6 Tips for Dealing with Large Classes
1. Shrink the Classroom
Leave the comfortable confines of the podium/stage and walk around the room. Ask questions to specific parts of the room (i.e. “Okay I want to hear from someone in the back left corner of the room). After you give your students an in class activity/task, walk around the room and occasionally sit with them. Breach the invisible barriers in your classroom and make yourself available to your students.
2. Come Early, Stay Late
Your students want you to be available to them, but if your teaching 100s of students that can be challenging. You can cut many emails off at the pass, by coming to class early and staying late to answer students questions. Also, if you get all set up and no one has a question start a conversation with your students and build rapport.
3. Accept that someone’s always going to be unhappy.
In a class of 100+ changing anything will delight some students and enrage others. Always remember that if some students hate an assignment, a class rule, or a part of the syllabus other students love it or at least like it. Making all of your students happy is impossible, so don’t try to. Unless you’ve made an egregious mistake, stick with the plan you laid out in your syllabus and then fix the issue before you teach the class again.
4. If you’ve said it once, you’ll say it 100 times
If one of your students has a question, issue, problem then chances are dozens of other students are in a similar situation. Every time a students solves their problem on their own, you win. Send a class wide email addressing any issue you expect will affect a wide swath of your class. Create a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on your class web page that answers any question you get more than once. Before class starts ever day put up a slide titled News/Notes that informs your students of any pertinent information as they come into the room.
5. Focus on the students who are paying attention
Not everyone in the classroom is going to pay attention to you. Some students will doze off or play on their phone/laptops or work on homework from other classes. As a teacher that is maddening and if we’re being honest, hurtful. But always remember that if 5% of the class isn’t listening, 95% is! Teach the ones who came to listen as best you can and maybe just maybe the other students will see what they are missing. But if not, that’s life. Think of it this way, we wring our hands about the students in class not paying attention, but we don’t think twice about the ones who didn’t even bother to come and they aren’t learning a thing.
6. Build Student Community
Sitting in a giant lecture hall it’s easy for your students to feel anonymous and alone adrift in a sea of people. It’s just as easy for faculty to feel overwhelmed and outnumbered. You’re a sociologist, so I don’t have to tell you that the more socially integrated your students are to your class the more likely they are to 1. come to class, 2. do well in class, 3. think of the class positively. Use ice breaker questions on the first day of class (I ask my students to share one guilty pleasure with their neighbors). Use think/pair/shares where students write down an answer to a question, discuss it with their classmates, and then together as a whole class). Introduce topics with personal narratives (e.g. kick off an inequality discussion by asking your students to share with each other the first time they realized they were poorer than someone else). There are a myriad of ways to build community, the important thing is to stay committed to doing so.
For more tips check out Teaching the Large College Class by Frank Heppner
Nathan Palmer teaches at Georgia Southern University. In addition to serving as the editor-in-chief of SociologyInFocus.com, Nathan is the founder and lead author of SociologySource.com.
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