Facilitating Classroom Dynamics

It is hard to believe that winter and all this snow will eventually disappear and that spring is around the proverbial corner. The fact is, students, teachers, and the residents and commuters of greater Boston are all suffering from snow shoveling and commuting nightmare fatigue. With the challenges of cancelled classes, the rescheduling of classes, and falling behind on planned learning activities, everyone is a bit edgy. How not to lose faith in better teaching days?

All of these challenges have an effect on classroom dynamics.  If you are experiencing a shift in your classroom dynamics and you were unable to attend our Facilitating Classroom Dynamics workshops, we offer some guidance for getting through the rest of the semester with less stress. Remember, there is no set formula for facilitating the dynamics in your classroom.  With variables such the students in the class, time of day the class is held, the number of students in the class, along with so many others, having a one-size fits all formula is impossible, if not impracticable.

Here are 10 + 1 types of students-teacher dynamics and tips for working with them:

    1. Student or teacher fatigue – shorten the time of your “lecturing” to 25 minutes and have the students talk to each about what you just spoke about
    2. The dominate-discussion students(s) – before they speak or as they begin to speak say:  “Let’s give other students a chance to respond or to offer their opinion.” Or, ignore that student and call on a student who has not spoken.
    3. The incessant questioning student(s) – Inform the student  that questions are welcome and a valuable element of the learning process, but this is not the right time to take questions; ask questions at the end of this segment in the class, at the break, after class, or during office hours
    4. Electronic device syndrome student(s) – This can be a hot button for any teacher.  We all want our students’ undivided attention.  When they don’t give it because they are using an electronic device, often hiding it below the top of their desk or behind a book, it can be annoying and evoke a visceral response.  If you are that teacher, the following may be helpful: first, breathe; if you score student’s in-class participation deduct a portion of the score then mention it to the student after class; speak to the class and reiterate your electronic device usage policy and instruct anyone who must use their device to leave the classroom and return when they are done; or explain to the students why using an electronic device during class is disruptive to you and other students.
    5. The body is present, but not the student –  One option is to call on the student and the other is to ask the student to stay after class, tell them what you observed, and ask them if they are okay. You can also have the students talk to each other in pairs about a question.  This sometimes pulls in the mentally absent student.
    6. It’s the subject matter – Every course has some course material that is as dry as stale toast.  Often it is a slog for both you and the students.  One way to get through this is to acknowledge that it is a slog and explain why the material is relevant and important to them in their future career.  Also, you can chunk the material so that after 15 – 20 minutes max you have a large or small group discussion.
    7. It’s your teaching style – Teaching is hard and tiring work – maintaining the attention and the interest of undergraduates is trying.  Each teacher has his or her own style.  Know what your strength is as a teacher and play to it.  If you have a reserved teaching style, consider using Youtube videos or TED Talks to give the students a different learning experience.
    8. The know-it-all student – Yes, you are the teacher but a student thinks they know more than you or the other students.  This can be a difficult student to teach.  Their attitude can negatively influence a class and their resistance to you or the material can easily become a distraction.  Once this student self-identifies by their behavior, the best course of action is not to engage with them in class.  Ask them to come to your office hours where you can demonstrate to them that they still have more to learn, and how you can help them.
    9. The insecure teacher – Facing a classroom of 20-year old students can be intimidating. There is a room full of them and only one of you.  Trust what you know and your own teaching style and then adapt as the semester evolves and you get a better sense of how this group of students interact with each other and with you.  At the end of the day, you assign their final grades.
    10. The whatever students – While it is easy to blame the student(s) who have a ‘who cares?’ attitude and behavior regarding what you think are clear expectations or guidelines for students in your course (e.g. late arrival, use of screens or reading the assigned texts,) unless you set clear expectations and enforce them, your students will walk through, under and over those expectations every chance they can. Setting clear expectations is important, enforcing them consistently is even more so.
    11. When all else fails – When this occurs, talk to another teacher or contact one of us – your CITL Teaching Ambassadors.  Talking with another teacher breaks the isolation and you quickly realize you are not alone and you are not the first teacher to experience a particular classroom dynamic.  Most likely the teacher or one of the TAs will listen and offer some helpful guidance

Have you experienced or are you currently experiencing any of the types of student-teacher dynamics described above? Tell us about how you work with your students and how you handle any of these situations in a comment below.

An announcement about future dates and topics for our Facilitating Classroom Dynamics Workshop will be made on this blog and by CITL.

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