I tried hard, in the latter part of my career, reach every student in every class period that I taught. That this may be an unreachable goal is of little interest to me. I think that I must do this.

It seems common to teach to some perceived ideal level, especially in courses that depend fundamentally on traditional lecture. Some teachers focus on the best students, hoping the "average" students will do ok and largely ignoring the less-than-average. Some teach to "the middle" - at least, as they perceive it. Few seem to aim for the bottom, leaving the best students to learn on their own.

I want to give everyone something to advance their learning in each class period. Not everyone in a course will want or need the same things. I want to give them each the things that they will judge valuable. I have a few ideas, most involving active learning techniques and student teams, following a structure into which each student can fit their own goals, and find satisfaction achieving those goals. Traditional A-F grading is a poor vehicle for this.

I don't think spending a lot of effort on reaching the unreachable is productive. Some students will be in your class for the wrong reasons and may be uninterested in any reasonable of success. To make this achievable, make the following assumptions:

  • The student population is diverse in background, preparedness, skill, and drive.
  • The students have different personal goals.
  • All students want to learn
  • All students can be convinced to put some effort into the process.
  • It is the student who will judge whether he/she learned something of value.
  • The "something" learned can be different for each student.

The somewhat transcendental question is: How can I convince others to reach for this goal? How can we be convinced to try to set the conditions so that they can all be reached - continuously in every class period?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ A very worthy goal! I thoroughly agree! The most guaranteed way to accomplish this is to skip the standard classroom lecture model and allow each student to proceed at his or her own pace through the materials, with effective handling of the barriers to study in each individual student. I think you would be very interested in Applied Scholastics. $\endgroup$
    – Wildcard
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ It would be great @Wildcard if you could expand that to a full answer. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Buffy, thanks; I think I will. It will have to be tonight when I'll have more time, though. :) In the meantime I'll just say that I think Applied Scholastics is exactly what you've been looking for. I'll include some of my personal experience in my answer. $\endgroup$
    – Wildcard
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ You say you tried this in the latter part of your career. Would you have been ready to accept this message during the early part of your career? Probably not, I assume. You shouldn't place the initial bar too high for new unskilled CS teachers. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 7:56
  • $\begingroup$ I'd have been ready to accept it, I think, but there wasn't much around in the way of enlightenment for new teachers. In the US, at least, no one taught new math (there was little CS ed then) teachers how to teach, so all we had to go on was what we saw from our own professors. I was also quite isolated in much of my early career, teaching in a place off the beaten track with a too-small faculty. There was little opportunity to share experience. It was others who helped me change, so I'm trying to give back, not be a hard a**. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 8:49

9 Answers 9


Please don't...

  • ...give the students who are ahead more of the same kind of work to do. Please. That's just boring. If they get it, they get it.
  • ...make groups by mixing the students who are ahead with the students who are behind - often, the students who are ahead won't teach the behind students, but will just do the whole thing themselves. I say this from personal experience, and my friends' experience.
  • ...categorize students by listening to them, or watching them, or their friends, or anything like that. I know one of the shyest people ever in class, but with her friends, she's talkative, and excited about tons of different things. I know another person who isn't classified as "gifted" by my school, but we have had multiple very interesting talks about physics. There's also people out there with autism or Asperger's (I know one there, too) who have a harder time with some things that to us seem "normal" but are actually quite intelligent.
  • ...listen to stereotypes (this goes with the previous point) - the girl in our school that was voted "most likely to be an olympian" is also in the gifted program, and so on. The nerd stereotype also isn't often fulfilled - I have friends who are very intelligent but also dress nicely, do not have trouble with social interaction, etc. Though of course, people can fulfill the nerd stereotype, or whatever stereotype. Just be able to see past that.
  • ...think that those who are a little behind aren't working hard, or aren't interested. There's people out there who don't care, but those people often hide from sight those who do.
  • ...expect less of certain groups. It is hard to rise above expectations. I remember reading about an experiment that was done, where teachers were given a student group (none of whom were gifted) and were told that a few students were gifted. By the end, they were gifted, because the teachers had treated them differently. From personal experience - I've been given assignments that were just kind of easy (for a lot of people). Did those people go for the really hard option (not provided for extra credit)? No. Why would you? I certainly didn't. Have high expectations for everyone. (According to BenI., this is called the Pygmalion Effect.)


  • ...that reaching every person takes more work than aiming at a medium. There's no curriculum that can be created in advance that will tell you about the student who's got dyslexia, the student who's tired of school because it's too easy, the student who is tired of being looked at as average, the student who has depression...every student is different. These are people we're talking about here, with personalities, hopes, and dreams.
  • ...I have been inspired by teachers. Why is it important to reach every student? Because you will never know what will happen when you do. I once talked to someone who was kind of interested in physics about, I don't even remember, quantum mechanics, I think. I'm definitely a nerd, so I was really excited talking about it. And they said, "You have any books you can loan me?" That was kind of an understatement =P We've had multiple physics conversations since then.
  • ...Be EXCITED! You get to show the next generation why your subject is awesome! I know it sounds exaggerated, but people feed off of excitement. Have you ever been in a baseball game, and the whole crowd is cheering, and even though normally you wouldn't bother, you're up on your feet chanting with everybody? I have a teacher who is so incredibly excited about their class. They joke around, they jump up and they make their point, you can just tell that they love what they do. I mean, you chose this for a job. Make it fun. Love what you do, and I guarantee you people will notice.

