Setting the Tone: Communicating with Your Soon-to be Students Before the First Day of Class

Partial image of stop watch, with text tha says "The Time Is " It’s nearly that time—fall classes will begin soon. So let’s think about ways to communicate with your soon-to-be students. I liked to reach out early, setting the tone for our class and how we’ll interact and challenge each other. So if you’re like me, what do you want to accomplish with this early communication? Here were some of my goals (what follows is primarily how I communicated with my first-year new-to-college Intro Soc students:

Black and white image of outline of human body; text says "Let me introduce myself"-Briefly introduced myself. I shared my full name, the 2 names I wanted them to use when talking or writing me, a bit of my background, and how I fell in love with Sociology.

-Location, day, and time our class met. I embedded a section of the campus map which highlighted the easiest route from the residence halls to the classroom, so that students understood the distance and time it would take them to get there. I did the same from the main parking lot for students who might live off campus.

-Class requirements. I listed the full name and edition of the text and which text modalities they could use (i.e., e-book only, hardback only, e-book and hardback, or buying it in a spiral notebook). I shared the pro’s and con’s of each modality (e.g., price, ease of highlighting/taking notes, etc.). I also shared that each student would need a “clicker”/audience response system (I talked briefly about what clickers were, including a link to my school’s webpage about clickers and the pedagogy that supports their use, especially in large classes such as mine, which had up to 350 students enrolled), that in most cases, a used one would be fine [though were more likely to need a new battery during the academic term with a used one]. I talked about my institution’s learning management system, and how one could log into the LMS once classes started. I talked about how I can struggle with new technology—and I promised that I, my graduate assistants, and our embedded undergraduate peer tutor would be here to help them master all the technology. In fact, I scheduled a “tech day” (the 2nd Tuesday of the term) for us to go over together all the technology used in the class—the LMS, the e-book (which most purchased), and the online quizzes from the text which students had to take before every class).

-Information about Sociology. I shared that I believe humans are “amateur sociologists” just by living out our daily lives and interacting with others. A large part of the Introduction to Sociology course would be learning the formal vocabulary of the discipline. Our class would take that “lived ability” and test it against sociological concepts and theories. We’d see that what we think we know about people and how they “tick” is not accurate.

-First assignment. I would end my communication by giving each student something to do before our first class meets. Since this class would be all first-time college students, I tried to tailor the assignment to what they might be going through the last few weeks before the term started and the move-in experience. I made sure that we talked about half of these as icebreakers the first day of class and the rest on the second day, because I needed students to know that I could be trusted—that if I asked them to do something, we would discuss it soon after. Here are just a few of the ideas I used:

-Notice if you say “goodbye” differently to friends versus family. If you did, why might that be?

-Were there “elevator courtesy rules” during the move-in process? If so, what were they? Did they change once most students had moved in and classes began? [I knew that many of my students would be living in two residence halls that were 4 and 6 stories tall, so that elevators are crucial to life in the residence hall.]

-Were there dining hall courtesy rules which they noticed? For example, if one went alone versus with a group of people?

-How did you decide on what to wear for the first day of our class? Why did you decide on those clothes?

-What kinds of conversations have you had with your roommates/suitemates? Are there any topics you are trying to avoid in these early days of living together? Why?

-Why did they select the seat they did for each class?

Faculty who teach other disciplines could easily adapt this idea of assigning students a brief task to do before class begins. Each of our disciplines have concepts which fascinates or confounds students—use one of them. Your goal is to get them thinking in the ways needed for your course.

How did I communicate with my class? Some learning management systems allow faculty to set up a “preview page”—this could go there. But that involves one large assumption—that students know how to navigate the learning management system well enough to find your course. I am not sure that is a safe assumption. But my institution did not turn on that tool.

Traditional mailbox, red flag in "up" position; and envelope inside that says "You've Got Mail"I could have sent an email within the learning management system, but there again, it would require students to know how to log into the system and find our class. So I didn’t use that means of communication either.

