They are afraid to make mistakes and do not know how to reason: Russian students through the eyes of a professor from the USA
The course “Writing, Thinking, Analysis, Interpretation” was conducted at the University of Tyumen. Shortly thereafter, the Harvard professor shared his impressions of Russian students. Lyudmila Prima talks about this on her page in Facebook.
The most important points.
1. The habit of looking for something ready
Students are given the task to read the text. Then, based on this text, the teacher asks questions to initiate a discussion. The questions are formulated in such a way that they cannot be answered simply by repeating some fragment of the text - an argument should be formulated that refers to problems of a more general nature.
It was very difficult for the Russians to cope with this. They are accustomed to the fact that the answer is contained in the text itself, so they looked for it there. Not finding such an answer, they simply kept silent.
2. Inability to reason
As it turned out, students generally misunderstand what an argument is and what parts it consists of. At first, the teachers believed that this was a language problem (the course was conducted in English), but in reality it turned out that Russian students misunderstand the term itself. They believed that "argument" = "opinion", that is, their own value judgment. In fact, the argument is a complex, ordered in a certain way. line of reasoning, which may or may not express judgment.
As a result, students, when assigned to research the material, simply shared subjective impressions about what they read, about their own feelings and thoughts, while they are expected to present their conclusions and thoughts on the basis of a chain of reasoning. When asked to discuss the arguments of others, they did the same: expressed their personal impressions. Thus, there was no discussion of the essence of what was read.
When they wrote a review, they got either a presentation or creative self-expression in the spirit of the stream of consciousness, while completely ignoring the formal rules.
3. Fear of being wrong
Russian students raise their hand only when they are confident that their answer will meet the professor's expectations. Moreover, the whole process is similar to a social game: the student raises his hand and gives an answer. Others look closely at the teacher and try to understand whether he approves of this answer or not, and, depending on the result, correct their behavior.
When participating in this game, students do not reflect on the answers and (more on this below) do not prepare comments on the answer of a classmate. They need to “read” the teacher's reaction in order to come up with an answer that they think will suit them. If the reaction is not read or the established pattern is destroyed, students become anxious, they do not understand the rules of the new "game".
The fear of being wrong also affects the other side of learning. In other countries, a student, if he does not understand something in a topic, raises his hand and asks questions until he understands. Whereas Russian students believe that asking questions if you do not understand the topic is a sign of weakness and defeat.
Students believe that any criticism of their ideas means that their work was assessed as unsuccessful and that the teacher does not have the best opinion about their academic success.
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4. Finding the right answer
Nobody taught Russians to ask questions that can develop a discussion and point out contradictions and unclear points of the topic. Interestingly, they themselves do not seem to think that such a discussion would be helpful. They implicitly believe that there is only one correct answer to any question, and their task is to find it.
5. Criticism = death
For Russian students, changing their point of view means admitting defeat in a bloody battle. Therefore, they will defend their original position to the end, defending their innocence by any possible means.
It is extremely difficult for them to reconsider their own premises. They build their reasoning on often shaky, pre-biased judgments - only because these judgments are familiar to them, or these judgments were heard by them in the first place and somehow liked them.
They tend to identify their own personality with the idea that they have accepted. Accordingly, when this idea is criticized, students perceive it as criticism of themselves - and try to defend themselves in any way.
That is why it is difficult for students to conduct thought theoretical experiments - they strive to merge with this or that idea and defend it as soon as possible. The idea that it is possible to view several ideas from different angles in a detached manner does not resonate with them.
6. Comments are bad
One day, a professor asked students to write a review of the material they had read as a homework assignment. When he began to analyze their reviews, he encountered an interesting observation.
Russian students believe that a job well done is one that is accepted without blots or corrections with the highest grade. And if there are many comments, questions and clarifications to the work, this is definitely a bad job (although these comments and questions do not necessarily indicate the quality of the review).
Russians perceive any comment as an attempt at censoring, or even even as a reprimand. The fact that it turns out that they need to read the teacher's comments and questions and correct the work in accordance with them was received with great surprise. In their opinion, all they need to do is write the work and submit it, and everything that happens to it further is not part of the educational process.
7. Intelligent ping pong
The idea of feedback in the format of a round table discussion is not close to Russian students. They are ready to express their opinion, but it is assumed that they will express it specifically to the teacher, and he, accordingly, returns the "ball" to the student. This is not a round table, but ping pong. At the same time, the teacher's comments by default have more weight than those of fellow students.
This thinking, after a few sessions, led to a problematic pattern of behavior: a few students are constantly involved in the work, while the rest become passive listeners. At the same time, the students themselves consider this situation normal.
8. Information is undeniable
Students cannot distinguish the judgment of the author of the text from the judgment he quotes. In their opinion, if the author quotes some material, it means that he agrees with it. This is not always the case, because there is a process of creating material: discovery, verification, development of an idea, conclusion, discussion - and in each part the author's thought can undergo changes. When explained to the students, it blew their brains. They are accustomed to one, "textbook" presentation of the material - when there is one single unit of information, it is undeniable and should be memorized.
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9. Search for hidden messages
Russian students, analyzing the texts, constantly tried to discover hidden symbols and meanings. It is obvious to them that each author seeks to hide one more message within an ordinary message, accessible only to a select few.
10. Criticize everything or nothing
One of the objectives of the course was to develop critical thinking. However, most of the students perceived critical thinking as the right to challenge literally everything they encounter in the classroom. It seemed to the students that the critical approach should take all or nothing: they either completely trusted a particular author, or rejected in general everything that he tells the reader.
They are not at all familiar with the concept of constructive criticism. This becomes apparent when students are asked to rate each other's work. Most of them were unable to formulate open comments, that is, to offer comments indicating existing errors or potential improvements. In general, students prefer not to hear anything about their work, oral and written, either from the teacher or from fellow students.
11. No theme
The fundamental problem that all students faced was developing their own topic. They were definitely not used to this. The instructors were open to a wide variety of suggestions, but warned students that ideas had to be linked to at least two texts discussed during the course. Thus, it was assumed that the topic will be their own reasoning related to the texts read. This turned out to be one of the most difficult challenges.
12. Inability to work with drafts
Students are also not used to working on their essays moving from draft to draft. And no matter how much the teacher suggested to revise the first drafts, they still could not significantly rebuild them. Once they reach the specified number of words or pages, they think the job is done. Almost all students strive to write an essay in one go.
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