Feed on

The semester is one month old, and for better or worse the climate of your classroom has largely been cemented.  Students know what to expect, and their expectation shape-and sometimes limit-what learning objectives can be accomplished.  Hopefully things are going well; but if you are like most teachers, you probably have identified ways the learning in your classroom could be improved.  Perhaps students are not as engaged as you would like.  Maybe some pupils are staring at their phones and laptops; perhaps some are even falling asleep.  Is there anything you can do midsemester to revitalize your classroom?

  1. Revisit Your Classroom Policies.
    Hopefully, at the beginning of the semester you articulated to your class a clear policy on student participation and engagement in class.  If so, now may be a good time to gently remind students about your policy.  Many teachers also prohibit the use of cell phones and computers in the classroom.  If the misuse of technology in class is a problem, it may be time to address it.What if you do not have such policies in place? While it is less than ideal to introduce a new policy midsemester, in some cases it might be necessary.  If you are in this situation, you could inform students that you are beginning a new unit or section of the course which requires extra participation, and thus (for example) phones, laptops, and tablets are no longer permitted.
  1. Use Student-Active Learning Assignments
    Student active learning is frequently discussed and encouraged on this blog, so we do not have to rehash it here.  (For a discussion of student-active learning and examples, see for instance: http://sites.nd.edu/kaneb/2015/03/30/active-learning-in-the-stem-disciplines/). Most importantly, assigning student-active learning in class is vital for teaching critical thinking and fostering deep learning; but it also helps students stay engaged in class.
  1. Attend to Student-Generated Learning Goals
    Design the content of each class so that it addresses your students’ questions and concerns.  If students are generating some of the learning goals of the class, they are more likely to be engaged.  Discover what your students are interested in by allowing them to express their concerns and questions either before class via email or a message board or at the beginning of class.  Connect their questions/concerns with your own learning goals for the class and refer back to their questions/concerns as the class unfolds.  Lastly, make notes for next time.  There is a good chance that you will be teaching the same course or course content again.  You can revise your course for the future so that course content better connects with common student-generated learning goals.
  1. Tell a Story
    Good story tellers can make anything sound interesting.  Practice telling a story about your course material.  Why does it matter?  How does it connect to real life?   What problem does it solve or address?  Why are you so excited about it?  If you are not excited about the material, think of someone who is and get inside their head.  Students are much more likely to pay attention if the relevance and significance of the class material is explained.
  1. Appeal to the Heart
    Help students connect to course material emotionally.  When you tell a story about the course material (see #4 above), appeal to the students’ emotions.  If the course material seems extra heady, tell an emotional story about a scientist or scholar related to the course material.  For example, an apparently boring chemistry equation may become extremely interesting if a student learns about the life struggles of the Chemist who wrote the equation.  Finally, don’t underestimate the power of a thoughtful joke.
  1. Work on Delivery
    Embrace your role as an actor on a stage.  This does not mean becoming “theatrical,” though for some taking on a “theatrical” persona is an effective means of teaching.   Remember the basics:  don’t read from your notes, make eye contact throughout the room, and smile.  Also consider varying your voice: raise and lower your volume and pitch, slow down and speed up (not too fast, of course).  Use body language, gestures and facial expressions.  Present two sides of an issue by staging a conversation with yourself using two distinct voices.
  1. Teach Student Self-Monitoring
    Students who know how to self-monitor their own learning are more likely to be engaged in class.  Toward this end, teach students to ask themselves self-diagnostic questions like: “Do I understand the day’s learning goals?” and, “Are my notes clear and complete?” Each class day, communicate the class’s learning goals, and tell students that they are responsible for these goals.  Throughout class, ask students if they understand the learning goals and invite questions.  At the end of each class, have students complete a self-diagnostic exercise such as a low-stakes quiz or have them read through their notes to see if their notes have any holes.

Further reading:

  • James Cooper, et al., discuss the concept of the “interactive lecture:”
    Cooper, James L., Robinson, Pamela & Ball, David. The Interactive Lecture: Reconciling Group and Active Learning Strategies with Traditional Instructional Formats. Exchanges: The Online Journal of Teaching and Learning in the CSU http://www.calstate.edu/ITL/exchanges/viewpoints/1161_Cooper.html

For a longer discussion on student-active learning, see:

and more recently:

For something out of the box:

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