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Monday, November 22, 2010

Social norms

Speaking of having students set some criteria, I've also been thinking about having students set some of the class rules (that I would typically set down for them). I was originally thinking about this in the context of my writing class, having students decide things like what the penalty would be for late assignments (and what constitutes 'late'), etc. But then I heard about the Cornell instructor who got upset when a student yawned super-loud in one of his classes. While I can see why people think he over-reacted, I am completely sympathetic - whenever this has happened to me, I have been sorely tempted to stop class and make a sarcastic comment to the yawner. I mean, it's just so freakin' rude! [Note: I'm not talking about just simple yawning here (though personally, I was taught that if you're going to yawn while someone is talking, you at least cover your mouth and try not to be obvious about it). Visually obvious I can live with; it's the ones who actually make a loud "aaaaahhhhhhmmmm" that make me livid (thankfully, this has been incredibly rare in my classes). You may not be able to control whether you yawn or not but you sure as heck can control how much noise you make while doing it.]

But the main thing that keeps me from calling out these idiots (aside from my impeccable sense of professionalism, of course :-)), is that I wonder how the other students will react. I have to assume that at least some of them are as appalled as I am, but I suspect that many will react as people have been reacting to the Cornell guy and think I'm way over-sensitive. But what if I asked students at the beginning of the semester to come up with a specific code of conduct? This would include having them determine what is and is not acceptable behavior (reading papers in class? cell phones going off? coming in late/leaving early?) and what my/the class reaction should be when such behavior does happen (ignore it? kick people out? dunce cap in the corner?). On the one hand, I can imagine most students already know what is, and is not, appropriate behavior, so I don't expect them to come up with a list that is all that surprising; but I also imagine that most students think that when these behaviors do happen in class, there is some good reason for them (at least, I have to believe they think that, or else these behaviors would never happen, right?). So I have no idea what they think should be done about these behaviors. For example, most students know they should turn their cell phones off; they (and I) also know that sometimes they forget. So my guess is that they will say it isn't appropriate behavior but I shouldn't necessarily do anything about it when it happens. But I wonder if simply having the conversation, having them tell me what is and is not appropriate behavior (and hearing what their peers consider appropriate or inappropriate), will make them work a little harder to act appropriately? I can't really imagine it would lead to more inappropriate behavior... If anyone has had experience with this sort of things (i.e., having students themselves establish the code of conduct for a class), please let me know how it went!

3 comments:

  1. In the Spring, I teach a macro principles course of about 300 students and discipline is something of an issue. For the last few years, I've had students set the rules for classroom behavior and with one exception, they're exactly what I would select. Here's the specifics. I pass out a sheet that is blank other than this question: "Please list one or two things you think that students should or should not do in this class so that it runs smoothly and so that all students may benefit from class time." I collect them and categorize all responses (maybe takes an hour). I get responses in line with what I like: be on time, don't talk in class, don't text, be respectful, etc. The exception is that I ban the use of laptops as the externalities are so large. I did relent a bit last year and allowed students who sat on the back row to use them. But first, I showed this video that suggests we don't multitask that well (one reason I like it that the idea of driving and drinking is a really bad idea has been driven home to this generation of students; I also like the point here on texting): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbiHwGBsRr0 . I'd argue that except for novice drivers, an economics class has a much higher cognitive load than driving.

    That said, a student survey on classroom behavior hasn't really been a solution to poor behavior. I've come to think of the solution to this as being multi-pronged. This is one part of the answer; another part includes responding promptly to issues as they come up. I'm also coming around to the idea that humor and being good natured is better than losing one's temper and getting upset. When a student disrupts the class, it seems counterproductive to take much class time to deal with it as you're drawing attention to the poor behavior. I'm also sympathetic to the idea that if students don't want to be in class, don't make them come to class. This certainly runs counter to the tenants of active learning, but there are significant tradeoffs here. Another thought is to assign seating so that they're less likely to sit with a friend and chat. This might be connected to group work, but I don't envision using TBL in such a large class.

    Finally, I'd love to have a better strategy to a student who continually talks in a large class. When I don't know names, it is hard to call on them; further, anything you do further disrupts the class. I usually just toss them out of class, but if there was something quicker and less disruptive, I'd very much like to try it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. In the Spring, I teach a macro principles course of about 300 students and discipline is something of an issue. For the last few years, I've In the Spring, I teach a macro principles course of about 300 students and discipline is something of an issue. For the last few years, I've had students set the rules for classroom behavior and with one exception, they're exactly what I would select. Here's the specifics. I pass out a sheet that is blank other than this question: "Please list one or two things you think that students should or should not do in this class so that it runs smoothly and so that all students may benefit from class time." I collect them and categorize all responses (maybe takes an hour). I get responses in line with what I like: be on time, don't talk in class, don't text, be respectful, etc. The exception is that I ban the use of laptops as the externalities are so large. I did relent a bit last year and allowed students who sat on the back row to use them. But first, I showed this video that suggests we don't multitask that well (one reason I like it that the idea of driving and drinking is a really bad idea has been driven home to this generation of students; I also like the point here on texting): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbiHwGBsRr0 . I'd argue that except for novice drivers, an economics class has a much higher cognitive load than driving.

    That said, a student survey on classroom behavior hasn't really been a solution to poor behavior. I've come to think of the solution to this as being multi-pronged. This is one part of the answer; another part includes responding promptly to issues as they come up. I'm also coming around to the idea that humor and being good natured is better than losing one's temper and getting upset. When a student disrupts the class, it seems counterproductive to take much class time to deal with it as you're drawing attention to the poor behavior. I'm also sympathetic to the idea that if students don't want to be in class, don't make them come to class. This certainly runs counter to the tenants of active learning, but there are significant tradeoffs here. Another thought is to assign seating so that they're less likely to sit with a friend and chat. This might be connected to group work, but I don't envision using TBL in such a large class. Finally, at least some of my students seem resigned to there being disruptions in large classes; it doesn't seem that peer pressure helps much in this regard.

    Finally, I'd love to have a better strategy to a student who continually talks in a large class. When I don't know names, it is hard to call on them; further, anything you do further disrupts the class. I usually just toss them out of class, but if there was something quicker and less disruptive, I'd very much like to try it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Brilliant post, nicely done. And thanks for mentioning all those blogsBullionist Forums

    ReplyDelete

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