Introduction:  As student populations in college become increasingly diverse, educators need to ensure that all students feel a sense of belonging.  The Noel-Levitz Survey of Student Engagement has shown that students are more successful in their classes if they feel connected to part of a larger community, which I believe is even more important on commuter campuses. Over the past ten years, the student body on my campus has become more heterogeneous; with an influx of recent immigrants, more first-generation students and students of color, there is a greater need to help all of our students connect with each other, so that we create a community of learners who are ready to value what others bring to class discussions and group projects.

This activity is based on the work of Nancy K. Schlossberg.  Her work on Mattering—the need to believe that you belong and that you matter to another—is the basis for this exercise. I have used this activity in my reading and student success classes, but it could also be used in other content areas, since this exercise helps to create classrooms based on respect for our differences as well as our similarities.  I use this activity within the first six weeks of class to build a community of learners grounded in a mutual level of respect.  When students feel that they matter to their classmates, they are more likely to participate with each other and stay in the course.  The entire activity can be accomplished within a fifty minute class period, and is still effective if you do only the “mattering” portion of the exercise.

Purpose:

  • Help students understand their role in creating a community of learners who value and support each other
  • Help students identify actions they will do to show their classmates that they matter

Supplies:

  • Handout (2-sided):  “Mattering and Marginalizing,” one for each student [Appended in Support Materials below]  
  • Reference Materials for Educators [Appended in Support Materials below]  
  • 5×7 index cards, one for each student
  • Blackboard, whiteboard, document camera or large white poster paper/marker

Directions:

1.  Distribute the “Mattering and Marginalizing” handout and inform students that they should only look at the side that says MATTERING. Say to the students; “Today you are going to do an exercise called Mattering and Marginalizing.  I am not going to say much by way of introduction.  Together we will read the directions and then you will have time to answer the prompts.  After each section you will be sharing your answers.”

2.  Have a volunteer read aloud the text following the title MATTERING, including the Cues, Feelings and Actions statements.  You may need to provide an illustration for each.  For example, Cues – the person looked me in the eye; Feelings – that made me feel happy; Actions – I wanted to work harder for that person. (Additional examples can be found on the Reference Materials for Educators appended in Support Materials below.)

3.  Then state, “Please think of a time you felt valued by someone. Once you have thought of the experience please write down the cue(s), feeling(s) and action(s), related to the experience you are thinking of. You have five minutes. Please begin.” Alert students when they have about 30 seconds remaining. 

4.  Using the blackboard, whiteboard, document camera or poster paper, write the word Mattering and then Cues, Feelings and Actions.  Ask the students to call out the cues they wrote down.  Then repeat the process with Feelings and Actions.  (15 minutes)

5.   Next, have the students turn the paper over to the side that says MARGINALIZING.  Have a volunteer read the text, including the Cues, Feelings and Actions statements.  Tell the students, “Please think of a time you felt marginalized or not valued by someone. Once you have thought of the experience please write down the cue(s), feeling(s), and action(s) related to the experience you are thinking of.” Alert students when they have about 30 seconds remaining.  

6. Using the blackboard, whiteboard, document camera or poster paper, write the word Marginalizing and then the words, Cues, Feelings and Actions.  Ask the students to call out the cues they wrote down.  Then repeat the process with Feelings and Actions.  (15 minutes)

7.  Have the students form small groups. Say, “On the bottom of your handout you will find two questions.  In your group please share your thoughts on these two questions with each other.  Choose a recorder to write down your answers.” (5 minutes)

  • “What are some ways we (can) show our peers they matter or are valued?”
  • “What are ways we show our peers they are being marginalized or are not valued?”

8. Reconvene the large group and record the students’ answers on the board.  (5 minutes)

9. Pass out one 5×7” index card to each student. Say, “You will be answering two more questions. Once you are done writing, I will ask you to share one of your responses with the class. I will collect your index cards at the end of the activity.” (5 minutes)

Write/post the following questions:

  • What did you learn from this activity?
  • What one action will you commit to doing in this class/college to show your peers that they matter?

10.   Have students share their responses as well as one of your own to wrap up the exercise.  (5minutes)  Collect index cards.

EXPERIENCES

I have led this activity many times in faculty trainings and with my students.  I like this activity because it gets participants thinking about their own experiences and then about their interactions with their peers. During the five minute reflection time the students are typically quiet and busy writing.  Most are done by the time I give them a verbal signal to wrap up.  The students quickly start calling out cues, feelings and actions based on their experiences. Sometimes I help my students dig deeper into some of their cues. One student said the word “ignore,” and I prompted him to dig deeper by asking what “ignore” looks and feels like.  Even students who are quiet tend to participate in this activity.  I am also amazed that the pulse of the room changes when the students’ begin to talk about cues, feelings, and actions when they have been marginalized. The students are more serious and show their support of each other by nodding their heads and adding to what each other is saying.  I see students recognizing that they all want to feel valued and they all hate being marginalized no matter one’s gender, race, culture, etc….  When that occurs, there is often a realization that they are more similar than different and that the need to belong and feel valued is universal.

