Monday, August 1, 2016

What to do when Students aren't Prepared

No doubt about it, instructors want their students to come to class prepared.  They painstakingly create assignments for students to complete outside of class in order for a better in-class experience full of participation, discussions, and other activities.  But what do you do when your students aren’t prepared?

Obviously, if students are unprepared, it limits what they can do and how deeply they can engage with material during class.  This also affects the ways they connect with other students in the course, sometimes replacing potential connections with barriers as they aren’t able to discuss the material.  This ill-preparedness also challenges you as an instructor.  Do you give a quick lecture to recap the pre-class content so everyone is on the same page?  Do you give the unprepared students an alternative assignment?  Do you remove them from class?  Do you lower their grade?

Most importantly, what can you do to address the challenge of unprepared students so that they don’t continue on the path of not completing pre-class work?  Here are a few recommendations from Barbi Honeycutt, PhD, and writer for Faculty Focus.

Have a conversation.  Before reacting too quickly, take some time to consider what is going on when students come to class unprepared.  Is it the same two or three students each time?  Is it the same group of students?  Do you see a trend?  Are they only unprepared on Mondays, for example?  Are the students resistant?  Are they genuinely worried about completing the assignment?  Keep a record, and then have a conversation with the students.  Ask them to make arrangements to stay after the next class or meet you during your office hours.  Sometimes all it takes is a conversation with a student to find out what’s going on and why they are falling behind.  Then make a plan together to move forward.  Once they realize that you have them on your radar, you may not need to do anything else.

Review your pre-class assignment.  Since you and your students spend time working together in your course, it’s important to recognize that your role is to design the overall learning experience.  That makes their role to come to class ready to participate in the learning experience.  You plan, they engage. You teach by guiding from the sidelines, they learn by doing.  Make sure your assignment requirements are clear and easy to follow.  Consider the time that students will need to commit to the assignment in order to have it completed for class.  Remember that they have other class, extracurricular activities like sports and clubs, and part-time jobs aside from your own course.  Sometimes a simple adjustment to the pre-class assignments is all you need to do in order to improve student preparedness.

Proceed as planned.  Giving a quick lecture to recap the pre-class work means you are setting yourself up to give a quick lecture in every class from now on.  Instead, proceed with your activities as planned.  This will show students who are unprepared that class time will not be derailed by their lack of preparation.  Be sure to show students the value of pre-class work.  Demonstrate how they will be using it, not only during class time, but to prepare for assessments and life beyond the classroom.  Consider how you are recognizing students for their preparation. The unprepared students will see the value of pre-class work and hopefully this will motivate them to be more prepared in the future.  Utilizing small group activities is also a great way to motivate students, since most group members won’t tolerate someone being chronically unprepared.

Re-think participation grades.  If participation grades are already built in to your grading scale, then make “completing pre-class work” a significant part of the participation and final grade.  This provides you with the ability to flexibly incorporate their participation and preparedness into their final grade.  This also promotes student control over their choice in whether or not they come to class prepared.  Including this on your grading policy at the beginning of the semester demonstrates the significance of pre-class work to students, thus requiring students to acknowledge the consequences in terms of how their lack of preparation affects their grade.

Set up a corner.  As suggested by Honeycutt, consider designating a corner in the front of the classroom for students who did not complete their pre-class work to go and finish their assignment during class time.  This approach allows students to catch up, but if the pre-class assignment takes longer to complete than class time, they have to figure out a way to complete the work on their own time.  Plus, they miss out on whatever activities or demonstrations are used for interacting with the material on that day.

Adapted From: Faculty Focus
Written By: Jessica Moser 

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