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Effective Teaching: Balancing the needs of the one with the needs of the many.


In photography a "macro-lens" allows one to get extreme close-ups. Perhaps you are a "very" caring instructor and as such tend to want to take care of every individual in your class. Sometimes you become so engrossed (extremely focused / close up) with helping one student that your other students may find themselves sitting there for a while during the time you are helping the one student. This of course is a challenge for all instructors -- how to help the "one" while not losing the "crowd."

Balancing individual focus on students with group focus is a functional "high wire balancing act."

Let's brainstorm a few strategies:

1. Use tutors and/or assistants if you have them. For example, if you know that a weak student sits in the same chair each time, have your assistant arrive a bit early and sit in the chair next to where the weak student usually sits. That way you are not embarrassing the student by "sending over your assistant" to "fix" the problem.  Instead the assistant just happens to be sitting there and just happens to lean over on occasion and model the skill correctly from the student's point of view.

2. Announce that you'll reserve the last 10 minutes of class for those who need to work on "X" skill can stay and those who already know "X" skill can leave.

3. Refer students to an online resource that covers "X" skill and then follow up in class.

4. Use the 2 or 3 minutes before class to specifically cover a skill or issue with one or two individuals that you noted (in the previous session) needed attention.

5. Realize that sometimes you will see a student making a mistake and that it is okay to temporarily ignore that mistake on an individual basis and then cover it soon after on a group basis.

6. Assign the "issue" (weakness or needed skill building effort) as homework for an activity that will be done in class the next session. Students like to look good to their peers and thus will tend to go home and practice.

7.  Announce that the "issue" will be covered on the test and that those who don't understand it yet can read about it on a specific page of the text or website page.

8.  Use a peer-instructional model wherein you give a test for "Skill-X" and then use that data to assign partners or groups in which at least one partner that knows the skill is paired with at least one partner who doesn't know the skill. Then have them do an interaction in which the skill is required and have the more skilled partner go first.

9.  Instead of going over to the individual student who is not doing something right, choose a gregarious student to role play with you in front of class.  That way the whole class gets to see some fun going on and a shy student doesn't have to endure the embarrassment of being corrected in front of his/her peers.

10.  Create an environment of mutual support (which you do VERY well) and then overtly direct and empower your students to directly help each other.  For example, let them know that it is okay to (gently) reach over and move their signing partner or classmates hands into the right position (while being CAREFUL to remember that some people have arthritis or other physical limitations!)  THEN specifically remind the students that if someone else helps them and that help is unwanted to simply respond by smiling nicely and thanking that person but sit somewhere ELSE for the next class session. (Usually good for a laugh -- but the point is clear. We should not be afraid to help others and yet we should not have to endure unwanted help from others).
- Dr. Bill





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