Courage, Joy, and Other Intangible Learning Outcomes

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 41 seconds

I always enjoy reading through my students’ reflections towards the end of the semester. Seeing the course through their eyes opens my eyes to things they value I may not have realized were that important to them. For example, last semester, I realized that the “snack time” was a really central aspect of the course for many of them, and it had significant meaning to them beyond the nutritional value and the “break” from learning – they used the time to build stronger connections with their colleagues and build community.

This semester, I read reflections where students talked about how the open (oval-ish) seating arrangement with node chairs and no tables made it easier to have discussions: but that in the beginning it made them feel a little uncomfortable, possibly too “open”, then eventually made them realize they could see and hear each other better. I saw them talk about how some of the most talkative and eloquent students in my clear were actaully not so brave and confident at the beginning of the semester, but developed it over time in the class. As teachers, we are not always sure how much of students’ learning comes from their previous education and upbringing and other factors, and how much comes from our intentional designs and adaptations in our teaching. What they notice and choose to tell me helps a lot.

I also think we under-rate the importance of joy and enjoyment. I’ll admit that I don’t directly teach students how to write well, nor do I overly comment on problems in their writing unless it’s really really bad to the point of being incomprehensible. However, I do always hope that they’ll grow to enjoy writing in my class and learn to develop their writing voice, grow confident in expressing their opinions and making themselves vulnerable in ways that help them develop as human beings.

One student’s reflection is really sticking with me. They talked about how in the very beginning of the semester with the ALTCV, where they were invited to introduce themselves to the world on their own terms, they were still a bit conservative, as everyone in class were strangers… and yet towards the end of the semester, with the “wellness gift basket”, they felt more comfortable making themselve vulnerable and saying more about what truly contributes to their wellbeing.

I noticed students reflect on the little things: that I asked how they were feeling, that we chatted about FIFA world cup matches on Slack. You’re thinking, what’s that got to do with learning? And I’ll tell you that it’s got everything to do with learning. Wherever they end up beyond this class, they’ve seen how relationships and rapport with any team they work with can benefit from genuinely caring about how people feel, and that no matter how professional our context, we can benefit from sometimes talking about some common interest completely outside of our purpose for being together. Like football. And they’ve learned about the impact of snacking together.

So in a future syllabus, I’d love to put joy, courage, compassion, confidence, vulnerability into the course learning goals! I think I may already have compassion in there somewhere 🙂

Photo by Peter Conlan on Unsplash

6 thoughts on “Courage, Joy, and Other Intangible Learning Outcomes

  1. Lots to think about here! I want to reflect more on your ideas about intangible learning outcomes. My friend Carla, who teaches about 20 minutes west of me in Los Angeles, and I have been exploring ways to decolonize our history curricula. I think your ideas in this post are food for thought for our next meeting.

    I especially like your discussion of football. We took a break from working on our final writing task to watch the Spain / Morocco penalties in my US History class, and it was definitely a culture-building moment for us. Afterward, I gave a two-minute mini-lecture on the political context of Spain / Morocco, which has special resonance in my context because of the anology to the US / Mexico relationship. But even if there hadn’t been an explicit connection to course content, it was worth sharing that moment of fun, excitement, and surprise together. Kids who weren’t interested in football just continued working on their writing, and everyone finished the task in the end.

    I’m curious: what were your reactions and the reactions in your class to the Atlas Lions reaching the semifinals? Among my friends who follow football, there was great joy and celebration at seeing Morocco defeat both powers of the Iberian Peninsula and make history for Africa as well as the Arab and Muslim worlds. And I’m sure that Egypt would find joy in that development, too, but I’m not sure if there would be national rivalry at play as well.

    What I mean is: when Costa Rica reached the final eight in 2014, US football fans were happy to see another side from the Americas succeed, but that happiness was mixed with a bit of “that shoulda been us,” if we’re being honest. Not to say that we were petty or that Egyptian football fans would be petty either, but the feelings were definitely mixed. I can also imagine how frustrated Egyptian supporters must have felt earlier this year after the two setbacks to Senegal in AFCON and World Cup qualifying, and with a generational star like Salah in the squad.

    Sorry to have turned this temporarily into a football blog 🙂

    1. Haha yeah, your insight here on joy and envy are accurate. Most Egyptians I encountered were elated and rooting for Morocco, as Arab, Muslim, African, and feeling proud. But people told me they knew of others who were more envious and the rivalry did come up. Honestly, Egypt performed *so badly* at the last world cup that I was just so glad they didn’t get in this year because I didn’t want them to embarrass us 🙈. But yeah, the rivalry thing is real. Aside from following the matches, we also watched Trevor Noah’s scene from 4 years ago when he said “Africa won the world cup” and the French ambassador sent him a letter rebuking him? That clip was really relevant to our class, and the element of how a white French person calling dark skinned players Africans is an offense, but Trevor a Black South African calling them Africans is not an offense. The discussion in class that day was phenomenal, especially since we had also earlier discussed how much they as Egyptians identify as Africans altogether.

  2. Just in case you are not familiar with this resource, I’ve had some modest successes getting faculty and student affairs staff to re-imagine co-curricular (“intangible” learning outcomes with Dr. Marcela LaFever’s spiritual domain learning outcome verbs.…

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