Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Engaging Students

Last week I mentioned that I thought particular students in my class needed to participate more. My sense is that these students would perform better on exams if I could find ways to better engage them in class.

So in our last class session I tried a few things, including something a bit controversial. I called on students by name.

A few times each semester someone will ask me if I think it's okay for them to call on their students. Usually the undoubtedly satisfying answer I give is : "It depends." I truly believe this answer to be true.

I was for most of my education a student who preferred to listen rather than to share (this is true of my personal life as well). For me at least, this didn't mean that I was not paying attention (at least most of the time), but rather, that I was processing the information and making connections of my own. I really didn't become very good at, or at least very comfortable with, "thinking out loud" until I began to teach as a graduate student. So personally, I think it would have been mortified if a professor had called on me in class without my first volunteering to offer an answer.
In my own classes, however, students like this aggravate me. I read their thoughtfully-constructed and insightful comments on the material in their papers and exams and want to bang my head against my desk (and sometimes do), screaming "Why didn't you say this in class?!?!"

So now to help provide opportunities for students to learn from one another, and to allow me to gauge how the quieter students are doing (are they silent geniuses or completely and utterly lost?), I call on students by name to answer questions. I do give them some time to formulate a response first, sometimes by asking them to write it down, sometimes by discussing in a small group, and sometimes simply by waiting before calling on anyone. Of course, not all students are able to answer. I make a habit of letting them know that they can pass, but that I will call on them again, either later in the same session or next time. My hope is that this will help start a fire to get them to come to class better prepared, and also give me a sense of what types of questions they are struggling with (for example, maybe they can define terms, but not provide a real-life example).

Now obviously, being able to call on students requires that you know their names. More on this next time.

No comments:

Post a Comment