ranciere, time management skills, statistics, how to organize a work space, etc.
Then, on the post it of the other color (let's say green) they write one thing they need to learn in order to thrive in the course. It might be HTML, English grammar, the ability to understand Ranciere, time management skills, statistics, how to organize a work space, etc.
They sign all six post its.
I have students post their "need to knows" on a big empty wall. And ask them to walk around silently around and read one another's need to knows. Then they begin to "match" what they have on the "what I can teach" and post those to the "what I need to know" post its.
Inevitably, there are some left overs and so I give students the opportunity to make "edits." They always do.
Everyone ends up with a partner who promises to teach them three things they need to know to thrive in the course.
Everyone has a responsibility for teaching someone else something vital, that they want. Everyone has a responsibility to learn something that is vital from someone else.
They orchestrate the timing.
I check in every class and see how it is going. I treat this as a serious part of the syllabus of our collaborative peer learning.
It is the best single method I have ever learned for increasing retention and participation, too. Try it. Magic happens.