Student readiness means that a student has an open mind and willingness to learn in addition to the necessarily basic skills that will allow them to learn the course material with confidence.
It’s critical to assess student readiness at the beginning of the semester and to address any knowledge gaps before you present new topics that require remediation. This will help students understand new concepts, build their confidence and influence their success.
Let me show you how I’ve addressed readiness in my Statistics course, with a few extra steps in my course plan.
Build Student Confidence
Students who enter my class unwilling to learn are at a disadvantage. They often believe they can’t succeed, and give up as material becomes more difficult. I teach Statistics, which many students enter with apprehension, so I address the issue of student willingness and confidence in the first week of class.
I assure students from the start that they are all capable of succeeding and that my teaching approach is to not leave anyone behind.
Sometimes, I share data from previous semesters showing that most students passed the course. I also reiterate that the ones who didn’t pass were the same students who had poor attendance, didn’t complete homework and didn’t attend office hours. This helps students realize that success is a choice.
Evaluate Readiness & Reduce Fear
Once I’ve built a confident foundation, I’m able to assess my students’ skills. WebAssign has great tools for evaluating readiness, whether I am teaching in a classroom or online. I schedule a diagnostic assignment early in the term that includes a combination of multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank questions to assess their skills.
In the assignment, I include free-response questions that enable students to describe their comfort level with the course material. Plus, no points are deducted for wrong answers.
In the age of COVID-19, I also included questions in the assignment about their personal situations. Students responded with issues of poor internet, caring for family members, moving back home and lack of computer. Some of these issues can be addressed through campus resources, such as computer checkouts and internet access in parking lots. With some issues, I can make accommodations in due dates or the assignment-submission process.
I’m not only able to evaluate their skill level, but I also get valuable feedback on the stress they experience around taking my course. This allows me to address students’ fears in a synchronous class session, which goes a long way toward reducing their stress.
Strategies to Address Readiness
Addressing readiness can be accomplished through lectures, feedback and assignments designed to cover the needed skills and cognitive processes. I prefer just-in-time remediation so that students receive it just when it’s needed.
Here are a few strategies I’ve found most effective:
Remediate Basic Skills While Teaching New Topics
During class, I remediate by demonstrating the basic skill techniques as I am teaching new concepts. It takes little extra time and ensures students of all skill levels are brought up to speed with the rest of the class in a respectful way.
Reinforce the Process, Not Only the Correct Answer
I include “how to” details in all examples and assignment answers I provide to students. The “how to” may be more than some students require, but when the subject is still new to all of them, laying out the details helps them understand the process and validates their thinking.
I also share my thought processes in my explanations, so students understand my perspective.
One practice I find especially useful is to create short specific videos that address particular skills or topics. They are more likely to be watched because they are short and can be incorporated into lectures, assignments or resources.
Design with Readiness in Mind
Consider the types of questions and resources you’re providing to students to help with readiness throughout the course. Here’s a few things I do for my students:
- I incorporate at least one tutorial question within WebAssign assignments, which take students step by step through use of a new concept. These questions prepare students for later questions in the assignment and are also good resources when they’re studying for exams.
- Students also have optional resources within assignment questions such as Master It tutorials or links to the appropriate textbook sections (Read Its) to help students should they need it.
- Lastly, it’s helpful to enable and introduce students to Personal Study Plans (PSP) if it’s available for your textbook, to encourage students to review material and test themselves.
Check Student Understanding
The last step is to make sure your readiness strategies have been effective. Enabling the Show My Work feature in WebAssign has helped me better understand my students’ thinking by getting them to show it. Free-response questions have also helped me gauge student understanding.
While addressing readiness gaps, you may also need a humanizing touch, especially for a fully online course. Instructors can’t get to know students directly by walking around the classroom and it’s harder for students to get immediate feedback one-on-one.
Make a conscious effort to provide opportunities to connect with your students through online office hours and continually encourage students to attend.
Learning is most likely to occur when students feel heard, supported and empowered to succeed. Once an instructor knows the readiness levels of students, the right level of support can be provided.
When supported appropriately, students can be challenged intellectually and discover their abilities without fear. At the end of the term, many students tell me that they always thought they were “bad at Math” but now they don’t think so.
I believe that a teacher’s primary task is to help students overcome their fears, open their minds and discover their abilities. Assessing and addressing readiness and providing the necessary support requires a few extra steps, but it can make all the difference. Making a difference for my students is what makes teaching so rewarding.
Find more peer tips and best practices for your course.