Problem Students


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Theory for working with difficult and/or unmotivated students. When is a student considered to be problematic? Addressing problems early. Appropriate intervention strategies. Do's and don'ts. Referrals to other resources.

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Problem Students

  1. 1. Problem Students Milisa Sammaciccia Ismail, MEd. 23 January 2012
  2. 2. Theory for Working with Difficult and/or Unmotivated Students ~ Theory ~ Students present themselves in a classroom environment in many different ways each representing the diversity that comprises today’s classroom environment. Some students are challenging, some are less than motivated and some can be extremely difficult and disruptive. Overall, with patience, time, understanding and taking some time to sit with the student to get to know them and their thoughts can make the difference between a trying and frustrating semester and one that is productive and proactive for both the student and instructor. Svinicki & McKeachie (2011) state that “ it is human nature to perceive the problem as the student; but before focusing on changing the student’s behavior, take a few moments to look at what you are doing that might be related to the student’s behavior. Interpersonal problems involve at least two people” (p. 171).
  3. 3. Theory for Working with Difficult and/or Unmotivated Students  There may be a multitude of reasons in which a students who appear to be difficult and/or unmotivated in the classroom, such as: • Students may feel disengaged from the lecture – Student may feel it is too difficult. – Student may feel it is too easy. – Student may be experiencing anxiety (i.e. first year students who may be away from home, or even first year doctoral students – students who are beginning a new level of academia).  Suggestions: • Take the time to listen and understand the student. • Fully comprehend what the problem is and offer assistance and additional resources, when necessary. • Take the time to talk to the student(s).
  4. 4. When Is A Student Considered To Be Problematic?  There are several different ways in which students can be problematic to the instructor, their peers and even to themselves. For example: • Students who demonstrate aggressiveness or who are overly challenging to the instructor. • Students who spend a good deal of time trying to circumnavigate established rules. • Students who dominate discussions and demand a lot of attention. • Students who are inattentive. • Students who are unprepared. • Students who use excuses.
  5. 5. When Is A Student Considered To Be Problematic? (continued…) • Students who have emotional problems: – Angry students – Discouraged students (or students who are ready to quit) • Students who have strong emotional reactions to sensitive topics. • Students who demonstrate psychological problems such as: – Belligerence - Moodiness – Excessive worry - Suspiciousness – Drug or alcohol abuse - Depression – Emotional outbursts - Helplessness
  6. 6. Addressing Problems Early  It is critical that problems are identified early so corrective action can be implemented to minimize disturbance and disruption.  If problems are not addressed, they have the propensity of getting bigger over time.  Problems that are not addressed may potentially cause disturbance and/or interruption to other students.  The prevention and amelioration of student behavior must begin early, otherwise disruptive behavior becomes more severe and leads to poor social and academic outcomes (p. 13)
  7. 7. Appropriate Intervention Strategies  Challenging or Aggressive Students • Instructors need to assess the student may be taking this posture. There are several reasons why this occurs but primarily: – The student is interested in the topic and may have some prior knowledge to contribute; or, – They are in genuine disagreement which leads them to coming up against the instructor mentally (p. 172). ~ Suggested Appropriate Intervention Strategy ~ Teachers need to help students understand how knowledge is arrived at in their own disciplines, what counts as evidence, and how to read critically and evaluate knowledge claims (p. 173). Students need to debate and discuss issues in which competing ideas are challenged and defended; they need to write journals and papers that are responded to by the teacher or by peers. Most of all, they need good models of how to think about the quandaries that are a constant in higher-level thinking and learning. (p. 173)
  8. 8. Appropriate Intervention Strategies  Students Who Are Unprepared For The Course or Struggling Typically, students are ill-prepared for a course because they either: – Lack to prerequisites necessary to navigate the current course; or, – They lack proper application and understanding (or did poorly) from previous coursework ~ Suggested Appropriate Intervention Strategy ~ 1) Directing the student to supplemental or remedial resources may help (i.e. the internet). 2) Prepare tutorials on the most common areas of deficit, as noted in previous semesters. 3) Departmental resources may be developed for a common website to assist in key skill areas. 4) Reserving supplemental reading material at the library. 5) Encourage interactive study groups throughout the semester. 6) Establishing online discussion boards for students. 7) Make a referral to campus resources in student support. (p. 174-175)
