I just came out of a fantastic interactive long-table discussion on student-centered pedagogy that was moderated by Cathy Davidson and Katina Rogers, with Michael Dorsch, Danica Savonick, and Lisa Tagliaferri offering up successful case studies from their own classrooms. In a model of the pedagogy that the session espoused, the moderators asked their attendees to participate in the knowledge production as we paired up and talked about some of our own course goals and the types of activities that could facilitate those goals.
I found the sharing of pedagogical strategies and effective activities most useful and I want to share some of those ideas here and invite you to try some of them in your classroom next semester, as I plan to do.
1. Think/pair/share: have students spend 90 seconds thinking and writing down a brief response to a prompt and then have them pair up and talk about this with a partner for 90 seconds and then come back together as a group to share findings.
I usually find forced conversation awkward and counterproductive but this worked really well as 90 seconds was short enough to get ideas flowing but not so long that it was uncomfortable. Davidson said that this always works to wake students up and get them excited and she often has to fight to get their attention back on her and, as she said, “the moment you have to fight to get student attention back, you have won.”
2. Everybody must raise their hand
With this strategy, an instructor requires EVERYONE to raise a hand when a question is asked. The instructor can then call on a student at will and the student can choose to answer, ask for clarification, discuss what they don’t understand, or pass to a peer. I think this is brilliant as it puts some of the ownership on the students’ shoulders and asks them to gain awareness and tune in. It transfer the focus to learning as opposed to shaming.
3. Let students design the syllabus on the first day of class
Place an outline of the schedule on the wall with only necessary sessions (planned speakers, etc.) marked out. Leave the room for 45 minutes and, when you return, let the students tell you what they want to learn for the semester. The key to this, claims Davidson, is for the authority figure to leave and let the students feel ownership over their education.
These are just a handful of ideas discussed at this session, I invite you to visit (and add to!) the google doc that was pulled together by the attendees:
The most important thing that I took away from the session was the importance of innovation, in whatever form that might be. Don’t become too reliant on your age-old standbys. Try new things and get your students more involved.