Different Students, Different Expectations

Consider the following scenario:

You are teaching an introductory world history class composed of a very diverse group of learners. On the first day of class, you see that you have younger students who have just started college, as well as older, returning students. In chatting with some of the older students before class, it becomes clear that many have not been in college for 10 years or more, and most are trying to go to school while working and raising a family. You have at least two students whose first language is not English. You know from past experience that most of the students in this particular course are not history majors.

One of the activities you always do to start this course is to have students break into groups and discuss what they already know about world history, and brainstorm a list of what they want to learn. You notice that the older students are very engaged during this discussion, whereas the younger students seem bored or distracted.

Later in the session, you discuss your grading scheme. You explain that you want students to learn to think and write about the subject, so there will be a series of projects, and no exams or quizzes. Again, you notice a difference in students’ reactions. The older students seem interested in the projects, but ask a lot of questions about how much time they will take and how they will know they are on the right track. The younger students applaud when told there will be no exams, but during discussion of the projects, one of the non-native English speakers takes notes furiously as others again become disengaged.

After class, you hear two younger students talking together as they leave the room. One says, “I wonder if we’re going to learn anything in this class. I have no idea how I’m supposed to study! If it keeps going like this, I’m going to drop this class.”

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