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Understanding Student's Interest as an Effective Teaching Strategy

Understanding Student's Interest as an Effective Teaching Strategy

by Nicole Dhanraj, PhD, MS
March 21, 2018

As part of designing a course or presenting a subject, a key principle to have effective and successful course outcomes is to understand who the audience is, so that as the instructor, relevant, engaging and relatable content, materials, and activities are included. However, as instructors, there is limited information about our students (our audience) beforehand unless we taught them previously. Students enroll in classes either because it is mandatory, or that it is somewhat interesting, or that it was a random choice chosen as a filler subject. Consequently, prior to meeting students, instructors are unaware of exactly who students are, what excites them, their learning styles, or any of their interests.

Most instructors are aware of the importance of building relationships and connecting with students. Typically, by the end of the course instructors have some insights to their students. Often though, instructors complain that it is difficult to have meaningful and in-depth conversations with their students for various reasons. If the class is short, there may not be enough time to learn about students, or extroverted students may occupy most of the class time.

Understanding student’s interests through relationship building

It seems that getting to know about students and their interests is simple, or so we think. However, most instructors usually do not have a strategic plan on how to build relationships and learn more about their students. Also, some instructors only get to become more acquainted with students through whatever time can be squeezed in during class time, or via email. Sometimes, it may even be pushed to the side as instructors may get wrapped up in maximizing class time leaving no additional time to learn about their students.

So why is this important? Understanding students’ interests can help:

  1. Build trust between students and the instructor.
  2. Connect better with students which helps instructors teach them more effectively and increase their engagement in the course.
  3. Help differentiate students so that the instructor understands each of them individual rather than as a group.

Using a worksheet as an effective teaching strategy.

Instructors can create a student interest worksheet as an effective teaching strategy and to learn more about students. These worksheets can be given to students on the first day of class.

The worksheet has questions pertaining to students’ preferences, learning styles, strengths, and weakness. A student interest worksheet provides information that can help instructors tailor instruction to meet each student needs as opposed to delivering a one size fits all type of instruction or adjusting style, and/or materials to meet student’s needs as the coursework is advanced.

A student interest worksheet helps the instructor to be better at selecting the resources that are best suited to their students’ interests, structure class time that best serves their learning needs, and group them according to experience and preferences. The worksheet can be considered as a more efficient method and provides additional details for instructors that they may not have the chance to obtain during class. It is a means of getting students to reflect about their learning and provide insights which instructors can use to support students’ success in class. It also serves the benefit of making students more accountable, pushing students to be better through establishing a connection with you.

What to include on the worksheet

The worksheet is a paper-based activity with answers only shared with the instructor. The worksheet questions the students’ interests, their background and includes anything that the instructor thinks is needed to know to be effective and promote student’s success in the class. While this is personal, be mindful that there are no personal questions. I recommend the worksheet has 10 questions or less, but it is yours to be creative. Some instructors request students to give a brief summary of their interests in their online or face to face introduction. However, some students may give few details or prefer not to share some information verbally. Understanding student’s interest as an effective teaching strategy is only effective if instructors take the time to progressively know their students in depth. Instructors may be more likely to get more information in a written worksheet. Questions about the student’s background, their learning style, their prior knowledge or experience with the subject should be included.

Here is an example of a worksheet that can be considered:

  1. How do you feel you learn the most?
  2. What can an instructor do to maintain your interest?
  3. What type of activities do you do outside of class?
  4. What are your thoughts on working in groups? Do you prefer large or small groups?
  5. Describe your academic self in three words.
  6. What responsibilities do you have outside class that you are concerned may impact your success in this class?
  7. What has been your biggest challenge thus far in your academic journey? How did you overcome this or what are you doing to overcome it?
  8. What would you like to get out of this class?
  9. What concerns do you have regarding succeeding in this class?
  10. What technology do you prefer to use? How does it help your learning?

Facilitate successful learning outcomes

Connecting with students is important and may thwart the question asked by most advisors, “have you discussed the concern with your instructor yet?" A sense of connectedness enables students to feel satisfied and that they belong to an institution that cares about them. Understanding students ‘interests is an effective teaching strategy. Having a strategy in place will help build trust, facilitate a better learning experience for students and promote their success in class through understanding them as an individual.

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About the Author

Nicole DhanraDr. Dhanraj received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from St Martin’s University and her Master’s in International Relations, graduating magna cum laude from Troy State University. She earned her doctorate with an emphasis in Organizational Management from Capella University.

Currently, when she is not saving the world one x-ray at a time, she spends her time as a researcher, writer, and an educator. She is dedicated to issues such poverty, entrepreneurship, environment sustainability, leadership, personal and business finance, women affairs and higher education growth. With her philosophy of knowledge is power, she seeks to empower others through her presentations and articles on topics related to these issues.