Tips for Teaching Unprepared Students

Not all students are prepared for a class. Reasons for lack of preparation range from failure to engage with the assigned material to failure to complete or sufficiently understand a prerequisite class to lack of adequate preparation before entering school.

You likely encounter underprepared students in your classes every day, so how do you teach them effectively?

Kenneth Alford, PhD, is an associate professor, and Tyler J. Griffin, PhD, is an assistant professor, both at Brigham Young University. In a recent Magna Online Seminar, Teaching Unprepared Students: Strategies that Work, they discussed several important techniques for helping unprepared students succeed in your classes. Here is just a few of the ideas shared:

  • Help students quantify goals: Measurable goals are critical to success in academic situations. Rather than letting students be content to plan to “study more,” they should be encouraged to plan to “study for this class for 45 minutes a day, five days a week.”
  • Help students manage deadlines: It is up to the instructor to help students manage deadlines by clearly communicating fixed expectations and providing firm consequences early in the course. For example, a late assignment should carry a penalty regardless of most excuses; if you want the student to be able to make up the points, you should substitute a more difficult challenge at a reduced point value rather than giving an extension.
  • Help students buy in to the course: Students perform better in courses they believe are relevant. Instead of waiting until the end of the course to summarize its relevance to the student, front-end that information. Continue to emphasize relevance by asking students how the course connects to their degree program or their future job at several points during the course.
  • Help students feel ownership: Students also perform better when they have a sense of ownership about course decisions. Consider allowing students some choice in assignments or let them pick one assignment from a list that will be dropped from their grade.
  • Give examples and non-examples: Sometimes, it is easier to understand a concept by understanding what it is not. Give plenty of examples of a new concept, but be sure to include a few examples of what that concept is not.

View a brief clip from the seminar: