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As a lecturer, at the start of each semester in all of my courses, I have students complete a first-day diagnostic quiz on topics from the prerequisite course. There are usually a few significant under-performers (say, 40-50% success where most students are in the 70-100% range).

I then follow up with those under-performers by looking at their prior total course history. I always find a few cases that look like seriously troubled fits for their academic major. For example: Failing core courses one or more times and then passing with a "D" before repeating at the next level (e.g.: Introductory Programming for a C.S. major, Precalculus or Calculus I for a math major, etc.). Failing 5, 10, or 15 core courses over several years in the major (so far).

I feel like I want to do something to counsel these students, reflect on their choice of major, find the most profitable use of their time and resources, and/or find how to support or remove roadblocks if appropriate. But as the instructor, I'm not sure how best to do that.

One option would be to have a meeting in the first week and ask, "What difficulties can we improve on?", etc., so as to get off on the right foot and make the most of the time in the current term. Another option might be to say nothing until they likely fail my first exam and then use that as a wake-up call in the course.

How should I, as an instructor, intervene or counsel students who are struggling greatly with their major over a number of years?

(This is at a large U.S. community college.)

  • Do you have an office of student success? Or similar? My school has a lot of struggling students and we adopted this process a few years ago where we can report students who we think are in danger of failing our course early in the semester so they can be counseled about their options. – Dawn Sep 17 '18 at 13:44
  • Do you think the students would be able/ willing to pay a tutor? – Dawn Sep 17 '18 at 13:45
  • @Dawn: We have a multitude of different student support services and counselors; since arguably they're not helping in these cases, I'd like to focus on what an instructor in the major can directly do to advise. I'd assume that students cannot pay for extensive outside tutoring (approx. half of the institution receives financial aid grants). – Daniel R. Collins Sep 18 '18 at 4:37
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I can tell for you from troubled student student perspective. I have some friends with such kind of problems here at Brazil in Usp and I think the our academic culture have similarities (including eventualy diagnostic tests), maybe my experience can help you to think the approach.

One or another of my troubled colleages have to work a part time job to pay the living on the city where the university resides, some have some psychologic problems triggered by pression of university or self induced pression by a lot of expectatives and a no neglegible number have the three causalities combined in diferent proportions. And I think the culture of my generation (near 22-28 years) agravates that scenario, where people - having growed up with video games, internet and shinny especial effects every where - think to live fast and expect constant and fast feedbacks , what make one guy or another throw things to the air when the progress looks like very slow, even when need to be because the situation - the expected reality and the experience don't match

There are educational sites, like coursera.org, duolingo.com , brilliant.org and even the stackexchange that have adapted for some expectations of new users with fast feedbacks. In the subject, maybe electing some 'landmarks' to people don't resign in the middle of the way can be helpfull if is this kind of problem that ocuring. This can be real, I know a lot of strange examples, but the most intriging for me is the case one friend of mine whom had completed all calculus courses in coursera.org and got stucked for 3 years in calculus 2 ( and now he works as data scientist in a good enterprise )

If the problem is triggered by some kind of anxiosity, I think that if the students can feel they can count on you for a little and sincere talk in the final of some lecture or another, without being harsly judged - because probably they had heard hints for changing the major or something like that , a kind of talk that could be uneasy and even kills the trust - I just can think a good outcome being constructed along the semester

Well, I hope this can help

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