But there were other available ways to contact students—I could have emailed the class via Banner (registration/registrar software). This was my chosen way of communicating with my soon-to-be student, but again, there was one problem: when to send the email. As we all know, registration ebbs and flows, sometimes considerably, in the few weeks before a term begins. I would keep a copy of the sent email and compare it to the class roster once a week before classes began. I would then send out another email, just to “new adds” from the week before. Even in a class as large as mine was, this took no more than half an hour, once a week. I was lucky though; changing enrollment was less problematic in my fall courses, because normally at least seventy-five percent of the students in my course were in learning communities with three required courses, one of which was Sociology. So these students were less likely to de-enroll in the course, because it would have meant changing 3 classes (or more), not just their Sociology course.

Some faculty share the course syllabus before the class begins. I often do that for upper division courses, but I feel that sharing it with first-year students can simply overwhelm them. I wanted to meet them, let them begin to see me as their cheerleader and a leader they can trust, before they see the complete syllabus. But that’s my choice; follow what you think is best for your incoming students.

What matters most is your tone. You want to communicate that your class will have a culture of inquiry, where questions are welcomed, and where intellectual curiosity is everyone’s responsibility, not just yours. Try not to focus on classroom rules–instead focus on what students will take from the class and why those are important concepts to be carried into their careers. So be open, friendly, and curious–about them and about your academic discipline.

So readers, do you communicate with your students before you actually meet them? If so, what are your goals? Let’s share pedagogical thoughts in the comments.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.

 

 

 

Confusing Writing Advice–How Did You Process It?

Desk with notebook. Two hands, one holding pen. Surrounding notebook are several crumbled sheets of paper.I’ll always remember getting back the paper for my first doctoral class. I’d written three versions of the paper, because I felt so insecure about if I could achieve “doctoral quality work.” Why was I so nervous? Only 4 months before I graduated with my undergraduate degrees in sociology and comparative religions and now here I was, in doctoral classes. [I was admitted to the doctoral program without a master’s degree. I only received my M.Ph. degree when I passed my doctoral comprehensive exams.] Providing even more pressure, the paper was for my likely dissertation advisor, a world expert in the religion she studied.

I was almost too nervous to look at my paper when she handed it back, but it was hard not to see my grade. The grade stretched from the bottom lower left part of the paper all the way to the upper right corner of the paper. And it said: “B—- —————————-.” After class, when I worked up the courage to read the note she’d written on the last paper, it said: “Your writing is readable, enjoyable, and clear. BUT, you haven’t earned the right to write like this. You have to write more like an academic—and soon.” Below it was a note: “see me immediately.”

I wasn’t sure what that meant, exactly, so I asked her to clarify it for me. “You’re a young academician and you need to learn to write like one—more obscure, more academic phrasing and nomenclature. Once you have been in the field, oh for say, 15 years, then you can write like this and have it be accepted. But pay your writing dues, first.”

Over the next few months, I worried over her advice, wanting to understand it. I knew that I had used little of the sociological nor anthropological argot of conversion or socialization despite the paper being on how a person joined an Afro-Caribbean religion as an adult. That’s not to say the paper wasn’t informed by the theories of conversion; it was. She said, “I need to see that you can use the concepts correctly. I’ll be looking for that, say, when I read your doctoral comprehensives.”

Typed paper and fountain pen. Lots of red ink editing on paper.But I was still confused—why was writing clearly a bad thing? I screwed up courage and asked “Leaving the writing and style issues aside, how did I do on the content of the paper?” I’ll never forget her response: “Oh, A+, you were great—you explained things so clearly.” Then she paused, “Um, well enough for a non-academic to easily understand. Use this voice for your cross-over books to come in your future. You have an engaging ‘voice.’”

She summed up the conversation by saying, “Your writing is too ‘breezy’—not theoretically substantive enough for grad school or your future profession. Toughen up and write like the scholar you’re becoming.”