Often, an amazing way to persuade people is by showing them. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words (though I'd say a demonstration is worth ten thousand). So, in this case, try to show other teachers with your class. One of my teachers is kind of an amazing guy. He teaches 8th grade science. So he made up a few songs, and sang them in front of the class (which to a bunch of adolescent awkward teenagers was kind of jaw-dropping), and taught us about the layers of the Earth that way. And he told stories to make a point. I really think everyone in the class liked him, as a person at least. And he told us at the beginning of the year that every one of us could get an A, if we worked hard enough, that he would make sure of that.

And the other thing about this is most teachers, I think, know that they should try to reach everyone. It's a matter of doing it. Another teacher of mine pulled a couple of us aside and told us we were to be her guinea pigs - she was trying to start figuring out a system to start trying to reach some of the different levels of students. So I'd say, most people recognize it - then take the plunge! Ask students to help you out. In the end, though, it's the teacher's choice to do that.

Another thing I should point out - yes, there are kids out there who are total jerks, or who seem not to have picked up that yes, they are in 9th grade, and yes, acting like a 3 year old is no longer an option, but there are also tons of kids out there who are more mature than some adults. Please, don't blow us off.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Ben I.
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ +1 A well thought out answer. Joined this community just to upvote and favorite this. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 18:35

The easiest way to set the conditions so that they can all be reached continuously in every class period is to make the conditions so easy that all can achieve them with very little effort. However, this is not at all motivational and sells the students short of being stretched, inspired and challenged. Dumbing-down the curriculum so that all succeed can get great results on paper but is counter-productive in the long term.

A good lesson almost should contain some objectives that can be reasonably achieved by all students whilst also featuring others that create scope for curiosity and intrigue for the fastest/brightest learners. Any teacher knows this isn't easy:

  • Differentiation by depth of understanding: Projects contain some tasks where students just have to recall / replicate a demonstrated skill or fact. Other tasks require independent analysis, evaluative judgement and opportunities to create their own solutions. Most teacher trainees are told to study Bloom's Taxonomy for this.

    e.g. All students have to be able to spell and define the word "algorithm".

    Most students need to be able to be able to follow a bubble sort algorithm to sort a stack of cards

    Some students should be able to explain when and why an insertion sort algorithm might be more suitable than a bubble sort.

  • Differentiation by difficulty: Tasks for any given topic / project start easy and get progressively harder (as in more complex / open ended)

    e.g. Drawing images on a BBC micro:bit: https://create.withcode.uk/python/ra.

    Challenges written in the comments under the code.

  • Differentiation by quantity: Students are asked to complete similar tasks all assessing the same skills. Some complete a few whilst others complete more. Repetition is helpful to embed understanding but too much repetition just to keep students busy isn't particularly helpful.

    e.g. Testing binary / denary / hex conversion: http://tools.withcode.uk/binarychallenge/

  • Differentiation by support: All students complete the same task but some are provided with templates / resources / additional advice whilst others are challenged to work more independently.

    This can be very time consuming to prepare and is sometimes perceived as unfair: those given additional support miss out on the chance to reach the higher grades and those not given the support can feel hard done by.

  • Differentiation by responsibility: Some students are assigned additional responsibilities (support other students in group work / create revision questions based on topics covered / spotting errors or suggesting improvements in support resources).

Ultimately, I don't think it's a question of choosing a particular type of student to pitch the level of difficulty to. As teachers we have to be deliberate in our planning and delivery so that there's something even the least confident student can leave having achieved but also some bait dangled tantalisingly just out of reach for those who want to discover for themselves. All that, whilst not neglecting the majority of students who find themselves in the middle of the two extremes.

Realistically, my answer to your question is that we can't guarantee every condition will be reached continuously in every class period for every student. I can't anyway. But it's worth giving it a try - it makes teaching more fun as well as more productive.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ It's also important not to assume that a student won't know the answer to supposedly easy question they won't know the answer to a supposedly hard question. Taking your example, I can never remember which of the many O(n^2) algorithms happens to be called bubble sort, but I know about when quicksort will become slow and different mitigation strategies. Personally I'm always weak with memorizing definitions but find reasoning easy once given the definitions easy, while many teachers seem to assume that somebody who doesn't even know the definition by heart won't be able to apply it either. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 10:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ when and why an insertion sort algorithm might be more suitable than a bubble sort. Isn't that kind of backwards? insertion-sort performs better than bubble-sort for almost everything, so the interesting / challenging question is when you'd ever choose bubble-sort. (Probably never, unless your choices are limited to insert vs. bubble). Personally, I find insertion-sort really easy and sensible to think about, so it wins lot on ease of implementation, if you're considering that. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ So, @CodesInChaos, to reach every student we need to (at least) be careful about making assumptions. Better, testing assumptions. I think that Owen Astrachan of Duke has written a piece (not here) that using bubble sort is an anti-pattern. Therefore it is useful to study only in that context. On the main topic here, teachers can seek to help students improve memory or they can help students to <something...>, perhaps focus more on the most important things. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 11:21
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterCordes Absolutely. In order to come to that conclusion you've demonstrated a deeper understanding than just being able to name or follow both algorithms. It'd be no fun if the lesson objective at the start of a lesson gave away the deduction the students were supposed to be able to make.by the end. $\endgroup$
    – pddring
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 15:12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @petercordes it's just a really simple one to demonstrate with bits of paper and the fact that it's so inefficient make it easier to highlight the advantages of other algorithms $\endgroup$
    – pddring
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 17:18

