Students have different high school experiences - Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation - Carnegie Mellon University

Students have different high school experiences

There is substantial variation in the content, emphasis, style and rigor in the high school educational experiences of our students.  Therefore, even among students with the same major, equal degrees of motivation and interest, and similar levels of intelligence there may be significantly varied levels of important background knowledge and skills.

Identify and clarify expectations up-front.

Empower students to make the appropriate decision about what to do next.

Give diagnostic tests and split into sections based on scores when appropriate/feasible.

Direct students to Academic Development and support services.

Facilitate the formation of study groups based on background and skills.

Have your TA give extra non-required remedial instruction.

Point students to extra resources (texts, handouts). 

Identify and clarify expectations up-front.

Use the syllabus, the first day of class, and your course management system to state very explicit expectations for the students. Clarify your learning objectives, the necessary prerequisites, both in terms of previous courses as well as relevant bodies of knowledge and skills.  In addition, state clearly the options students have for catching up if they do not meet the appropriate expectations (e.g., will you do extra review sessions or will students be expected to catch up on their own?).

Empower students to make the appropriate decision about what to do next (e.g., work extra hard, delay taking the course, etc).

Explain to the students how their lack of background knowledge or skills may influence their ability to successfully master the material in the course and achieve a passing grade. Empower students to make the appropriate decision about what to do next. Options include working extra hard, seeking help from a tutor, and postponing the course until they have acquired the necessary background.

Give diagnostic tests and split into sections based on scores when appropriate/feasible.

Another option is to administer appropriate pre-assessments and split the class into sections (again, when feasible and appropriate). Then you can provide more scaffolding and support for the students who don’t have a solid background, while at the same time you can challenge students who are already well-positioned.

Direct students to Academic Development and support services.

Some of the services that Academic Development offers include Supplemental Instruction, individual and group tutoring, and study skills workshops. In addition they facilitate the formation of study groups within courses.

Facilitate the formation of study groups based on background and skills.

Advise students to form study groups within the course if they are having trouble staying up-to-date. Some instructors leave space in the syllabus for the contact information of two students, then ask everybody on the first day to turn to their left and to their right and ask the students next to them for their contact information. This way, the students start connecting on the first day of class, and will be more likely to follow up if they need help.

Have your TA give extra non-required remedial instruction.

If your pre-assessments identify a well-defined, self-contained area where students are generally lacking (e.g, basic combinatorics) you can ask your TA to conduct an optional review session on that topic.

Point students to extra resources (texts, handouts).

If you don’t want to spend extra class time on specific topics, consider providing students with handouts, textbook chapters they can review, online tutorials or other complementary materials. These materials can be viewed outside of class, when students have more time to work through them. If possible, include self-scoring exercises so that students can monitor their own learning. 

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