  9. 9. Appropriate Intervention Strategies  Students Who Attempt to Circumnavigate Established Rules ~ Suggested Appropriate Intervention Strategy ~ Be sure to have fair policies that you state clearly in a readily available source and that you enforce consistently. (p. 176)  Attention Seekers Who Dominate Discussions Sometimes these students are a.k.a. “over participators”. ~ Suggested Appropriate Intervention Strategy ~ 1) Keep at fair mix of input amongst the students by selecting students who hands are raised but who have not spoken recently. 2) Make an open suggestion that we want to hear everyone’s perspective. 3) Ask the students for suggestions on how to give each student a chance to participate. 4) Audiotape/videotape a class and play back selections to note student reactions. 5) A friendly, positive discussion after class between instructor and student may help. (p. 177)
  10. 10. Appropriate Intervention Strategies  Students Who Are Inattentive and/or Disengaged ~ Suggested Appropriate Intervention Strategy ~ Firstly, assess if the material is too challenging or perhaps even too easy. Then try: 1) Separating the students into buzz groups; 2) Have the students write minute papers; or, 3) Rotate the seating arrangements. (p. 178)  Students Who Are Unprepared Most of the common causes for a lack of preparedness for class is a lack of understanding from the students on what is expected of them. ~ Suggested Appropriate Intervention Strategy ~ 1) Communicate expectations clearly, the first day of class. 2) Administer a quick quiz (self-graded) at the onset of the next class on the assigned reading or discussion. This assists in: - Starting and encouraging reading assignments; - Help students understand whether they are understanding the main points (p. 179)
  11. 11. Appropriate Intervention Strategies  Students Who Overuse Excuses Sometimes students will repetitively request time extensions for assignments with deadlines. ~ Suggested Appropriate Intervention Strategy ~ 1) Make clear in the syllabus a series of penalties depending on how late the paper is; 2) Offer a bonus (extra credit points) for papers that are turned in early; 3) Request a working bibliography or outline from the student (for work in progress) (p. 180-181) Students With Emotional Problems  Students Who Are Hostile or Angry ~ Suggested Appropriate Intervention Strategy ~ - Ignore them - Recognize student feelings - Become better acquainted - Listen carefully - Respect your students - State your position calmly - Admit your wrong and tell the student you will take time to consider their inquiry/information/feedback & report during the next class (p. 180-182)
  12. 12. Appropriate Intervention Strategies  Students Who Are Discouraged or Ready to Quit ~ Suggested Appropriate Intervention Strategy ~ 1) Bringing students from a previous year who experienced frustration and self-doubt during their first year of a new level or program, to present a small lecture and/or presentation, may help. 2) Help students to understand that the situation is only temporary (p. 183-184)  Students Who Experience Emotional Reactions to Sensitive Topics ~ Suggested Appropriate Intervention Strategy ~ 1) Be sure to allocate enough time for adequate discussion of sensitive topics. 2) Using a two-column method to compare alternate approaches. 3) Stress that students need to listen to each other with respect and to encourage open-mindedness towards differing points of view. (p. 184)
  13. 13. Appropriate Intervention Strategies  Students Who Have Expressed Psychological Problems Some of the outward signs may include: belligerence, moodiness, excessive worry, suspiciousness, helplessness, emotional outbursts, or depression. There may also be drug and/or alcohol abuse. ~ Suggested Appropriate Intervention Strategy ~ 1) Talk to the student but use a segway such as a paper or assignment to discuss. After the discussion, lead in with questions such as: • How are things going? • What do you think may be the reason for your problems? • What do you think you could do? (p. 184-185)
  14. 14. Do’s & Do Not’s  THE DO’S • Be supportive of our students. • Communicate expectations from the first day of class. • Be patient and take time to listen to our students & encourage them to listen to each other. • Be encouraging and positive – even in sensitive areas. • Research supplemental materials to have available. • Know and understand the student resources available for them. • Know what signs to look for and recognize changes in students. • Steer your student towards appropriate assistance. • Confer with colleagues. • Be sure to understand an entire situation prior to suggesting alternatives.
  15. 15. Do’s & Do Not’s  THE DO NOT’S (continued…) • Never play student counselor to a student with exhibiting emotional or psychological problems. • Never attempt to diagnose or offer advice beyond our scope and refer them to the appropriate resource for help them. • Never get aggressive or defensive with an argumentative or aggressive student. • Never fall victim to a student who is charming and complimentary in hopes of scoring better grades. • Never assume that all compliments have self-serving intentions from students.
  16. 16. Referrals to Other Resources  When a student exhibits psychological and/or emotional problems, after a discussion with the student an instructor may need to refer the student to campus resources such as their advisor, peer support, drug/alcohol support, etc…  At no point should an instructor diagnose or assume the role of student counselor.  A list of resources should be prepared by the instructor to have on hand for quick reference to assist a student as expeditiously as possible (i.e. in the case of a suicide risk).
  17. 17. RESOURCES Oliver, R., & Reschly, D. (2007). Effective classroom management: Teacher preparation and professional development. Informally published manuscript, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. Retrieved from ClassroomManagement.pdf Svinicki, M., & McKeachie, W.J. (2011). McKeachie's teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers. Belmont, CA.: Wadsworth.