An anonymous correspondent asks me to post the following:
I need feedback on a course that’s not going very well this semester. I have a small class of young, very quiet students. Some of them spend the entire class fidgeting and apparently thinking about something else; my perception of their states of mind might be distorted, but I’m put off by the fact that they don’t make a lot of eye contact. Rather than ask questions about the content of the course, engaging with the subject matter, they are always (take “always” with a grain of salt) asking the same sorts of questions about assignments: “I’m confused. What are we supposed to do again? I don’t understand what you want. Why are we doing this?” I’ve taught this course a half-dozen times, and I’ve never had this much difficulty teaching it before. The assignments are explained in detailed handouts and by me in class discussion.
Yesterday, my buttons got pushed towards the end of class when I was trying to talk about one of the projects they’re working on, and and a couple of students chimed in with “I’m confused. Why are we doing this? What do we get out of completing this?” I was quiet for a bit, looking down at my hands and then said, with ten minutes left until the end of class, “Okay, I think that’s enough for today.” I knew I was either going to dismiss them early or I was going to say something I’d regret.
Is there any way to salvage this course? Do I address what happened yesterday at the end of class? We have about 5 weeks left. I’ve tried to address their engagement (or lack thereof) with the course material before but without success. They’re not surly or anti-intellectual, just more obsessed with grades than with actually learning. I’d appreciate any advice.