Posts Tagged ‘Student Participation’

During my time teaching college students I have tried a number of ideas to encourage students to complete the class reading assignments.  This semester is different only because I wrote a rant about the need for professors to hold students accountable for coming to class prepared.  Toward that end, I have given the students in each of my three courses daily quizzes since the second day of the semester.  These quizzes typically consist of one question about the previous day’s class discussion and two questions about the reading.

So far, the quizzes have been good and bad, with the negatives seeming to outweigh the positives.  The positives include students who have an incentive to do the class reading.  In the case of busy students (and most of them claim to be busy), this sometimes means that they read for my classes first because they know they will be held accountable for the material on the quiz.  The negatives include taking up a lot of time at the beginning of each class (especially during the 50-minute MWF classes), student whining, and the fact that I am constantly reminded that not all students come to class prepared.  In previous semesters there was no way to know how many of the students had skipped the reading.  Now I do.  Finally, as I’ve noted before, student preparation does not necessarily translate into student participation.

Right now I’m not sure what I’ll do to encourage student reading next semester.  I’ve considered allowing students to self-report their level of preparation and also give themselves a daily participation grade.  This approach has worked for others that I’ve observed and I think that it is worth a try.  On a daily basis, the biggest benefit of this idea would be the increased class time.  The most comforting aspect, though, may be my reduced knowledge of the number of students who don’t do the reading.

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Since I took it upon myself to school my freshmen students to the fact that students who talk in class at a private college are wasting a lot of money, student behavior has greatly improved.  Sure, students still occasionally talk to each other during class, but these sidebar conversations are much shorter, quieter, and less distracting overall than they were before I staged my intervention.  Unfortunately, I’ve had another problem related to student talking: many of them are reluctant to participate in class.

Over the course of my teaching career I have done a lot of things to try to improve student participation and to give quiet students a chance to participate in meaningful ways.  These efforts have included in-class writing, debates, and the ever-present think/pair/share.  Despite the use of these efforts this semester, there have been many days when I posed questions only to be met with blank expressions or students looking down at their notes.

Obviously, students who have not prepared for class may not feel comfortable participating, but when I call on students they typically have relevant contributions to make.  I’ve considered whether I am simply asking the wrong questions, and some of my questions are surely too obvious, too complex, or considered irrelevant, but I do not think that this is typically the case.  As I learned student names this semester and was better able to call on students to draw them into class discussions, the problem lessened.  The idea that student participation is a key part of my classes gradually seems to be sinking in, but there are still times when I want to tell my students to S(peak)TFU.

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