As any veteran educator can attest, no two students are the same. There’s no guarantee that an approach which works for one student will work for another. That’s part of what makes being an educator so difficult. With so many students depending on teachers to help them learn, how does a teacher identify or develop a method that helps all students?
While most educators would be quick to point out that there is no universally successful method to reaching students, there are some approaches that have proven effective when it comes to connecting with students who are struggling in the classroom. The Association for Psychological Science offers the following tips for educators looking to get through to students who might be struggling.
*Solicit information from students at the onset of the semester. This is essentially a preemptive measure that could help identify reasons for struggling down the road. This inventory should include questions about students’ time commitments, study habits, reasons for taking the course, whether or not they have a job, their major, and other questions that offer some background and potential clues that could be helpful if a student struggles with coursework down the road. This can be accomplished by asking students to fill out a simple questionnaire on the first day of class. Should a student begin to struggle, a teacher can then consult the students’ questionnaire to see if the cause of the struggles might be something related to poor study habits or working too much at a part-time job or having too many extracurriculars.
*Focus on development skills, not grades. In today’s competitive academic environment, the pressure to get good grades can be overwhelming. Sometimes an outcome-focused teaching strategy that emphasizes earning grades can alienate students who might start off struggling. A shift in teaching strategy to one more about developing skills, such as information processing and building better memory skills, might be necessary before a student can begin focusing on grades. Once a student masters or gains a better grasp of these skills, grades will begin to improve.
*Be accessible. Keeping accessible office hours outside of the classroom is one way to let students know you are there for them. However, thanks to technology, teachers can now be more accessible than ever before. With e-mail it’s easy for students to reach a teacher at all times of the day, and teachers should encourage struggling students to e-mail them with any problems. In addition, offer discussion forums through a school or university Web site that enable students to connect with classmates. Once their academic careers are over, students will need to work with others to solve problems, so why not institute this practice in the world of academia?
*Be sensitive. Few people are willing to admit they’re struggling. Therefore, getting struggling students to admit this often requires some clever thinking. For example, instead of asking “Is anyone struggling with this?” ask “Would anyone like me to repeat that information?” It might seem like a subtle difference, but the latter is more likely to draw a response than the former. In addition, privately ask struggling students, via e-mail or by pulling them aside after class, to meet with you. Doing so in front of the class could be humiliating, which might tune the student out entirely.
For more tips and information on helping struggling students reach their full potential, visit the Association for Psychological Science Web site at www.psychologicalscience.org.