Go to the Head of the Class

Submitted by Amy Weibel on

In my F 2016 BIO181 classes, I noticed several students checking email, texting, sleeping. Those students  usually sat alone in the back of the room. I use “think-pair-share” activities to promote collaborative learning and communication, but this is challenging when disengaged students are spread out all over the classroom. To boost engagement, I established a seating policy mid-semester.  All front seats must be filled first, and no one sits alone at a table. I asked students to get up and move, and late comers could not avoid being directed to open seats. Immediately, my classroom environment changed. We achieved 100% engagement, especially during classroom activities, and the policy raised expectation for students to come to class on time ready to work. But a more important outcome emanated – because learning partners were always changing students got to know each other, and they stayed in class (drop rate=10%, fail rate=5%). I implemented this policy at the beginning of the SP 2017 term, and though it is still early, I see my students talking to each other, working together, and everyone has been engaged from the get-go!

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Average: 4 (3 votes)


Catherine Cochran Wed, 01/25/2017 - 9:58am

Hi Amy,

I love that you are holding your students accountable for participation and engagement inside the classroom! 

Amy Weibel Wed, 01/25/2017 - 10:02am

In reply to by Catherine Cochran

Thanks Catherine -

We try to make sure that college students are treated like the adults that they are, but we also have the responsibility to show college students how to be responsible college students.  Thanks for reading my CATS!  

Olga Tsoudis Mon, 01/30/2017 - 1:40pm

Amy, This is a great example of how we can keep students engaged by having them move around and change their immediate environment of interaction. It is a simple task that has so much of an impact. It is a great reminder that we can do such changes to help with learning. Thank you for sharing! Smiles. Olga

Peter Turner Mon, 01/30/2017 - 1:58pm

Amy, good thinking. I have heard of other profs who "don't care" that their students are not engaged and allow them to do so accordingly. You clearly care. And while Think-Pair-Share is one good strategy to keep them engaged, there are others that I use and work accordingly, notably Talking Tokens (where they use paper clips from a limited pile) and partner prediction. Well done!

Amy Weibel Tue, 01/31/2017 - 8:27am

In reply to by Peter Turner

Hi Peter -

The think-pair-share is only one strategy I use to getting students talking with each other.  I encourage students to ask their partners about a concept they don't understand while doing an activity - so we work towards the "I don't get it" mentality to "let's see what we do know" kind of thinking.  I don't usually work in groups much larger than 2 or 3 - but as I develop new activities that require more participants in a group, the Talking Tokens is sure to be part of that implementation process!

Thanks for the suggestion and for reading my CATS!

Fiona Lihs Mon, 01/30/2017 - 3:21pm

This is a great idea to improve classroom engagement, getting students talking does work wonderfully.  I'm wondering what you did to measure how many students were engaged?  You mentioned 100%, especially during activities, and was just wondering what metric you used to determine this?

Amy Weibel Tue, 01/31/2017 - 8:24am

In reply to by Fiona Lihs

Hi Fiona -

This is a qualitative metric. As pairs of students do activities, I can check each pair to see that they are talking and working.  If they "think" they can just process on their own (i.e., sit back and do nothing), I let them know that I will be calling on them to tell me what their partner said.  There is an immediate change in behavior.  I attribute the 100% engagement by virtue of my improved ability to see whether pairs of students are work with each other.  Of course it is hard to quantify, but  by forcing students to sit with other students and not hide in the back, I have a better means of keeping track of who is working and who needs a little incentive.

Thanks for reading my CATS!

Becky Baranowski Tue, 01/31/2017 - 8:08am

Agree with the other comments.  Also, set it up in your syllabus that cell phones are not allowed unless they are taking pictures of boards or work from the classroom.  My syllabus strictly states this and I don't have issues - if I do, I tell the student to put them away and they listen.  I am glad that your engagement in the class went up.  Another question - is it in your course competencies that communicating content is a competency?  Our math classes have communication as a course competency.  If it is in yours, then this activity definitely helped to improve that specific competency.  Nice job.  

Amy Weibel Tue, 01/31/2017 - 8:30am

In reply to by Becky Baranowski

Hi Becky -

Way ahead of you there!  My syllabus states that students have one opportunity to put away phones when asked.  If I see them again, they are invited to leave my class.  It's the sneakers that try to "multitask" by sitting in the back of the room where they think they aren't seen.  By not allowing them to "hide" solves so much of that problem!  All of my slides are available to students on Canvas, so there really isn't any need to take pictures of the board. However, I do accommodate them if necessary.

Thanks for reading my CATS!

Rene Willekens Tue, 01/31/2017 - 10:14am

This is a great activity. I think we should employe this method of filling front seats first for employee and large staff meetings. I know its harder to sneak a peak at you phone, why you are very visible. 

Amy Weibel Wed, 02/01/2017 - 10:28am

Hi Rene -

That's so funny.  I attend the All Employee Meetings (though I am a lowly adjunct) just to keep up with what is going on with the college.  I was stunned to see how many in the audience do exactly what they hate most in the classroom - disengagement and cell phone use!  

Well, I guess everyone always has something more important to do than what is happening at a given moment.  Thanks for reading my CATS!  cheers.