Posts Tagged ‘Freshmenness’

I have taught Introduction to Sociology at a large university and a small commuter campus, during the spring, summer, and fall, with classes ranging from 15 to 65 students.  In each of these settings I followed the same basic format and in each of these settings I achieved what I considered to be success based on the performance of my students.  As a result, my intro class was the least of my worries heading into my first semester at a liberal arts school.  Then 1/3 of my intro students failed the first exam.

Beyond the fact that I try to maintain an even temperament, the fact that I had successfully taught intro in all of those different places is probably what prevented me from freaking out (I guess that point number 3 here is important to note).  As a result, I ended up writing the performance of my students off as another symptom of their freshmenness.  Of course, blaming the freshmen will not get you very far if you don’t work to help them.  Before the second exam I spent quite a bit of time going over student answers to questions on the first exam, making my expectations even clearer, and talking about studying techniques.

In the end, students did much better on subsequent exams and their final grades were only slightly lower than in all of those other settings.  Without my teaching experience I don’t know if I would have blamed myself or my students.  As usual, the reality was somewhere in between.

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Eighty percent of students in my introduction to sociology course this semester are freshmen.  I’ve taught classes with freshmen plenty of times, but there were lots of sophomores, juniors, and seniors to dilute the freshmenness of them.  So far this semester it has been extremely evident that these students have never experienced college life.  This is evident in their use of textese, it is evident in their time management skills, and it is evident in their talking during class.  Obviously, a lot of talking in my courses is sanctioned but I have had constant problems with students talking to each other instead of paying attention or sharing their opinions with their classmates.

When this happens, my first inclination is to call them out.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that this helps anybody but me.  Long ago I did some observations in an alternative high school and marveled at the way that students who weren’t paying attention were asked questions that brought them back into the discussion rather than alienating them.  This is the model I have tried to follow when teaching my own courses.  When these tactics fail, I talk to students after class or during a group exercise and ask them to “do me a favor” and stop talking.  This usually works and I think students appreciate that I did not call them out in front of their classmates.

These tactics did not work this semester.

Because of the freshmenness of these students, I feel that one of my jobs is to school them about college life.  To this end I spent ten minutes at the beginning of a recent class talking about the financial costs of attending a private college and the fact that students who talk are wasting the money of those around them.  I also talked about the fact that college students, unlike high school students, have the choice to stay home.  I concluded by telling them that speaking out of turn, whether they are ignoring me or a classmate, will lead to an invitation to leave the classroom.  We’ll see how it goes.

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