Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I'm Pretty: Which Class Is This?

When I pose questions to a class of students, this is not what happens:
Mary Ashley York's Blog
It's more like this:
Old Sailor Blog
With me saying, "Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?" which only evokes laughter instead of knowledge.

Getting the entire class to participate in discussions challenges  all teachers. Either no one volunteers or the same three students volunteer. If a teacher just cold-calls on a student, he/she will either not have the answer while at the same time feel "picked on" and in the future will be even less willing to participate. Frustrated with the lack of response, I downshift into bad teaching by spoon-feeding the class the answers. After a few periods of doing this, I feel like I need to take a hot shower and scrub my entire body with pumice. 

To bypass these issues, I have created a system that engages the whole class. Okay, maybe "engages" is wishful thinking, but at least it keeps them on their toes.  And it lowers my angst, which overall, it critical if I wish to remain employed. 

The system is simple. I inform the class what answers I expect them to provide, give them a few minutes to make sure they have that answer through small group discussion (which is the lowering anxiety part), and then I get out The Cards.
Each student has his or her name written on an index card.  I mix them up with the flair of a Las Vegas card dealer--believe me, students will learn how to "count them" so they know when their time to share is coming up and then will slack off until that time. I walk down the aisles tapping the stack against my palm. No student meets my gaze; they won't abandon the belief that eye contact will dictate which card I randomly draw.

If I pull a student's card, he/she must provide me at least a legitimate attempt to provide the right information or risk losing participation points.

When I reached for my notecards the other day, the chorus of groans indicated that they had only needed a few of the new school year to assert their power.

Holding the cards above my head, I asked, "Who can tell me the answer to number one?" Of course, there would be no volunteers--no willing volunteers.

I lower the cards, and snatching one off the top, I bellow, "Amanda Smith."

I survey the room; the students survey the room.

"Amanda? You have the answer to number one?"

No response. It's too early in the year to know who is who, and my seating chart is hiding. I knew one student was absent; must be Amanda.  Figures.

The snap of another card being drawn, "Jacob Melendez."

Searching eyes. A few mutters.

"Jacob? Number one?"


I thought only one student was absent.  These kids better not be testing my authority already.  

"Okay, let's try Frank Larson."

No Frank either.  Where is that damn seating chart?

"Erika Bermudez?"

More muttering, but nothing remotely resembling the answer I want.   I set down the cards and begin shuffling around the papers on my desk looking for the seating chart.  Damn kids; as soon as I know where Amanda, Jacob, Frank, and Erika sit, there'll be hell to pay.  

"Ms. Vance." 

Finally, someone is paying attention.  

I turn to see a young lady who sits close to the front of the room raising her hand.  Her neck has sunk in-between her lifted shoulders and she smiles meekly. 

"Ms. Vance," she says.  "I think you've got the wrong set of cards.  None of those students are in this class."  

I pick up the cards and shuffle through them.  Shit.



  1. Once I kept having my students turn to certain pages in the book. It turns out we had different editions of the books. They kept looking at me like I was out of my mind, but since I'm used to that ...

  2. I taught a community college accounting class for a couple of years and could never get the participation level up from that 1 or 2 students....and this was a night class. I really had expected people who were motivated enough to take classes after work would be motivated students.

    I found the experience very frustrating and disappointing. You teachers who manage to work through that and engage students have my respect.

    A very tough job.


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