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Angela V. Woodhull, Ph.D., © 2014
For some of today’s students who just don’t seem interested in their school, the
question is: How do we get them to become more engaged in the learning process?
Here are some easy suggestions that can work.
[1] Phone them! Some students seem to think they deserve “A’s” for less than
stellular work. Sending an e-mail back to a student who has complained
about that “unfair grade” may not work. Two students, when told specifically
how to improve their work, sent back long rebuttals to the detailed feedback.
When the professor then composed another detailed explanation, the students
then hastily composed even greater rebuttals. After five rounds, the professor
stopped responding. The students’ work did not improve. The e-mail bantering
simply ignited the students to produce even more reasons why their imperfect
work was perfect.
Indeed, some students can be difficult. But there is a better way.
Instead of engaging a disgruntled student in an endless stream of e-mails
that do not seem to please him anyway, simply pick up the phone and call him.
Through “live” conversation, you may discover that the student may not have
even read his graded paper or reviewed all of the any of the detailed commentary
you painstakingly added to his paper. However, upon reviewing his paper “live”
via the telephone , there is a good chance he will thank you for taking the
time to assess and improve his skills.
[2] Attention! Some students expect a little more attention than others.
A weekly phone call, or even some additional e-mail chat, can make
all the difference. Look for commonalities. Start the conversation by discovering
what you have in common with the student. Even if the topic has no relationship
to your course’s subject matter, the student will feel more inclined to participate in
schoolwork knowing that she and the professor share similar interests. One
student, for example, was going to drop the class because the subject matter did
not interest her. However, during a phone chat, the facilitator and student
discovered that they both shared a common passion for good nutrition and health
foods. They swapped information on healthy practices and, thereafter, the student
was prompt at turning in detailed and well-written papers. A rapport had been
[3] The discussion threads are key! Students may only be interested in posting
the bare minimum in the discussion threads. But what would happen if you
answered each and every post (or just about)? Just think of what a difference this
can make. The disengaged student now learns that every time he logs into the
classroom, the facilitator has posted something just for him! By week two of the
course, professors who spend a little extra time replying to nearly all posts
notice that the amount of discussion quickly increases. Excited to turn on
the computer and see what the professor has written to him or her for the day, the
student begins taking a deeper interest in the subject topic.
[4] Be current! Not every discussion post needs to be academic in nature; pop
topics can be tied in with academic subjects. Seek out current news topics, gossip
about the Hollywood stars, lyrics to rap songs, and videos to share with your
students. You can always tie in pop culture and pop music with the academic
subject matter at hand.
For example, in a class where we the discuss drug addiction, the students
listened to a rap song about cocaine and then tied in the song’s premises
with the opponent-process theory. When discussing low self-esteem,
celebrities who have been in the news for their bad behavior in court can be
used as a discussion starting point. When discussing multi-cultural diversity, you
can send your students links to listen to the latest music video hits in Europe,
Africa, and Asia.
[4] Build rapport! Discuss the topics that interest them, such as what’s going on
in Miley Cyrus’, Taylor Swift’s, PitBull’s, Eminem’s, and Pink’s lyrics. Learn a
few well known lines to today’s rap songs and pop genre. For instance, you
might ask your students in a multicultural diversity class, when studying the plight
of Women’s Liberation, “Do Pit Bull’s hit songs, “Give Me Everything,” and
“Timber” promote exploitation of women , or is that what today’s women want?
Contrast these hit songs to the popular song “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic.
Which song reflects what today’s women want? And what would the Feminists
from the early ‘70’s have said about these contrasting themes? In a class on
substance abuse, you might ask, “Eminem talks in ‘The Monster’ inside his head –
- about “violence, family, insanity, addiction, and death.” Does substance abuse
lead to thoughts of insanity?
Take an interest in today’s pop culture; the students are more likely to take an
interest in what happened long ago to Skinner’s rats and Pavlov’s dogs. You can
always find a tie - in.
Engaging today’s students involves finding common ground and building
rapport; the cell phone can really help. A comedian recently stated that if the
cell phone had been invented after text messaging, everyone would be boasting,
“Hey! There’s this new device where you can just push a button and hear the
person’s voice!” A little live chat can help to engage the fledgling student who
ultimately wants to shoot for the stars.
~Angela Woodhull, Ph.D. facilitates multicultural diversity and psychology courses online. Angela Woodhull is also a licensed private investigator and a professional motivational speaker. Angela Woodhull is the author of Coping With Difficult Teachers, Police Communication in Traffic Stops, Easy Words: An Easy Way to Learning New Words, and Private Investigative Strategies and Techniques. Angela Woodhull can be reached at (352) 327-3665 or at

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