Over the past number of years, the Mathematics Learning Centre has been involved in the evolution of a mathematics skills upgrading program that is fundamentally relational. The full-time mathematics learning instructors' primary concern is for the overall well-being of the learner, but not at the expense of academic integrity. This has been a great challenge, because it has required the development of new techniques in the teaching/learning of mathematics. Students at our Centre, who have been granted entry into our post-secondary institution, have been exposed to years of mathematics education which cannot possibly have been all bad. And yet, they have under-achieved in mathematics. These students are clearly capable learners, for they have achieved high standards in other disciplines and/or other activities. So it is insufficient for us to merely offer them more standard instruction in the core areas of mathematics. We must delve deeper into the root causes of what has been a largely vacuous learning experience for them.
This then is what has been at the core of the evolution of our program. And because it is relational, and each year’s student body brings with it a slightly different set of experiences, we re-evaluate and adjust our program, if necessary, at the end of every academic semester. We believe this willingness to constantly be open to change, based on our experiences with our students, is the reason for our program’s success.
Recently, we have integrated this relational model for instruction, into our orientation program for new instructional assistants (full-time and part-time) at the Centre. Initially, we believed it was the best way to communicate ‘our ways’ to the new instructional assistants, but we have now identified an important spill-over benefit. The new part-time instructional assistants are teachers from all levels of the K-12 educational stream. Some have years of experience there, some are recent graduates from the Faculty of Education, and some are currently students in the Faculty of Education. The establishment of a comfortable, non-threatening dialogue amongst ALL instructional assistants at the centre, in place of formal ‘training’, has provided a mechanism for the permanent staff of the MLC to learn from the experiences of these other teachers. This, in turn, has allowed us to revise our own program accordingly, to make it even better suited to our incoming student body. Consequently, the continuing evolution of our program is now being guided not only by new groups of students from the K-12 system, but also by its teachers. We provide an even better experience for our students, and the teachers transfer into their own classrooms in the schools, whatever they deem workable to ease the transition for future school graduates.
We also have an undergraduate teaching assistant in each class. We have incorporated these individuals in our relational model of instructional ‘enhancement’. In this manner, we can capture the benefits that a peer relationship brings to a learning experience. These individuals find it a challenge to participate in our program at this level, but we have found them to be very cooperative and often, quite dedicated to the task. We believe that incorporating them in the whole process enriches their involvement with us at the Centre and also enhances the relationship they will have with students in our program.
This relational model appears to suit all of us. Our students are responsive to our instruction, and all the instructional assistants at the Centre find the working environment both stimulating and supportive. We feed off each other’s energy and enthusiasm, and students sense that.