Reaching out to lower the first step to success
Recently, a bunch of my students did pretty poorly on an assessment. This caused me to lapse into a big useless speech about student responsibility, and harp a bit on the fact that students should be taking advantage of all the resources they have to diagnose and learn from their mistakes (checking the answer key, giving oneself detailed feedback, coming to office hours, etc). When I lapse into these scolding exhortations, in the moment, I feel like I’m getting students to start to take greater responsibility for their own learning, and I’m just certain that my speech is going to be the key to getting them to take advantage of smorgasboard of learning I’m putting before them. But what I forget is that this rarely happens. And so yesterday, I sent a couple of quick emails to a few students that read something like this:
I want to invite you to meet with me (hopefully before the re-assessment) so that we can go over any confusions you may have and make sure you’ve mastered this material. I think a small amount of work can yield dramatic improvement in your understanding. I would very much like to find a way for us to meet regularly to answer your questions and make sure you are making the progress you are capable of making in physics.
I’m able to meet before/after school, or even via a hangout in google+ if you like.
The students I sent this email to wrote back within minutes to set up a meeting in the next couple of days.
Shouldn’t students do this on their own? Am I being soft by reaching out to them? Sink or swim? I don’t think so. I think it must be incredibly intimidating to look at a paper filled with things you don’t understand, and try to figure out what to do next. Sometimes, it might be so intimidating (or I might be so intimidating) that the thought of seeking me out directly is too much. But, I need to remember how powerful this small act of reaching out can be in helping a student to lower the threshold of that first step so that it seems surmountable.