You probably can't. Each person has learned certain things in life that make them different. Most people simply are self centered idiots(regardless of what a piece of a paper says or how well they can do on an exam). Most people do not have the human connection that is the fundamental point of it all anyways. You could try to explain to them in a logical fashion, discussing evolution, religion, philosophy, psychology, etc, but if they have no interest in these subjects then they will not understand it.

All humans have is each other and the human network is broken and dysfunctional. The problem you see is fundamental and exists on many levels and in many different areas. The governments, the churches/religious institutions, the education system, amazon(both it's business model and the companies that put their products on to sell), parents, the lawn guy, etc.

Humans do things and they do them for reasons, but they generally fail at understanding the true purpose of those reasons as they relate to others, which then come back to the relation to themselves(you could call it karma, but it is simple physics(every action as an equal and opposite reaction, and, after all, we are, at the very least, just atoms)).

Our social structure is centered around the ego and self-gratification with nearly complete disregard for the consequences. We, as individuals, attempt to maximize our own happiness, and the only way to do that is to deprive someone else of theirs. E.g., A billionaire surely is not "worth" any more than a millionaire, or even someone that is broke, yet our societies seem them as worth more and we end up with a positive feedback cycle that amplifies the worst behaviors. The billionaire has the ability to control much larger factors in the world and influence it, regardless of that persons actual ability to do the right thing.

e.g., millions of companies simply create products to sale to make money so the owners can spend the money on material things to make themselves "happy"(which usually is some form on instant gratification). These companies sell products to people that are, too, trying to gain happiness. In the transaction, resources are wasted. e.g., you buy a product and eventually that product ends up in a landfill... and the cycle repeats. After many generations all our natural resources will have been converted in to things that end up in landfills.

What does this have to do with your specific issue? Everything. The mentality you are fighting is built in to the system and is amplified by all means. Your coworkers are just small companies that do the same thing. They are blind to the ultimate effects of their actions and simply follow the status quo.

You could try to change them, but chances are they do not want to be changed nor listen to reason nor do the right thing(which, generally requires them to give up some of their happiness, or pursuit of happiness, for the betterment of humanity).

My suggestion, is that you simply do what you feel is right and try to maximize your effect vs effort. That means: Instill in your students the desire to help other human beings and that happiness actually comes from others(as does sadness, emotional pain, etc).

Make the environment as fun and interesting as you can, but always keep in mind the ultimate reason for it all(which is not so they can go out and make big bucks, because that just creates more unhappiness in the world, in which they will be part of).

Human beings are amazing creatures and the learning part of it is easy when there is a purpose to do so. The reason my kids in America are idiots is not because they actually are but because the system is broke. Almost all teachers are broke(they only care about drawing a paycheck, they are generally are frustrated with the system(the administration, who only cares about making money) and the students(who are confused and not properly educated to achieve what they want). But when there is a true purpose, we learn very easily and can accomplish amazing things.

The money game ruins all in the long run. Focus on meaningful things and simply try to get that across to your students. You can't help every student either. It is neither practical nor responsible, but this does not mean you do not try, you simply plant the seed and water it. You can do the same to your fellow coworkers, but chances are it would be even more of a waste of time. If you are a leader time, you can try to lead them to "water", but you must take a stand and be willing to go through that mess(which, if you can do, is worth it, and it needs to be done, but ultimately you can only do some much in life. Choose your battles).

You must realize, and I think you do, that the system is broke. If it were not broke, you would have never brought up the issue and we would not be experiencing the effects. Most either do not know the system is broke or do not know how to fix it and hence are not willing to try(which is the problem, because to have something you must build it, building it is the only way to achieve anything. You must build happiness, you must build love, you must build greatness... and the bigger it is, the longer it takes).

So, simply try new things, don't be afraid. No one is god and no one has the right answers yet(because if they did, it would be working). If someone tells you(like a coworker) that X won't work, tell them to fuck off and do X anyways(if you feel it is the right thing to do). They, generally, are people that do not want to "rock the boat" and are either afraid of change or too short sighted or ignorant to predict the effects of X.

If you end up coming up with something that works, you will create a trend and start something good... and that is the goal. People are sheep/followers and they need leaders. Leaders are people that believe in something more than other human beings. But those are extremes and we can always become stronger at what we are(or weaker; e.g., a follower can become a weaker follower and hence a stronger leader over time if they invest the time to do so).

As far as specifics about students, You will just have to work that out on your own. There are no general principles except the human and evolutionary characteristics(like, we generally learn by repetition/patterns. We learn best when we see a purpose in what we are learning, humans are social creatures, we all want to "achieve", etc).

I think if you engage students and allow them to have a voice, that will get them interested in participation. e.g., you have many different types of students. Some are just very eager to do things and less ego based. Some are very ego based. Some are "smart" and some "stupid". Some are not interested in what they are doing but do it for other reasons(money, family, etc).

