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I recall in one of my classes earlier this year that I had a student who always 'hid' their working out from me when I walked around to see how well they're going with the question. The usual practice is for me to do a few worked examples, and then for me to give them time to try similar questions themselves.

During this time, I walk around the class to see how they are going and explain things individually if needed. Sometimes I call attention to the class to address a common problem.

I cannot help this student because they are clearly struggling and are too embarrassed to let me see their working out.

What strategies do you suggest in this kind of scenario? I would like to pull them out after class to have a quiet chat with them about it, but I feel that they'd be too intimidated even though I try to be as friendly as possible!

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    $\begingroup$ What was the age of this student? $\endgroup$ – NiloCK Nov 15 '14 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ Roughly 16 I think. $\endgroup$ – Trogdor Nov 15 '14 at 12:38
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    $\begingroup$ The kneeling (or squatting if that is more feasible) idea also has worked for me in my experience. If there is still resistance, I think a private conversation would be best. Explain that you looking to offer help and listen to their reasons for wanting to shield their work (if they will divulge). While you should insist that the student be willing to show you their work, you should also try to accommodate any needs or insecurities they have to help break down the barrier that is preventing communication between the two of you. $\endgroup$ – Michael Joyce Nov 18 '15 at 13:03
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It has been nearly a year now since I've made this question, and I think I've discovered a 'magical cure'. This one simple trick has worked for all of my classes with great success (I am feeling more like a scam-advertisement as I am typing this), though I admit I don't fully understand why it works so well, though I do have theories.

Simply kneel down when answering or checking their work.

Ever since I've been doing this, my students have been significantly more responsive and almost eager for me to have a look.

How I discovered this actually (although a little off-topic, though I thought it may be interesting) is that I was one day very tired and my feet were very sore, but still had to teach a class. One of my more shy students asked a question and I knelt down (to save my feet) to answer her question. I was blown away by how receptive she was because usually she is one of those students who has a habit of saying "I think I get it..." when it is very clear that they don't know what's happening.

I tried this for the rest of the class and it worked amazingly! I then tried it for all of my classes and it yielded the same result.

My theory as to why this works is that by kneeling, you are totally committing your focus to that one student whilst also 'being on their level' rather than standing up and pointing at whatever mistake they've made.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for returning to this and posting your discovery. I must say (community college environment) that any student who's ever done this with me has uniformly failed the course (obviously it's downright self-destructive). So at least I have a new thing to try next time it happens. $\endgroup$ – Daniel R. Collins Nov 18 '15 at 3:21
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    $\begingroup$ This is a general principle that is already taught to early-childhood teachers -- whenever you talk to a small child, you should squat or kneel down so you are at their eye-level. As you say, you are coming into "their world" and giving them your focused attention. It makes sense that it would work for older students too, but is very cool that it helps prevent "work shielding". $\endgroup$ – DavidButlerUofA Nov 18 '15 at 3:48
  • $\begingroup$ A big part of this is that you are not a beacon standing above the student, bringing attention to their deficiencies before the rest of the class. As you mention in the answer, and DavidButlerUofA points out, you create a private space for the student to receive feedback. I have been using the same technique in my classes with surprisingly good results. $\endgroup$ – Jon Bannon Nov 20 '15 at 15:52
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When dealing with students, especially more quiet and private ones, the most important thing is to build some sense of trust before trying to breach things that make them uncomfortable. If you just outright go up to them and tell them to show their work to you because you are the teacher it will only make them more uncomfortable and less likely to want to learn. You might get to see their work but it is not worth the trade-off by making them uncomfortable. I would definitely talk to them and just let them know that you aren't doing this to embarrass them or snoop on them, you are just doing it to get a better sense of how they are doing with the content and that it is completely ok if they aren't getting it, you just need to know so that you know what to focus on during the lesson. Don't do this in front of the other students and don't make a big deal when you ask them to stay after class and definitely don't make it a power struggle ("I'm the teacher so you need to show me this", even if that is the case). If they are still resistant, ask them if they are comfortable giving you their work after class to look over. I find that some students who don't like to let you look at their work during class are ok with letting you see their work when they aren't present, this way you can still get a sense of how they are doing. I hope this helps, such a difficult problem to tackle!

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I often have the same practice than you, but when I walk around I particularly go to student hiding their work out and ask them to show me what they tried. I ask this casually, but making it clear that it is mandatory and not optional to show me their work. I have had no trouble that way, but I may have different students than you have.

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