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Suggested Feedback for Underperforming Students

by Karen Nichols

As a followup to my previous post on discussion boards, I thought I would outline some best practices for responding to underperforming students.  All too soon, we'll begin a new academic year and it's so important to stay on top of our students' status and provide help to them, especially if they are struggling.  In a recent issue of Faculty Focus, Dr. Maryellen Weimer offers suggestions for feedback based on why a student is not doing well.

For the student who just isn't trying, she recommends offering alternate assignments and trying to find ways to engage that student.  When I'm teaching French online, I do tell my students to make suggested alternatives or I may give more than one choice for an assignment, but that is still not enough motivation sometimes.  When a subject is required and a student has no interest in it at all, what feedback do you give to help them?

For the student who lacks self-confidence, Dr. Weimer recommends focused feedback.  Be descriptive and specific--not evaluative.  Focus on each individual task that the student must complete and celebrate the progress with that student.  Learning a new language can be quite overwhelming for many students and getting them focused on completing the task at hand can be tricky.  When a student tries to read a paragraph in French and only understands 20% of it, s/he must be shown skills to apply to figuring out the other 80%.

There are other reasons for underperformance such as not possessing the requisite skills to be taking the class (you're trying to take French 1020 without 1010 because you had French in kindergarten?) or a student just can't grasp a certain concept (verb conjugation--what's that?).  In all of these cases, Dr. Weimer's article gives good tips on how to work with your students to help them improve their performance and hopefully succeed.

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