Getting students to participate in class is one of those perplexing instructional problems we all face, particularly when teaching undergraduate classes. Are there significant differences in the graduate classroom?
Effective Classroom Management
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.
On top of everything college faculty are responsible for, there’s one that may be easy to overlook or even deem as unnecessary: Teaching students how to be students. Do so at your peril because most students need a little help understanding and practicing the skills and behaviors they need to succeed.
1. Create a classroom environment that from the first day sets ground rules for discussion and makes it clear that all students are included in the work of the class. Make sure you make all students feel connected to each other, the class, and the topic, and establish strong expectations about the content and manner of communication.
The first time a student’s cell phone rang in my class, I was angry and frustrated. With their musical ringers, cell phones that go off in class are rude and distracting. But how to respond? I’ve never been very good at playing the heavy. Was there any way I could take this annoying occurrence and twist so that it would contribute to a more positive classroom environment?
In case you ever had any doubts, research verifies that both students and teachers find cell phones ringing in class distracting. The results also document strong support from students and faculty for policies against ringing cell phones. Although there was strong support against cell phones going off in class, the strength of that support was mediated by age. The younger cohort in the study was more tolerant of cell phones than the older cohort.
Some students tell us they hate groups—as in really hate groups. Why do faculty love groups so much, they ask. I work hard, I’m smart, I can get good grades by myself, these students insist. Other students are a waste. I end up doing all the work and they get the good grade I earned for the group. Why do you, Professor Byrnes, make me work in a group. I hate groups!
A disruptive personality can manifest itself in a variety of ways and levels of intensity. A student who’s always late to class, uses obscene or abusive language, sleeps in class, or has a strong sense of entitlement can create major challenges for college instructors.