If you can engage each student and find out what drives them and use that in a constructive way then you've won at least half the battle. This is not actually hard to do. Simply invest your time(which most teachers don't because they are lazy and pathetic, not their fault, of course) and observe each student. If, say, you have a student that seems to be uninterested in the material. Find out what they like.

e.g., Suppose the student is really in to comics. You know this because you seen him bring them to class. You can engage him on it a little to find out more and see if he is interested in it. If not, you need to find out what it is. It shouldn't be hard. If the student is really shy and reserved then you might have to find out a different approach(eventually you will get good at this and it will occur very quickly). Since CS and comics do not directly work together, you have to make a bridge for that student. If you don't know anything about comics you could get the student to bridge the gap for you.

E.g., Suppose you are studying operating systems and it is a very technical thing like a task switching on the 386. Well, your student is going to be more interested in comics than that, surely. But if you could, say, devise a way get him to combine the two then he will be more interested in learning the topic. If you wrap it up in a comic icing, it will be more likely to bite.

e.g., Ask him if he how he would create a character that would, say, be a computer. Maybe a specific comic episode would be some nemesis hacking in to his OS and planting a virus that hijacks the task switching.

or whatever. If you allow him to build off his own interests and merge them with other things that he is not too interested in(simply because he doesn't know about it enough to be), then he is much easier to bridge the two. Knowledge is not created but modified. We learn by building off what we already know, not by spontaneous emission.

So, for that particular student, his project could be to create a comic that uses the task switching principles in some creative way. The important thing is, that they must be correct(hence, he will have to research). If he doesn't seem to interested, you can show him that his comic book heroes put a lot of work in to researching their stuff when they write them, and that might make him realize it will require some work.

Another student will require some different approach. As a teacher, that is your job... and it is work and requires you to learn too(if, as a teacher, you are not learning, then you are not a teacher. Remember, everything is equal and opposite... yin/yang... balance). Humans are imitators. If a teacher is willing to learn then the students will see/feel that and also become better learners... having them "teach" is a good way to amplify that.

If the student seems like he works better in a group, then you could build a project taking that in to account. Utilizing each students strengths and balancing them with their weaknesses is the best way to learn. You do not work on your strengths, that is useless. Balance is the key, and to do that we must work on our weaknesses. This might involve some clever problem solving to get it to work. When you just stick kids together and tell them to do something, it rarely works on an individual level. One kid that is good at X does X and never learns Y. The other kid good at Y does Y and never learns X. You must get the first kid to do Y but he thinks he is doing X, the other kid facilitates the first kid learning Y and vice versa.

These types of things are true teaching. "Modern" teaching is broke and does the exact opposite of what is desired. Throwing information at students is useless because information is not the problem. If that were the case, then it would only take about 1 week for students to learn what they now spend months in a classroom trying to learn. They'd just read books and work a bunch of problems and then be "masters" of it. The problem is, they don't see any point in doing it and hence don't engage their full mental capacities to learn. Even those that are interested generally have issues that slow them down(e.g., bad at math because they are not interested in math but love CS... which they try to get stronger at CS but are weak at math and because CS is predicated on math, they never really can progress after some point. They actually need to love math just as much as CS and learn just as much and become balanced, then their rate of learning CS will become much faster... but then they hate English and reach that plateau and have the same problem).

So, in parting, I'd simply say, focus on the students and find a way(there is a way, it can be done). Your coworkers, if unwilling, will just slow you down and waste your time. They are far more corrupted than your students because they've been in the broken system far longer. If you come up with a way that works, they will eventually realize it and start to change. You can only change someone by example as very few can do so through logic alone. Give someone hope, purpose, and a means and they can change the world.

[This was all off the cuff so you'll have to not get bogged down in the grammar errors, etc. I'm to lazy to go back and edit, sorry.]

Edit: Additional thoughts about having students(or people in general, work in groups).

So, we know that each human being is has both unique/distinct and similar/identical characteristics. We also know that certain behaviors, traits, beliefs, experiences, etc complement each other and contradict each other.

These must be taken in to account as much as feasible to optimize the result(after all, what we are trying to do is develop an algorithm, a mathematical solution to a problem, albeit, a problem that is theoretically infinitely complex).

You could try to formulate something specific but I think, because of the complexity, you have to go mainly off instinct and "feel". Eventually you might learn certain patterns that work in general but I can't offer anything that would probably be of any use.

Because we cannot describe every characteristic each student(which, ultimately, this applies to humans in general, think of your own experiences both as a student, a teacher, etc), we can't even begin to understand how those different characteristics between each student interact(we obviously know some general principles such as two ego maniacs generally won't get along because they will fight for the singular spot of "leader").

So, what we really have is an experiment that must take place. I will try to describe what I would do if I were a teacher to optimize the students learning about life(since the actual subject matter is secondary and only is suppose to support that).

"Day 1" - I have N students. The first goal is to find the quickest solution to get to understand each one individual so I can make proper choices about them and how to do my job as effective as possible.

Also, each student needs to do the same.

