What did I miss?

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A colleague recently shared this meme on her Facebook page, condensing a sentiment I’m hearing again and again in the hallways and Zoom meetings: what will it take for students to take responsibility for keeping up with their classes? We’ve all heard the comments and the questions:

  • I couldn’t come last week. Did we do anything important?
  • So what are we doing? (I’ve written about this one before!)
  • I didn’t really understand the reading. (But I had asked them three times for questions.)
  • Was the paper due today?  
  • What was the topic again?
  • When is it due? (After I’ve distributed and reviewed a handout with the due date.)
  • Could you give me an example? (After I’ve just gone over 10 examples.)
  • I couldn’t find it in the online course shell.  (And the online program shows the student has not logged in for two weeks.)
  • Could you send me a list of everything I’ve missed for the last two weeks?
  • Could you send me a list of my missing assignments?
  • Could you tell me what my current average is and which assignments I have to finish in order to pass? (When all grades and the current average is posted online.)
  • Did you see my email? (I answered the email within an hour after it was sent.)
  • Could you just text me when something is due? (Reminders are set to go out in the online course shell, and we have a chat group, too.)
  • What can I do to get extra credit? (The student asking has not done over a third of the written assignments.)

And so it goes.

When I started teaching, I could never have imagined the resources available to us as instructors to keep students informed: social media groups, weekly planners, assignments guides, online course shells with calendars and reminders, syllabi with links, mass emails/texts, etc. Yet some students—particularly students in my corequisite writing courses—still find themselves completely bewildered by the process of finding course materials.  

My colleagues and I are equally bewildered. What else can we do? Many of our students are taking courses like University 101, designed to help them figure it out. And in our classes, redundancies are built in: information is repeated and posted in multiple places. We review, we remind, we send instructions, we conference, and we walk students through the process (sometimes more than once).  We remind ourselves that “doing college” is a lot like learning a new language; the rules that govern behavior are implicit, so we do what we can to make those rules explicit. We build partnerships to support students, we walk them to the writing center, and we repeat ourselves (without rolling our eyes).  

And then at times, we get fed up and rant a little in our offices or in a Zoom meeting. But even after the rant, some of us wonder if there’s a strategy we have not tried yet.  

How are you helping your students—especially first-generation, non-traditional, or multilingual students—build strategies for navigating college on their own? How are you responding to those difficult questions? I would love to hear from you.

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About the Author
Miriam Moore is Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Georgia. She teaches undergraduate linguistics and grammar courses, developmental English courses (integrated reading and writing), ESL composition and pedagogy, and the first-year composition sequence. She is the co-author with Susan Anker of Real Essays, Real Writing, Real Reading and Writing, and Writing Essentials Online. She has over 20 years experience in community college teaching as well. Her interests include applied linguistics, writing about writing approaches to composition, professionalism for two-year college English faculty, and threshold concepts for composition, reading, and grammar.