SIP 4.5 Productive Interactions with Frustrating Students

Professors-in-USA-and-Student_FotorThirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Last week the SIPsquad offered some perspective on the management of instructor frustration in the face of challenging student behavior. This week, the SIPsquad offers up some tactical advice that will allow instructors to immediately and positively engage in behavior correction for good outcomes.

We are doing our students a disservice when we allow them to believe that disrespectful behavior is acceptable. Regardless of what they do for work, they will be expected to monitor their communication and behavior. Explicit instruction of positive behavior is as important as anything else we will teach.

Take a SIP of This: Productive Interactions with Frustrating Students

  • Begin by setting clear expectations for behavior and communication, and have them written down in the syllabus or elsewhere. Use clear and specific language when possible, but remind students that faculty will use their own judgment on occasion as well.
  • If you find that students are continuously ignoring your expectations, explain why they are important to maintaining a productive learning environment. Students will be less likely to comply with expectations that appear arbitrary.
  • Enforce the expectations. Although you might feel like you are spending more time policing than teaching, the energy you spend at the beginning of the semester will send the message that your expectations will be adhered to.
  • Structure an activity where students contribute to setting the expectations for behavior and respectful communication. This accomplishes two things: first, the students have buy-in to the expectations; second, the students can be expected to police each other, leaving the professor out of the enforcement loop.
  • Allow students to make poor choices. One of the best lessons we can teach students is that poor choices result in negative consequences. The clearer the consequences, the easier they are to implement and enforce. If they protest, try redirecting the conversation by asking them what they could do differently next time in order to make a better choice. Think of teaching responsibility for choice-making as part of a “soft skills” curriculum.
  • Have a system for students who want to contest their grade on an assignment or test. Let students know that in order to contest a grade they have to write you an email in which they go through the grading criteria and explain how their work meets the criteria. Or, insist that they come to office hours and show them an example of another student’s paper/test/assignment (with permission, of course) that had a high grade.
  • Allow students to have input in determining their grade. The more explicit you can be about grading criteria, the better. If a paper should be double spaced, and the student complains that their grade reflected formatting errors, you can point out that they chose not to follow the instructions. The consequence for not following instructions is a lower grade.
  • When speaking with students be sure to listen closely and consider their perspectives thoughtfully. There can be some good learning opportunities for you as well as the student.
  • Clarify what they are saying by summarizing their thoughts, such as, “It sounds to me that you think my grading is too strict. Is that accurate?”

Still Thirsty? Take Another SIP of Productive Interactions with Frustrating Students

“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict.”
                                   – Dorothy Thompson

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