Stepping Up the Participation Level in In-Class Activities

Filed in engaging students in class by on January 18, 2016 0 Comments

CDemetry photo Aug2013 small2I have used a variety of think-pair-share and similar activities in my introductory materials course (ES 2001), with a typical enrollment of 120 in recent years. My main goal is to have each student practice applying principles during class and leverage the power of peer instruction.  In addition, I can see how well they’re understanding things and provide additional explanation as necessary. Students also ask more questions after I give them something to work on.

When I first started trying to make my classes more interactive, I would ask students to “turn to a neighbor” during the “pair” portion of a think-pair-share problem. Then I would ask for volunteers to explain their answer or approach. This process worked reasonably well in increasing student engagement during class, but I would estimate that at least 20-25% of students did not participate. This noticeable portion of students did not pair up with a peer, and when I circulated around class I would notice that they weren’t attempting to work on the problem. It’s possible that they were simply unprepared and didn’t know where to start. But it’s also possible that there was little incentive to engage, knowing that a peer would volunteer to answer the question, or that I would eventually provide an explanation. And perhaps some students felt uncomfortable pairing up with someone they didn’t know.

Over the years I’ve made some changes, and I can now achieve participation levels close to 100%, in the sense that all students seem to engage in the question and discuss it with others. I think the most important change was to call on students rather than asking for volunteers. Now when I pose the problem or shift to the “pair” portion of think-pair-share, I tell students that I will be calling on several of them to provide answers or explanations, so they should be prepared for that. At first I thought this might raise student anxiety to undesirable levels, but I’ve found that’s rarely the case. Because of the opportunity to think things through and discuss it with a peer, students almost always have something to say. Of course, it’s incumbent on me to respond positively and gently to answers that might be way off the mark. I typically ask for 2 or 3 responses before chiming in myself.

Another change I’ve made that has probably enhanced engagement in class is assigning students to teams that sit together during class and operate as a mini learning community. They take a quiz together at the start of each class and work together on problems during class. Because these teams also work on a project together and I need to manage feedback and grading time associated with that, there are 4-5 students on each team. (The fixed seats of a lecture hall are far from ideal, and sometimes despite my encouragement to not let that be a barrier, the team discussions devolve into pairs and triads.) I assign them to heterogeneous teams (assisted by the CATME tool) based on their confidence in chemistry, whether they’ve taken statics, major, and self-reported GPA. I also make sure there are common times they can meet outside of class, and based on recommendations in the literature I don’t isolate women and students of color on a team. Students complete a behavior-anchored self-and peer assessment (also deployed on CATME) midway through the term and at the end of the term. This peer assessment process assures some measure of individual accountability (it CAN affect their grade). I don’t have hard evidence, but I noticed that after beginning to use teams in this more formal way, students started preparing much more seriously for class, and we could get more accomplished during class. And the team-based learning in the course is highly praised by the vast majority of students.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *