Friday, August 31, 2007

A Mature Way To Ask For Help

(NOTE: I tried to make this post gender neutral, but it was just too clunky. I'm going to use the masculine gender in this post, but that doesn't imply that the student in question was male.)

I had a student come to me today during a break to ask for some assistance. This student said that he had test anxiety, and while he thinks he knows the material he just clams up during tests and quizzes.

Here's the good news. Instead of asking me to accommodate his fears, he asked how I thought he might overcome them.

I love it when students ask how they might improve, instead of how I might enable whatever condition they think they possess.

I gave him a couple of pointers. First, knowing the material well is the surest way to avoid such anxiety. He wouldn't stress over a test of the multiplication tables because he's expert; personally, I think test anxiety is more a crisis of self-confidence than anything else. Know the material, and there's no reason to be nervous.

Second, I told him that I don't believe in trick questions or problems that no one can solve. Yes, I'm capable of creating a test that everyone would fail, but that's not how I operate. I teach material, and then test what I teach. The fact that the quiz problems were from the chapter review from the textbook was further evidence of my being "above board" when it comes to fair assessments.

Lastly, I encouraged him to see me before and after school if he has questions on the material so that he can develop that mastery (and self-confidence) in the material. Additionally, he can ask me clarifying questions during a test or quiz.

Who would not want to help a student who asked for assistance the way this student did? Isn't that the type of question every teacher hopes for?


Ellen K said...

Bravo. Unfortunately there are teachers who DO enjoy making impossible, trick questions part of their test. My daughter just finished a statistics class taught by a guy who is getting his doctorate in the subject. His way of teaching was to present problems that were so difficult that only the math majors understood his concepts. That's great if you are only teaching math majors, but in a class where the entire student population will be cross-sectioned, you have to make some attempt to communicate the intermediate steps of problem solving that may be second nature to a math major, but not to other people. It was so bad that when she asked a friend of her's who is working on his masters in accounting at another university, he couldn't figure out the point of the lectures or the notes and homework. I applaud a student willing to change. Now if we can just get some of the more resistant teachers to meet them halfway, we can make progress.

Anonymous said...

I agree. However, "times tables" has a non-anxiety inducing image :P