At-risk college students need structure, real-world connections and accountability, writes Melissa Lee, an adjunct English instructor at the State University of New York at Canton in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Lee provides a daily agenda for each class. She makes it clear how each assignment contributes to the final course grade.
I like to calculate the final grade each student will end up with, based upon the ones he or she has already earned, combined with hypothetical perfect scores on the remaining assignments; then hand out the reports (printed in an easy-to-read grid) on unimposing half-sheets of paper. The motivation students display after receiving such signifiers of the semester’s structure is mind-boggling.
She e-mails absent students with the key elements of the class, handouts and homework information.
At-risk students also need to understand the real-world applications of what they’re learning, Lee writes.
. . . “Real-World Writing” . . . includes lessons on how to write effective résumés and cover letters, as well as letters of resignation and even obituaries. Students learn about the concept of different audiences far more quickly and effectively through such real-world writing than they do through essay assignments—which come later in the semester, after I’ve hooked their interest with work they perceive as more directly relevant to their lives.
To hold students accountable, she makes them meet with her to present their work aloud like an Oxford tutorial.
It is nothing short of amazing to see how much energy they put into papers when they know they’ll have to present and defend their work face to face—as opposed to their usual, more lackadaisacal efforts, which involve typing mindlessly until 5 a.m., then sneaking the shoddy result under my door and failing to show up to class later that day.
Many students in open-admissions colleges “don’t know what it takes to succeed academically at the college level,” Lee writes.
A social sciences professor at a liberal arts college, John Lemuel tries to teach students who try to pass with minimal effort – and their minimal isn’t good enough, he writes, also in the Chronicle. He requires a face-to-face conference with all students who get a D or F on the first test. Often, that’s half the class.