So, I'd first explain this stuff to them saying why we are doing what we do. I'd explain about my self also. Basically this gives them a "model" to go by. I'd talk about my own life and experiences. I've be blunt and real about things. Sugar coating things doesn't help them. They will be full fledged "adults" soon so the better they understand what life really is the better off they will be. I'd try not to be boring and try only to hit the most useful points that will help them. Comedy is good but it has to be in moderation and not contrived. Also, it should involve movement. Take a walk. A classroom is inherently static, non-inspiring, and non-cerebral(generally speaking). If you want to engage them, you must engage their senses, we remember best when we "feel" it(meaning our senses are active).

So, this sets everything up and lays a foundation. Humans are inherently very perceptive and will pick up on all behaviors and traits, then filter them. While, we can't be perfect, we can do a better job than what is usually done(just imagine all the teachers you had that didn't doing anything for you vs the ones that did. The ones that did were doing something better than those that didn't, on some level... at least. But, of course, your own view is distorted so don't ignore the ones that didn't, they might have effected someone else with a different personality in a good way).

I'd then break the students in to large groups. Here, the goal is to work on the principle that humans feel safer when in groups rather than when "all eyes are on me". (although extroverts generally like that, they will get their chance)

Here, a round table type of discussion could be had. Very informal but with purpose. e.g., about life, about learning the subject matter, etc. Allow students to acclimate to what is going and to become less defensive by interacting with those around them. Not a lot of time has to be spent doing this, it's purpose is less informational and more emotional(comfort), but things can be learned.

Then I'd break the group in to smaller groups and do similar things. Shuffling people around, observing. I'd continue this process in some form or another in to smaller ground(possibly one on one if time permits, but it is not necessary to go that small).

Then I'd have the students introduce themselves individually to the whole group and sort of do the same thing that I did in the first place. They can talk about their life, their goals, what they do for fun, etc. Take notes, this is where you get information to make more informed decisions. They are learning to be leaders, interpersonal skills, etc. Make it clear that awkwardness, embarrassment, etc are all normal but we learn to overcome these things by doing things that make us feel that way. You must try your best to make them feel comfortable so they can relax. Physical and emotional tension is not good because it cuts off both mental and physical capabilities(musicians know this well).

I'd also have a one on one with each student so I can learn specifics about them. This is where most of the relevant information(and previous ideas about them can be clarified or abandoned) comes from. Taking notes helps. You are more of a psychologist at this point trying to understand the individual problem of the kid and also trying to help them understand how to break out of their bad habits(in subtle ways).

The point of this method and order(rather than starting with the last first, which is wrong), is because it is logical with human behavior. Generally, most classes just through you to the wolfs. What this does is create more imbalance in an individual. If you are shy and introverted, you generally end up with more anxiety. If you are an extrovert, you become more of an extrovert. Balance is not achieved.

By starting with less tension, and because of human behavior/psychology, we can control the tension. While an introvert may still have some anxiety, it will be far less because they know the people around them better. They will be more comfortable in the long run. Extroverts will learn to listen a little more, since they generally do not have anxiety problem in groups, so it is not a big deal to them.

The whole point of the process is to form as much of an open channel of communication and equality as possible. Get try to get the students in to a mode of thinking that is beneficial to everyone around them. Kids are very smart, if you explain things to them properly(that is logically, possibly with real evidence), they will except it(knowledge isn't about "understanding" but about acceptance/believe).

This may take a day, a week, a month to do and might be an ongoing thing. It is an investment that is worth far more than simply doing what most classes do which is try to get the material fed in to the students. Why? Because, again, the material is not the issue. We learn instantaneously when the right conditions are met, and we must meet those conditions before learning can take place.

Keep in mind two things: 1. I may speak in black in white sometimes but everything is a spectrum and everything falls somewhere in between the extremes. 2. The students have to be made aware of why things are being done differently from what they expect. This mentally prepares them for something new and will also excite them and allow them to behave differently. You must explain things, things that are not normally discussed in class(specially CS) such as mentality(why we behave the way we do), etc. You must also tailor all this stuff to be age appropriate and context dependent but the underlying foundation must be laid, regardless. 2nd graders need to be explained in wording that they understand while college students will require different explanations using different terminology, etc.

At some point one starts moving in to the point of the course, the material the students are expected to know. But having the proper foundation is key. What is the point of them learning if they use it for "evil" purposes, so to speak?

But if we have succeeded in our goals, that part should now be much easier, and for all time to come. They will benefit in their whole life. While, one could argue that such things should be done in preparatory classes and such, I think that is wrong. These are foundational problems that must be dealt with and because the educational system is so broke we must attack it head on. All the schooling in the world is useless if it's humanity dies off because everyone is killing each other over greed, ignorance, etc. Humans are already the most intelligent creatures on this planet but also the most reckless and hateful, so "education"(knowledge hoarding) is not really as important as many think. We already have the ability to basically solve almost all our problems, so formal education isn't really going to help us more than that... what humanity needs is education in the human element, so to speak.

Anyways, once such a system has been applied, students should feel comfortable around each other(more so, if not, then new techniques must be applied to create that effect) and be more open to ideas and learning and just about life in general. Once you get to that point, and can reduce the ego(which, for some students, and depending on age, you might have to spend extra time on the individual basis).

