Imagine you’ve had a busy day teaching on campus. You return to your office and get ready to grade some papers. You check your email quickly and see this message from a student who hasn’t been very active in your UWEX course:
I noticed that I have a very low grade in your course, and as we are getting close to the end of the term, I am wondering what I can do to improve my score. Would it be possible to turn in some of my late assignments?
Has this ever happened to you? How do you feel when you receive these types of messages from students? While it may be easy to dismiss a message like this as simple procrastination, the good news is that the student wants to reengage in your course! It is tempting to send a quick reply telling the student what they need to turn in or fix. Digging deeper into a student’s needs will help them feel connected to you and the course. Research has shown that when students disengage, those who feel supported and connected are more likely to reengage compared to those who don’t.
Here are some example conversation starters and questions you could try with students to support them in self-motivation to reengage in a course:
|When students share struggles in the course, build empathy.||
|Help students recognize strengths and how to apply them to other parts of the course by mixing the positive with the negative. Use “yet” or “and” instead of “but” to reduce defensiveness and ensure positive feedback is received.||
|Praise students for taking the time to ask for help and identify shared goals.||
Questions to Build Deeper Understanding for Change
Using guiding questions helps students discover what is needed to change. Asking closed questions (questions with a yes or no answer) might mean students respond with what they think you want to hear and not what they actually need. Try some of these open-ended guiding questions instead of yes or no questions.
|Identify barriers or make students aware of barriers.||How has…created problems for you?|
|Understand student anxiety.||What worries you about…? (i.e., grade, performance, etc.)|
|Ensure you understand student meaning.||If I’m understanding you right, it sounds like… (repeat back student’s answer)|
|Identify motivation.||How important is it for you to do this…?|
|Assess a student’s readiness to change.||How confident are you to do this…?|
|Highlight past “wins”/success strategies.||What difficult goals have you accomplished in the past?|
|Identify student needs.||
|Connect choices and consequences.||How did skipping two weeks make the assignment more difficult for you?|
|Help a student get started.||What’s the first thing you might try to…?|
Take a look at this email to see these in action. Can you spot the techniques mentioned above? Click the plus (+) signs to see if you are correct!
This article is based on a conference presentation by Liz Seitz and Jessica O’Neel entitled “Engaging the Disengaged Student: Motivating Change from Within,” which was presented at the UW Extended Campus 2022 Collaborative Online Programs Faculty Symposium, May 24-25, 2022, Middleton, WI, United States. https://ce.uwex.edu/faculty-symposium/