Convincing Students to Make a Big Effort by Meggin McIntosh, PhD

Mar 30th, 2014

One of my “colleagues” got very angry with me one day (we taught courses that tended to share the same students).  He said, “Students don’t put out much effort in my class to get their assignments done because they say they have so much work to do for your class. You convince them that what you’re teaching is the most important!”  He continued to bluster for awhile longer (this wasn’t the first time he blustered at me).

It was a fascinating exchange (I did get to make a few comments).  But I have never forgotten that experience because I have always believed that what I taught was the most important.  Here are some questions that immediately come to mind:

  • Didn’t he believe that what he taught was most important, too?
  • Why would you teach if you didn’t think that what you taught was important?
  • Why would you go to school long enough (and become poor enough) to get a doctorate if you didn’t think that your discipline was important?
I did convince my students (not all, but most) to put forth extraordinary efforts and even today, I see students who tell me that they use ideas that they learned in my classes years ago.  Even just this last weekend when I was at Costco, one of my former students was there and told me this – and she was one of my students nearly 20 years ago.Here are ten tips for you to implement so you, too, can elicit extraordinary efforts from your students:
  1. Make your assignments relevant. Explain and reinforce your sense of the assignments’ relevance.
  2. Explain clearly what you want students to do.
  3. Provide rubrics, when appropriate.
  4. Demonstrate that you care about the content you are teaching.
  5. Put forth extraordinary effort yourself.
  6. Have students from previous semesters provide written comments for incoming students.  You can even have one semester’s students write letters, which are sealed, for the next semester’s students about how to succeed in your class.
  7. Provide timely feedback to students.  Regardless of whether they are turning in weekly assignments or large projects, get them graded and returned to students quickly.
  8. Bring enthusiasm to the classroom about what you teach and why you ask students to work as hard as you do.  (See last week’s tips for a refresher about this idea).
  9. Recognize that sometimes, you were wrong about what you had laid out in the syllabus.  This can easily happen the first time you teach a course.  It may take you longer to teach something than you had thought or you realize that the timeline expectations you had were overambitious.  Acknowledge it and adjust for students.  Better to recognize it yourself than have students begging or grousing around.
  10. Ask students for exemplars to use in future courses.  Many students work well from models and just knowing what is possible is encouraging and challenging for many students.

Go right ahead and believe that your subject is most important.  Convince your students to put forth extraordinary effort in your class.  They benefit tremendously because of your expectations.

TTPT Compendium - PerspectiveAnd as a college or university faculty member, you have many opportunities for success and failure. If you would like additional tips, tools, and techniques that you can use to support your successes, then you will want to access the The Compendium of Productivity Tips for Professors a step by step guide that will help you have a successful year and a compelling career as an academic.