Alice is teaching a class and one student is clearly not understanding the material very well. Should she approach the student (e.g. ask to meet after class, write an email, or during class itself if it's not a lecture) and offer to help?

The argument for "yes" is that although the student might not ask for help, he or she wants to pass the course, so the teacher's intervention is appropriate. Some students also come from conservative cultures, are afraid to be seen as a fool, or are simply shy.

The argument for "no" is that it's possible the student wants to puzzle it out himself/herself. Instead, Alice should just make herself available for consultation. If the student does not make use of all the resources at his or her disposal, it's not her fault.

Is there any evidence that one style of teaching or the other is preferable?

  • As written, this question has potential to be quite interesting, but isn't clear to me. I need some examples. What form of help are you imagining? Waiting for a student to come to office hours vs. tracking him or her down in the library or computer lab, or what? Apr 20, 2018 at 3:37
  • @aparente001 waiting for the student to come to office hours is taking the "no" approach. "Yes" might be something like, talking to the student after class, during tutorials or by email - where the teacher makes the first move.
    – Allure
    Apr 20, 2018 at 3:43
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    So the first move basically amounts to an offer to help? Nothing that anyone could remotely interpret as pushy, pestering, or god forbid, stalking? // Is a tutorial a once a week class where students ask questions about the homework, and work some practice problems at the blackboard? Apr 20, 2018 at 3:48
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    I would recommend taking out the political piece, as it doesn’t seem to be useful to the question.
    – Dawn
    Apr 20, 2018 at 9:10
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    I think the question as it stands now is on topic and should remain open. The answer might appear obvious to some, but clearly it is not obvious to everyone. Apr 20, 2018 at 17:50

2 Answers 2


Part of teaching is figuring out if what you want to teach is actually understood. This is something you should be doing continuously. As part of that you automatically find the students that struggle more than others, and that typically offers natural moments in which you can discuss what that student can do to improve things. So I don't see how someone can teach effectively without answering "yes" to your question.

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    I agree. As a teaching assistant (grader), if I saw in the homeworks that a student was floundering, I would write a note, e.g. "Please come and see me in office hours." In office hours, I would get to know the student as a whole person a little bit and try to get an idea what the source of the difficulty was, so as to be able to advise the student, e.g. perhaps s/he had skipped over a prereq; perhaps there was a language barrier; perhaps the student was taking too heavy a course load; perhaps the student had misunderstood their degree requirements, etc. Apr 20, 2018 at 17:45
  • Also, as a student, I remember taking Data Structures with Pascal having taken my Pascal course at a community college that hadn't gone very in depth. Some of the questions I asked in class resulted in an aha moment for the instructor who suddenly realized that there were some basic facts about Pascal that, if I learned them, would make things fall into place for me. Once he realize this, he was then able to steer me in the right direction. Apr 20, 2018 at 17:48

When I am teaching excel, I often find when walking around that I can see an error in the student's spreadsheet and I just say quietly as I walk by "You should check cell A3".

What happens next is either they sort it themselves or they then ask for help...

As I am available in that workshop, some students will ask before I walk by, others as above and some keep quiet either because they get it or just don't want to ask...

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