To increase students' confidence and motivation, consider these strategies
Especially when working with first year students, warn them that success in high school—especially easy success in high school—does not exempt them from having to work much harder at RPI. Explain that college-level coursework is different from high school-level coursework. Give examples from your particular domain of how and why that’s so. Explain exactly what you expect. On the first day of class, point out the Student Learning Outcomes in your syllabus and explain them in detail. Students must remain aware of what you expect from them, of skills they must ultimately demonstrate to pass the course. As the semester progresses and you introduce new topics, remind students of Student Learning Outcomes listed in the syllabus and of your high expectations.
Make the effort. Know your students. Perhaps you will not learn all their names, but take every opportunity to know more about students in your class. You could gather much from a short questionnaire of demographic/academic background questions on the first day of class or early in the course. (iClicker makes asking the questions and gathering the data fast and easy.) Inform students of your availability during office hours, and encourage their taking the opportunity to talk with you. Come to class early, so you can chat with students. Your coming to class early encourages students’ getting to class on time, but it also makes you look more approachable. Approachability established in class makes the prospect of attending office hours less daunting too.
Communicate and Encourage
Students need your encouragement. Offer praise where you see success. Write notes on exams and quizzes. Encourage students whose performance in the course is wanting to come to your office. If possible, offer the chance to improve on a lapse and retest. If too many students bungle a certain type of exam problem, quite possibly too many students did not understand the topic. If the proportion of topical failure approaches 1/4th of class, you might consider re-teaching the heavily failed topic.
Encourage your students to think about what they know and to understand that all of us occasionally lack the knowledge or skills necessary to solve a problem. Do not stand for generalized statements such as: “I am not good at this!” “I will never be good at this.” “I will never be able to learn it.”