ending, and you start each day with that horrible churning feeling-the
new term is nearly here, and the next group of demanding, judgmental,
never-happy students will soon be with you. There must be something
you can do to get past this classroom condition--some of your
colleagues actually seem to be energized and excited about the
upcoming semester! What makes their teaching experience so much
better than yours? Do they have a secret formula for success in
educators with exemplary teaching records were polled to learn
their secrets in hopes of helping instructors get beyond simply
adequate teaching and move closer to great teaching. These five
educators' styles run the gamut from formal, traditional lecturing
to informal, cooperative learning approaches. Their personal style
doesn't appear to be an important factor in the classroom, as
long it's truly their own style. All concurred that first impressions
matter. The first day greatly determines the tone of a class for
the rest of the term.
Virginia Tech professor of engineering science and mechanics,
uses most of the first day establishing the course rules and the
general atmosphere for the semester. He distributes both a course
outline and a course policy sheet at the first class session and
adheres very closely to the schedule and stated policies. The
policy sheet addresses typical items about homework solutions,
grading scale, and honor policies to be followed. In addition,
Kraige includes a sheet stating the student cost for a one-hour
lecture ($23 for in-state students and $40 for out-of-state students,
for a total of approximately $1,000 for a 40-student class). He
clearly states that both the instructor and the student have responsibilities
regarding these financial figures. Elliot Eisenberg, professor
of engineering at Penn State-Hazleton, also devotes much of the
first day to communicating policies and course requirements. He
says, "it's important to carefully explain, and be certain that
students understand, your expectations of them-both academic and
behavioral. Students need to be told how you expect them to behave
in class and during exams and what the consequences of inappropriate
behavior will be. Whatever the consequences, you must be willing
to enforce them."
associate professor and director of Penn State's Schreyer Institute
for Innovative Learning, begins by telling her students that she
welcomes their questions and they should feel free to stop her
at any time during her lecture to review a confusing point. "As
I walk into class the first day, I remind myself that the most
important question I will be asked during the semester is the
first question that I am asked. My answer will determine whether
I will be asked other questions during the semester. Likewise,
my reaction to the first answer given by a student will determine
whether others will venture answers to my questions in the future."
aspects of the classroom are in the forefront of teaching concerns
for Michael Magill, professor and head of the Mechanical Engineering
Technology Department at Purdue University. He says, "The two
most important ingredients for establishing the ideal classroom
atmosphere are instructor attitude and students knowing that the
instructor genuinely cares about them and their personal success."
He notes that establishing these principles from the start will
enhance the classroom culture, regardless of student problems
or instructor shortcomings and that adopting a positive attitude
is within the control of the instructor. Probably the most straightforward
method is to begin by making sure you are fully prepared for class
the day before the class meets. If it fits your style, Magill
suggests figuring out how you can incorporate a quick joke, funny
transparency, or other icebreaker, especially on the first day,
and encourages all instructors to devote the 15-30 minutes prior
to entering the classroom to reviewing and visualizing how they
would like their class sessions to unfold. Lastly, take time to
remind yourself how it was when you were the student starting
a new course with a new professor and emulate the best behaviors
and practices you observed in your instructors.
opportunity, whenever possible, to accommodate students on waiting
lists, especially those whose schedules were canceled due to finances
and other personal problems. This could mean letting them enroll
or letting them attend your class for about a week until other
students drop the class. These students can become much-needed
allies later in the course and can attest to your honest concern
for their scholastic well-being.
If you plan
to incorporate significant discussion or other student interaction
in your course, the best time to begin getting students involved
is on day one. Engel suggests the following technique to get past
students' fears of public speaking and to begin their acquaintance
with future team members. She has the students take three minutes
to meet two or three people around them and to learn some interesting
fact about each person. Engel then asks her students to introduce
one of the people they met to the class. The class environment
will immediately become less intimidating and more engaged. Particularly
effective with part-time non-traditional students, Eisenberg recommends
introducing the college version of "show-and-tell" on the first
day. He encourages students to bring anything to class that relates
to the course. Many will bring things they have broken or found
to be of interest at their jobs; occasionally, they will discuss
newspaper or magazine articles.
us to avoid thinking that reluctance to speak implies students
are not listening or engaged. It does behoove the instructor to
carefully watch for other signs of student understanding or confusion.
Of the educators questioned, all cautioned against taking any
action that might embarrass students, the result of their fears
of saying something "dumb" in the eyes of their peers or something
that will cause the instructor to belittle them. Kraige will not
address individual behavior concerns in the classroom, but instead
requests the student to visit his office for discussion of inappropriate
classroom behavior. Eisenberg has the class close their eyes before
he asks questions directed toward gauging the group's understanding
of course material, their study habits, etc to remove peer pressure
from their responses. An essential element of this "anonymous"
technique is to maintain the students' trust by not revealing
individual inputs at any time.
the most important action an instructor can take to increase student
learning effectiveness is to learn their students' names, according
to Kraige. This can and should begin on the first day of class.
Kraige recommends photographing the class, enlarging the print,
and having the students write their names on it. Study the print
whenever possible. Engel's get-acquainted activity where the students
introduce each other offers another approach. The action of learning
the students' names ties in directly with Magill's principle that
you must care about each student in your course.
Emeritus Jerry Henderson of California State University?Davis
sums up the components in his "Top 10 Considerations on 'How to
Handle a Class":
the preparation of the students in your class. Your job is to
increase knowledge and its use, not waste the students' time
or give them a "snow job."
everything that you present. Do not waste the students' time
thinking about material on their time.
preparing lectures, assignments, and exams, consider them from
the point of view of the students, i.e., their background, interest,
time availability, etc.
- In addition
to presenting the subject matter, inform the students, often,
why the material is part of the curriculum.
are people. Learn their names.
with the class, not to them. You are the instructor because
you have more knowledge and experience, not because you are
a superior being.
errors. Clear up unanswered questions the next meeting if some
research is required. Never fudge or guess!
yourself available both physically and mentally outside of class,
and expect the students to have formulated their questions and
about and consider student differences-gender, ethnicity, etc.
- In spite
of what your colleagues and administrators appear to think,
good teaching does matter. Long-term feedback from the consumers
(students) confirms this.
insights and recommendations cited here are excerpted from a panel
session sponsored jointly by the Mechanics and New Engineering
Educators' Divisions at the 1999 Annual Conference. Copies of
the panelists' full written comments can be obtained from Nancy
L. Denton at email@example.com.