Creating an Active and Exciting Learning Environment

At some point, we all have been students—even though some have never received formal education.  Although some topics in every subject area cannot always be the most exciting topics to engage students with, teachers can find meaningful ways to engender an active, engaged, responsive, and fun classroom for their students—no matter if one teaches at the Pre-K – 12 or college level.  No one wants to be bored!  If you’re a teacher, you need to make it a serious priority for the majority of your lessons to include opportunities to have fun with your students.  Don’t let your classroom become more boring than watching paint dry.

Give your students opportunities to speak during your class.  The teacher shouldn’t be the only person who talks the entire class period.  Teachers, if you discover that you’re doing all of the talking in your classroom for more than 15 minutes at a time, then it should trigger in your mind that you need to get your students involved in your topic or topics of discussion immediately.  No one wants to listen to you talk forever and ever—your voice is not that attractive.  Some teachers like to talk the whole period.  Even if you’re discussing some highly complicated issues in your class, still don’t find yourself doing the majority of the speaking in your classroom.  It’s understandable for you to need to do the majority of the speaking in your classroom sometimes, but you shouldn’t make it a habit.

Did you have teachers at any level of the educational pipeline who would do all of the speaking in the classroom most of the time?

If you desire to have an active classroom where all of your students are engaged, then you cannot do all of the speaking.  Even if you’re a phenomenal speaker/lecturer, you need to offer your students opportunities to speak and participate in what you’re discussing.  Never forget that you’re not speaking to desks—there are living human beings occupying those desks.  If you want to be a good or great teacher, you must have an authentic concern for how your students perceive your teaching and classroom.  In no way does this mean you have to allow your students to solely determine how you teach and conduct your classroom.  However, the input of your students should be valued, especially if you claim to have a commitment to serving them.

You may think you’re such a great teacher, but if your students are bored out of their mind, you’re not going to reach them.  If you allow this to be the case, you can simply forget about how great of a teacher you think you are—the students will tune you out and focus on how many minutes they have left before they can leave your classroom. (Can you picture them counting down the minutes now?)  Don’t allow this type of relationship to develop between you and your students.  You don’t have to become friends with your students, but you should at least engage with them at some significant level.

A good or great teacher loves to listen to others.  Some people don’t ever want to listen to what you have to say—they’d rather just listen to themselves talk.  Academic instruction suffers when teachers only want to hear their voices.

Beyonce knows how vital listening is, which is ostensible through her song, “Listen.”  When you listen to her song, one of the dominant messages the song unveils is through listening to others you will gain greater insights about their innermost emotions and thoughts.

If your classroom is not an engaging and fun classroom, then you need to make changes to the way you operate it.  This might mean that you need to make significant changes.  Don’t get so consumed by your routine that you care more about the routine than the students who the routine is supposed to serve.  You may find that having a routine could be the very reason why your classroom is uninspiring.

Take some time to think about your classroom and the way you manage it to develop ways to ameliorate it.  Invest some time in ways to engage your students and increase participation.  You may find that you need to move yourself more out of the way to accomplish this.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Falsehoods of Classroom Participation

How many of you have ever looked at your course syllabus and found that you were being evaluated for “classroom participation”? How many of you have also looked at your course syllabus and discovered that you were not provided with an understanding of how you would be evaluated based on “classroom participation”? I have wrestled with these two aforementioned queries for some time now. I contend that it is quite problematic to evaluate students based on “classroom participation” when they are not given specific details about how they will be evaluated.

One of the chief reasons why I find being evaluated based on classroom participation is it becomes a way for your instructor to punish you if he or she does not like you, or if he or she has ever taken offense to something that you have said in class. When one views classroom participation from this perspective, it becomes tremendously easy for one to understand how “classroom participation” can become a mask for discrimination. In college, I’m not sure that we (instructors) should even be focusing on evaluating students for their classroom participation. The focus for instructors should be on ensuring that students are learning and not on punishing them for a lack of attendance, which is often the larger rationale for why classroom participation is included on most course syllabi (in my opinion). The challenging way in which the course instruction is offered should be enough to drive students to class. Instructors should not use false ploys like “classroom participation” to try to punish students for not attending their classes.

I must say, however, that if a clear standard is being employed when one includes “classroom participation” on his or her syllabus, then I do not have a problem with including it. For example, when an instructor decides to engage students in a significant amount of the learning activities inside of the classroom, then I think that it would certainly be reasonable for classroom participation to be included on the syllabus, and, in this case, it is justified to have it account for a significant percentage of students’ grades (if this is the desire of the instructor). From my experience as a college instructor, I know how important class attendance and participation in class is. I do not think, however, that it is my duty as an instructor to be students’ parents and force them to attend my classes. I have hardly ever had a problem with any student who elected to not attend my classes. One of the dominant reasons why I believe that this has happened is I empowered students to make the decision about whether or not to come to my classes or not. From the very first day of class, I always let them know that without an excused absence I would not do anything to help them with what they missed in class.

Instructors need to rethink how they construct their notions of “classroom participation” and students need to begin to understand the value behind coming to class and actively participating in class. It is not simply the responsibility of the instructor to provide students with knowledge, but students have to become stakeholders in their own education. The next time you see “classroom participation” on your course syllabus be sure to ask probing questions of your instructor about what it really means, especially if he or she has not provided you with any specific details.

Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison