Retaining Students Throughout the Term
Over the past few years, colleges and universities have been asked by a number of their stakeholders, i.e. State Departments of Education, legislatures, trustees, to increase their accountability for student success. Much of this effort has focused on eliminating the bottlenecks that contribute to students' withdrawal from courses and programs. Assuming your course has been underway several weeks, there are two tactics you might employ to significantly impact the retention of your students throughout the term.
First, employ the classic student retention method popularized by the late professor and author Leo Buscaglia - "voluntary-mandatory office visits." These 15-minute face-to-face sessions between you and each student will foster a bond that permits you to overcome almost any challenge later in the term, and will help you better define the learning goals and course expectations of each student. Toward the end of your next class meeting, circulate a sheet of paper segmented into 15-minute time blocks, carved out of the "office time" you would normally hold prior to and following each of the first few class meetings. (Some instructors even utilize portions of class time to ensure especially time-challenged students can be served.) Professors who employ this tactic consistently report "win-win" results for both themselves and students.
Second, insure you proactively address the typically most significant milepost at which students are lost from most courses - the first exam or submission of the first major assignment. Performance anxiety on tests, essays and other major assignments is largely a function of uncertainty. Therefore, clearly communicate the nature and content of the exercise well in advance, and reinforce your communications in class and through email. Providing thorough review and study guides for exams, and scoring rubrics for essays will go a long way to relieving uncertainty. In addition, encourage the formation of study groups, leveraging the "icebreaking" exercise conducted during you initial class meeting.
Implementing these two practices into your teaching will add significantly to your teaching effectiveness, and greatly increase your personal satisfaction.