How to Handle Student Issues that Can Effect Learning

A photograph of a corner of a classroom with empty desks.

A number of issues can impact student learning such as motivation, prior knowledge, and knowledge organization. However, a number of other issues not related to cognitive skill can also impact student learning such as classroom disruption from other students, family and social problems, lack of preparation and/or participation in class, and poor attendance. In this article, we address these four issues that can have a significant impact on student learning.

Classroom Disruption

Some students will be rude in class or disrupt the work of others. This behavior may be due to frustration, emotional/psychological problems, or a need to challenge your authority. On the first day of class, make your expectations clear and provide guidelines for classroom behavior. Some instructors have students determine these guidelines to enhance buy-in. Respond immediately to inappropriate behavior. You could first direct your response to the whole class or direct it to the students involved. Many instructors choose to handle this type of behavior outside of class. Disruptive behavior may warrant a conversation with the Dean of Students office. See the UNT Code of Student Conduct for more about classroom disruption.

Family/Social Problems

Students who come to the instructor with personal, family problems, or other problems with university life outside of the scope of the course should be referred to the appropriate student services office on campus. While it may be tempting to help students personally, doing so often complicates the relationship between teacher and student and can be considered inappropriate. When a student is in a non-emergency crisis it is best to contact the CARE Team, so that they can assist the student with the proper resources and follow up.

Lack of Preparation and/or Participation in Class

Students may not participate in class because they are not prepared. Some may lack the background to adequately prepare or understand the readings. Work with your students about how to prepare for class. Tell them how much time they need to allow for preparation and how preparation can benefit them, not only for your class but for their future. Make sure the readings are not too complex for your students. Conduct a quick survey to determine how students perceive the readings and modify accordingly. If complex readings are a must for your course, provide more introductory readings so that students can scaffold their understanding. Tell students what you expect them to be able to do after they have completed preparation for class. Have them come to class with a question or an argument based upon the literature. You could also model for students how you tackle a new reading in your field; i.e. what you read first and how you organize your reading process. You could also provide questions for students to answer while they are reading.

Poor Attendance

Students do not come to class for a variety of reasons. They may be bored or even believe they are anonymous because of the size of the class. You can make a difference. Arrive early to class and interact with students. Engage them by asking questions during class or using response systems. Try to learn their names and work towards helping them build a sense of community with one another.

Students may believe that if they copy notes from someone or look online at lecture slides, that they’ve accomplished the same outcomes as if they went to class. Some students may be overwhelmed by the demands of the course and others may not understand what is said in class due to their lack of terminology or language skills. You can counter some of this thinking by providing incentives to attend class. For example, post incomplete slides and explain to students that they will receive more information in class including explanations and examples.

Students may not attend because the content is not interesting to them. Find ways to connect the content to their lives and interests. Involve the students in class with experiences that are interesting and apply their learning.