He was making bad decisions all term long, which resulted in failing the course. In order for Edward to pass my advanced academic ESL course and move on to English Comp, he would need to repeat the course. He would also need to change his habits such as coming late and forgetting assignments or doing them with little effort.
After he found out that he failed, I emailed him to let him know that I could give him advice about how he could pass next time. To my surprise, he asked for it.
My first impulse was to make a list of all the things that he needed to change in his study habits. Then I realized that there was a more positive approach that I could take to giving this advice.
I have found that students seem to be more affected by what other students do in a class than what an instructor tells them to do.
I decided not to list all the things that he did wrong during the term and tell him what he should do to improve. Instead, this is what I wrote:
My Message to Him
I’ve had students who were similar to you and had to repeat the course. I’ll share with you what they did to improve enough to pass to English 101.
1) They always arrived at least 5 minutes early and sat in the front two rows. During that time before class, they turned in their assignment or talked to me if they had any questions. Also, they got organized for the class.
2) They finished at least 90% of their assignments on time, but if they couldn’t, they sent me an email or immediately let me know when they came into class.
3) They completed every assignment as if the panel* was going to look at it. (In fact, I do make copies of some students’ everyday assignments to show the panel.) In other words, they put a lot of thought into the assignments and checked their grammar carefully. They tried to write at an advanced level (Level 5), not at a lower-level (Level 4 or 3) on every exercise.
4) On their essays, they wrote about 3 pages. If they needed extra help with their ideas, they talked to me before the essays were due. And they checked their grammar carefully.
5) All of them read between 20 minutes and one hour a day, and usually they read a novel in English. This reading did not include their homework reading assignments.
To tell you the truth, Edward, I have been totally amazed at how much those students improved. At the start of their second term in my course, I thought some of them were going to have to return to the previous level by the end of the term, but they didn’t. Instead, the ones who did those 5 steps all passed to English 101 at the end of the term.
From looking at the assignments that you seemed to have worked hard on, I could see that you have the ability to do very well in my course next term.
*We have a panel of instructors read students’ essays and discuss the students’ skills. The panel give the instructors advice about whether a student should pass or repeat.
Making Goals Seem More Attainable
I have found that students tend to feel that recommendations are more attainable if other students have successfully followed them. When advice comes from the teachers, some students seem to think, “Yeah, that’s easy for you to say. You’re a teacher.” But if the suggestions are based on what their peers have done, it seems to give them more confidence that they too can do it.
I’ve used a similar approach by using student-testimonials when introducing a course. ESL Teaching: Giving your course credibility in the eyes of your students