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The title of this blog serves as a reminder of the goal I have for each new class I teach – making an attempt to know first names of my students by the first day of class. Why? Because students learn better when they recognize and understand that I am not just another authority figure in their life, but instead, someone who cares about their success both inside and outside of the classroom. By attempting to use students’ names, I recognize the dignity and existence of each student. This helps foster a relationship of respect, trust, approachability, and relatability between myself and each student. This sort of relationship creates a mutual respect which encourages students to attend lecture and participate, even if just out of respect of me. It also softens the barrier of student outreach regarding issues inside and outside of the classroom. Beyond the student-professor relationship, “When the professor engages the student in personal conversation, recognizes her by name, and seems to include her in the domain of attention, the subject matter seems more accessible. The nonverbal message goes out that the student is a part of the community of people who can do mathematics, statistics, chemistry, or whatever the subject is [1].” My attempts, then, serve to increase peer respect, and eventually, learning.

Okay, so it seems like learning/using the names of students is important [2,3], but how can you do it? There are a number of practical tips that are often suggested for learning student names, such as: making flash cards with names and roster pictures, name tents, seating charts, etc. [4,5] The important thing is to show that you have attempted to learn the names before the first day, even if you haven’t mastered them [2]. Don’t be afraid to ask for a student’s name. Be explicit that you are trying to learn everyone’s name and give it your best shot. Using names often, such as greeting students as they walk into class, or when you pass out the first documents, helps a good deal.

Now back to the question of why attempt this on the first day:  research clearly shows that students’ perception of you as an instructor is heavily influenced by the first class period [6]. Why would we not put in the time up front to learn (or at least indicate that we are trying to learn) students’ names? Doing so sets the tone right away for the semester and communicates your intentions as the instructor (i.e., success for each and every student inside and outside of your classroom). I was shocked that one of the reoccurring themes on my mid- and end-of-semester feedback forms was how I attempted to use everyone’s name on the first day of class. Time and time again, students have indicated to me that this action established a unique relationship, from which an enjoyable and fruitful semester of learning was organically created. Give it a try – dedicate some of your pre-class time to learning student names – the payoff, I expect, will be rich.

References

[1] Willemsen, E.W. (1995). “So What is the Problem?: Difficulties at the Gate.” Student Success in Quantitative Gateway Courses, 61.

[2] Cooper, K.M. et al. (2017). “What’s in a Name? The Importance of Students Perceiving That an Instructor Knows Their Names in a High-Enrollment Biology Classroom.” CBE – Life Sciences Education, 16.

[3] Murdoch, Y.D. et al. (2018). “Learning Students’ Given Names Benefits EMI Classes.” English in Education, 52.

[4] Glenz, T. (2014). “The Importance of Learning Students’ Names.” Journal on Best Teaching Practices, 1.

[5] University Center for the Advancement of Teaching. The Ohio State University. “20 Tips for Learning Student Names.”

[6] Cavanagh, S. R. (2016) “The Spark of Learning : Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion.” Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

Submitted by:

Carson Running

Ph.D. Candidate, Aerospace Engineering

University of Notre Dame

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