How do you teach the unteachable?

Discussion in 'College' started by Kevin Smith, Sep 16, 2017.

  1. Kevin Smith

    Kevin Smith New Member

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    Sep 16, 2017

    I work a 5/5 load at a small teaching college in Arkansas (3 preps, 2 upper level history courses per semester). Most of my students are first-generation college students. I've been here four years, and taught for six at another university before this one. I'd say that one word sums up our student body: unteachable.

    Students attend college for a degree, and are completely uninterested in developing any skill sets. This keeps me up at night because they are going into serious debt for a useless degree. Many of our graduates can be found around town working at oil change places, factory outlet malls, and mall chain store restaurants. Too often, on that first day of classes, students tell me they want to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an accountant. Yet very few of them can even pay attention in class for more than 2 minutes.

    Anyway, I always change up my instructional methods. I'm searching for somethign that works. In my first-year Western Civ. courses, usually capped at 65 students, with about 35 attending class regularly and somewhat participating, I only want students to do two things by the end of the semester: manage and process information, and write authoritatively about complicated and complex topics. I instruct students that they learn to write by doing it, so every other week, they have a writing assignment. I ask them to read several Moodle content pages, and then I give them a prompt. It's usually a comparison and contrast kind of prompt.

    Sept. 15 was the first Moodle deadline for the first four assignments (two quizzes, two writing assignments). As in previous classes, of all three sections of Western Civ (total 200 students), only about 26 did any of the work. The rest just ignored it. I know that when I see students on Tuesday, they'll ask me to reopen the assignments, and I can't do that. Once Moodle is configured, it has to stay that way. And I've spent the past four weeks constantly reminding students that the first deadline was Sept. 15. I even sent out a mass email on Moodle to remind them (sent that out once a day this entire past week).

    My colleagues tell me to not care at all about them. But I can't not care. I'm truly worried about their futures and that they're going into debt to get a degree so they can work at a $7.25/hr job. That makes no sense. I've tried the approach as my colleagues do--go into class 2X per week and lecture for an hour and fifteen minutes. When I've done that, 15 or so of the 35 who show up just leave class. Others just tap and scratch on their phones, and about 5 or 6 actually listen and take notes. Once, a tapper and scratcher ask me to stop talking during lecture because she was trying to keep up with three different texting conversations and I was distracting her. Lecture doesn't work. I've experimented with group work, but then the students don't talk to each other, or work the group activity sheet. they just ask "why are we doing this?" or protest: "I don't want to be in a group!"

    After four years at this shitty school, I've determined the students are unteachable. Yet my tenure prospects rely on being able to teach these students. So how do you teach the unteachable?
     
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  3. AlwaysAttend

    AlwaysAttend Fanatic

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    Ill start by saying at first glance I thought you were just trying to mess with people or were slightly racist but considering both your posts had specific details, it sounds like you are genuinely trying to improve your practice.

    The setup of your assignments seems simple to you, but clearly they don't meet the needs of your audience. I would suggest less formal assignments than this. Swap out the readings with videos and allow for differentiated assessment methods. I know these kids need to learn to write, but perhaps you could get more of them to enjoy learning with some honey. Let them create videos, cartoons, stage debates, draw pictures which tell the story, etc.

    Again, I only say this because the goal is to meet them where they are and progress. I think this will reinvigorate your passion and challenge you to continue to find ways for them to grow.
     
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  4. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    They will either figure out they have to do the work or fail. College is optional and according to their high school they have received an education that warrants a diploma.

    As for Moodle and being unable to reopen, that can become an issue for a variety of reasons. I suggest you find a way to be able to reopen an assignment for when it becomes necessary.
     
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  5. AlwaysAttend

    AlwaysAttend Fanatic

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    I think the OP is trying to not waste their time and government grants/loans. There's some nobility in that and I think we need to channel that.
     
  6. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    Failing them is the quickest way to waste the least amount of money and time. Dumbing down the education so they pass just gives them a piece of paper with no skills attached that further hurts society.

    Point them to the numerous student support services if they lack basic skills. Point them to office hours or tutoring center.
     
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  7. AlwaysAttend

    AlwaysAttend Fanatic

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    They would still be required to learn the material. How would it be any different than the differentiation we do in K-12?

    Plenty of people don't learn well by reading. If they learn the material better through videos, why does it matter? It doesn't seem like the OP is saying they don't know how to read, they are actively choosing not to.
     
