Sunday, April 26, 2009

Class Boring? It's (Maybe) Not Your Fault!

I am writing this as a follow-up post to last week's "Class Boring? It's (Probably) Your Fault!" post.

Last week, I wrote about how teachers really feed off the energy the students bring to their classes. In other words, if you as a student find your class to be boring, it might be your own fault. Are you and your classmates being energetic, asking questions, responding to questions and generating discussion? If not, then you are likely a big part of the reason why the teacher or professor doesn't seem energized.

However, I also mentioned that boring classes aren't always the fault of the class members. In fact, as someone who has also been a student, I definitely realize that sometimes no matter how much you want to contribute to a class, some instructors will shoot you down with their negativity or lack of enthusiasm about teaching.

So, if class is boring, maybe it's not your fault after all!

I suppose this post is more for the teachers than the students out there. Though, students might be able to read and agree, disagree or add comments to the post that will enhance it. So, teachers and students alike, don't forget to click on the link at the bottom of the post to give me some feedback.

Here is a list of common mistakes I feel as though teachers make that contribute to dry, uninteresting, boring classes, or maybe just classroom environments that discourage participation and energy altogether:
  1. Picking apart comments/answers — I'll admit, there is such a thing as a stupid question, and not all comments or answers in class are as valuable as others. However, there is a tactful way to acknowledge a student's comments as a good contribution and quickly move on to the next response.
  2. Assigning loads of work without any real explanation as to the benefit — Homework, especially in college, should be challenging. It's also necessary to get the maximum benefit out of a course that just can't be reached in the small time periods allowed during class. However, a teacher has to do a good job of explaining the relevance of the tasks.
  3. Unclear feedback or lack of feedback — Obscure scores with no explanation make students resent you as a teacher, and they don't help anyone learn either. Having a large project due at the end of class that only gets a grade at the end of a semester also doesn't help anyone. Having earlier deadlines for semester projects with detailed feedback and opportunity for revision is a better learning experience for students overall. I've had professors, even at the graduate level, who required projects due on the final class day and assigned a grade but never returned the assignment. This makes students suspicious as to if you ever even read the assignment, and it leaves them guessing as to what they could do to improve on similar work in the future.
  4. Too much Socratic method — Incorporating questions into a lecture or seminar to solicit feedback that advances the purpose of the day's course plan or reviews reading material is a great strategy, and it encourages more involvement. However, once a student has given their answer to a question, don't keep asking them to talk. It wastes precious class time, bores the other students, and it makes that student resent you because it almost feels as though you are picking on them. If you want to ask that student a specific followup question, fine, but avoid stuff such as, "flesh that out," "what else?" or "OK, keep going."
  5. Lack of personality/energy — How can you expect students to have any energy if you do not? As a teacher, I realize that we don't always have bubbly days, and sometimes we might even find ourselves getting a little monotone in front of a class. That's only human, but have some personality! Chat with students about topics not related to class before and afterward, smile and show enthusiasm and passion for your topic, and don't just stare in silence at students if it's obvious they have no idea about what you just asked them. You can draw a line between befriending students and turning them away completely with your lack of social skills — or worse yet, creeping them out altogether.
Well, as I mentioned, feel free to discuss or add to the list in the comments section. Students, remember, you have to hold up your end of the bargain. But teachers, keep in mind, if you aren't enthusiastic about your job, maybe you shouldn't expect anyone else to be!


Joshua said...

Another thing that I think a teacher can do to completely bore a class is to just read from the textbook during the entire period for the lecture. I can read the textbook myself, so why not compliment what I read with something else that helps me understand what is actually in the textbook by engaging in group discussion, real world examples, etc.

JD said...

I agree. I guess I didn't think of that one because I haven't encountered it since my freshman year of college. I do remember my Art Appreciation professor did that though... I really didn't know what the point was, and I ended up playing ROMs on my laptop in the back of the room. Still got an A.

I try to very rarely lecture or even refer to the textbook more than just for reading guidance in my classes. If students are going to buy the book, then they should be the ones who read it and learn the material. I like to use class time to reinforce those concepts with analogies, activities, etc.