Chapter 4: Not so boring after all…
I picked Chapter 4, “Begin with Consistent Contact (Attendance Matters),” because I thought it could not possibly be as boring as the title suggested. Yeah. Go to class. Duh!
Fortunately, the chapter was not only NOT boring, but contained a number of good suggestions for encouraging student attendance, participation and consultation. We have all noticed the relationship between student engagement and student success. When I was an undergraduate, I missed only one class in the four years I was at school. I think about that sometimes, and realize that my consistency was facilitated by two things: I was a residential student and during the day at least, I rarely had anything more interesting to do than to go to class. For most of our students neither of those things is the case. Getting to campus may be a daily challenge and distractions and other responsibilities abound.
Gabriel offers a number of suggestions for keeping students in class and engaged. I’ve clustered these suggestions somewhat out of book order, because some of her ideas play well with others.
Learn their names and be sure that they learn the names of one another, using whatever helps doing this quicker – labels, photos, introduction games, or information cards. Calling the students by name makes them feel valued, and learning one another’s names facilitates forming friendships or study groups. I like to take pictures on the first day of a new class. I don’t know exactly how this works, because I’m not good with names, but it does. By the second class period, I can match most of their faces with a name.
Insist on respectful behavior in the classroom, not only for the instructor, but for other students. Nobody learns well when they are feeling dissed.
Find opportunities for student conferences beyond just keeping office hours. Gabriel suggests scheduling short meetings with each student near the beginning of the semester to encourage them to seek help when they need it. Time during the day may be scarce for students, who often have to go on to another class, to a job, or to meet family responsibilities, so the impulse to visit the instructor may be out of synch with the opportunity to do so. A colleague of mine makes the students come in to get their graded exams instead of returning and reviewing them in class. Miniconference and a teaching moment all in one package.
Let your enthusiasm for your chosen field show and share activities with the students that let them participate in the fun. While students may find it easier to be passive consumers of whatever the instructor is dishing out, learning is more effective when students are actively engaged. Class time should include liberal amounts of problem solving, discussion or learning activities. Having class time be a time for activities that contribute to the student’s grade also encourages attendance. I’ve been trying a combination of group puzzles, writing assignments and problem solving in my genetics class this semester. It seems to me that the class energy is higher than usual, but I may be deluding myself.
Gabriel readily admits that these suggestions can be more easily implemented with class sizes under 50, which, fortunately, is where most classes at Wesleyan fall. I’m feeling both stimulated and encouraged by this NOT boring chapter!