  8. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Honestly it takes a wake-up call. I could have been one of your students that you are describing. All I wanted was a degree and to get out of school. I didn't care what it was for. College was simply the next step of schooling after high school and I had to be there because my parents told me I had to be there or they'd cut me off.

    The problem is that kids often don't get to experience the real world in between high school and college. As such they don't take it seriously. I had to graduate with mediocre grades for a useless degree and be thrown out into the job market to realize that I should have taken college more seriously and realize all of the opportunities to excel and learn that I passed up simply because I was lazy/ignorant. I went back for my teaching credential with this insight and aced all of my classes, and I'm going back to school again for engineering and I plan on doing the same (and I'm confident I will because my attitude and mindset are completely different). It's much more real for me now, and I realize why I'm there. The same thing is true of college loans. Most of the kids that take out these loans don't really understand what they are. They just think: "Free money! I'll pay it back eventually when I make millions of bucks later as the next CEO of my [whatever] company." They only really understand it once they've taken out those loans and are having to make monthly payments on it with their non-existent paycheck. I know this because I did the same.

    It's not that these kids are unteachable. It's that they need real life to be the teacher for a while. Sometimes you need to take the place of real life and simply fail them when they don't meet the expectations. That's sometimes easier said than done depending on how your admin reacts when you have a huge failure rate, and the fact that they are probably being given free passes by other professors who just don't want to deal with it, but that's really what these kids need.
     
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  9. rpan

    rpan Cohort

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    I agree. You would think at college level students would be able to analyse a topic and write an evaluation piece. But these are skills that have to be cultivated from middle and high school, and this is not always the case. When the assessment is perceived to be out of reach, there's bound to be disengagement. Perhaps focus on the evaluation and analysis side of things rather than the writing part as a start. If they can make a convincing argument or evaluation then I think that's a small victory and a powerful skill to have in any workplace. So perhaps emphasising the thinking process and leaving the end product open ended can help.

    I'm on the fence about just failing them at the first instance in college because thats going to fast track them to those $7.25 per hour jobs you were talking about, and still have those student loans. Not that there's anything wrong with a $7.25 per hour job. It's still an honest and honourable living, just not an easy living. If you've tried your best, and they don't bite, then you can hold your head up high; at some point, they must take some responsibility and realise the choices they make in life have consequences.
     
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  10. TeacherNY

    TeacherNY Maven

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    Well, if they didn't have any accountability in high school (or at any point when they were in school) then they weren't prepared for college. All the post about parents wanting the teachers to change assignments, no homework, etc. What do you think will happen when they get to college. THIS!!!!
     
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  11. tchr4vr

    tchr4vr Comrade

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    Sep 18, 2017

    It is exactly this that I worry about as I sit in my high school classroom. We cater so much to these kids that they don't know how to function. I too have taught at the college level, and the majority of my students who have graduated in the last five years, regardless of school they attended, struggle the most, have the lowest grades, and the lowest participation. Several years ago, I was at a faculty meeting in which we were discussing test scores and differentiated instruction, and all that, ad nauseum, and I made a comment something along the lines of "What is going to happen to these kids when they get to college? Their professors are not going to "do the dance" that we do and give them the treats, etc. Her answer, "What happens to them after they leave here is not our concern." That shocked me. So many schools claim to be making students ready for life after high school, but is what my principal said the real truth?
     
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  12. vickilyn

    vickilyn Multitudinous

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    I believe that there is a wide range of possibilities between minimum wage job after flunking out of college, and the point where life experience will teach them that life isn't always fair and wanting something without being willing to work hard to attain the goal is folly. A little failure is not the worst thing in life. We treat college like it is a given, but it isn't a reasonable goal for many who can find success in other endeavors. After HS, the going gets tougher, and rightly so. Mommy and daddy can foot the bill indefinitely, but they can't buy success if the student lacks motivation. My best work as a student occurred once I had a concrete, obtainable goal in focus. At that point, I was motivated and able to do anything required. I passed a lot of courses that I could have lived without, treading water. Fortunately, I was a strong enough student that that didn't sink me. My parents allowed me to transfer twice in my undergrad, but I had to pay everything but the tuition. A bit of tough love, perhaps, but a growth experience. Once I found my motivation, I worked very hard and finished my BS in three years. There is nothing like snatching almost certain failure from the jaws of defeat to motivate.

