Many factors in a student’s life can lead to a decrease in attainment and failure. These can be factors that exist both inside and outside the classroom.
When looking at factors that affect a student’s engagement, the university life and domestic life of a student can converge and be messy at times for the individual. Student life is not a compartmentalised concept, therefore, the solutions to tackle such problems should also not be compartmentalised.
There are many problems that a student could be facing during their time at university. These could all affect the quality of the work they produce, their attainment, and retention. Possible interruptions could be: financial, care-giving, mental or physical health, disillusionment and a sense of belonging.
Financial problems could include coming from a low socio-economic background, learning to budget or paying new bills. The individual may also be working to support themselves and/or their families with their income. This affects their engagement as the student will most likely prioritise going to work over going to classes. The university could offer to change their work to more online-based or part-time, therefore, the student can work whilst care-giving or having a part-time job.
Many students undertake the responsibility of care-giving, whether it be elderly/childcare/disability. This balancing of caring responsibilities can be extremely difficult and tiresome for students, who may become demotivated and not have the time to achieve on their course.
Disillusionment and Sense of Belonging
These circumstances, along with many other factors, often lead to feelings of being left behind or the student not understanding the course and thinking the course is not for them. The University of Plymouth found that students often feel guilty and find it harder to keep up due to having to deal with many more unexpected circumstances.
Mental Health or Physical Health
Students are increasingly facing a mental health crisis, with The Guardian stating that British universities are experiencing a surge in student anxiety, mental breakdowns, and depression.
Whilst there are many problems to note, which might be far from the more traditional view of what we may consider being a student’s lifestyle. The reality is that whilst these circumstances are not ideal, they are the only experience some students will ever have of learning in higher education. If this is the case, there will be a natural tension between what we expect and what a student expects. A reframing of perspective is needed.
We often view everything outside of student’s academic pursuits as negative as potentially getting in the way, however, student life is not a conceptualised subject, the life of a student merges and splits by the hour.
T J Yosso (2005) speaks of students bringing their lives into the classroom as a form of social capital, stating there six main areas that a student can do this.
The six forms of cultural capital are: aspirational, linguistic, familial, social, navigational, and resistance:
This is a “nevertheless they persisted” attitude which a student can take on. This capital is described as resilience and develops as a result of encountered countless barriers, many of these are structural and institutional. These students maintain dreams and have a tireless commitment to pursue those dreams. This attitude may often encompass not the most technically advanced student, however, the student wants to be trained and want the experience as it will get them closer to achieving their dreams. We must capture student’s aspirations, hopes, and dreams of the interests they have or profession they want to pursue by allowing them to experiment and develop each interest that they have. Universities must support students in this process of growth.
Linguistic capital is defined as ‘the intellectual and social skills attained through communication experiences in more than one language and/or style’. This also includes communication across mediums, for example, visual arts, performance arts, music, and poetry. A range of communication styles are encouraged and recognised as part of the learning process, such as verbal, non-verbal, verbal-oral-face-to-face, verbal-oral-distance, verbal-written, formal and informal.
Familial capital reflects a commitment to community-level wellbeing and an understanding of kinship. This is demonstrated in a students work through their ability to work collaboratively. Students express this through acknowledgement and acceptance that all their studies are interconnected and at given times, the resources and energy are to be diverted to a particular study to meet goals. The values learned from a students home communities are intrinsically linked to the learning process and professional practice.
This attitude explicates the engagement and membership in social networks of students. Social capital promotes students to pull from their aspirational capital, connecting with scholars, researchers and community activists and engaging with these individuals through social media. This has also proven to be the best for recruitment and accepting students as part of a team. We can increase the networks of students whilst they are with us, both with other students and with the external community through promoting students to increase their social capital. This can be done by encouraging students to attend public talks, engage on social media and attend university events.
Navigational capital reflects the ability of historically underrepresented students (HURMS) to maneuver between institutions that were not made for or envisioned the presence of them. Students with this attitude have the ability to achieve highly despite the ongoing presence of discrimination and hostility directed toward their minority status. By taking this painful experience and reclaiming it to become fuel for their achievement reflects navigational capital and aspirational capital.
Students do not see or seek out the experience to simply check off a box. We are allowing students to think about marginalised communities and social justice within their degree programmes, professions and learning experiences through a diverse student body and pushing for a more inclusive curriculum.
The main way student capital can be brought to the fore of the learning experience is through inclusive pedagogy. When designing, refining or sidelining aspects of the curriculum we should consider how are we allowing for our student’s capital to be included in their learning experience. Inclusive pedagogy is a distinctive approach to classroom teaching and offers an alternative approach to reduce educational inequality by enhancing learning opportunities for students.
Hart et al (2007) found that students who have been identified as having special educational needs are especially vulnerable to exclusion from the culture, curriculum and community of mainstream educational facilities due to the determinist beliefs that underpin them. The conceptualisation of inclusive pedagogy within the classroom provides a shift in the learning approach that works for most learners to work for all learners. By creating an inclusive curriculum we can encourage students to bring their full identities to the learning experience. That is a curriculum that seeks to ensure everyone regardless of background or circumstance can feel included in what is happening in the classroom.
Florian and Linklater (2010) studied the impact of inclusive pedagogy among students. Students were prompted to make observations about the use of ability labelling in schools and to reflect on this in tutorials. They were then encouraged to use the core idea of transformability and the practical pedagogical principles of co-agency, everybody, and trust as tools to guide and inform their own inclusive pedagogical decision-making. They found this to be beneficial in terms of student success as transformability expressed through co-agency, everybody and trust were a tangible way for students-teachers to recognise their capacity and enhance their learning.
- Structuring classroom conversations to further encourage respect and equitable participation.
- Using small groups to encourage non-competitive forms of learning and encourage cross-cultural communication.
- Model inclusive language and actions.
- Anticipate sensitive issues and acknowledge racial, class or cultural differences in the classroom when appropriate.
- Provide alternative means for participation.
- Respectfully communicate and personally connect with students.
Next time you take some time to reflect on updating your curriculum, have a think about the six capitals they have to overcome and these challenges students face in their learning and what can better be done within the classroom to include these students.