Difficult Teaching Situations

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Brainstorming of some challenging teaching situations

  1. bored classroom (disengaged students)
  2. students who are failing
  3. students who cheat (are cheating, have cheated)
  4. fairness in marking: depending on the help requested/ given
  5. how to motivate students (especially is they're not being graded)
  6. student who wont participate in discussion
  7. the student who likes to hear themself talk
  8. no group dynamic; they just wouldn't/couldn't work together
  9. students who do not have practical skills or experience (for lab work)
  10. students who ask questions you don't know the answer to
  11. students who havn't retained the knowledge from the pre-requisites
  12. in compulsory courses; students who don't want to be there, but have to be
  13. students who have to do presentations but don't show up!  general lack of professionalism on the students part
  14. teaching students with different backgrounds (esp, disciplianry)
  15. grading disputes, agressive or confrontational behaviour
  16. getting students to discuss items at a deeper level (beyond the shallow understanding or approach): how to promote deeper thinking or learning
  17. students who don't study - so they are not prepared for class/lab 
  18. language problems/ barriers: evaluating written work
  19. language barriers in understanding verbal questions/ conversation. 
  20. Overly needy students: technological, social, every single issue they go to the TA.
  21. students without any proper learning strategies.
  22. students who just.don't.get it, even after multiple explanations
  23. balancing the active and the silent students in the tutorial, discussion

Possible solutions

  1. 2: Failing students

important for the teacher to give the students some guides: learning strategies

when do you draw the line?

Why are students failing? they don't know how to study: the don't engage in the materials; 

So give them practice on questions/answers

Teaching students time management for learning (not cramming, but distributing the learning)

  1. 15: grading disputes

on exams, students argue for marks

re-mark the entire exam on some questions, give leiniency on all question. If it's re-marked, mark it a little harder (ie, beware, your mark could go up OR down!)

  1. 6: no participation

give everyone a pen or paper in advance, and everyone has to give up their pen/paper by vocalizing thoughts

call on people directly, but in a fashion that there is no pressure if they are wrong

look at small groups, so that it diminishes the fear of speaking in large groups.

  1. 18 language difficulties and grading;

in written work/essay/report: include a certain percentage of the marks in clarity or style (so that there is a place to grade language

in presentations, or short language answers, then no grades on clarity, just on the subject/knowledge base. Because it's showing working through the problem/ intellectual work

  1. 3: Cheating: 

in the first class, make it clear: what the rules are, what cheating actually is (ie, in cultural differences. Deliberate versus misunderstanding versus laziness). 

go through it case by case: sometimes it's a misunderstanding, sometimes laziness

show examples of what cheating is, so there is no mistake. 

Teach students how to reference/ paraphrase

this isn't something to be lenient about: if you catch something cheating, there are consequences: define what those consequences are. (not chances to re-do)

  1. How to Motivate studnets:

If students are too shy to talk in large group, then put them in small groups (also then they don't have to present alone) for safety. 

Assign roles to students in the groups: the summary/note taker; the presenter, etc. 

  1. students who have to take mandatory courses, but arn't interested (ie, breadth)

look at course design, bring in different learning strategies (arts and science students). Have more variety in ways that students are assessed. 

Tell the students that they can get extra help

  1. 11: students who've forgotten what htey learned

give students a quick review/exam

assign students homework that reminds them of the knowledge. 

repeat some of the key information. 

  1. students who ask questions you don't know the answer to

Tell students if it's outside the scope of the course

ask for more time to answer (ie, email later) check the resources 

don't be afraid to say "i don't know"

Ask students to email you the question, and then you reply

Ask the student to look it up themselves ;-) 


Brainstorming of some challenging teaching situations.

  1. students who have different levels of knowledge in interdisciplinary courses
  2. making an informationally dense or complex session engaging
  3. not having enough visual examples for the topic
  4. unresponsive classroom
  5. students doing poorly on exams (consistently)
  6. students asking you to increase their grade (probation)
  7. offensive views in class (racism, sexism)
  8. having students in class who are at very different places in their undergraduate careers (different levels of sophistication in their abilyt to assimilate the information. Intellectual and social maturity)
  9. interacting with large classes
  10. students with unmoving opinions who bog down class time
  11. having students with different knowledge backgrounds (disciplinary backgrounds)
  12. students who have a lot of difficulty expressing themselves in writing
  13. as a lecturer, being caught unprepared
  14. students who try and undermine you in class
  15. students being offended by the course content
  16. students who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally
  17. distractions (inside and outside the classroom). Cellphones, playgrounds, Blackberries

Annnnnnd, solutions! 

  1. 4: Unresponsive students
  • intimidations (check the laws)
  • change locations, rearrange classroom
  • change style of questions (more leading, for example)
  • use multiple style of teaching
  • "this might be on the exam"
  • incentives (such as candy) or extra points (participation grades)
  • ask questions of students in smaller groups (they respond a s group)
  • use technology (like clicker or showing multimedia, and then ask questinos about the film - for example)
  • asking questinos that are related to the real world (so it's not jsut about theory - connect it with life)
  • ask students to come with a response (to art, example) which brings guidelines to the classroom discussion
  • re: marking. Encourage them to talk by promising the participation marks. 
  1. 6: students who argue for more grades
  • remind studetns that review of grades can go up or down
  • engage the student in explaining why THEY should have a different grade
  • preventative: compare notes with other TAs (for consistency)
  • take a second look
  • don't be intimitated by students
  • allowing students to choose the weighting of the different assignments or do extra work

  1. 8: dealing with range of abilities and experience
  • establishing expectations for assignments at the beginning
  • assess the level of diversity in the beginning (quiz)
  • get students to develop own contract on grading
  • diveristy of assignments to test different skills and abilities
  • re: super students. Don't use them as the base standard to skew everyone else group. 
  1. 9: Students to stick to options
  • don't enage with arguement
  • offer to talk to them after class
  • know where to go if harrassment
  • in syllabus: describe what effective argument is. 

  1. 10: engage large classes
  • clickers
  • using groups (of two or four)
  • ask students to write down a question about the lecture
  • video clips (multimedia)

  1. 13: being unprepared (eek)
  • - pause and start over
  • ask students to go forward
  • email later to follow up on a different point
  • reason through it with quetinos and steps
  • change location to buy some time. 
  • don't take it personally
  • students will understand that you are human

  1. 14: student who is trying to undermine you
  • talk to them outside of class
  • do they realize that they are being disruptive, not just funny?
  • if then they don't stop: lay out consequence (remove from class, for example)
  • ask them to take it offline (in webct, at the pub, in office hours)
  • give them a small activity for the rest of class, and then talk to the individual student to see if they are serious or just having fun.