Wednesday, September 13, 2017


I suspect none of us who teach probably appreciates fully how much guidance students need.   Every class is unique and has its own keys to success.  To us, who have been doing this forever, the way forward looks as clear as the yellow brick road that Dorothy was told to follow by the munchkins.  To the students, the path looks like an overgrown mile of swampland with no visible markers.   I realize that they look like adults but most students probably need guidance almost every step of the way.

I think one of the biggest challenges in college education (and I have said this often on this blog) is that students are under-prepared when they walk into class.   They are just are not ready for the depth of conversation that I want.  So, we teachers wind up guiding them using a long, boring lecture.   If they are not prepared, what else are we going to do?

I often accuse them of being prepared for a high school class.  The response is always, “I thought I was prepared so I stopped working.”   Of course, they really stopped just as soon as they possibly could justify it.   On a college campus, there are always more interesting things they can be doing as soon as preparation stops.  Quit preparing and go have fun.

Since I view that as real problem, I want to provide concrete guidance.  And, I want to do it early before they get into bad habits.   Here is an email (slightly edited) that I sent to my juniors this morning.   I won’t convert them all to better preparation with one email, but I’ll be surprised if I don’t get several of them more ready on Friday.  My advice sets a time goal for them.  No student can shortcut a time goal.  

There’s nothing magical here.  It is just a very ordinary email to my students.   But it addresses a specific problem by providing a solid goal.  I think it will help.

To:  My Students

We have now been together in Intermediate Accounting II for nearly three weeks.  The question I always get from students about this time is "how am I doing?"  We have not had a test so you do not really know.

The answer I give to this question is always the same -- if you put in 40 minutes after every class to review that previous class AND 80 minutes to get ready for the next class, you should be doing fine.   It is not 120 minutes -- it is 40 and 80.   You need to fill in the holes from the previous class AND make sure you are very ready to be part of the discussion in the coming class.

I always get a couple of questions in response to that advice.

Q -- What if I do all the studying and just get finished before I hit 40 and 80?

A -- 40 and 80 is a great habit to get into for my class.   Never let yourself off early.   That is too easy.   You've been a student for 90 percent of your life.   Look around and find more to do.   I gave you several pages of advice before the semester began.  Read it all again and see what I have suggested.  If you cannot find more to do, you need to become more aware.

Q -- What if I just spend 360 minutes every Saturday?   Does that work?

A -- Absolutely not.   If you went to a football coach and said, "I'm going to really practice hard for one game out of every 3," he would have a nervous breakdown (or chew your head off).   Every day is an individual component of this course.   I expect good stuff every day.

Students need guidance.  Figure out what they are doing that you don’t like and give them some good advice.   Don't just fuss about them.   Tell them what you want.   

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