Published on 2013/02/20

Behind the Numbers: The Faces of Remediation and Struggle (Part 2)

Co-written with Susan Dickinson Morse | Adjunct Instructor, Washington Engineering Institute

Behind the Numbers: The Faces of Remediation and Struggle (Part 2)
It is critical for higher education institutions who teach low-skilled adults to ensure that students in remedial classes do not feel they are wasting their time or, by the same token, are falling behind.

To read the first part of this series, which looks at the stories of students who forge their way through remedial higher education, please click here.

Scholar, teach thyself. One of the sad realities of higher education is that subject mastery does not automatically lead to teaching expertise. A PhD in physics does not magically give you the ability to explain the laws of motion to a group of students. According to an article by Mike Rose from the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, “With few exceptions, most graduate programs do not put much effort into helping people learn how to teach.” A quick visit to any tutoring center or online message board for students will certainly back this statement; students are just as frustrated with instructors as we are with them. Avail yourself of any and all professional development opportunities. You say your school doesn’t offer any? Read a book, grab a mentor or ask those experienced colleagues down the hall for pointers.

Take the risk of saying too much. Today’s student body is extremely diverse and under incredible pressure. Take that extra minute to make sure students understand the stuff academics often take for granted. For example:

  • Walk students through the expectations for contacting you. Not all students are familiar with how office hours work, or professional email standards.
  • Provide information on support services early and often. Many students, of all ages, lack the computer skills for today’s college work. Sadly, a lot of students also feel that tutoring services or asking for help reflects poorly upon them; smash this stigma.
  • Give strategy hints. For example, remind students with math anxiety to “do the problems you know first, the ones you are less certain of second, and tackle the others last” when taking a test.
  • Insist on writing standards across the curriculum. Instructors in all areas should require grammatically correct and readable written work. If you don’t feel you have the time, inclination or background to provide a lot of correction and feedback, utilize the expertise of other departments on campus. Never allow students to feel there are times when it’s okay to submit substandard work.

We cannot remain lost and unfocused between today and that future moment when education reform takes place. Until administrative processes catch up with the daily, personal experience of front line educators and students, it is up to us — one person and one action at a time — to fill in the gaps. Most of us have strategies to share, ways that we’ve helped students adjust and succeed, and this forum is the place to share them. Please comment below.

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Readers Comments

Cindy Lauer 2013/02/20 at 1:35 pm

The more time I spend in the classroom (this is my 12th year teaching an introductory economics course at a community college) the more I realize there’s no such thing as “too much” information. For example, for each assignment, I give my students the rubric well ahead of the deadline. I also make it a point to spend about half an hour of class time going through the entire thing with them. Sure, I get a few eye rolls and some students are obviously more interested in Facebook than in what I have to say, but they’re not my target audience anyway. I’m certain that, for many of my students, this is new information that they would never have had the confidence to ask me privately after class.

Karen Southall Watts 2013/02/20 at 6:26 pm

Cindy, you are so right that many students are reluctant to ask instructors about almost anything…until it’s too late.

Yvonne Laperriere 2013/02/21 at 9:59 am

I’m in my fifth year of teaching (in the geography department) and I found these tips incredibly relevant and helpful. One thing I would add is to, if possible, arrange for someone from your institution’s writing center / library services to come to your class and give a session on writing early on in the semester. This helps to establish the writing standard students should aim for over the course of the term. At the same time, students may be encouraged to return to the writing center / library if they feel the classroom session was helpful.

Karen Southall Watts 2013/02/27 at 6:38 pm

Yvonne, I work in a writing center and I appreciate that you see the value in such a resource. I too send students to the library for additional support. One thing I noticed again today is that instructors for remedial and freshman level courses often assume students have mastered computer skills and particular software. It’s incredibly difficult for a student to create a presentation or document when they have never used a word processor or similar program before. Many days writing tutoring doubles as computer basics.

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