Teaching Unprepared Students


I have started to read Teaching Unprepared Students by Kathleen L. Gabriel. I heard about the book in an ad for a session at my College’s Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation.  So far I’ve completed three chapters.  I’ll probably add more posts on this book as I read.

In Chapter 2 Gabriel gives her teaching philosophy.  I’ve memorized it as RSST+.  (I say “rust plus.”)  The plus is the fact that the philosophy’s top principle is that any can learn.  The rest of the philosophy tells what a student must do to succeed and by implication how a teacher can support that learning.  The R represents that responsibility lies with the students.  The S’s represent student self-reliance- faculty shouldn’t do things students can do themselves and the fact that learning, as with anything worthwhile, is a struggle.  The T represents the fact that big changes require lots of time.  Faculty must be willing to put in the time if the students are willing.  Faculty must be willing to train the students to be self-reliant.  The examples indicate that strategies based on this philosophy can change the lives of a few students dramatically.  If most of a class were made of underprepared students there is no panacea to address that.

Chapter 3 talks about early semester suggestions.  Some seem like they would only help a novice teacher.  For instance she suggests using a syllabus and suggests content and organization for a syllabus.  She also mentions setting goals for the course.

I did pick up two ideas to implement in Chapter 3.  There is a list of 13 study behaviors that successful students use.  The implementation was for students to check the ones they used and then add the checks to create score.  If they did almost all the behaviors the scoring guide predicted an A in the class, if students claimed they would do most of the behaviors the scoring guide predicted and B and so on.  I think the scoring part is misleading, but a discussion of these strategies would be worthwhile and would give students guidance on how to study. 

The author also recommends asking students to write a short paragraph about why they are taking the class.  While on the surface this can help you tailor your examples to suit student interests it also lets you know which students have trouble writing.  As we have no writing requirement in our math classes this would be a valuable piece of information about the students.  I used to have more writing in my algebra classes.  The lack of a prerequisite made this difficult to do.  I think I may get back to using writing next semester starting with this simple assignment.

So far I also fear Gabriel’s experience is too focused on her own colllege.  She cites drop/add policies and policies for accomodating learning disabled students that I know vary from school to school.  She seemed to think her school’s policies broader.  Also the preface is written by the provost at her school.

Overall I think I will only pick up small good ideas in various parts of the book.  That in itself is enough to justify the cost of the book and the time invested in reading it.  I still have hope to be surprised by the blockbuster chapter though!


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