Finding Teachable Moments in Poor Student Presentations

How a disappointing result can lead to true learning.
Nov | 6 | 2019

Nov | 6 | 2019


The slides were too busy. The flow was confusing and circuitous. The tone was generally awkward. Students covered things that their teammates already had just a few minutes ago. Sometimes they looked at each other with the expression What are you doing? 

I looked around the room at the rest of the class had completely zoned out. Students were looking down at their devices, not up at their colleagues. That’s never a good sign. A quick, anonymous Slack poll confirmed what I suspected: the class wasn’t picking up what the students were putting down. Far from it.

I graded the group of students according to the public rubric. (That is, they all know ahead of time how I will be evaluating them.) The grade reflected the quality of the presentation, and a good rubric minimizes the professor’s subjectivity. Rather than just criticize, though, I offered tips beyond those that I had already posted in Slack. I also indicated that I’d be happy to discuss the grade with them.

Yes, this was another example of a teachable moment if students wanted to learn from their disappointing performance.

Fortunately, one of them did.

Hello Larry

Larry (not his real name) booked time with me to discuss his group’s talk. Most important, he wasn’t whining. He really wanted to understand my feedback and how he could do better in the future.

This is exactly the type of interaction that I find the most rewarding: Helping a student who cares.

These types of interactions never get old. When you really reach students, it’s a rush.

I gave Larry a bunch of advice that has served me well as a public speaker over the years. Speakers should tell a story. Avoid death by PowerPoint. Use humor if possible.

To his credit, Larry was a sponge. He acknowledged that his group’s preparation wasn’t exactly optimal. I asked him what they all could have done to deliver a more cohesive presentation. After about fifteen minutes, he stood up, thanked me, shook my hand, and left.

I have little doubt that Larry’s next individual or group presentation will go much smoother and he’ll take that lesson with him for the rest of his career.

Simon Says

These types of interactions never get old. When you really reach students, it’s a rush.


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