Why don’t students ask for help? What can you do?

Student Asking for HelpIt is that time in the semester when grades become more real and students can see the end of the semester and finals approaching. Around this time, I have several students who are proactive and seek out appointments with me to understand their current grade or seek advice on how to prepare for the final. But about this time, just after mid-term grades have been posted, I also notice the two or three students in my class that have been struggling yet have never come to see me. I have often asked myself why.

In probing a few of these students last year, I came to see that for some students it would never cross their minds to visit with a professor. One student told me that he never visited with a teacher in high school, so he never thought to visit one at university.  Another told me she thought she could fix the grades on her own with a little more studying and work. After these comments, I also began to examine the literature on this topic. I came to find that it is quite common for students to think they look dumb if they seek help from a professor or that they might seem childish. The literature further presented the potential for gender differences and income factors to be at play in why some students might not ask for help.

Some things you can do to encourage students to ask for help include:

  • Remind students of your office hours and suggest reasons to visit;
  • Before a test or report, remind students that discussion of ideas can enhance results;
  • When returning work, encourage follow up to review missed concepts;
  • Most of all, you want try to instill the idea that visiting with you is encouraged and common practice.

For more on this topic, visit these resources:

Faculty Focus

College Parents of America

About Carrie La Ferle

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3 Responses to Why don’t students ask for help? What can you do?

  1. Sheri says:

    These are great suggestions. I also find reminding students that I enjoy getting to know them often helps the shy ones get over their fears as well. Thank you for the thoughtful reminder!

  2. Mark Fontenot says:

    I will admit that this has plagued me for several years. One of the things that always gets at me the most is comments on end-of-semester evaluations that say something like “he was never available for help outside of class.” I sit somewhat dumfounded when I read those types of comments. The blame is not really all on the students though. There are plenty of my office hours that go unused though. So, it seems that there must be a disconnect between what I’m telling them about office hours and what they are hearing. I’m interested to look more into the links you provided.

  3. Tom Mayo says:

    Good suggrestions. My quiz grades throughout the semester are advisory only, so no one is in grade peril for the final course grade on that basis. But the quiz grades are intended to signal students who are not “getting it” that they need to bring something more to the table in terms of preparation and review. AND I offer to meet with any student who would like an individual consultation to discuss what was lacking in their quiz answers and what they can do differently on the exam to increase their scores. I am not a grade-driven person, but my students understand that grades are the coin of the realm. In the end, I want to instill an appreciation for what constitutes a good, solid, professional analysis of a legal problem. That’s what we talk about, under the guise of “what can you do to improve your score.” And still, as Carrie says, only a fraction of the students who should be visiting with me actually seek out the opportunity.

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