    My son's room-mate his first year at college gamed all night, skipped all his classes during the day. It was a sad day when his family had to come move him out of the dorm, but not the end of the world. He didn't know what he was interested in, and gaming was his drug of choice to numb him from his indecision. By doing nothing, he made a choice. He is still friends with my son, has a respectable job, a house, a wife. He is happy. He now takes online courses because he wants to learn specific things. He just wasn't ready to be a committed student, but time has found a way to make what seemed like the worst day ever into a better choice.
     
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  13. geoteacher

    geoteacher Devotee

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    I speak from experience when I say that sometimes students need to understand the concept of failure before they can succeed. It would frustrate me to no end to have students who simply don't seem to be trying, but I think that, by the time they get to college, there need to be consequences for actions or lack of action. If you have truly given students many opportunities for success, it may be time for them to see what happens when they do not complete work. I have a son who was a National Merit scholar. It took nearly losing his scholarships to make him realize that he needed to step up to the plate, attend class, and work harder. He was able to turn things around. The students you teach can make a change also, but only if they have the desire to do so.
     
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  14. TeacherNY

    TeacherNY Maven

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    I had a friend in college a year below me that flunked out. He wasn't lazy with his school work or partied too much. He just couldn't hack the work. My school wasn't Harvard caliber but the professors had high standards. As far as I could tell he honestly gave it a good try but I guess it wasn't for him. He did end up going to a smaller college in his home town with a different major and now has a good job. I'm glad he didn't give up.
     
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  15. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    Our district treats different level classes differently. The higher the level, the more expectations and less hand holding. Most kids that take the higher level classes find that college is actually easier than high school.
     
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  16. ms.irene

    ms.irene Connoisseur

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    I personally believe (and research supports the idea) that our mindset as educators has a huge impact on our students' learning outcomes. No offense to the OP -- but if you consider your students "unteachable," they most likely will be. You have to find a way, as an educator, to meet your students where they are and pull them up to your expectations. Everyone is capable of learning, even if they have to learn the hard way. It's a question of figuring out what works for your population.

    Spoonfeeding and "dumbing down" won't help, either, since it sends the message that we think the students are "dumb." I haven't officially taught at the college level, but I did TA for a 101-level World Language course at a state university with a lot of first-generation college students. I used a lot of the same strategies I still use in my high school classes: partner activities, think-pair-share, skits, etc., to get students talking, thinking, and interacting. I STRONGLY encouraged Office Hour attendance and those who came were generally successful.

    At the end of the day, you can't force them to learn or try, however -- some will fail and that is just reality.
     
  17. otterpop

    otterpop Phenom

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    While I agree with this in a moral view, I worry that this approach may get the OP into hot water at his institution. It is what should ideally happen, but does not look good to school leadership to have a whole class fail. OP, what are your colleagues doing who say not to care? Are they passing all these students, or giving them failing grades? I think that plays into what the best response is.
     
  18. Belch

    Belch Companion

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    I would be in complete shock if one of my students told me to be quiet so she could concentrate on texting with her friends.

    I'd say since they are first generation college students (i.e. neither parent went to college), you have a situation where the students need to be given a wake up call as to why they are there. They've already (in their minds anyway) eclipsed their parents, and probably think that they've got a fast track to a life of relative comfort. Sadly, they'll probably turn out to be boomerang kids and move back in with their parents just as soon as they realize how worthless a degree is these days. College used to be a filter where only the best high school students would be allowed to attend, rather than anybody who manages to get a student loan.

    I've tried dealing with this complete lack of motivation by asking students why they are in my classroom. Of course the answers are that they want a fancy piece of paper with their name on it so they can get a job. What has occasionally worked is to scare them with numbers. What percent of graduates manage to get their foot in the door of a good employer? How much student loan debt will they be carrying, and how do they plan on paying it off? What will they do if they can't get a good entry-level job after graduation? Basically, you want them to admit that they have no strategy beyond going into debt, and then trying to enter the workforce while competing with people who have spent the last four years gaining valuable experience in the workforce, rather than warming a chair in your classroom.

    I wish I had better ideas that work on a consistent basis with ineducable students, but sadly, one of the job requirements is standing behind a lectern and knowing exactly which students are going to end up adding college to an ever-increasing list of things that suck.
     
  19. Belch

    Belch Companion

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    This sounds like the fuzzy pseudo-science that our profession is cursed with. You can't observe a mindset, so it's impossible to really study this in a quantifiable manner.

    This doesn't work in a university/college. Unlike K-12 institutions, we have employers that have certain expectations of our graduates. Employers are generally market-facing, which means that if they don't deliver the goods, they lose money, and possibly their livelihoods. So when we issue a diploma, the value of that diploma has a direct correlation to an ability to provide them with quality employees who are able to help them meet the standards that their customers demand.