Close up of several computer keys. One is green and labeled "pay dues"Wait—what? I wrote very well—too well in fact, for my position in the academic social structure? I hadn’t “paid my dues” yet? To me, this sounded like a good thing—I had the ability to reach outside of academe and translate the field which I love to those less passionate about it as I was. Clearly now—in grad school—that writing trait was bad. But I knew one thing—I suddenly hated the word “breezy!” (In fact, since that day, I have never used the word in any context except about my writing—it got dropped from my vocabulary, because I now interpret it to mean “bad”). Every paper I wrote in grad school, I wrote at least three versions, and then agonized about which one was the “best one” to turn in for the grade. Somehow when it came to writing my dissertation, I guess because I knew each chapter would be revised based on the comments of my committee several times, I was able to write just one draft at a time!

While we can debate if my advisor’s advice was “good” to give a new, nervous graduate student (do you think it was?), what concerned me is that, I didn’t really understand what she meant when I left her office. Why was writing clearly a bad thing for a young academic? For any academic? I still struggle with that. But as a teacher, I vowed that, to the best of my ability, my writing suggestions to students would be clearer, both in terms of how to fix errors and suggestions for improving the style and tone of the writing. I had to do better.

Undoubtably, after teaching thousands of students, I failed to live up to that promise for some. But I know that I did my best to give them advice, to always couch my words as “this one reader”—that is to say, that I didn’t presume to speak for other readers of their words. Yet I also recognized that I was the reader who had the power of the grade, and so felt that my comments and advice needed to be practical and useful. I would use lots of examples about how to improve flow or where to use more sociological nomenclature. And I would be sure to congratulate the student on passages that were clear, strong, and successfully translated sociology for a reader.

So readers, what has been the most confusing writing advice you received? And how did you work through it? Did it impact your writing in a positive or negative way? How do you help students to learn to write in an academic way, yet still find their own voice? Share your ideas in the comments—let’s help each other.

It’s That Time of Year–Writing Successful Assessment Directions

Have you started yet? Creating assessments for fall term, that is. Let’s share helpful tips on writing directions, so that students can share with you their learning. I’ll start with what I call, “the essentials” needed for any clear set of directions.

Name of the Assessment

This seems obvious, but it is important to include the name of the assessment in the directions. But check that you refer to the assessment using the same name on the syllabus, the directions, and on the learning management system (if using one). Obviously, you might shorten the name in an online gradebook, but make sure that, in all other places, the assessment is referred to using the same name.

Due Date and Time

Images shows part of a calendar, with one date in red and says "Due Date"State these clearly and often. If you allow late work, be sure to note the amount of time you are giving for the grace period. Again, double check that the syllabus and the learning management system and the assessment directions all have the same date and time.

 

Learning Objectives

Tell students what learning objectives—for the course, the unit, the program—this assessment will be measuring. Students have the right to know how this assessment fits into the overall learning for the academic term. So repeat the learning objective(s), at a minimum.

How Graded

Blank Rubric with several possible dimensionsIf you will use a grading template (say, for example, a Word document that allows you to record points and comments), include a copy either at the bottom of the directions or attach a copy. This is especially important for students who might be rushing to finish the assessment. I want them to know that the introduction to the paper is worth 3/100 points and the reference section is worth 15/100 points. That way, they can maximize the points they could earn by choosing to work on the sections worth more points. If you are using a rubric, it is likely a document in your learning management system, so either copy it and put it at the end of the directions or include the direct link to it. If students must upload their assessment to an external source, like Turnitin, think about including the directions here.

Style (for essays/papers)

Tell students if you want the paper double or single spaced; the margins you prefer; the font and size—all those stylistic points that some faculty require. If you want—or your program requires—students to use a particular writing and bibliographic style (e.g., MLA, APA, or other disciplinary or journal styles), tell students that. It can’t hurt to add a helpful link explaining that style, such as Purdue Library’s OWL website. This might also be the place for a short statement about the value of citations and why plagiarism is bad.

Some other suggestions:

Watch Your Language!

