Not all students are created equally. Many come into a course with the appropriate background knowledge to succeed, but some students come in unprepared. Maybe they aren’t equipped with the required prerequisites or perhaps in a previous course they did not apply themselves to reach their full potential. Whatever the case may be, instructors can find ways to facilitate success with underprepared students. In McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers (2011, Wadsworth, Cengage Learning), authors Svinicki and McKeachie suggest several ways to help get the underprepared student ready for class.

  • If students are unprepared because they lack some background in foundational learning, giving them some supplemental resources can help to both motivate them and make them feel more in command of their educational path. These resources often can be found online, and can teach basic skills, such as math or composition. Another option is to create tutorials for the class that include the most common deficiencies seen in previous semesters. If the course is one that has multiple sections by different instructors, pool resources and create a department-wide website that addresses the most common issues students have. This website could also contain definitions, examples, and teaching activities. An electronic discussion board could also be integrated into the website, where students can have peer-to-peer discussions and instructors can directly answer questions. Remedial resources can also be found in textbooks or supplements, so suggest some books that contain this information.
  • In addition to suggesting books and supplements for review, provide students with questions from old exams or sample tests. Students can then test themselves and see if they are ready for the course. You can also encourage students to create study groups that they can continue to work with throughout the semester. A way to encourage these groups could be to offer extra credit to the students who are excelling in the class and are willing to help the struggling students.
  • As the semester continues, give students tests or quizzes so that they can identify their issues. Set aside office time for the students who struggle on these exams. Have them explain the cause of their difficulty and feel free to ask questions about their participation and study habits. If students are still having difficulty, refer them to resources on campus.
  • Continue to check up on students throughout the semester and see if additional help is needed. These tips from Svinicki and McKeachie will help underprepared students become more motivated and successful and will help instructors ensure students come into their courses with the knowledge they need to succeed. (Adapted from Svinicki and McKeachie, 174-175)

Reference: Content adapted from Svinicki, Marilla and McKeachie, Wilbert J. 2011. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. 13th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.