    Indeed, it is reality. The bean counters in the admissions department are looking at how much they can get from each admission. Their job is finished once they've managed to close the deal with an applicant. The baton is then passed to the professors to provide the rationale for all those applications they get. We have to make do with the students that sign up for our courses in order to maintain some semblance of quality that is passed on to employers. So unlike k-12 teachers, college/university faculty have to actually deliver the goods to the market.

    If we can't get them to learn what they need to learn in order to be of some value to their future (fingers crossed) employers, then we have truly failed everybody. So no, we can't simply accept failure as a reality. A few failures are acceptable, but not nearly as many as you would think. Each one of those failures isn't merely going out into that cold and cruel world without the requisite knowledge that we supposedly provide, but they are also going out there with a mountain of student loan debt that weighs very very heavily on our consciences. Those failed students are real people that we charged real money so they could get the jobs they want.

    At the end of the day, this means staring into the eyes of a student we know and have grown to love because they really are good kids, and having to say "I'm sorry".

    That's a hard pill to swallow.
     
  20. Obadiah

    Obadiah Groupie

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    There are two questions here. What? and Why? The what is answered by students not participating in class and not achieving. The why is more complex. For some, the students are not taking college seriously, but for others, college might be overwhelming and they are trying to cope.

    This is probably a student's first experience on her/his own. S/he's daily in a room with a roommate; they have to coordinate their daily activities to meet each other's needs of sleep, food, study, socialization, and study. S/he's at an age where socializing is a priority, and should be; but socializing can also be contrary to academic progress if the student spends too much time socializing, (such as texting during class). Her/his brain is still developing until s/he's about 25 years old; this development especially concerns self-control. But why is it that many modern students are not progressing as well as students from earlier times.

    One answer, as mentioned above, more students are attempting college. But I wonder if there's more to it. Some students are overworked; they have huge classroom assignments plus a job to finance their education. I know of some students who work full time plus attend college full time. All students are surrounded by modern time wasters, distractions, and brain destroyers. At my local college, the streets surrounding it are filled with liquor stores, bars, and drug dealers that illegally cater to the college population. On Thursday nights, off campus housing becomes party central. Cell phones are essential for student safety, but they've become a major source of distraction. Students don't turn off the ringer or vibration to silent mode; they can't miss a call; they have to respond to every text. The Internet is valuable for research, but it too has become a distraction with instant email gratification and surfing for faddish frivolous fun stuff. Social pressures have increased. "Am I liked" is important but has become an obsession with many students; peer pressure pushes many students over the edge. The list goes on. Perhaps an entire book could be written on what interferes with a student's academic life, but it could be summarized as this: some students find the psychological pressure too much to handle.

    Add to this the physical pressure of college. They don't eat correctly. No brain can function properly without adequate nutrition. Pizza and Sheetz don't cut it. Many lack appropriate amounts of exercise. No one can sit still after sitting still after sitting still. Many lack appropriate sleep (which might be hard to do with Boom! Boom! Boom! ringing throughout the hallways. Many lack appropriate relaxation; real brain relaxation, the kind that actually makes the brain work harder to prepare for the next task of concentration: drugged out partying is not a relaxation that equips the brain for the next day, and overuse of TV or video games weakens the logical upper brain. Finally, at our college, and in our neighborhood, the kids have to watch out for their safety; for proof, all I need to do is look at the morning's newspaper. I've driven and walked these streets at night on church assignments--they are SCARY!!!

    This doesn't answer the OP's question, what to do in his class. Or perhaps it does. Mel Levine offers the suggestion of conferencing with a non-productive student, listening to find out why, offering advice on how to best cope with academic life. There's no magic button to push, but encouragement is a powerful antidote that can at least nudge a student in the right direction. (Not that the OP is not already encouraging students), but I would think that's an important role we as teachers have, to be encouragers.
     
  21. autumnbrooks

    autumnbrooks Rookie

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    My two cents: It sounds like you're dealing with a very frustrating teaching experience, but please be careful in making negative assumptions and generalizations about your students.

    I was a first generation college student, too. If I'd had a professor in college that gave off a sense of judgement or disdain for me and my classmates, I may not have wanted to try in his/her class either.

    I know this is a place to vent online, and I hope that none of these frustrations are coming across in your classroom, because they can be extremely damaging.