When students want to learn, they will learn, regardless if they are in groups or not. Any student that is imbalanced in X, if supported will become balanced. With technology today, a teacher doesn't really even have to teach... they must simply open the students mind in to the concept of learning. If you can excite the student to have the desire to learn, regardless if you teach them any "material" they will simply learn it on their own by getting on the internet and finding the information.

Therefor, that is why I think it is far more important to work on the psychological and social foundations first.. which are almost entirely neglected in the "modern" education system. No doubt because most teachers only partially know their subject material and hence, are also clueless as the students about what really is going on. Hence they just stand up in front of a chalk board or computer screen and imitate what they experienced as a student rather than trying to understand their true purpose in the human experience. I'm not condemning these people, but simply pointing out that they are products of a broken system so too are broken. Some of us get it, I think you are one. Simply do your best and never give up, regardless of the masses that want you to join them. If you fail, you fail and are no different, but if you try you have a chance of more success and are helping build something that will get humanity in to a much better place than what it currently is(and which the greatness that we have achieved is due to people like us that existed in the past and paved the way for us... The current state of affairs is unfortunate but not due to the ones that tried but due to the ones that didn't).

Anyways, best of luck! ;)

  • $\begingroup$ In the middle you say "Instill in your students the desire to help other...", have you ideas about how I can scale that, even if only a bit. Your examples were mostly one to one. Can you think of ways to scale it, say to 3 or five. This is the kind of thing I think can be a lego block to build a solution. Do you have thoughts about making groups work for student X and Y above? And, deep, even if "off the cuff" $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 19:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Buffy All I can offer is ideas. You have to build it yourself ultimately and develop something that works(which means trying things out, there is no short term solution/quick fix). I'll add something about what I think will help students work in groups more effectively than what I have experienced in my own education, but ultimately it is all anecdotal, you will have to develop a living breathing solution that evolves and works for you(there are no cookie cutter solutions. This problem is fundamental to humans, if not life itself). $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ The general can emerge from the specific, I think. But the struggle takes a lot of work - and minds. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ @nocomprende lol, well, I'd probably make a better president than what we have but so would you and many other human beings. It's unfortunately we are generally led by mediocre people. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 2:31
  • $\begingroup$ Ironically, the society in which the most people are the most happy is the one in which each person is responsible for his own happiness. The billionaires are billionaires because they have helped others to pursue and realize their happiness. The Walton family is a success by your standard, They received roughly 3% return on their total investment in Walmart, with the bulk of the financial benefit going millions of customers and employees in the extended supply and manufacturing chain. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 1:10

I would argue most teachers do want to reach every motivated student in their classes; the issue tends to be that there isn't enough time to tailor the teaching to each individual student. So, in answer to your title question, I don't think you need to convince other teachers that you should reach everyone; but instead argue how to effectively reach everyone.

As discussed in this fascinating CGP Grey video (who, incidentally, was a teacher—of Physics, not CS, though), the style of teaching adopted in most subjects hasn't changed for hundreds of years — a subject expert discusses the material in the curriculum, which marches on whether you understand or not. That leaves most students either bored because they're ahead, or confused because they're behind.

The Problem

With 20 or 30 students in front of you, and a lesson that might only be an hour long, there isn't really a lot of leeway to reach each student individually. $$\frac{1 \text{ hour}}{30 \text{ students}} = 2 \text{ minutes}/\text{student}$$

Instead, you have to deliver material to the whole group. Generally:

  • The topic you want to teach has prerequisite knowledge. Some students won't have a firm understanding of it by the time they reach your lesson; others will be beyond it.

  • Students learn at different rates. The most able students will have mastered the new material much quicker than the least.

  • There is a fixed amount of content to learn during the term, and so you can only spend so much time on a certain topic.

It's pretty certain that few students will be in the same place. So, you can either:

  • Go over existing material to bring the least able students up to speed, then teach your content. The more able students then have nothing to do, and get bored.

  • Tell the least able students to catch out outside of lesson (so without any guidance from you, meaning they still might not be able to catch up)

  • Aim for a middle ground to reinforce existing knowledge (but in a way that is more challenging than just revisiting previous content, e.g. the hardest question from last lesson becomes the first this lesson).

Now we've discussed what the problem is, and what most people would do to solve it, you should be able to see why lessons don't actually reach every student, despite no-one actively aiming not to reach everyone.

The Solution

I can't really promise a straightforward solution that works now, and reaches more students without a lot more effort. pddring's ideas are excellent, and you should strongly consider providing different 'routes' of challenge so that all students can take something away from your instruction. At the very least, you probably need to ensure that students understand enough to build on the concept you've taught (e.g. understanding syntax to a reasonable level before moving on to constructing more complex algorithms).

The holy grail is the 'Digital Aristotle' that CGP Grey talks about, but I don't think it's entirely here yet. Some Internet resources like Khan Academy provide excellent self-paced resources and self-test questions which might be helpful to use if students need to work on things at home, so that they do have the prerequisite knowledge.

In essence, there are two options to reach more students: provide different teaching for different abilities of students, or try to make sure everyone is on the same page before they get to your lesson. I feel that I've written a lot without actually proposing a real solution, but it's extremely difficult to solve this problem. If you're willing to put in the time, you can provide different levels of difficulty in each lesson, which would at least ensure that the vast majority of abilities are taught well, but I think that the future lies in computers adapting a curriculum just to your students. If you find a platform where you can put tasks that adapt to a student's ability, it may be worth considering so that you can challenge every student to reach their potential.