Word cloud; words are many of those used in academic settings, like "claim," "statement", "evidence," etc.Many of us are immersed in academic nomenclature, but we can forget that our students are not—and likely don’t want to be! So, for example, look at your learning objectives. How are they written? Many programs require the academic language to meet requirements by accreditation agencies. They are not written in “normal language!” So I suggest that you add a short explanation in college student-friendly language—tell them what you want, how you want them to grapple with what they have been learning, and in what ways you want them to show their learning. Be a person, talking to another person!

If you can, grab some former students as you are constructing your syllabus and ask them to follow your directions exactly. Were they able to accomplish everything that you wanted of them? If not, back to the drawing board! Really listen to the feedback these former students give you. Even if you believe your instructions are clear, if most of the students didn’t complete the assessment the way you wanted them to—the directions need editing.

Steer Them Away from the Rocks

Image of boat which has hit rocks and broken apartIf I repeat an assessment (I will always tweak my assessments, but I will sometimes use the basic idea again), I look back at my teaching diaries. What am I looking for? I will note common errors or misconceptions that students have made in my diaries, so I might include a short “Be Careful” section. What do I mean? I have had students take photos (only in public) of individuals following norm (rules governing behavior) and then sociologically explain the norm. They had to do this ten times. But I noticed a pattern, of students taking pictures of individuals, for example, crossing against the light. That was a problem, because that is not following, but breaking, a social norm—which was not what I asked them to do (and would cost the student points). I made the directions clearer but I also included an example of what not to do and why.

Rinse and Repeat

White computer key, that says "Again"I posted all my major assessments on my university’s learning management system. There is a box where I can add “further instructions,” over and above the Word directions that I create. I repeat the due date, style requirements, and learning objectives. But I write it this way: “Before you submit your assessment, have you checked it one last time for the following things…?” That’s one the first things I will ask a student who comes in to talk about her or his grade—”Did you double check your work against these things?”

So what are your tips for writing successful assessment directions? Share in the comments–let’s help each other to have a good start to the academic term.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.

When Things Go Badly: Using STAMP to Assess Escalation of Behavior (pt. 3)

In a series of three blog posts, I have been discussing some pedagogical strategies to use when student conduct violates classroom policies. These strategies can also be useful regarding faculty-student interaction in faculty offices as well. The first post began the conversation by seeing the intersections between the faculty member’s teaching self, the classroom environment, and the student. The second post continued the conversation by talking about ways to react when students violate classroom norms. In this last post, I will suggest some ways to assess the escalating behaviors of a student to help you know when you need outside help and ways to seek that help.

STAMP is a system used by many hospital emergency room staff to assess whether a patient or family member’s behavior might become violent. Other scholars have suggested that it could also be used to train faculty about what to do if a student’s behavior seems out of control.

So here is the STAMP model. Remember, models are attempts by scholars to capture a range of behaviors and emotions into a comprehensive assessment which can be predictive. It shouldn’t be expected to fit every experience of student hostility and anger in or out of the classroom. Instead, consider it one more tool in your pedagogical toolkit as you manage your classroom.

The literature analyzing STAMP finds that the more of these behaviors you see, the more you need to consider seeking help immediately.

The Stamp Model

Staring and Eye Contact

If a student begins to stare at you intently or at a location, such as a spot in the ceiling, for a prolonged period of time, this could signal the beginning of an escalation. Being intensely focused elsewhere—especially if any eye contact seems hostile, is behavior to watch.

Tone of and volume of student’s voice

If a student begins to talk louder or in an angrier manner, that student is expressing at least frustration, if not outright hostility. The person wants you (or others) to hear their thoughts and emotions and to “do something.” Remember that what the student is experiencing may or may not involve you—it might be an issue that you or other students have nothing to do with, but it has become an issue in the student’s mind during your class. Listen closely to what the student is saying so that you are aware of what might be triggering her or him.

