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The Stupid Student Problem Part II

Let’s deconstruct some of the thinking of our “stupid students.” I may have been guilty of some of this thinking as I mentioned in Part I, which briefly speaks more generally about why we as teachers need to better articulate the logic behind our courses.

I don’t need to go to class because
-the notes are online
-I took the same course in high school
-I’m 18 and think I know everything
-I could be doing something more fun like sleeping

This is just students being lazy/unmotivated/immature right? Well yes, but what do students hear as to why they need to come to class? (note that’s what students hear, not necessarily exactly what we say)

Or else you’ll do bad on the test.

Sorry, but many students don’t care about getting an “A”. Also, “or else” almost never a good reason. How about:

Because class is where we impart our knowledge. We craft the information into narratives and themes . Connect the dots and discuss the material.

But do students think about class this way? Probably not. We should tell them this is what class is for over and over and then follow through with what we say. We develop classes with themes and narratives, but often assume students will be able to make these connections (many of whom in survey level course have never done something like it before) with maybe some instruction on how to do it.

I only need to (insert one or more of the below) because the rest of the information isn’t on the test
-write down the words on the PowerPoint
-learn the things on the study guide
-pay attention half the time

This is just students being lazy/unmotivated/immature right? Well yes, but what do students hear as to why they need to pay attention in class?

Or else you’ll do bad on the test.

Wait, I just wrote that. So it seems like students don’t care much about learning and that they only care about passing the test. Here’s a better question for us, then. Why are we giving tests students can passing without actually learning something? If students don’t see the point of learning parts of the class, we need to ask both are these sections actually important and are we making the reasons we include this section clear? (probably for the first and probably not for the second question).

An even more specific question we should think about in regards to paying attention is, do students know how to take notes for a college history course (specifically a large lecture style one)? The answer is most likely no. I didn’t have any large lecture courses in high school. It’s a completely different learning environment, but we often assume they have the skills to succeed. Note taking is a skill that I remember having to learn (trying to write down everything a fast talking, brilliant professor is certainly not a good way to take notes, but a great hand workout). We should help them understand the structure of our lectures and the different levels of importance each part of our lecture. We’re not just spouting out information with no organization. Each class has a point and we have a specific way for students to learn that material, but it seems we don’t do a great job of pointing this out to students.

I don’t need to buy/read the way-too-expensive textbook

We say (certainly to each other and maybe to our students):

Students need a base layer of information to understand the larger significance of historical events/trends/etc

A) Yes B) Do students know this? C) Why can’t students get this information elsewhere like a free, online encyclopedia, maybe one in Wiki format?

What about:

Textbooks reinforce the themes and narratives of the course and concisely convey the importance of historical people and events in the light of these themes/narratives.

A) Yes B) Do students know this? C) Do the quizzes/exams/assignments utilize these benefits in a way that clearly demonstrates the importance of the textbook?

We should (and do) carefully consider all of our course material (like textbooks), but do we articulate our reasoning to students (or just ask them to trust us because we’re in the front of the class)? Do we make a compelling case (is the value of the book worthy of the price tag)?

I shouldn’t do (insert any grammatical error) because the professor/TA/grader is a hard ass about grammar.

One of my favorite moments as a TA so far has been explaining why you don’t use 1st person in writing history papers and having that advice actually click.
[A dramatized reenactment is below]

Me: You want to avoid 1st and 2nd person because then your argument is more powerful. Instead of “I think this is this way”, say “it is this way” and back it up with evidence.
Student: Oh so you mean, be kinda cocky?
Me: Yeah, exactly. 1st person sounds unsure, but you want to be confident

“No 1st person” is something I feel like I’ve written on at least half of the essays I have graded so far in my life, but most students don’t use 1st person because they want to write informally. They might not have as good of high school English teachers as I did that explained how to make a strong argument (without 1st/2nd person). They might use it because they are not confident in making argumentative statements because they feel like they don’t know enough, but because making argumentative statements is exactly what we want them to do in history, we need to encourage students, and not just tell them what not to do.

Just as there are complex reasons for our behavior as teachers, there are complex reasons for students’ behavior in class. Examining why there is a disconnect in the teacher to student communication, and not simply pushing our ideas harder, is vital to improving the learning experience of students.

Published in Academia Teaching

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