  • $\begingroup$ Is there too much emphasis, generally on "Deliver the Material"? Is there another way? Wikipedia generally has all the content. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Buffy I don't know about your experiences, but I would not recommend learning from a Wikipedia article; they never seem to be pitched at the right level for learning a topic, more an encyclopaedic reference. I honestly can't say whether covering all the material should be a requirement, but it's often challenging to find a resource that teaches the topic you want to learn without assuming you know something that you don't. $\endgroup$
    – Aurora0001
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed. So perhaps we agree that it isn't really about "content" but about something at a higher level. I've found wikipedia to be pretty good if I'm willing to click a lot. But I'm not a young learner. Still, I don't think content is king no matter where it comes from. (But don't let me put words in your mouth.) When I was a new teacher I know I emphasized content too much. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Buffy Whether content is king is an interesting question in its own right (and I'd encourage you to ask that as a question!), but I would say that if you haven't taught it, a lot of students won't know what you expect them to, unless you provide specific resources showing them what they need to know. I think that it's probably unrealistic to not teach all the content in the course and expect them to know it, although that might be a little cynical—but introducing everything that they should know would seem wise to me. $\endgroup$
    – Aurora0001
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly, but how do I teach it? I gave up on lecture as my main vehicle more and more as I grew older (I hope better). Ref "if you haven't taught it" in your note. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 15:14

Why should you try to teach every interested student and assist them in reaching their different personal goals?

I think you've already given the answer in your question: Because each of them is genuinely interested in learning something.

In my opinion, one of the wonderful things about schools is that they are designed to be places where knowledge is spread. People who already know something about a topic (often these people are the teachers, but even this doesn't have to be the case every time) share their knowledge with people who want to gain knowledge about this topic (usually the students). In reality, this principle is sometimes hard to encounter: As there are usually a lot of required courses in most school systems, you'll always have students who aren't interested in learning something, but are just forced to attend.

Still, as I want to focus on the idealism here, I think the reason why teachers should try to teach everyone who is interested is because teaching every interested person is the primary objective of a school.

When discussing this question with some others, it might be good to reach a consensus on the level of the discussion: I could imagine that somebody argues with you about this question assuming you are talking about a given, realistic situation and wants to convince you that in certain situations it's (as you also already stated) just not possible or incredibly difficult to teach everybody.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Interest alone isn't enough. I once got a C in a graduate math course (essentially a failing grade) though I had interest and skill. The prof just never got through to me in any way at any time. I don't recall, over all these years, whether that was a general opinion of my classmates. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Buffy What I was trying to state is that in my opinion, interest alone is enough reason (for a student) to try to get taught by somebody (e.g. by taking a course on that topic). $\endgroup$
    – TuringTux
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I agree, but something is still missing. I'm more focused on what the instructor can do, however, so that I can nurture that interest into learning. The student can try, but I have to deliver. Hmmm. Remember the movie Stand And Deliver? Jaime Escalante did his part. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Buffy I see... I think the other answers cover your requirements way better than my answer does. Not my best one, apparently. $\endgroup$
    – TuringTux
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 19:31

I know this is mostly in discussion of Computer Science, but I'll speak on experience from a high school class that wasn't really my speed but was similarly "results based" (Building Construction) as I think this ties in with what you're saying.

Honestly, I don't recall why I signed up for it. Maybe it was to learn something, I have no idea. Also, the group of kids in my class, while peers, weren't exactly the group I felt most bonded with. The instructor was also a traditional Southern guy (this was in Alabama, although I never really felt part of all of that). So this would probably be a textbook "glaze over" scenario.

However, the instructor was very interested in what he was teaching and projected as such. Little by little, the coursework became more appealing (and you're essentially, safely as that was the primary thing preached, cutting wood constantly so there's that destructive inner-child itch that gets scratched) and I started to do better. By the end of the course, as a class we had to go to some lady's house and work on a storage enclosure. I did a few of the beams like others in the class did. There were some who were entrusted to do more. And there was no resentment to that group because they were top students, for the class, and you kind of expect them to be "rewarded" with the more important tasks.

At the end of the day, and this isn't "looking back" rationalization or anything, I was content with where I was at: entering the class, I'd probably be one of the least likely to absorb anything from it/poor performers, but I did attain enough that I'd probably be "average/above-average" (think I had a low A or high B, but this was years ago) after all was said and done. I think the point I'm trying to make is essentially: engage the students, absolutely, but also don't assume that the end goals are the same across your classroom. If you want to chat with them individually to figure out what they are hoping to gain from your class and tailor your interactions with them around that, sure, go for it. Finding out what they intend to get out of the class could also help you in coaxing some of the harder to reach to trust in the curriculum.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I liked this, especially: "but also don't assume that the end goals are the same across your classroom", but your last paragraph is harder to follow. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ the last paragraph was excessive. Was just trying to emphasize teachers at the undergrad level who displayed personality and engagement with the material and how it can take a course you're kind of iffy on to something you'll engage in, sorry. $\endgroup$
    – Robert
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 14:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You can edit, of course, and say more, or less. Showboating might be a useful technique occasionally (at least). I've done it but not as a general strategy. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ I think I'll strip it out. Since most of the answer was an anecdote the last paragraph while supplemental to the theme, was also pretty superfluous in relation to the anecdote. Thanks for the feedback $\endgroup$
    – Robert
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe an overreaction. i think the anecdote was good, and applicable to cs also. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 15:00

I think the main way to convince your fellow teachers is to show off your success, one way or another. Show projects involving students which were unlikely to succeed in the beginning of the year to the school public. Let colleagues visit your lessons.

