Last week’s post encouraged us to reconsider what student engagement means and entails. Today I’d like to explore just some of the things teachers can do to better promote it. I’m offering six ideas here and encourage you to add to the list.
Effective Classroom Management
There hasn’t been a lot written recently about test anxiety, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer an issue for a significant number of students. Those of us who don’t suffer from test anxiety—and I’m betting that’s most faculty—can find it hard to be sympathetic. Life is full of tests, and students need to get over it. Besides, if students have studied and prepared, there’s no reason for them to feel excessively anxious about a test.
I continue to be impressed by the need for teachers to clarify common aspects of instruction instead of assuming that students’ understanding of what they entail are the same as ours. Participation is a good example. How often is it defined in the course syllabus? How often is it characterized beyond the basics when it’s discussed at the beginning of the course or at different times throughout the semester? We do probably agree on the essentials—questions, answers, and comments—but much more than that is needed if classroom interaction is to realize its potential as a student engagement strategy. Here’s an example of the degree of clarification I think we should be after:
When students are talking with each other about content, most of us worry, at least a little bit. We’ve all heard less-than-impressive exchanges. For example, four students are in a group discussing three open-ended questions about two challenging readings. It’s less than five minutes since they started, but they’re already on question three. Or, they’re working with clickers, supposedly exchanging ideas about a problem, but the group has already decided on one member’s solution. She just happens to be a student who regularly answers in class and is almost always right.
Good teachers care about their students. We all know that, but sometimes over the course of a long semester, it’s easy to forget just how important it is to show our students we care about them. I was reminded of this importance by two recent studies, which I read and highlighted for the December issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter.
As faculty, it seems we are very concerned about cell phones in the classroom. Articles about the problem are popping up everywhere in the pedagogical literature, and they often are the “most-read” and “most-commented” articles listed on various websites. Is student use of electronic devices that pressing of a pedagogical problem? I’ve been wondering if our focus on it isn’t becoming excessive.
The list of concerns was compiled from a qualitative analysis of 10 years of graduate teaching assistants’ online discussion posts. The 120 students wrote the posts in a three-credit course that prepared them to teach beginning communication courses. It’s a list that raises some interesting questions. Are the concerns legitimate? They are listed in order of importance. Does that order change as teaching experience accrues? Should it change? Which of these are ongoing concerns, and perhaps, most importantly, how do we deal with the issues raised by the concerns?
I once heard class discussions described as “transient instructional events.” They pass through the class, the course, and the educational experiences of students with few lingering effects. Ideas are batted around, often with forced participation; students don’t take notes; and then the discussion ends—it runs out of steam or the class runs out of time. If asked a few days later about the exchange, most students would be hard-pressed to remember anything beyond what they themselves might have said, if that. So this post offers some simple suggestions for increasing the impact of the discussions that occur in our courses.