September 15, 2011
I met a couple of friends last night for dinner. Two of us are visiting the bay area delivering private training. The three of us often teach classes where the students have a wide range of abilities. One of the hardest things to do is to pick the right pace. You don’t want to bore the top end of the class and you don’t want to lose the bottom end.
It’s not an easy question and I wrestle with it a lot. It depends on the setting for the class. I’ve tried many strategies so I was interested to hear what my colleagues have tried.
One of them said he is in the “no child left behind” camp. If he has a class of twenty and one person still isn’t getting something he will tend to circle back and try one more time to explain the concept to that student. He wants everyone to understand so he will tend to err on the side of boring the top end of the class.
I’m mainly in that camp, but I’ve found that often the one or two people you spend the most time on still feel that their needs weren’t met and their course evaluations can often be the lowest in the class.
My compassionate colleague contrasted his approach with that of someone we all knew. This trainer felt that he had failed if everyone understood. If in a class of twenty only the top few really understood what he was talking about then he felt he had hit the right level. The people who deserved to understand him, had.
The third trainer at the table explained his middle-of-the-road approach. He gets a vibe from the students early and picks some student who is engaged and trying but is neither the top nor the bottom of the class. Once that person understands a new concept, he moves on.
I’ve been a student in all three types of classes. I think students tailor their attention accordingly. In the nurturing environment I’ll work on the examples and if I finish before others I’ll either help someone around me or check email. In the second style if I’m not one of those deserving of understanding the instructor’s message I’ll quietly check out and look in the direction of the instructor while my mind is miles away. I suppose that that confirms the instructor’s decision to talk over my head. In the third case I’m fortunate to often be that guy who is the instructor’s gauge. If I feel that is the case I will sometimes indicate that I understand a topic before I do so as not to hold the class back.
There’s no punchline. No conclusion. Just a bunch of guys who care about teaching who are thinking about ways to improve.