 Anxiety

As you are listening, see if the student is using words which show stress or anxiety. Such expressions show that the student is feeling pressured, be it to succeed, to be the first in the family to graduate, and so on. The student might not yet possess enough emotional skills to problem-solve this situation, at this moment. Again, remember that what might be upsetting the student might not be about you or even college. We are all complex individuals and often are not able to compartmentalize our emotions to fit the particular environment we are in.

Mumbling

In this stage, the student might shift from yelling (stage 2) to softly talking to her or himself. The words are less able to be understood and usually less intended for you or others to hear. The conversation is more of an internal nature, even it if it being vocalized aloud.

Pacing or repetitive body movement

Look for behaviors such as rocking back and forth, or other body movements being repeated. These can signal a build-up of tension and/or a sign that the internal pressure is growing to a point where the student feels that action is needed. Your goal is to deescalate before reaching this stage, if possible.

DURING AN ESCALATION

Find Your Center, Geographically

If possible, get to the front of the room because that’s where students normally expect the faculty member to be. If you are not able to get to the front of the room (for example, if the student is blocking your way), then make where you are, the center of the room. Always be cognizant of your location, if you believe a student is escalating. You don’t want to be caught in a corner of the room and boxed in. Nor do you want an interaction, should it occur, to block one of the exits of the room—you want the exits free for other students to use. One way to make any location where you are to be the center of the room, is to talk. But instead of talking louder, for example to be heard over the student, lower your voice. Other students will want to hear what you are saying, so draw attention to yourself and not the student. No matter how much a student may be yelling at you, do your best to avoid a screaming match.

Find Your Center, Physically

Maintain a neutral body position. Many of us try to stand taller and “puff up” our chests as a display of power in moments of tension, but a student in crisis might see that as an expression of aggression, thereby increasing the tension. Maintain eye contact with the student but try your best to keep a friendly facial expression, not an angry or hostile one. Keep your hands open (palms to the student) and visible. Drop anything you might normally have in your hand, for example, a slide changer or a marker. The literature says that individuals who are escalating and in a state of high anxiety often experience “tunnel vision” and a black slide changer might be interpreted as a weapon. Open palms can be interpreted as a sign of non-dominance, which can help to deescalate a situation.

When you are trying to deescalate the situation and are trying to assess the student’s behaviors, it is likely that your body will also be experiencing stress responses. That could mean that your breathing becomes faster and shallower (which of course means you are getting less oxygen to your brain, which is less than conducive to clear decision-making). You want to try deep breathing to counteract this. And if you have knowledge about the student, you want to bring it to mind (i.e., has the student had a recent death in the family? Or has the student’s hygiene changed for the worse, which might signal a change in mental health status? Or did the student just failed for the second time her graduate comprehensive exams and is very stressed?”). This is not to say you must agree with how the student is dealing with personal stress, but try to understand the stresses and empathize.

Graphic: triangle in 3 parts, showing the priorities of who to safe first

Van Brunt and Lewis (2014:46ff) argue that in such an escalating situation that the faculty’s job is, if necessary, to prioritize the safety of all. That means that you, as the leader of the class, must stay safe. This is similar to how the pilot of a plane must stay safe in order to land the plane. Then, the safety of the other students should be the faculty member’s next priority. They are bystanders to the ongoing events and deserve your assistance. Last in terms of prioritizing safety is the student him or herself. But as the leader of the class, this student should still be someone you are trying to keep safe, to the extent that is possible.

GETTING HELP

Here are some questions to ask yourself now, before an incident might occur: Do you have your institution’s emergency and non-emergency phone numbers in your cell phone? At your desk at school? Posted in laboratories? And for the latter location, are there other institutional safety numbers that should be posted in multiple locations? If you work with graduate assistants who are in your classroom with you or who run their own quiz sections, etc., have you checked that they also have all the emergency phone numbers available in their cell phones? Some schools have installed panic buttons in offices and classrooms. If you work at such an institution, do you know where it is in each classroom you teach in?

