Chip Heath and Dan Heath discuss the Curse of Knowledge in their book, Made to Stick. The fact that we know something makes it difficult for us to teach it to someone else who doesn't know it.
As they note, "When you open your mouth and communicate, without thinking about what's coming out of your mouth, you're speaking your native language: Expertese. But students don't speak Expertese."
In other words, being an expert in a discipline makes it hard for us to relate to others who are not experts. Read more about this in their article, Teaching that Sticks, and check out their blog for more free resources here.
I have students sitting at tables (in this class and in labs). As they are working on something, I go around and write down who is sitting where. Yes, this means that you have to actually ask each student what their names is (I hate that part). After I have a “seating chart” I just keep practicing while they are working. If a student talks to me, I make sure and use their name. I will look it up on the seating chart if I have to. This just takes a couple of class times of practice till I have them all (well, most of them) memorized...
Although he notes this takes time, he says "Afterwards, I feel much better about it. It makes the class seem more friendly."
Here are some more tips to help. After all, we expect our students to learn theories, concepts, definitions, etc. Why wouldn’t we expect ourselves to learn their names? It’s important to them and makes it much easier to manage the classroom.
Nelly Cardinale (Brevard Community College) posted this on Twitter: Her son came home from school with his class syllabus that noted:
If a cell phone rings, the entire class has an immediate quiz and the cell phone owner cannot take the quiz.
Got an email from Dr. Rebecca Plante (Ithaca College) with suggestions on how she gets her students to participate in class. I especially like her idea of giving the students a sense of what type of question she is asking.
Dear Dr. Kirk,
In prep for the spring semester, I am doing my ritual reading and thinking about the tasks ahead. I ran across your compilation entry about various basic classroom issues. One issue relates to getting people to participate in class. I have several tips for this.
First, the professor sets a pretty important tone from Day One forward. I always use my first class day - even if it's 2.5 hours - to model slices of what the rest of the term will be like. So we laugh a lot, I give them a group activity, we have a group discussion, I clarify the syllabus and my expectations, and I ask them about their expectations (and discuss whether I can accommodate those expectations). The important thing is that, since I want engaged participation all semester, I show them on Day One that I expect it and that it will be relatively painless to participate!
Second, the 'painless' aspect of this relates to the way in which I incorporate participation, both on Day One and forward. On Day One, I ask each person to tell me their name when they speak. I try to use at least 3 of the names in subsequent discussion, 'As Joe mentioned earlier...' (and of course in doing this I am also showing the student that I actually value their contribution).
When I ask the group discussions to come to a close and be ready to share, I solicit volunteers. People are then confident that they will not be the victim of a 'gotcha' - they know I will let them signal that they have something to contribute. However, I float in the room during the group discussion, and I am not shy about saying, 'I heard group three discussing the idea of...', and then invite group three to contribute.
Third, I learn their names within 4 classes or two weeks, and I use them frequently. I will circulate during small group discussions and practice with my roster - going to each group and eyeballing my roster until I can memorize everyone.
All of this helps communicate to students that I do care to know who they are and that their perspectives matter. This is the initial hurdle. Once it's accomplished, we can move on to the kinds of participation that transcend simple opinion or mere argument. To facilitate this, I also clarify the kinds of questions I ask the class, for example:
-This is a fishing expedition. I'm fishing for the right answer, so keep that in mind when you volunteer. If there's one right answer, that means that you may have the wrong one. (With this one, it communicates to all that the student may be wrong and I will need to be able to say 'Enh! Next?' - and feelings don't get hurt.)
-This is a brainstorm question. I'm just looking to gather as much description as I can, so everyone just shout out ideas.
-This is an opinion question. What is your opinion? You don't need to have any evidence at this point!
-This is a narrowing question; we're trying to narrow down the universe of possible answers, so I will press you to be specific.
-This is a 'psychic friends' mindreader question - you need to speculate on this. Who wants to take a guess? (With this one specifically, the 'guess' frame/language makes it clear to all that whomever answers is guessing, not necessarily speaking authoritatively.)
Keep in mind that I tell the students which kind of question I am asking - not every single time, like a robot, but most times. How on earth can I expect the students to be comfortable participating when I can easily imagine that they are afraid of looking dumb, not having the right answer, or being made fun of? This approach has worked, over 10 years, to give me high levels of productive participation, even in classes of 235 people (along with also giving me the thing I value most - a relaxed, laughing group).
Thanks for doing your website! It's been a valuable resource and makes me feel like others are on the same path, have the same quandaries, etc. (It has also inspired me, btw, to do some regular start-of-the-semester rituals to ease me into the next 15 weeks.)
