Teaching midsize classes often feels like the small class experience, but sometimes there is a lack of time to dedicate to each student that can become frustrating. Instructors may wish to develop new skill sets for handling larger groups and coordinating classroom management issues in the presence of several dozen participants.
Try to adapt as many of your instructional methods from small classes to the midsize room as well. Some common techniques include:
For maximal student engagement, allow students to interact not only with the material, but with each other. Each of the previous suggestions can be followed up with a brief discussion with a partner, or in small groups. Some midsize classrooms make use of desk-chair combinations that can be re-arranged at will, which can encourage groupwork or even a circular formation for plenary discussions.
Since engagement will remain highest with variation, it is advisable to employ a shifting array of techniques. This list of interactive techniques can serve as a "toolbox" of ideas for use in making your class an active experience for your students. Many of the ideas on the list also offer suggestions for the kinds of activities students can perform in pairs and groups.
Sometimes known as audience polling technology (or even just "clickers"), classroom response systems promise numerous benefits in classes, including improved student engagement, enhanced formative feedback for instructors, easy quizzing tools, even a means to take attendance. Instructors can employ the systems to gather individual responses from students or to gather anonymous feedback. Reports are typically exported to Excel for upload to the instructor's grade book. Our tutorial explains how to get started, and offers best practices for effective use of clickers: http://www.fctl.ucf.edu/TeachingAndLearningResources/Technology/CRS/
Students in midsize classes usually recognize that they can be seen easily by the instructor, and yet it's not uncommon for a few students to be off-task, use cell phones for texting, browse the Internet, or even fall asleep. In many midsize classrooms, instructors challenge students who appear to be off-task. The preferred method to keep students engaged is to offer interesting, intellectually stimulating material, and to involve students as actively as possible in the session.
Like small classes, midsize classes retain a feeling of community, and with some effort, instructors can learn all of the students' names. The personal connection with the students is advisable because it generates a feeling of accountability among students and it enables an emotional relationship to the material and to the instructor that is conducive to learning.
Unlike large classes, where lecturing is sometimes the only mode of instruction, midsize classes are small enough to permit significant discussion among students, or between the students and the instructor. Crafting interesting and compelling discussion questions becomes a major component of an instructor's job in such classes. In general, try to pose problems and question your students constantly: ask about facts, interpretations, processes, applications, critique, comparisons, and evaluations. You may find that controversy also works well to provoke discussion.
Assigned writing can be beneficial in midsize classes, and the assignment need not represent an undue grading burden on instructors. Consider requiring some low-stakes writing or informal writing that can be graded extremely quickly; this can be especially valuable if assigned often in the semester.
High stakes writing, such as essays or project reports, can also be assigned and graded easily even in midsize classes. Be very specific in the writing prompt about what is expected and how it will be graded, to keep student questions to a minimum. It may also help to offer examples and models. It is highly advisable to use a grading rubric to ensure fairness in the grades and to streamline the grading process dramatically, saving many hours of work for the instructor. This rubric should be shared with students in the essay prompt, as this will properly set expectations.
Thomas M. Dolan
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