Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Mistakes of Students...and Teachers

Having taught a business law class for several years, I've encountered all types of students. Most are reasonably serious, some are very serious, and a few are, to put it gently, disengaged.

I've noticed that there are some basics that even the brightest students sometimes overlook. Here are the key ones:

  1. Failing to read the course requirements. [Obviously a wise move but perhaps not that obvious.]
  2. Failing to read the test questions. [This is so common I wonder how often in my own school days I missed the aim of the question.]
  3. Padding essays. [That is hard to miss when the same concept has been reworded three times.]
  4. Failing to ask questions. [Believe me, most professors are thrilled when a student shows enough interest to ask a question. The best students ask the most questions.]
  5. Applying their own rules to the subject. [You may feel that the French have been mispronouncing a word for years or that a law should have been written a certain way but unfortunately your interpretation is not on the exam.]

Now, in all fairness, let's look at the mistakes that teachers make:

  1. Using arcane exam questions that are more likely to trap or embarrass students than to test actual knowledge of the subject.
  2. Failing to give extensions on assignment deadlines.
  3. Failing to provide jargon-free explanations in plain language.
  4. Automatically assuming that if a student doesn't do well on an exam then the fault must be the student's.
  5. Forgetting that the teacher's job is to convey knowledge and not go through the motions of conveying knowledge.
  6. Failing to acquire decent presentation skills.
  7. Turning what could be an interesting subject into a recital of boring material.


Godfather of Practical Reasoning said...

Just wanted to make a comment on your #4 for students, i.e. "Failing to ask questions."

I think many students are fearful to ask questions, particularly in class, because they, in their mindset, don't want to be embarrassed by asking "stupid" questions. When I was attending college (many years ago), I rarely asked questions even though I didn't understand the class or the assignment.

As for teachers, your #6 statement, "Failing to acquire decent presentation skills" is so true. Not that they don't know their materials, but they didn't concentrate on communications skills, particularly scientists and engineers. It's not really their fault because their expertise is in their field, not the communications field.

#7, "Turning what could be an interesting subject into a recital of boring material" is related to #6. Teachers can make any topic interested if he/she has adequate communications skills and he/she can engage the audience.

I also concur with statements 3 to 5. Again, with proper presentation skills jargon words would not be used and they would be more prepared to "convey knowledge and not go through the motions of conveying knowledge."

Michael Wade said...


Thank you for your comments. I think you're right. One of my regrets is that I didn't ask enough questions when I was in school. Because of that natural reluctance on the part of many students, teachers need to go out of their way to invite questions. It can help to weave "frequently unasked questions" into the presentation in order to signal that some of the so-called stupid questions aren't dumb at all.