Do not necessarily assume that other students would come to your aid, if there is another student whose behavior is escalating. Some might, but others instead might film the encounter with their cell phones. But if some do offer to help, be sure to give specific instructions to a specific person. Don’t say “Will someone call Campus Police” – because there tends to be a diffusion of responsibility in that circumstance. Each student might think, “My name’s not ‘somebody,’ so Dr. Lowney didn’t mean me” and no one ends up calling for help. If you can, single out a student by name or by an identifying article of clothing (“You in the purple T-shirt, please do X”). It might help to point to the student while saying a command. But again, recognize that their assistance could further escalate the situation.

After the Virginia Tech campus shooting, many institutions created behavioral intervention teams (BIT teams). They might be called by a variety of names. Members usually span various aspects of the institution, often from law enforcement, Housing, Counseling Services, and Academic Affairs. Report any incident in or out of class with students which concern you to the BIT team. Members are able to access reports from across campus to get a better picture of the physical and mental health status of the student. They will investigate the situation and address it how they see best. One thing though, which can be frustrating—they see you a reporter of the incident and therefore, you will not necessarily learn the outcome, due to confidentiality laws.

I want to encourage you to consider creating a code which means “Summon help.” In my class of 350 students, my graduate assistants and I created a phrase, which, if I ever said it to them, meant, “the graduate student nearest an exit door should leave and go call Campus Police.” We never had to use it, but I rehearsed it with them multiple times throughout the semester. In a department, faculty and staff could create a similar code. If a student is escalating in your office, you might not be able to pick up the phone and say “HELP!!!” But you might be able to pick up the phone and say “I’m busy with a student right now, could you ask Dr. X to wait for me until I finish this meeting,” where X is a last name that is your code word to summon help. This way the student hears you as willing to stay and talk with her or him while you know that you are summoning help. Unfortunately, such a code won’t work for those who teach night or weekend classes and few others are around. Consider talking with Campus Police to see if you could call their number with the code, as a way to summon help.

AND A FEW THINGS NOT TO DO

While every jurisdiction may have its own laws, it is best never to physically control a student, even one whose behavior is escalating (i.e., hold the student down, physically restrain the student, or hit the student). Nor should you intentionally cause harm to the student’s things. If you need to, remove other students and yourself from the situation (if possible) and seek help.

THE GOOD NEWS

Most faculty will rarely, if ever, have to confront a student whose behavior is escalating out of control. Instead we face the more routine kinds of classroom management—cell phone and laptop usage, small groups of students talking, students who are upset over a test grade, and there is little to no escalation of behavior. But it is still good to practice the “what if” scenario so that we have some “mental and muscle memory” of what to do.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Luck, L., D. Jackson, and K. Usher. 2007. “STAMP: Components of Observable Behavior that Indicate Potential for Patient Violence in Emergency Departments.” Journal of Advanced Nursing 59(1):11-19.

Van Brunt, Brian and W. Scott Lewis. 2014. A Faculty Guide to Addressing Disruptive and Dangerous Behavior. New York: Routledge.

Please note: Institutions have policies about student conduct in classrooms, residence halls, and other spaces on campus as well as rules about guns on campus. Each faculty member needs to consult these local policies; these three blog posts are general comments about how to deal with escalating student behaviors and are not meant to supercede local norms and laws. For this reason, these posts will not be addressing situations involving weapons in the classroom.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.

 

 

When Things Go Badly: How to React When Students Misbehave (pt. 2)

In a series of three blog posts, I will be discussing some pedagogical strategies to use when student conduct violates classroom policies. These strategies can also be useful regarding faculty-student interaction in faculty offices as well. Last week’s post began the conversation by seeing the intersections between the faculty member’s teaching self, the classroom environment, and the student. In this post, we’ll continue the conversation by talking about ways to react when students violate classroom norms.

Step 1: Must You React?