Having other teachers visit is perhaps most effective. The reason is that leaving some students behind, bored and usually unsuccessful — as standard teaching does — is painful and unsatisfying also for the teacher. Seeing that it is possible to teach in a way which inspires all may be a pivotal moment for some. A good class is a memorable experience, and I believe for both involved parties.

Which brings me to a remark regarding the means to reach all students. As a student I encountered a few exceptional teachers (hello Mr. Grude). Interestingly, they were not distinguished by specific methods like group work vs. lecture, or hands-on vs. theory. Instead they all had a few things in common.

First, they loved their subject. That's probably the most important bit. If you try to teach something you are not enthusiastic about you will never be an extraordinary teacher. Contagious enthusiasm is almost a "self-runner", as we say in German.

Since this means interacting with people it helps if the teacher has a love for people, and students in particular. I don't think it's a requirement — I can picture a totally nerdy guy who still awes his students —, but it certainly helps.

Another interpersonal skill which may be a requirement with male teenagers is some physical presence and personal authority. You can't afford to lose control too much. Loving music or birds and bees doesn't make up for having a tiny voice and little self-confidence in such a shark basin.

  • $\begingroup$ If I can paraphrase part of your answer, I think you suggest that reaching every student requires a multi-dimensional approach, both the techniques used and the personal dimension. Is that fair? $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 11:09
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Peter! Welcome to Computer Science Educators! Thank you so much for choosing to contribute your expertise. I hope to see you around the site more! $\endgroup$
    – thesecretmaster
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Buffy I think techniques are less important; love of the subject and some (limited, unspecified) people skills are. (That resembles what I suppose makes a good psychologist: the specific methodology is almost irrelevant; what counts are integrity, authenticity, empathy and personality.)-- That said, I thought your question was about convincing your colleagues? ;-) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 12:29

Are you trying to win an argument, or help your fellow CS teachers improve?

I ask this because this goal you've chosen for yourself and others seems to be pretty arbitrary.

that they can all be reached - continuously in every class period?

What about Kahn Academy? Kahn Academy reaches students and non-students even outside the classroom time periods. Furthermore, it allows them to come back years later to refresh and retest their knowledge.

What about Richard Feynman? Granted, he didn't teach CS, but his Physics lectures are still being watched to this day by tens of thousands of people each year. Was he able to reach every single person in his lectures? That, I do not know. But he's still a great inspiration to many teachers.

One Astronomy/Astrophysics Professor, Alex Filippenko, I had was so enthusiastic about his field, he would host many free lectures and other free events throughout the year, in addition to his regular teaching and research duties which he already had many, where everyone, even non-students were welcome to attend and participate.

If he was your colleague, would you argue with him that he's doing it wrong because he didn't draw the same arbitrary line in the sand as you did?

  • $\begingroup$ Are you saying that it should not be a goal? $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 11:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I feel this is rather unclear whether or not it answers the question. $\endgroup$
    – ItamarG3
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Buffy, No, it should be your goal (until you find a better one), but it shouldn't necessarily be your colleagues' goal. They may think slightly differently than you do. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 19:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @StephanBranczyk Let me rephrase the question here, then. What would it take to convince you that it should be your goal. I'll accept any (kind) answer. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ Usually, I become a better champion for an idea if I believe I'm the one who came up with it myself. That's why I think it's important to find out what are the current goals and current values of your colleagues first and foremost. Once you know what those are, then you can help shape those goals of theirs to become more like yours. But ultimately, their goals may never be truly identical to yours, even if you help shape them. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 19:28

Unpopular but : Not everyone is the same and reaching "all" is unachievable in the great majority of cases. Live with it. While you never want to leave people behind it's also the responsibility of the weaker students (often merely as a result of lack of application than ability) to keep up - possibly by seeking you out for extra tuition or possibly that 2 minute chat that can "reveal all". You are doing your good students a disservice if you ignore them and "slow up" for political gain and social media darling awards and pats on the back from fellow lecturers who think forging ahead something somehow "bad".

  • $\begingroup$ I, personally, would never suggest abandoning the best students. Nor do I seek darling awards, etc. I seek effectiveness and ways to achieve it. In fact, I was generally perceived as being more effective with the superstars and helped many of them to shine brightly. So, my personal problem was to find ways to include the others in the game. I think I (mostly) agree that lack of application in a student is the most difficult to work with and likely requires outside intervention. But students can find themselves behind and some methods leave them there. Avoidable? I'm seeking the how $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Richie! Welcome to Computer Science Educators! Thank you for contibuting your expertise, even when people may not agree with you. $\endgroup$
    – thesecretmaster
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 12:24

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