We all have students who “push our buttons” in some way - who argue or disagree or rebel or otherwise disrupt our orderly classrooms. And this happens in online classes, as well as on campus. Working from a strategy and a template/script can speed up your response time and make the process less stressful!
In this workshop, Jenny Michael (Online Education) presents a step-by-step approach to responding to your challenging online students. The approach is outlined below - along with some prompts to help you craft thoughtful, measured, and effective replies. (See also our workshop on Engaging Your Absent / Silent / Invisible Online Students.)
(Workshop date: Fall 2011)
A. Create & Communicate Clear Expectations
One of the best ways to avert classroom challenges is to clearly communicate your expectations to your students right at the start of the semester. Draft your key policies and then post them in the Discussion where your students will see them. You can do this in one or more announcements, or you may prefer to use informational topics.
One effective strategy is to require students (1) to review your policies and (2) to post a message stating that they have read and understood them. This method also provides an opportunity for you to answer questions related to your expectations and to elucidate anything that is not clear to students. Learn more about this approach to Posting Class Policies.
You can download additional guidelines for drafting course policies and rubrics, along with samples:
- Basic Expectations & Communication
- Discussion Participation Guidelines
- Late Homework
- Discussion Grading: Sample Policy | Sample Rubrics
B. Reflect Before Responding
If you’re feeling tired or angry or insecure or frustrated, those feelings are likely to color your reaction when you read a (possibly) challenging post from one of your students. Psychologists have shown that when we’re experiencing negative emotions, we tend to interpret other people’s meanings negatively. What is more, we humans have evolved a “negativity bias,” which prompts us to read all ambiguous messages as negative — even when we’re not feeling bad ourselves!
So when you come home after a long, frustrating day and find a message from a student that instantly raises your hackles, take these steps before dashing off an angry response:
- Reflect on how your emotional state may be influencing your perception of the situation.
- Have someone else read the communication if you’re unsure about its meaning.
- Don’t waste time pondering the truthfulness of the student’s statements.
- Don’t take the communication personally.
- Determine to respond as if students are not challenging your authority, even if they are.
- Sleep on it before taking action…
C. Respond Strategically
When you’re ready to respond, use the script and prompts below to help you craft your reply.
- Acknowledge the student’s experience (pain, distress, frustration, etc.)
- I appreciate...
- I recognize that you're finding this part of the course challenging...
- I am sorry you are having such a difficult time in the course. The course is very challenging and learning new things can be frustrating.
- You’re obviously dealing with a lot this semester.
- Explain your focus in terms of the goals and policies for the course.
- ...my job is to do everything I can to help students meet -or exceed!- the requirements of the class.
- My goal is to help you develop the new skills and knowledge described in the syllabus.
- This course is designed to engage you with… This skill will serve you well in anticipation of the midterm and final field projects which require you to...
- Although you're finding this part of the course challenging, it's a challenge you must surmount because the course is built around this task.
- State your position (reiterate your policy).
- [Regarding resubmittals]: If you understand and agree with my feedback on your paper then I don't think you'd benefit -as in learn more- by redoing the assignment.
- I can't waive this requirement.
- As for your grades, there were key components in the assignment that needed to be addressed. (See my feedback.) Without those elements, your assignment missed the target.
- According the policy outlined in Module X, I do not accept late work.
- Propose the next steps.
- If you will turn in your project... by X date... I will offer feedback.
- Focus on...
- Get in touch with the Academy Resource Center. I can make a referral for you, so they know you’ll be contacting them.
- Use the writing lab.
- Once midterm grades are posted (probably by tomorrow morning), get back to me via the email system if you still want to resubmit.
- Take this as an opportunity to reflect and look more closely at the details of the assignments in the future.
- Ask the student for confirmation or agreement.
- Let me know if you’ll be able to meet this goal...
- If there is something I can do to clarify anything else that you feel confused about, please let me know. That's why I'm here.
- Keep me posted on what you decide….
Examples: Here are two examples of instructor posts that use this script. The “decoded” version of each shows you how the message incorporates the five elements of the script.
Dear Student J:
EXAMPLE #1 (decoded)
Dear Student J:
Dear Student T,
EXAMPLE #2 (decoded)
Dear Student T,
More suggestions for responding to challenging behaviors
- In all future communication, reiterate the same information and position without escalating emotions.
- Don’t engage with lengthy rambles or rants. Ask the student to re-frame their post with a specific question about content and/or requirements for the course.
- Respond only to direct questions related to the content of the course.
- Re-read your response (aloud) one last time before you hit send. Remember that your response could make its way to the Executive Office.
- Delete posts with profanity, insults or anything you think will be offensive to other students.
- When the problem is beyond the scope of your responsibilities or is in violation of the AAU code of conduct, take these steps:
- Contact the director to share your concerns and send screen shot of the post.
- Delete the post.
- Email student to explain why you deleted the post. Include the link to the Code of Conduct. Copy your director.
Workshop and guidelines developed and presented by: