Teaching as an adjunct can be a lot of fun. It is also challenging. As I have encountered a number of situations, I realize such a blog can be helpful, both to me and to others.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Getting Them To Talk

A reader yesterday asked the question, “as a new adjunct, how do you get a shy class to participate in class discussions”. It is an excellent question and it really warrant its own entry (at least one).

I certainly am interested in what other readers have to say and any tips they may have. I feel that what I tell my students about public speaking applies to this topic as well. What works for one person may not work for another. You could ask 20 different people about this and get at least 20 different answers. That being said, I find the following things work for me:

First, give the class time to gel as a unit. Do not expect that discussions will take place right off the bat. The students need time to get use to each other.

Two, even in a “shy” class, usually there are one or two students who are talkative, or more talkative. Use them to help get discussions started. Be careful as you do not want them to monopolize, but let them get the ball rolling.

Three, read facial expressions. I showed my class today some video tapes of student speeches. As they were playing I was watching the students watch the speeches. At the end of the video tape, I said something like, “Watching student ‘x’, her body language indicated that she did not like this speech at all. She was so put off by a comment, she had a tough time focusing on the rest of the speech”. Then I asked if I was right. Sometimes this can backfire but today I nailed everyone of them. They looked at me with an expression that said, “What are you a mind reader”. Still, when I told them what I thought they thought, they responded and got involved in the discussion.

Fourth, certain topics lend themselves to discussions. If you are talking about something current that students can relate to (and that applies to your topic), it will spark some discussion. Michael Vick or Leona Helmsley are two current newsmakers that will probably work.

Next, some statement will get your audience riled up enough, they will comment. Try telling them that Osama Bin Laden has not been treated fairly by the news media, for example. Yes, this would have worked better a few years ago but that comment would probably get students angry enough to talk.

Finally, do not be afraid to call on students and ask what they think. If they are hesitant or do not want to say anything, let them off the hook. Still, calling out their names can help get discussions going.

I am far from an expert on this but those are my suggestions or tricks. For me, they usually work and if you use them I hope they work as well. If anyone else has other ideas, please comment.