Last month, my students took a mock exam as a means of familiarizing themselves with the exam format in my class. I graded them as I would any exam, and when I returned the exams to them, I offered to spend some time in one-on-one consultation. One thing you should know: we have 3 hours together a week, no "office hours," and no contact other than those 3 hours. For the sake of time, I had students work on a gallery walk activity about sensation/perception, and one of the stations was an office hour with me where I returned their exams. This meant that two or three students would be at the office hour "station" at a given time. I had set up the station so that one person could meet with me, while the others sat out of earshot. I was surprised when none of the students opted for the semi-private conversation. Each group sat together with me, showed their grades and exams to one another, and were not hesitant to ask questions to me about their specific exam or to follow-up on someone else's question.
That incident first drew my attention to a dynamic that I now see in other aspects of my class. For whatever reason, in my prison classroom, the idea that one's achievements and failures are private is not there. In the other classes that I've taught, instructors are asked to keep student grades/feedback private from other students. I think that's a good practice, but I think the assumption of that policy is that grades/feedback are the private property of the student, and it is the student who can then choose to divulge that "personal information." I've treated my prison classroom the same way, but the key difference that I have observed is that, unlike like my "traditional" students, the students at the prison almost always choose to divulge.
I'm not fully familiar with the specific living arrangements of my students, but I understand that there is very little privacy or alone time in their day-to-day lives. I wonder if this kind of forced communal environment where any attempt at privacy is discouraged (by corrections officers or other inmates) and, in practice, impossible has generalized to their school life -- "everyone knows everyone else's business any way."
I don't think it's necessary to label this "good" or "bad," and I certainly don't want to imply that these ideas are beneficial in any and all circumstances ... I will say, however, that in the psychology classroom, the "nothing-is-private" attitude that these students have brought has meant that they have been able to extend their own experiences. I see my students openly sharing their responses to questions, reflecting on why they got something wrong, showing their exams to one another and comparing answers, riffing off of one another's comments, and it's been a joy to facilitate this collaborative learning. It's also been a good reminder to think about how to create this kind of learning with students for whom nothing-is-private isn't the assumption.
Your thoughts/advice invited!