Almost every teacher for almost every course has that feeling of having more to include in a class period and in a course than can be accomplished.
The tendency can be to “cover” the material. You as the teacher list and explain the important concepts. You click through the PowerPoint slides.
Perhaps you stop from time to time to ask a question to the class or see if they have questions. But they may not ask any questions, as they are too busy writing down the key points or they sense your urgency to keep moving on.
At the end of the lecture, the students may have notes, but they may not have “gotten” the concepts.
One strategy to promote active learning during class is to assign students to work on a task with classmates. They confer and then you bring them back for class debriefing on the task.
By working with classmates, everyone has to get involved. Some have to get up and change seats to move closer to a classmate. Everyone has to talk, even if to acknowledge that they haven’t read the chapter or haven’t thought about the assigned concept.
When it’s time to come back together as a class and discuss the assigned task, I can expect everyone to be prepared (at some level). So I can call on anyone in addition to letting students volunteer.
A few suggestions for promoting success for small group or partner discussions:
– Assign a specific task. If you ask the students to talk about the main ideas in an assigned textbook chapter, that may be too broad. Be more specific. “What are at least five tips the chapter provided on conducting interviews?”
– Tell them if they will be turning in notes or the list from the discussion. “One of you needs to be the secretary for your discussion. I’ll be collecting your notes. Be sure that everyone’s name is included on the notes.”
– Give a set amount of time for the discussion. I’d suggest giving a shorter time than actually may be needed. The shorter time helps keep the students on task.
– Let them know that time is running out. “You have about a minute to complete your list.”
– When you introduce the assignment, be sure to say how many you want working together. “You need to talk with a parnter and not have more than three in a group. Some of you will have to move to get with a partner.” I explain the assignment first and then explain the grouping.
As the students begin their partner/group work, move around the room to make sure everyone is getting with a classmate. Keep circulating during the discussion time to see if anyone has a question and to check on any groups that seem to be drifting off task. You also can stop to listen to discussions. I always find it interesting to see what the students are discussing about the topic.
Then call them back to the group and debrief from their discussion. Everyone have thought about the topic of discussion. Some will have been more engaged in thinking about that topic than they would have by listening to a teacher’s presentation on the topic. And everyone will be more alert. They’ve talked and they’ve moved — and I hope that they’ve thought.
I find that these discussions often help me realize questions students have about a reading assignment or their observations about an assignment. From that discussion, I wind up addressing issues that I hadn’t planned to discuss. So that helps me in being more effective in my teaching.