If They Don’t Talk, Post-it!

This year I am in charge of delivering Support Sessions for the module I teach and convey (Introductory Economics). Support Sessions are non-compulsory ‘open’ office hours targeting students who feel that they are falling behind with the material. The sessions are timetabled and scheduled to take place in teaching venues. Everybody is welcome to attend and ask for clarifications on either the theory taught in Lectures, or the problems assigned in Seminars and Workshops. The set-up is clear, attendance to these sessions is quite good, but…

But, as usual, students are very reluctant to ask questions. At the beginning of every session I would switch the projector on, bring with me notes about everything covered in recent theoretical or applied teaching moments, and ask the fatidic question: “What would you like me to cover today?” Punctually, I would be met by silence and perplexity, if not embarrassment.

Argh, argh, Argh! What to do? Should I start picking on material that I think is difficult? Deliver a mini-lecture that covers core points? Dismiss the class in a huff telling students to come back next week with questions?

Nah, none of the above. I just have to accept the fact that my students do not feel comfortable enough to speak up in public and admit, in front of everybody, that they are experiencing difficulties with any part of the material taught. After all, would I be prepared to do the same? Would I walk in a class and tell the teacher, with all my peers listening to me, “I did not understand this”?

Well, I found the solutions to all my problems and I am a very happy lecturer now. I attended a very powerful workshop by Prof Phil Race at the Anglia Ruskin Assessment Fiesta a few weeks ago, and I got an excellent idea: Post-it!

Yes, that is right, Post-it is the way!
At the beginning of each session I distribute a sticky yellow Post-It slip to each student in the venue, and I ask them to write down what they would like me to cover in the Support Session, then I circulate 1 or 2 A4 sized blank sheets. Students stick all the Post-It slips on the A4 sheets. I like that they can see what other students have written: very often the same questions repeat over and over. Once the sheets are back with me, I quickly sort them on my desk. This allows me to address student queries in order, and build the session in a clear and organised way. Once the plan of action is in front of me, I start covering the issues raised, one by one, until completion. The additional benefit of this approach is that, once students see that I am addressing their specific concern, they gain confidence to raise their hands and ask for further clarifications on the points they are interested in.

At the beginning of each session I am flooded with Post-It notes now. At the end of the session students have gathered the information they needed, and we all live happy thereafter. Well…until the next Support Session!

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