Teaching Unprepared Students

April 15, 2015

By Bryan Duckham

Some students come to SIUE less prepared for the rigors of college and/or are at-risk for significant failure or struggle. For many of these students, high expectations and high support can buttress their weaknesses and help them build skills. While not every student is willing or able to take advantage of support and meet course expectations, it is important to remember that it is never too late for many students to build skills and become successful. 

The following are important considerations in helping these students. While many or most faculty are already cognizant of these points and have incorporated them, they are good reminders for our ongoing teaching pedagogy:

Building Relationships

  • As much as possible, get to know your students and communicate that they matter.
  • Develop a relationship in which they are more likely to seek you out. 
  • Help students get to know each other in class so that they are more likely to get support from each other.

Evaluate and Provide Feedback

  • Use formative and summative assessments to evaluate student ability to understand and integrate course material. 
  • Give students regular and specific feedback. 
  • Meet with identified at-risk students to work on deficits or refer to appropriate resources. 

 Refer to Outside Sources

  • Students’ success can be contingent upon receiving services from, the Counseling Center, the Writing Center, Disability Support Services, a librarian, etc…

 Provide Realistic Expectations

  • Communicate that improvement requires struggle, that there is no meaningful success without failure.
  • Hold them accountable to high expectations. 

These are only a few overarching principles that can be helpful in working with unprepared or at-risk students and should be specified and operationalized by each faculty member. In addition, faculty juggle many demands and have limited resources in time and energy. We can only do so much. Nevertheless, taking that extra time to connect with a student, to refer them to a needed resource, or give them that pointed feedback, can make a difference.


This blog is based on the book “Teaching Unprepared Students” by Kathleen F. Gabriel.

Categories: All Categories, Students, Teaching