Professional Development

Promoting Meaningful Classroom Participation- is it possible?

Thursday, February 25, 2010 5:53 pm

On Feb. 4th (the only day that week that the campus opened at the regular time) I attended a presentation on promoting meaningful classroom participation, sponsored by the TLC. Dr. Dee Oseroff-Varnell, professor in the Communications Department, led our session. For anyone who has taught LIB 100 or any other class, you will recognize many of the common frustrations that were voiced!

We began by defining “classroom participation”, which meant different things to different people. Some defined participation as expressing critical thinking, disagreeing with the instructor, or making thoughtful contributions. Others mentioned incorporating current events into a discussion, asking questions, and taking the content to a different level. We then identified the road-blocks that hinder participation, such as distractions from electronic devices, under-prepared students, students who are afraid to say something “wrong”, time limits, lack of motivation (on the students’ part)! and that some students are there to be entertained and don’t do anything to contribute.

It was interesting to hear how other people had tried to address these issues, and I will try some of these ideas in my next LIB 100 class! We agreed that learning the students’ names early and then addressing them several times in class helps to encourage them to at least pay attention more, and talking them personally outside of class also helps them to be more comfortable with you. Hopefully this will translate into their feeling more comfortable talking in class! Having students work in small groups as well as sitting in a “conference style” can also help encourage participation by not focusing on just one person, and making class feel more like a discussion than a lecture.

We all agreed that it is important to let the students know the expectations and goals of the class early, especially what we expect as far as participation. For many instructors, “classroom engagement” is a better term to use when setting goals, with contributions to a discussion being one part of that. Some students participate in nonverbal ways, and are just as involved in learning the material as students who speak often in class. Ultimately, it is important that the instructor get a good “feel” for the type of students in the class and use methods that will best encourage them to be active participants. I hope these ideas will be effective in my next LIB 100 class; we’ll see in a few weeks!

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