Agony aunt

January 15, 1999

Some of my first-year students are very reluctant to participate in tutorials. What is the best way of encouraging them without embarrassing them in the process?

It is easy to forget that students do not necessarily understand the different roles and responsibilities involved in the learning process.

Learning is a partnership between students and staff and if we are genuine about trying to develop the individual learner, we cannot assume it will happen by osmosis.

Try going back to basics, set some parameters and spell out to students their responsibilities and those of the tutor. If you work together in this way, you can create a learning contract and then if you do not get the participation you need or expect, you can go back to your contract and to what you agreed together.

If there are still individuals who are not joining in, there may be a particular problem. Perhaps they have a job that leaves them too little time to do preparation work. Try and accommodate everyone's needs and perhaps set aside 15 minutes in class for students to tune in with various small tasks.

After that, the tutor has the option of confronting individual students - in a safe and private environment - to find out why they are not getting involved. That can have a dramatic effect. Ask them if they have any goals.

Tutors often say they do not have time for that type of individual contact but the goal is to get students to learn.

Of course you cannot make them learn, but you can help them to work hard to achieve their own learning goals and this can sometimes only be done through dialogue.

Inevitably though, there will sometimes be students we simply cannot bring with us. There is very little to be done about that.

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