Wednesday, March 16, 2011

when witch blondie comes out

Effectively managing students' behavior in large lecture classes, or failure to, can make or break a course. It took only one semester of a zoo-like, spiraling-out-of-control environment over five years ago for me to say, "Never again!" and turn into Witch Blondie when my students act like toddlers, which happens much more often than you would think.  

My 140+ sophomores learn my graduate assistant's and my expectations early. By week four of the semester, 99% of them sit quietly through lecture and take notes. Facebooking and texting is minimal. They even, for the most part, show up on time to class.  After the first three weeks of class, we have very few behavior problems because we nip them in the bud early and make examples of the students who act out. No one else dares to follow in their peers' footsteps. How do I do this? I tap on shoulders and shake my head, call students out by name (because I've learned all their names over the summer) and ask them to stop whatever it is they're doing, pull students aside after class, and most importantly, I address a bad behavior as soon as I see or even sense it. I keep a smile on my face through 95% of these confrontations and never raise my voice. But students get it right away that I mean business.

An unintended consequence of this expectation setting is that the good behavior often extends past the one-semester course. This semester, I don't see my sophomores regularly, but they still show up to meetings on time, behave themselves, and show respect to me in various ways--most of them are even overly friendly!

But, my freshmen--oy vey--are another lot. I have to keep reminding myself that my sophomores were freshmen--and acted the same way--once, too. My spring class (with freshmen) is structured differently, and I only have the entire class (144 students) together in lecture a handful of times throughout the semester. And although I correct bad behavior when I see it, several weeks can pass between lecture meetings, so I don't have the regular opportunity to hammer home my expectations. Every lecture meeting is like the first class all over again--excessive tardiness, loud talking, reading newspapers, texting, facebooking, sleeping, and obnoxious comments among other sins. Do some students act this way in every class? And why do instructors let them get away with it?

Baby freshmen, beware! Act as you please now, but come fall, Witch Blondie will likely make her appearance, and by October, class will be quiet, calm, and even enjoyable for everyone. Let's hope.


Kelly said...

Hahaha... put 'em in their place!

Coleman said...

Way to go, Rebecca!

Amy said...

Oops, that was from me, not Coleman. I guess he was signed in on my computer! But I'm sure he says Hi too!

Aimee @ Smiling Mama said...

LOVE THIS! I think I'd very much like to be a student in your class. I was a pretty serious student and went to a very small college. Most of my classes had less than 30 students, many had only 15 or so. It frustrated me to NO end when a professor didn't nip disruptive behavior in the bud! (I know, what a nerd, right?!)