Professors Frank Holt and Jim Garson, of the CTE Faculty Resources Division, led an interesting discussion last Friday on the question of rules in the classroom. This topic was chosen because there had been strenuous disagreement at the last faculty workshop about how instructors should treat rules: were they indispensable for maintaining order, or a distraction from the real work of learning?
Dr Holt kicked things off by asking attendees to answer each of the following three questions:
–What are some rules you always enforce, and how?
–What are some rules you’d like to enforce, but don’t know how?
–What were some rules you hated as a student?
The most popular rules among this group were policies about late work and cell phone interruptions, followed by “no quiz makeup” and classroom civility policies.
The most difficult rules to enforce seemed to have been about late work, tardiness, and attendance.
Interestingly, many of the attendees could not remember a rule they hated as students. At most, they identified the inconsistency of their old teachers as the aspect of rules they disliked the most as students.
Here are some of the topics that came up in the midst of a lively discussion:
- Plagiarism: among the English profs attending the session, this was considered one of the gravest offenses students could commit in their classes, and the penalties were routinely severe.
- The double-edged nature of technology: there was extensive discussion of the role of technology to enhance classes and the classroom experience, but this was always offset by students’ tendency to use them to distract themselves and their classmates. Cell phones, web surfing on laptops and tablets, all these possibilities also made it harder to decide whether to allow technology into the classroom or keep it outside.
- Clickers were mentioned as a device to enhance engagement through on-the-spot questioning of students on discussions.
- Consistency: Consistent enforcement is necessary to sustain engagement, because students hate the possibility of other students getting advantages from an oversympathetic professor. Yet every course, especially in a school with adult students, will feature some students with real-world circumstances that have to be addressed. What to do? Flexible but minimalist rules seem key here, with some allowance for unforeseen circumstances. One faculty member for example allows students to drop three quiz grades, so that factors like sickness, traffic, etc. do not interfere with a student’s grade.
- Large vs. Small classes: As in so many other things, rules seemed to become far more important for success in large classes than in small ones, because of the need to maintain order and consistency for larger, less homogeneous groups.
One of the closing comments was that much of the discussion seemed to circle around the problems of engagement again, where instructors were confronting the problem of disengaged student behavior manifesting itself either in the form of passive (inattention, cell phone surfing) or active (aggressively, disruptive) behavior. Yet rules, if they focus on compliance at the expense of real learning, can also create or reinforce their own forms of disengagement.
The workshop broke up at 2:30, with the promise to pick up on some aspect of the engagement issue on Feb. 24th.
This article came from Faculty Focus.com It contains some helpful hints for improving student engagement.
December 16, 2011
The typical college student dreads hearing, “Let’s review the chapters you read for homework.” What generally ensues is a question and answer drill in which students are peppered with questions designed to make clear who has and hasn’t done the reading. In reality, these exchanges do little to encourage deep thought or understanding of the assigned reading. They produce awkward silences during which students squirm in their seats, hoping to become invisible. Other times students decline to answer for fear of giving the wrong answer. Almost all the time a negative tone permeates the classroom during this review. I decided to restructure the way that I approached reviews of reading assignments, and found that by doing things differently, I could change both the tone and outcomes of the review activity. I’d like to share some of the ideas and techniques that I have found useful:
The Top Ten – Ask students to create their own “Top Ten List” of important concepts presented in the chapter(s). I encourage student collaboration in the creation of these lists. The activity provides a nice review of the material, and you’ll be amazed at what students consider to be most important. I use these lists as a starting point for discussions. They also let me know what areas of content need further explanation. For students who didn’t do the reading, the lists expose them to ideas in the text and that prepares them at least a bit for the subject of the day.
Secondary Sources – Gone are the days when the textbook is the only source of information available to students. With blogs, research articles, journals, informational pages, and news websites at the touch of a fingertip, students can easily learn more about the subject. After they’ve done the assigned readings, have students locate another viewpoint on the subject and bring it to class. In class, set a time limit (say 15 minutes) and have partners/groups discuss the reading material and their secondary sources. As you circulate around the room, you may hear some good examples that you can use later in the period. Interestingly, students often (without being asked) continue to bring in outside resources on the topics we study, which makes for rich and healthy discussions.
Journaling – For the ideas presented in the readings to become relevant, students need to articulate thoughts about what they are reading and they need to hear how others responded as well. I encourage my students to write journal notes, which I describe as what the brain is thinking while reading. Example: “Wow! I never considered how George Washington must have felt during this turbulent time in the nation’s history. I always thought of him as liking his role as president.” Students can share their journaling with a partner or small group. This exercise helps students get past initial impressions, and it connects what they already know to the new information.
Divide and Conquer – Divide up the next reading chapter among small groups of students. Student A reads the first section in the chapter, Student B reads the next section, and so forth. The next day, students meet in small groups and report on the section they read. Or you can have groups of students that read the same section meet with students who read different sections. Students become dependent on one another to create the full picture of what was in the reading material. My students seem to enjoy these group discussions, which are a way to become familiar with the material before being graded on it.
Using these and other strategies has really made a difference in my classes. More students are engaged in and contributing to class discussions, and they are moving beyond a simple repetition of facts and details. Students are digging deeper and connecting their world with other viewpoints, and that gives them a richer understanding of the content.
These new approaches are having an effect on me, too. I am more calm and confident in my role as a teacher and a learner. I find it easier to be more patient and thoughtful with my students. Most important, I have noticed that the classroom feels like a safe and positive place. Students show greater respect for one another and more appreciation of the material. In my opinion, all these responses make these changes worthwhile!
Dr. Sarah K. Clark is an assistant professor of elementary education at Utah State University.
From Heidi Kennedy in Academic Program Management, I received the following link, which is worth looking at if you’re interested in looking at the practice of the most effective teachers. The Chron profiled four professors who received the Carnegie Foundation’s top prize for outstanding undergraduate teaching. My favorite comment came from Prof. Stephen Chew, Chair of Psychology at Samford:
The key is to know the students’ level of understanding, he said. “Professors have to meet the students where they are, understand what their beliefs and misconceptions are, and then go from there to bring them up to where they want them to be.”
He also tries to help his students develop better studying skills, talking to them about misconceptions about learning and the bad habits that undermine the learning process.
“I measure my success on what my students take from my class,” he said. “I’m interested in knowing what they can do after they have the class that they couldn’t do before they had the class.”
For those interested in reading more about this subject, I highly recommend Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do, which details the practices of the best teachers in a variety of disciplines.
Vincent Tinto describes the current state of “student success” at most institutions:
Over the past 20 years, if not more, colleges and universities, states and private foundations have invested considerable resources in the development and implementation of a range of programs to increase college completion. Though several of these have achieved some degree of success, most have not made a significant impact on college completion rates.
This is the case because most efforts to improve college completion, such as learning centers and first-year seminars, sit at the margins of the classroom and do not substantially improve students’ classroom experience. Lest we forget, many students, certainly those in community college, commute to college and work and/or attend part-time. For them, if not for most students, the classroom is one, and perhaps the only, place where they meet with faculty and other students and engage in learning activities. Their success in college is built upon classroom success, one class and one course at a time. If our efforts do not reach into the classroom and enhance student classroom success, they are unlikely to substantially impact college success.