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Addressing Students' Needs: Dealing with Apathetic Students
Reprinted with permission from “Science Teaching Reconsidered: A Handbook” (© 1997) by the National Academy of Sciences, courtesy of the National Academies Press, Washington, DC.
Some students demonstrate what Paulos (1988) calls extreme intellectual lethargy. These students seem to be so lacking in mental discipline or motivation that nothing can get through to them. Faculty members have described this group as having an “I dare you” attitude, as being indifferent at best and hostile at worst.
Sometimes this behavior masks fear or poor preparation. Sometimes it signals a short attention span. It also may indicate a more serious systemic problem such as attention deficit disorder. Faculty members may want to refer these students to college or community services designed to assist them. Catching and holding the interest of these students in class requires patience, perseverance, and ingenuity:
- Call on a specific student.
- Ask the student for a counter example, doubt, or criticism relating to your presentation or argument.
- Ask students to confer and to report on agreements and disagreements. Use this opportunity to call specifically on disaffected students.
- Ask the student to participate in a laboratory or classroom demonstration.
- To aid those with shorter attention spans, break class periods into segments with changes in presentation strategy and level of student activity, and switching of student roles (between questioning, note taking, reflecting, discussing, challenging, and summarizing).
- Invite the student to come in for a conference to discuss how the course and the student’s attitude might be improved.