Getting them to talk …

There are many ways to encourage students to be engaged in class, but few are as beneficial as getting students to speak in class. Of course, as public speaking is one of the most anxiety producing activities for many individuals, anyone who has taught knows this could be harder than it seems. However, the efforts are well worth it.

During the act of speaking students are engaging in the act of retrieving information from memory. Such activity is known to be extremely beneficial for easing future recall. The act of having students articulate thoughts also maximizes future recall of that information, as students have to think about the information long enough to “translate” that thinking into language. Of course, it is pretty hard for students to not be engaged if they are talking about the course material, thus the act of having students speak during class also assures maximum mental involvement.  

However, we have all been faced with blank stares and silences when asking questions to a class full of students. We have all seen students whom we are fairly certain know the answer, yet remain silent throughout class.  A recent article from the Chronicle of Higher Education discusses an English professor’s challenge of tackling the silence: http://chronicle.com/article/Whats-the-Problem-With-Quiet/124258/ .

However, there is one pedagogical technique that not only gets students talking in short bursts, but simply gets them more comfortable with talking about statistics, further increasing the likelihood of them answering other more complicated questions. That pedagogical technique is called “Every Pupil Response.”

Though the following articles may not be exactly about teaching college level statistics, they certainly contain helpful tips (e.g, Lauriten, 1985 http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ330437&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ330437)

 I will summarize for you “Every Pupil Response.” It is a technique where professors pose questions and expect  every student in the class will respond at the same time. Though students can respond in different ways. The most expensive example is the use of “Clickers” during class time. However, there are countless cheaper options. One example is by having students respond using fingers or hands. For example you may say to students, ” Using your right hand for condition A and left hand for condition B, which level of the independent variable had the largest impact on the dependent variable?” You can also have students write out a list of terms on note cards (e.g., subject variable, independent variable, dependent variable, and extraneous) then as you give research examples you can state a variable within the  example and ask them to hold up the card that properly identifies the type of variable you just stated. This also works for types of research method, type of statistics, types of experimental design, etc. The great thing about using the note cards is that students whoo are afraid to speak in class or who are afraid to get an answer wrong can feel comfortable in knowing only they and the professor knows if they are write or wrong. This also helps the professor to conduct a type of informal assessment. If too many students are having trouble with a particular concept it could be visibly noticeable during an Every Pupil Response activity, thus signaling that a reteaching excercise is in order.  Another option is asking students questions and having them all respond in unison. This works best for terms that need to be replicated. As an example, to help students realize that a parameter is, like a statistic, a mere number used to characterize a specific group, and that the difference is we use statistics for samples and parameters for populations, I would say, “sample” then pause and point to the class, at which point they would respond, “statistic.” Often this kind of very quick repetition helps students to learn fundamental terms, they get comfortable in speaking about statistics, and they have a sense of beginning to understand the material … they are engaged and their self-esteem begins to rise, just enough so they recognize that the key to success in statistics is their mental effort in and out of class.

We should be hearing from the other Sages soon, in the mean time, if you have an example of an activity that helps students to be engaged in or out of class, I encourage you to tell us about it.

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Filed under Engaging students, Pedagogy

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