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I would note that I teach at a school where almost every class something similar is a problem: I have some very advanced students, and some um, not so advanced. My university lets in a lot of top students on full rides, but then also a lot of students that struggled in high school. I haven't found a great solution to teaching to different levels. I do a lot of group activity, and I just try to find a balance between providing challenging material for the best students and accessible material for the worst students. I do my best, but in the end it is not really fair to either type of student.


There might not a way to do this without resentment, but I wonder if you couldn't actually work a mentoring aspect into the syllabus. You could have a slightly different syllabus for philosophy majors and non-majors, and require majors to do pair up with non-majors and have a kind of guided mentoring. Then the non-majors do something like write really short reflection papers based on the material discussed in the mentoring/tutoring session with the major. While I have never tried anything like this, I do teach a cross-listed course with two slightly different syllabi with different assignments, and that has worked fine. Just a thought.

Re: teaching at night. I also think that it is really important to take breaks, let students brings drinks and snacks if they are allowed in the room, and do little ice-breakers once or twice a class so that all the students get to know each other. For the first several weeks I might do a get to know you activity at the beginning of the class, have a break in the middle of class, and then have another activity when they come back. While this doesn't help with teaching the material, I find that students who are comfortable in class, who know each other, and who really feel that the prof knows and cares about them are more willing to work hard and tackle difficult assignments.

Anon UK Grad

I'm in a similar boat to Amanda above - most of my upper division philosophy courses do not have prerequisites, and so many of them are split between majors and people who haven't taken much (if any!) philosophy before.

I find the group exercises can be really good, if they (1) are very structured (to give the non-majors a toe-hold), and (2) the groups are also structured such that they have a mix of majors and non-majors (otherwise, I find the groups tend to balkanize, which simple exacerbates the divide).

Similarly with papers - I think the more scaffolding you can give, the better the papers will turn out for the non-majors. I also like to include stretch topics/ideas for the majors, or even the non-majors who might want to try it!


One thing I've started doing a lot more recently with mixed-level classes is to give assignments with a range of different options. For example, students might get to choose between writing a series of short papers or one long research paper. I've found that provides more advanced students with a way to engage the material in greater depth whilst allowing less experienced students to tackle something more manageable. (This is similar to Paul's idea, but I haven't used two separate syllabi - just one syllabus with lots of choices on the format of the assignments.)

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