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What Struggling Students Want Their Teachers to Know
From Kim Marshall
In this Chronicle of Higher Education article, Nicole Matos (College of DuPage) says that each semester, she asks the students in her community college remedial writing classes what they really wish their instructors understood about them. Here’s a compilation of what her students have said:
- Feel our pain. “My students wanted us to understand that most of them had entered the developmental classroom disappointed, if not outright depressed,” says Matos. They flinched when placement test results said they weren’t good enough for “regular” coursework. They were envious of academically successful classmates and high-school buddies off at fancy colleges. “If we don’t seem motivated,” said one student, “it might be because you don’t seem to care how we actually feel.”
- Help us out of the mess we’re in. Empty cheerleading isn’t helpful. What these students want, says Matos, is “a pathway, a plan, a step-by-step route to college-level work” with clear, realistic benchmarks along the way.
- Don’t hate us when we fail. “My students readily admitted that they often screwed up or failed to meet expectations,” says Matos. “They turned work in late, unfinished, or not at all. They racked up too many absences. They lost focus and sometimes took the easy way out. When that happened, they wanted their professors to maintain equanimity and balance – and not read those errors as defections, treason, or revenge.” Many students had fragmented lives working several jobs, raising children, struggling to put food on the table. The most helpful response to disappointing performance was, “I’m not mad at you, but…”
- Give us multiple, varied chances to succeed. “Don’t only lecture,” begged one student. Traditional tests were “almost universally despised,” says Matos. Students wanted formative assessments, feedback and coaching on weaknesses, and celebration of successes. “If I don’t succeed at first, why can’t I try again, without having to start a whole new class?” asked one student. Specifically, students said they wanted:
- Late work accepted for reduced credit;
- Retest opportunities and the chance to revise work;
- Optional assignments for additional credit;
- Something like a standards-based, contract-grading model with clear expectations and multiple routes to show proficiency;
- A “completion camp” space where students can work on the skills or content they’ve missed.
“What My Struggling Students Wanted Me to Understand” by Nicole Matos in The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 27, 2017 (Vol. LXIV, #9, p. B38),
http://www.chronicle.com/article/Commentary-What-My-Struggling/241486; Matos can be reached at email@example.com.