OUTCOMES

The first purpose for this activity is to help students understand their role in creating a community of learners who value and support each other.  Students discovered that they all had experiences of being valued and being marginalized, thus helping them see that even though they are very diverse they are also very similar and that we all wish to matter to someone. Since doing this activity I have seen an increase in conversations between my students before class and during group activities. Students regularly greet each other as well as check in with any student who comes in late or misses a class.  One major change I witnessed is the decrease in negative body language toward students who tend to irritate other students in class. For example, one student had a tendency to talk too much in class discussion, and I could tell through the other students’ body language that they were aggravated.  After this activity the students were more tolerant of this young man and I no longer saw eye rolling or other negative non-verbal behaviors. Students also have the chance to connect to each others’ experiences and understand that they all have experiences with being valued or marginalized.  As a result, they begin to see that they all are responsible for making sure they show their classmates that they matter.  During this activity I often hear one student say to another; “I know what you mean, that happened to me too.”  In one class, two very diverse women realized they both had been bullied while in high school and how marginalizing that experience was. In the next class, one of the women changed seats and they sat together for the remainder of the class. Students also self-report their understanding of their role in making their classmates feel valued.  For example, in their reflections, students wrote, “I learned that people’s actions can make or break another person’s character.” “I now know that the actions or words that make a person feel mattered are easy to perform and do not consume a lot of time.” “I learned from this activity that the simplest gesture can make a huge difference in another person’s life.”

The second purpose for this activity is to help students identify actions they will commit to doing to show their classmates that they matter, thus helping students feel they belong. Below are examples of student reflections stating what they learned from this activity and what they are committing to doing to show their peers that they are valued. I have quoted students exactly, including deviations from Standard English:

  • I learned that there are so many other ways to make someone matter then just says Hi.
  • That it does not take that much time to say hi or make someone happy, we humans just are afraid to get out of our comfort zone.
  • One action I will commit to do to show someone they matter is to acknowledge them with a smile and eye contact.
  • In school I will commit to waving or saying “hi” to someone I don’t know (echoed by 9 other students).
  • I will introduce myself to a new person.
  • I will give positive feedback.
  • I will not text while in a conversation.
  • Make small conversations with people.
  • I will be more positive, not let the door slam behind me when I go into places.
  • I will be more responsible and aware of peoples’ feelings.

Lessons Learned

By doing this activity with hundreds of students over the past four years I am reminded each time at how such a simple activity can help students understand that they are more similar in how they wish to be treated than they are different and that the desire to belong and matter is universal.  As educators we know we should encourage student connections in our classrooms, but we often feel we cannot give up ‘content time’.  This activity reminds me of ‘my’ role in helping students feel a sense of belonging even if it means giving up content time to build a community of learners who commit to valuing each other.

Source

Schlossberg, N.K.  (1989). Marginality and mattering: Key issues in building community. In  Roberts, D.C. (Ed.), Designing campus activities to foster a sense of community. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Read at http://www.christenacleveland.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Marginality-and-Mattering-Key-Issues-in-Building-Community.pdf

SUPPORT MATERIALS

Handout: Side 1

MATTERING

Please think of a time when you felt that you really mattered; when who you were or what you did was valued by others.  You do not need to disclose the circumstances of the particular event.  Please write down the following:

Cues:             What in the interaction let you know you were being valued?

Feelings:        How did you feel as a result of this interaction?

Actions:         What were your behaviors or actions that occurred as a result of this interaction?

CUES                                                   FEELINGS                                            ACTIONS

 

Handout: Side 2

MARGINALIZING        

Please think of a time when you felt as if you did not really matter; when who you were or what you did was not valued.  Sometimes marginalization in an interaction stems from identity characteristics, such as race, gender, perceived sexual orientation, ability status, age, etc.  Sometimes marginalization is influenced by our position within a group.  Sometimes it is the result of an interpersonal dynamic in the absence of any other factor.  You do not need to disclose the circumstances of the particular event.  Please write down the following:

Cues:              What in the interaction let you know you were not being valued?

Feelings:        How did you feel as a result of this interaction?

Actions:         What were your behaviors or actions that occurred as a result of this interaction?

CUES                                                   FEELINGS                                            ACTIONS

On your index card answer the following questions:

  1. What are some ways we (can) show our peers they matter (valued)?

  2. What are ways we show our peers they are marginalized (not valued)?

Reference material for instructors:

Examples for Mattering:

Cues

Feelings

Actions

Recognition

Validated

 Take on more, cont. the work

Verbal/written validation

Valued

Respond well

Get “thank you’s”

Humbled

Give feedback

Given Independence

Proud

Stay emotionally involved

Given voice

Warm and fuzzy

Try harder

Specific/positive feedback

Good

Take more risks

 

Competent

Engage more in relationships

 

 

Stay committed to organization

Examples for Marginalizing

   Cues

   Feelings

   Actions

Excluded

Out of place

Avoid social settings

Disconnected

Hurt

Disconnect from work

Little/No financial reward

Angry

“To hell with ‘em”

Silenced

Humiliated

Do job and “that’s it”

Rubber stamp

Resentful

Bend rules (negatively)

L

Isolated

Shut-down

Ignored

Circumvent channels of communication

Invisibility

Annoyed

Quit

Assumptions

 

 

–LuAnn Wood, Faculty, Reading and Student Success, Century College, MN

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