student-led discussion March 21

Activities for Developing a Positive Classroom Climate

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Positive classroom climate can encourage students to participate, think deeply about content, and engage peers in intellectual debate. Creating a classroom climate conducive to that type of expression can be difficult. Classrooms are filled with a diverse cross-section of our society representing multiple learning preferences and expectations. Professors aspire to reach all students and engage them in meaningful, content-rich examinations of the subject matter, but peer-to-peer relationships, personal struggles, students’ perception of course content, and even the novelty of the college classroom itself can all impact the class climate. The key to overcoming these variables is the professor. The professor is the one piece that most students attribute their success or failure and their positive or negative experiences in a college classroom (Boesch, 2014). The following describes a pilot project completed in the fall of 2016 in a small liberal arts college.

After several courses in which I was dissatisfied with the frequency and depth of student participation, I designed two sets of opening activities for students to do at the beginning of class. These class starters would act as a conduit for developing a climate of respect, cooperation, and emotional safety (Matsumura, Slater, and Crosson, 2008; Shuck, Albornz, Winberg, 2007). I believed by establishing a positive classroom climate, students would be more willing to participate in content-based discussions and activities.

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male professor calling on student December 1, 2016

Embracing Tension in the Classroom

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As instructors, we strive to generate thoughtful and engaging classroom discussion while maintaining a collegial and inclusive environment. In doing so, we may be tempted to avoid topics that can ultimately add to students’ learning. Hot moments in the classroom refer to discussions that become contentious, acrimonious, or even disrespectful. None of us wants to promote a toxic classroom environment, and when such moments happen, we work diligently to diffuse them. However, when done strategically, creating what I call positive tension can help students better understand ideas central to a course while learning to engage in productive debate in the classroom and beyond.

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Students in lecture hall. August 3, 2016

Classroom Spaces Where Great and Magical Things Can Happen

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Classroom spaces (virtual or physical) are special. We tend to take them for granted, partly because spaces in general have become less differentiated. We don’t do certain things in specified places like we used to. We work at home, on planes, and in various public spaces. We eat in our cars and in front of the TV. We use our devices everywhere—bathrooms, bedrooms, churches, cars, elevators, street corners, and, yes, classrooms.


faculty book club June 1, 2016

Six Ways to Improve Your Department’s Teaching Climate

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In the same way a classroom’s climate is created jointly by teacher and student actions, a department’s teaching climate results from collective contributions. Of course, department chairs and other administrators play key leadership roles, but they alone are not responsible for creating the teaching climate. We all contribute by what we say and do regarding teaching. Sometimes we say and do nothing, and this too becomes part of the culture.


March 9, 2015

Moving from Multitasking to Mindfulness

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“The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is master of himself if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical directions for bringing it about.”
William James, (1842 – 1910)
Psychologist, Philosopher

Looking out at our students in classrooms today, with their texting, Facebook updates, Instagram messages, e-mail checking, Google searches, and tweeting, it’s hard to imagine what was so distracting for college students more than 100 years ago when James made this statement. Yet, even then, he recognized the propensity of the mind to constantly seek novel material, to leap from thought to image to belief to fear to desire to judgment and back again — all following one’s own quirky train of thought resembling the chaotic movements of a swarm of bees around a hive. Time passes through a warped dimension when the student finally returns to some semblance of attention, unaware of all the cognitive detours taken between points A and B. And that’s just the internal process, prompted by nothing in particular. How much more distraction is invited by today’s mobile technology?


July 2, 2014

Creating a Respectful Classroom Environment

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“In our class: 1) everyone is allowed to feel they can work and learn in a safe and caring environment; 2) everyone learns about, understands, appreciates, and respects varied races, classes, genders, physical and mental abilities, and sexualities; 3) everyone matters; 4) all individuals are to be respected and treated with dignity and civility; and 5) everyone shares the responsibility for making our class, and the Academy, a positive and better place to live, work, and learn.”


April 21, 2014

The Sound of Silence: The Value of Quiet Contemplation in the Classroom

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As a college student, I was rarely the first to raise my hand or respond to a question posed during class. I was shy by nature and always felt like I had little to offer. There were times, however, that I would interject simply to break the long silence after the instructor asked a question. In those cases, the silence was either too uncomfortable to bear or I figured that my response would be no worse than anyone else’s. There was also the threat of a pop quiz or some other academic challenge looming for the unresponsive class, which included students who obviously either did not know the content or had not read the assignment. I believe this is an experience all college students have faced at one time or another.



April 5, 2013

What Group Dynamics Can Teach Us about Classroom Learning

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I am unabashedly proud of my pedagogical article resource file. I’ve been collecting good articles on teaching and learning since the early ’80s. I use the file almost every day, and in the process of looking for a particular article, I regularly stumble onto others whose contents I remember when I see them but have otherwise forgotten.


March 8, 2013

Classroom Management: Finding the Balance Between Too Rigid and Too Flexible

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For quite some time now I’ve been interested in a widely held set of assumptions faculty make about the need to assert control at the beginning of a course. The argument goes something like this: When a course starts, the teacher needs to set the rules and clearly establish who’s in charge. If the course goes well, meaning students abide by the rules and do not challenge the teacher’s authority, then the teacher can gradually ease up and be a bit looser about the rules. The rationale behind this approach rests on the assumption that if a teacher loses control of a class, it is very hard to regain the upper hand. In these cases, student behaviors have compromised the climate for learning so seriously that the teacher has an ethical responsibility to intervene and reassert control.