Male and female student; each looks angry, perhaps over a gradeEvery faculty member must ask this question, when a student misbehaves. I would argue, the answer is, “No, not necessarily.” Faculty have to weigh consistency of imposing consequences, with the timing of the behavior, the actual behavior in question, and if the behavior is impeding learning and teaching. So a student says a hostile comment about me, barely loud enough for anyone else to hear, on way out of door after I have dismissed the class, on a day I handed back a major assessment—I would likely ignore that behavior. But if it continued into the next class meeting, then I would address it with the student early on in the class period.

Sometimes a quiet comment to a student on the way out of the room at the end of class is enough. Other times, a gentle reminder to the entire class can make your point without singling out any particular student or set of students. Other behaviors might require a conversation in your office (or at least in a more private location than the classroom). If you are really concerned about the student’s behavior, have the conversation in a public location (such as the student union building) but still at a table with just the two of you or let a faculty member in a nearby office know about the conversation in advance of it actually happening. (More on this in the 3rd blog post, “Ways to Get Help”).

Step 2: Despite Your Feelings, Stay Calm and Be Respectful

Says, "Keep calm and teach on"Remember, other students will be watching your behaviors—so use it as a teaching moment. And how you react will, in a significant way, shape how the rest of the interaction goes. If you feel you are not in an emotional place to deal with the student in a calm, respectful way, then it will be better to postpone the interaction to another time. Talk with the student and make an appointment, but try not to engage in that moment. This can be easier to say, than to do, I know! I have had angry students follow me back to my office, swearing up a storm at me. But we had made an appointment for the next day, at the end of class and I—and they—needed that time to think about what happened, come up with a plan, and cool down. So I told them they were welcome to come to post-class office hours if they had questions about the content for that day or any other issue, but their test score, we’d discuss tomorrow.

Step 3: If You Must React, Have A Plan

Picture of hand holding a neon blue highlighter and text says "What's your plan?"Have you thought through what you would do if a student does break a class norm? Again, it depends on what the student’s conduct is, but here are some possible plans:

  1.  Stand near the student(s), look at them, but keep on teaching. I have spent two days teaching from behind a particular row of students. After the first ten minutes, the misbehavior stopped, but if I walked away for even a moment, it would start back up. At the end of the 2nd day, I whispered to the five of them, “Have I made my point?” and one said, “Yes, we never thought you’d come all the way to the back of the room in order to keep us in line. But we understand now.” I never had another issue with them for the entire rest of the semester.
  2. Stop teaching/talking until the student stops the behavior (this can be effective if a group of students are having side conversations, for example). This can feel like you are silent for minutes, but it often is far shorter in actual time. Often, other students will “catch on” and help you by telling the students to stop talking.
  3. Ask the student or students, “Do you have a question?” and then just wait for their response. Usually they will stop the behavior.
  4. Do a general reminder about the behavior you want to have stopped and hope that the student in question realizes you are addressing him or her too.
  5. If the built environment allows, walk up and down between rows of student desks, so that you are constantly on the move. This can help eliminate certain behaviors (what I like to call ‘back of the room behaviors’) because students are never quite sure when you will be right next to them.
  6. You could ask the student to see you after class. Here again, you have the option to say it publicly or to get next to the student and whisper it.
  7. Let it go during class but write the student an email after class. You could ask for a face-to-face appointment before the next class period or to stop and talk after the next class. Of course, this means that you will need to know each student by name, which might be difficult in very large classes.

There are many more possible plans. You want to think through which  pedagogical strategies work best for your teaching self, for the student involved, and for the classroom environment in advance of needing them, so that they become second nature to you. But sometimes, these plans don’t work and the situation continues to escalate. How do you know when that is happening? That’s where STAMP can come in. More about that in next week’s blog post.

Please note: Institutions have policies about student conduct in classrooms, residence halls, and other spaces on campus as well as rules about guns on campus. Each faculty member needs to consult these local policies; these three blog posts are general comments about how to deal with escalating student behaviors and are not meant to supercede local norms and laws. For this reason, these posts will not be addressing situations involving weapons in the classroom.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing or coaching about writing.