You know the look: kind of vacant, kind of worried, a little angry. Usually this person is sitting near the back of the room and hasn’t said much. You’re up in front, trying to keep the class moving and trying to keep an eye on this person at the same time.

Taking a quick reality check
Good trainers always keep track of how well students are processing information. TechRepublic reader Leo Q. offers this tip for assessing how each student is doing in a training session.

“I request that the participants close their eyes, and I ask who among them understands 25 percent of the lesson, 50 percent of the lesson, 75 percent of the lesson, and 100 percent of the lesson. I also ask them who is still enjoying the class.

“By requesting them to close their eyes, they become more ‘honest’ with their feedback and do not succumb to peer pressure.”

Leo said that he takes note of the participants having difficulties and approaches them during the break to offer help. Also, if students are not “enjoying” the class anymore, he comes up with relevant icebreakers or games to energize them.

Spending some extra time
It’s hard to teach a class full of people with varied computer experience and abilities. The best students are the ones who know their way around the keyboard and understand the concept of right-clicking. The next best kind of student is the beginner who has an open mind and is eager to figure things out. The annoying, disgruntled students are the worst, but it’s the people who aren’t following you and are keeping quiet who can take most of your time and energy.

When some people are behind the rest of the class, you will often have to approach these individuals yourself and offer extra help.

Once you’ve sorted out who needs some extra instruction, you’re faced with the problem of what to do with the rest of the class while you do some one-on-one teaching. The best trick is to have some advanced or “extra credit” tasks ready to pass out. You can give these to the people who are moving at a quicker pace and then spend your time with the students who are having problems.
Need some extra work to keep your students busy in class? Try one of these TechRepublic downloads to reward the quick learners and improve your students’ skills:

Diplomacy is good
Usually if a person doesn’t speak up and ask for help, he or she already feels intimidated by computers and doesn’t want to feel even more out of it by asking a basic question. Trainers have to keep this in mind when trying to help slow students. We’re not doing our jobs if people leave our classes with less than a basic understanding of the subject. It does take patience and a willingness to repeat yourself, but it pays off in student performance and trainer evaluation.
Check out Bruce Maples’ article on how to deal with difficult students and how to keep your cool when you’re about to lose it.
Leon M. said that when he is faced with a difficult student, he pretends that the student is a kid brother or sister he is trying to help. “Ask yourself to what lengths will you go to see your brother or sister succeed, then do what you must,” he advises.

Repeat after me
The first thing you can do with a person who is having some trouble is ask if there is a certain part of the lesson that is unclear. Sometimes people get stuck on one point and if you can help them figure that one thing out, the rest of the lesson will become clearer.

If the person doesn’t have any specific questions, start with a basic concept from the class. Start from the beginning and do a quick recap. Then start working with the machine and let the student drive. Once you have done a couple hands-on examples, ask the student to explain what is going on. If there is more than one way to do the task and you have covered both, see if the student understands the difference and can do it both ways.

This is also a good time to bring up the Help menu. Show the student how to open the Help function, how to browse the index, and how to ask a specific question if that feature is available.

By this time the rest of the class will be restless, and you’ll have to end the private tutorial. Even if the student in question isn’t completely up to speed, he or she will have benefited from the extra attention and may be receptive to working for part of the next break or attending additional classes.
What are your best ideas for coping with the slow people in a class full of experience levels? What do you do when a student is hopelessly behind? Send us your suggestions and they may show up in a future article.