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Rethinking Teaching in the Large Classroom: Part 2 Getting Organized

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Donna_Donald
Contributor

The first post of this four-part series tackled the problem of teaching large classes with the iClassroom approach, taking off from Apple’s use of “i” in the iMac and subsequent products. Originally, the “i” stood for internet, but was later expanded to embrace four key words: individual, instruct, inform, and inspire. Apple’s marketing strategy wasn’t designed for the classroom, but the principle is worth considering. For teaching large classes, let’s consider adopting an iClassroom approach with four different key words:

 

  1. individualized (covered in the first post)
  2. organized
  3. engaging
  4. digital

 

We’ve covered some ways to individualize teaching and learning. Now let’s get organized!

 

The classroom teeming with 100, 200, or even 500 students can be overwhelming. One way to keep things manageable is to think of each class session as a kind of performance. Good performances do not happen by accident and only the rare genius teacher can successfully play it by ear. An effective class session, like a good performance, requires careful planning including opening and closing routines to frame the heart of your class session

 

Frame the class session with identifiable opening and closing routines

 

Establish an opening routine to start the class to set the tone and give students (and the teacher) a chance to transition from whatever is going on outside the classroom to what is about to take place. Taking attendance is often part of that routine, but also consider:

 

  • opening with an inspirational quote
  • a humorous meme
  • a short (very short) personal anecdote
  • an engaging question to discuss in pairs or groups of three.

The opening activities might relate to the current content or not. The point is to allow students to set aside distractions and focus on what is happening in the classroom.

 

A closing routine is a little trickier. If you successfully end class on time, you still need to be careful to avoid signaling that it’s time for students to pack up and tune out. The closing activity should require their full attention, perhaps asking them to write something. They might:

 

  • respond to a prepared question that summarizes what they just learned or that makes them think ahead to the next class,
  • ask them to write a potential test question from the lecture, working individually or with one or two others. Of course, this will generate lots of papers to hand in. Don’t worry about grading them for specific content. Just content. Just mark them for completion to save time,
  • If you want to avoid written responses, end the class with students working with one or two classmates to respond to a review question you provide,
  • if you are using a classroom response tool, give them a couple of questions to check comprehension or emphasize a point.
  • If your students can’t seem to stay tuned in for these kinds of activities at the end of class, try closing with a two-minute review, explaining to them that something you say in those two minutes will be on the test. Just don’t forget to follow through and put it on the test.

 

Whatever you do for your closing routine, aim to end class on time. Better yet, end a few minutes early and make yourself available for students who want to talk to you individually.

 

What happens in between?

 

Now that we have some ideas for opening and closing the class, let’s consider what happens in between. The next post in this series will look more closely at student engagement, but we’ll go ahead a set out a few general principles here.

  • Plan your class time to include short lectures interspersed with other activities.
  • Include time markers in your notes to help you stay on track. If you tend to ad lib, allow time for that in your plan.
  • If you are showing videos or a website, have them each cued up their own tab so you don’t have to wait for files to load.
  • Do a tech-check before class starts. Test your video player, audio, and your mic.
  • Always have a Plan B. If your entire class revolves around a tool that requires technology, be prepared with an alternative should you encounter technical problems.

 

A little advance planning will maximize your class time and will help keep your students engaged. We’ll talk more about that in the next post in this series.

 

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