Thursday, January 31, 2013

'Can you explain the lecture to me?'

A colleague of mine recently told me about an especially annoying student: After each class meeting, the student lingers around and asks the instructor to "explain the lecture" that just concluded. You can well imagine that a student who does this once is asking for a lot. The student who does this, repeatedly, is, well, just plain annoying.

I've never had a student display this behavior so persistently, but I have taught students who've shown up during my office hours and expected me to convey the main points of a class meeting all over again. That's at least more comfortable, since I don't have three minutes and a crowd of students there.

But still, there's a problem here. What to do? Here are my ideas, but I'd be interested to hear further suggestions in the comments.
First, I think it would be important to conceal one's annoyance as much as possible and remain cordial. There are probably many students who haven't comprehended a given lecture or meeting, and it would be unfortunate to discourage a student who's acting responsibly and taking the initiative to get the help she needs.

So my strategies would aim at validating the student's desire for help while not acceding to the request on the spot. Encourage the student to come to office hours or send me an e-mail. Beyond this, a larger worry is that the student needs to be able to develop the skills to comprehend the material better on her own, and I wouldn't want to encourage a kind of dependence on my rehashing the meeting all over again (on top of the fact that such rehashing would take a lot of energy from me!). 

To that end, I'd ask the student to do some pre-meeting (or pre-e-mail) work to encourage some self-scrutiny and metacognition. Tell the student, "I'd be happy to meet with you. Could you come with a 200 word summary of the meeting/three key questions you had about the meeting material, etc."? Compel the student to self-analyze and be specific about her lack of understanding. (Here I'm reminded of Karla's attempts to deal with the "I'm confused" student.)

Two other thoughts:
  • Establish a 'fish bowl' policy. Tell students they can drop off any questions they have about the meeting material in a fish bowl. This might encourage the pestering student to write down her concerns instead.
  • Identify campus resources that can help. On many campuses, learning centers and the like have tutors and workshops on academic skills such as note taking. Find out about these and direct the student appropriately. 
Any other ideas commenters?


  1. Thanks for this. I've had some success by asking students to identify, in their class notes, their spot of confusion. Asking for a written summary of their confusion seems even better, especially for large-scale confusions.

  2. In addition to trying to ensure that this student is taking notes (and offering some guidance on how to take notes), adding in some "think - pair - share" activities along the way would help.


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