By Christine Foy, General Education Faculty

The art of teaching is the ability to create opportunities that facilitate learning. The brain connects new information to memorable moments, cementing an association that produces learning. The positive interaction between teacher and learner provides an optimum context for learning.

One way I’ve created learning opportunities with students is through one-on-one video conferencing. I aim to make the most of these personal meetings. Helping a student change from giving up to finishing an assignment or an entire course is very satisfying and the experience builds skills that can be used with future students.

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Here’s what I’ve learned from successful one-on-one experiences with students:

Acknowledge the Student as a Person

A positive greeting goes a long way. Have you ever felt you didn’t want to read an email after looking at only a few words? Maybe you felt this way with an evaluation after reading the first line? Students can feel the same way. They are frequently evaluated, which leads them to feel vulnerable. Greeting in a friendly way shows your goal is not to judge or criticize. You may want to say hello and thank the student for meeting with you. Allow her to use your first name. Say something nice. I also make a point to ask the student something about herself (doesn’t have to be personal – maybe related to why the student decided to go to school).

It is your responsibility to start the conversation with a pleasant and professional tone. Keeping the tone appropriately light elicits more of a response than relying on a traditional and formal view of professor/student.

Ask the Student to Reflect on the Assignment and Her Ability

Usually, a student will express a desire to meet one-on-one due to frustration or confusion. Negative emotions block learning, so help the student work through either state.

It is important, as the instructor, to ask the student to reflect on and state the requirements of the assignment. Can she summarize the instructions? This forces the student to do the meta-cognition that leads to knowledge retention. The assignment is secondary. Being able to communicate the general requirements is most important. Working through this may build interpretation skills or awareness which the student previously lacked.


This is where your experience and expertise come into play. The student has expressed a concern. You’ve listened to her explanation of what is required. This is where you diagnose exactly what the problem is. What you see the student having trouble with may be different than what the student thinks she is misunderstanding. I typically use subjective language such as, “It sounds like you are having trouble with…”

Decide what part is most critical for the student to show mastery of the topic. I emphasize what the key part of the assignment is asking for. Require the student pay attention to one specific area. It may be a just one step to complete comprehension. You may not complete the entire assignment in that meeting. However, learning a key concept should help the student leave the meeting less frustrated or concerned and provide better understanding of what the entire assignment requires.

Close with action points (steps for the student to take after the meeting). Review what you’ve learned discussed and give specific dates for when you will check in.

Using a one-on-one session to end confusion, frustration, or help a student grasp an assignment is very rewarding. What teacher wouldn’t feel good about that?