Blog Post

Waking them up, already

Hi Guys  -

I hope your quarters and semesters have started off well. i am back again teaching Public Speaking. Earlier in the year, I posted some questions about recording speeches  (which has since been worked out with the university. whew.) this time, I am wondering what you all do to liven up your classrooms.

I teach a two-hour class, twice a week. We do a bit of discussion and/or an ice breaker at the start of class to get them thinking, then discussion of principles in the text, then a group activity of some sort and more discussion or a turn in front of the class speaking. Each class has some sort of activity component that gets them up and speaking to one another and interacting with one another. 

My problem is, I have never had a class this lethargic, even at 9am. We've have something like 4 classes and although we've not had dead silence in class, I've never had a class this quiet, this reluctant to perform, to joke, to laugh.  Public Speaking is a class folks have to take, so in more ways than one it's a captive audience. But the activities I've planned and tweaked over the years which have done very well in other classes are working, but not amazingly well.

I don't know if this is a winter doldrums problem, which is especially exacerbated in the quarter system when it feels as if you have no time to get all your work done, and then the sun decides to set at 2:11 in the afternoon. I don't know if this is a me problem or a student problem. But it would be nice to hear what kind of advice y'all all would have for how to address this problem! 



1 comment

When I first read your blog, I had one initial suggestion and two comments.

I since learned that you have already tried a version of my suggestion—to have students lead a portion of the class.  Giving extra credit this semester might be a good idea because you are changing class expectations, but in the future I don’t know if that will be necessary.  If you begin with the expectation or participation, students will likely go along with it.  For example, when I begin my classes next week, I just work under the assumption that students will take certain types of responsibility and they will go along with it.

My first comment is that sometimes there is nothing that you can do.  You will end up with a class that is not responsive regardless of what you attempt.  For example, there was the class that nearly 100% of my students failed because they didn’t complete or submit required assignments—even when I modified assignments, extended deadlines, and agreed to accept work past the end of the semester.   At those times, you simply need to be grateful that the semester will eventually end. 

My second comment is that a quiet class is not necessarily an unengaged class.  A few years ago, I taught back to back sections of the same course.  Class #1 was extremely energetic and it was difficult to have a semblance of control.  Class #2 was extremely quiet.  They did not have the energy of the first class, did not speak up often, and there were dead times during the course.  I worried about the students until I realized that they were quietly engaging with the material.  I adjusted my teaching to the personalities of the two classes and stopped worrying.