    Continue putting forth the hard work you're doing now. Teach your class as if every single one of the students is one of the 5-6 who currently pay attention and work hard. Thank your students for making the time and taking the effort to come to your class, when they have so many other financial and personal responsibilities. Let them know that you care about them as individuals. Maybe this will create a more positive learning environment for both you and the students :)
     
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  22. Been There

    Been There Habitué

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    Have you considered trying to find a former student who flunked out due to laziness, worked at a crappy job for a while, returned to school with a vengeance, graduated with good grades and now has a good job in his chosen field? I would invite such a person to be a guest speaker in my class to help my students understand what is at stake and what college can do for them. Of course, allow for plenty of time for Qs and As. It's worth a try! Also, raise the issue at a faculty meeting to get some creative ideas from your colleagues.
     
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  23. Obadiah

    Obadiah Groupie

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    Mr. Rogers of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood would end each episode thanking the viewers for spending time with him. I realize this is college, not preschool, but we all need care and compassion, no matter what our age.
     
  24. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    K-12 teachers also are "delivering goods" as we are accountable for making sure students leave our classrooms with enough knowledge and understanding to succeed in college or in some cases jump right into the job market. While it is true that you might feel more guilty because the students are paying to be there, it's really their choices and lack of foresight that have led them to take out loans and treat their time in college frivolously. In a sense, K-12 teachers can feel very guilty as well if a kid isn't doing well in their class because it usually means more difficulty for them in the future as well, both in job prospects and where they might end up in the long run. I don't think you should compare the accountability and pressure on college professors vs. K-12. Both jobs have their differences and similarities, and I wouldn't venture to say one is more important than another or one job is held more accountable than another.

    Anyway you do make a good point that the stakes for them failing in college are much higher than failing at younger ages. This is why I think our current educational regime that "no student should fail" is a short sighted one. It usually manifests itself with administrators putting pressure on teachers to reduce their failure rates anyway they can, even if it means passing students who don't have the skills or knowledge to be successful in the next grade level or further on.

    "Fail fast" is a better approach, where we should allow kids to experience failure frequently and quickly in K-12 so they can learn from their mistakes earlier on, instead of cushioning them from failure as we are currently doing.
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2017
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  25. AllCreatures

    AllCreatures Rookie

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    When I've taught college courses, I've usually had far more diligent students who regularly did their homework. The students, who I had who didn't attend regularly or do their homework, dropped out of attending any of my classes, so it was very easy to give them F grades if they didn't withdraw prior to the grading deadline. I've had some high school students who fit this description of having high aspirations couple with a weak work ethic. The problem I found at the high school level was that I was expected and pressured by the administrators to pass these failing students with C grades, even when they deserved to fail the courses. At the colleges, where I taught, I was not pressured at all to pass students or to give higher grades to students.
     
  26. Secondary Teach

    Secondary Teach Companion

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    Dec 23, 2017

    Hmm, Harvard along with some other well known prestigious universities has been known to in recent years inflate grades to appeal to its students and the media as well off schools. You can read about that online- grade inflation at prestigious universities.
    :)
     
  27. Hokiegrad1993

    Hokiegrad1993 Comrade

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    Hold them accountable. It is good that you want to work on it.

    Try not to see them as "unteachable" creates a bias that could harm you and students.
     
  28. Waterborne

    Waterborne Rookie

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    I understand that this really unconventional and I will probably get bashed for this, but here is my two cents on the off chance that it gets noticed on here (forgive me, I'm new). Teach at the level that fits those that you are teaching to. Do whatever is necessary to get them to like you and therefore the class. Make homework extra credit only and allow more advanced projects to be asked for, allow them to create their in-class projects for their grade, and give points for showing up. Yes, you may not be able to cover everything and will have to plan A LOT to make it concise, but that is better than not being And put everything online, everything. If they succeed, they will be more likely to try. Making a class easy and flexible builds momentum, while if a class is rigorous and strict an "unteachable" student is more likely to give up. You do not have to conform to the structure of a normal college class. You have tried everything but liberating them of the majority reasons why they hate class in the first place in the parameters of your class.
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2017
  29. Teacher234

    Teacher234 Cohort

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    "If there is a will, there is a way"
     
  30. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    Key word is will: If there is a will...” It doesn’t sound like the student has the willpower to learn...
     
  31. Teacher234

    Teacher234 Cohort

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    Feb 26, 2018

    I was referring to the teacher, however, it is a equal effort input.
    Also, the students are in college.......so, I need to take that into consideration
     

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