SAGE Musings: Microvalidation

Carol Ormand, SERC, Carleton College
published Oct 17, 2016

One of the most interesting talks I heard this year was by Becky Packard, of Mt. Holyoke College, at the Earth Educators' Rendezvous. If you weren't there, you can see her slides and reference list: http://serc.carleton.edu/earth_rendezvous/2016/program/plenary_talks/plenary_wednesday.html.

What was so powerful about her talk, for me, was her emphasis on "microvalidations," the counterpart to microaggressions. Research has shown that a student's sense of belonging is a strong predictor of persistence in STEM. When a student feels that he or she belongs in geoscience, he or she is more likely to work to overcome whatever obstacles develop. Becky's key point is simply that each of us has the power to help students feel a sense of belonging by looking for opportunities, in our day-to-day interactions with students, to offer them microvalidations. For example, when you see one of your students working particularly hard on a task or assignment for your course, you might say, "I noticed that you really stuck with it today. It's that kind of persistence that will pay off for you in the field, Mysi." (Packard, 2016). Noticing the student's persistence is important, but tying it to predicted success in geoscience is even more so.

This kind of microvalidation is valuable for any student, but can be particularly powerful for those students who don't see themselves as potential scientists. It can help them to develop their sense of science identity, to see the possibility of becoming a scientist. And it takes no extra time and almost no extra effort.

I suspect many of you are already using microvalidations (with or without knowing the word). Have any of you had a student come back to tell you that some little thing you said made a difference to them? Or do you remember something a teacher said to you, that encouraged you to pursue your interest in geoscience?

Watch for opportunities to use microvalidation this week, and then tell us about it. I'd love to know how you're planting the seeds of possibility in your students.



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