Classroom Management

Take a moment to think back to your time as a student and recall some of your favorite courses.  Very likely, those courses well organized, assignments were clear, lectures and classroom discussions were focused and interesting, and the professor conveyed a compassion for teaching.  How can you create such an environment in your own courses?

Effective classroom management entails meticulous planning but also a readiness to switch gears and move away from the script when necessary; it requires firm control but also a willingness to relinquish that control to take advantage of a teachable moment; it requires leadership but also a sense of compassion and understanding of your students.

Consider these techniques as you develop your classroom management style:

Begin to establish an effective environment on the first day of class:

  • Introduce yourself. Explicitly state the way you would like to be addressed.
  • Consider offering an ice breaker to relax students and encourage interaction.
  • Teach something; immediately begin to engage students in the course.
  • Take class time to review the syllabus and emphasize important aspects. In fact, use the syllabus to begin building student engagement even before you meet with students by ensuring that it articulates learning outcomes, class format, and expected behavior.  During those first few hectic add/drop weeks, students appreciate an instructor who clearly and concisely presents a course overview.
  • Expect some students to come in late. They’re getting lost, too!
  • Consider setting community rules (e.g., regarding phones, laptops, talking, sleeping, eating, late arrivals, and early departures) with the students ; they will appreciate the democratic approach.

Interact with students right away:  Learn names; anonymity discourages student engagement.  Using props (name cards, photos, index cards), taking attendance, and handing back papers and homework can help you to connect a name with a face.

Be prepared to respond to challenges:

  • What will you do if students consistently arrive unprepared? Students spend only about half the time preparing for class as faculty expect. When faculty expect students to study more and arrange class to this end, students are more productive (National Survey of Student Engagement, 2004).  Try
    • Giving weekly quizzes, reflection papers or homework
    • Clarifying concepts and helping with problem solving
    • Grading class participation
    • Flipping the classroom
  • How will you handle disruptive students? We need to be ready when disruptions occur, so plan ahead how you might respond to various situations.  Consider the following:
    • Ignore the situation for the time being, but think about possible approaches after class
    • Use the disruption as an opportunity to talk about community rules as a class
    • Suggest a meeting with the student after class
    • Calm the situation
    • Ask the student to leave
    • Put a positive spin on the disruption
  • How can you encourage quiet or shy students to become engaged?
    • Encourage participation
    • Call on students by name
    • Introduce active learning exercises
    • Give “think time” before expecting students to respond to your questions
    • Call on groups
    • Establish a comfortable environment. Is your classroom warm and welcoming?
  • Should you post your lectures, slides, in-class materials, etc., online? Weigh the pros and cons, decide on a strategy and then stick with it:
    • Pros—Posting class materials can save time, give students more opportunities to interact with the material, and make information accessible to everyone.
    • Cons— Posting may reduce attendance and class interaction, and it appears to encourage a passive approach to learning.

Engage, Engage, Engage:  Don’t let down once the course gets underway.  Continue to focus on the following strategies:

  • Arouse students’ curiosity
  • Convey your passion for the subject
  • Make course material relevant
  • Assign challenging but achievable tasks
  • Give students some control over their learning
  • Be available to meet students before and after class and during office hours

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