Professor Bill Cunion (Mount Union College) emailed me yesterday with his suggestions on starting the semester off right. You can hear his voice in the replies he gives to typical questions that students have in figuring out how to be successful in his class.
I hope the new semester and the new year are going well for you. It was just one year ago that I attended one of your workshops (in St Petersburg, FL). One of the many things I picked up was to communicate clearly the expectations for the course on the first day.
When I saw this post on your site earlier this week, I thought you might appreciate seeing how I have incorporated a similar idea in my own classes as a result of your workshop.
I have attached my “PS 105 FAQs,” which addresses the big issues (what is this class? What are the tests like?) as well as the expectations (attendance, prompt arrival, attention, etc.). I also share with them the previous distribution of grades, along with my tips on how they can do well.
Perhaps most importantly, I close the sheet with a question that you started our workshop with: Will I like this course? I admired the confidence with which you answered that question affirmatively at the beginning of our session, and I think it’s a strong way to start a course. It does put some pressure on the instructor to follow through, but how can we set high expectations for them unless we expect a lot of ourselves, too?
Thanks again for a great learning experience. Please feel free to share as you like.
This looks like a great resource for our students. Cramberry is a free site that allows the user to create sets of flashcards to aid in studying.
I just tested it by developing a set of cards that listed questions on EEO laws on the front and the answers on the back. I think my students will enjoy using this learning tool.
I posted recently on the importance of professionalism and the fact that I am including professionalism as part of my grading criteria for my classes this spring semester. I then received this letter from one of my former students at Drake University.
Hi Dr Kirk,
I had you as a professor at Drake for management/business classes and SHRM. I have really enjoyed reading Ask-Dr-Kirk for several reasons. My first reason is that what you say in these blogs, you actually did in the classroom. Secondly, as a professional, I still find bits of advice I can apply to my working life. Thirdly, I am glad you stress the importance of business professionalism to your students, as I have seen many students evolve into peers who "just don't get it" in the professional world.
Thank you for stressing professionalism in the classroom and all of the other knowledge you taught me as well. I know it has helped me not only get into and through graduate school, but also into the working world. I know I use the skills you taught me (being on time is very important!) in my current position as an Organizational Effectiveness Consultant.
Have a great day and Happy Holidays,
I remember Holly as an excellent, hardworking student who was always on time to class and who was an active member in the Drake University SHRM Student Chapter. Obviously, these professional values and positive attitude have paid off for her. It was great hearing from Holly and her letter reinforces for me why I have continued to teach and mentor for the past 26+ years!
Professor Lisa M. Lane (MiraCosta College) shares her Q&A page for one of her history classes here. I love her approach to answering questions that students typically have on how much time the class will take, whether the class is hard, what the course covers, etc. This is a great way to "sell" your class and set expectations at the same time.
She is also the author of an interesting article on course management systems and pedagogy for those of you who are thinking of teaching an online class.
Karlyn Morissette has put together a master list of professionals in higher education who are on Twitter. I'm working my way down the list to check out some of their blogs-lots of good info so far!
I was recently in a grocery store and overheard a three-year-old kid ask his mother for a candy bar. The mom’s response was…no, it’s too close to dinner time. What did the kid do? You got it—he started screaming. And what did the mother do? She gave in and let the boy have the candy. After all, everyone was looking and might think she was a bad mother. And what does the kid do the next time he wants something and mom says no?
BEHAVIOR THAT IS REWARDED TENDS TO BE REPEATED!
In my book on Taking Back the Classroom, I discuss steps to set your expectations with your students so that the behavior you get is the behavior you want.
How To Do This?
Decide what classroom policies are necessary in order to establish the classroom culture that you want. Is attendance important to be successful in your class? Do you want your students to arrive on time? Expect them to turn in assignments when due?
Put these policies in writing in your syllabus and communicate these to your students on the first day of class.
Remind your students of your policies the first couple weeks. When a student asks to turn in a paper late, ask him/her...What does the syllabus say? (thus, you're not the "bad" guy, the syllabus is)
Enforce these policies fairly and consistently for the rest of the semester.
According to Jacob Kounin, “how a teacher handles one student’s misbehavior influences the other students who are not misbehaving,” something he termed the “Ripple Effect.” Thus, the rest of the class is looking to see whether you enforce your own policies. In order to take back your classroom and prevent the Ripple Effect, you need to be proactive in addressing inappropriate or undesired behaviors. It's not always easy but your good students will appreciate your efforts.