Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How to Get Students to Ask for Help

When this student turned in this paper, the first thing I noticed was the scribbled out word "Confused." Since it was scribbled out, I thought, oh good, he figured it out. Then I graded it. You'll notice a slash through every answer.

Why didn't he ask me for help? I was available during class. I was available during office hours. I am available by email. I'd like to think I am friendly and accessible. There are plenty of tutors and resources.

The easy answer was that he started it right before it was due and didn't have time to get help. The harder idea to consider is that there was some reason he felt he couldn't ask.

I read a study that said cultural background and gender factors are considerations. Sometimes members of minority groups feel isolated and are less likely to ask for help. Males are not as likely as females to admit they need help.

Both of these factors might apply to this student and interfere with engagement with his teachers. This is his second time through this class, and when I asked him why he failed the first time, he said, "I didn't like the teacher." I hear this answer frequently, and it tells me nothing, so I pressed him. "I didn't understand what she wanted. Everything just came back with a C on it no matter how hard I tried," he said. "I guess I just checked out."

Now we were getting somewhere. I reassured him that I would give detailed feedback and we could talk whenever he needed further clarification, but then he turned in this. Now I was ready to check out because it was easier to put the burden on him, but then nobody would learn or progress. I decided to try different strategies.

For this assignment, I asked him to stay after class, and we went over the concepts together. I gave him the opportunity to re-do the assignment so he would see immediate results with getting help, and couldn't disengage from me or the material.

I brought in tutors from the writing center to meet the students in person and describe how they could help. I was hoping this student, in particular, would feel a connection with one of the tutors.

We did more group work as a precursor to homework assignments. I was hoping he would ask his peers questions or pick up on their understanding.

I arranged for, and offered, peer tutoring with a student I thought he might like.

Instead of comments on his work, I wrote "See me, please" at the top of his paper. When he came forward, I talked with him about the work so he had an opportunity to engage and connect with me.

I started talking about getting extra help to the whole class as part of the writing process and made it clear that I expected them to seek help in some form. I wanted to remove the perception that only bad students had to get help.

I noticed a shift in this student, and some of the others, by the end of the quarter. Although he still didn't ask me for help in person, he did send several emails with questions, and even an extra draft of an essay to review. He passed the class, just barely, but I consider him a success story because I feel confident that he made progress in asking for help, which will serve him well going forward.

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