Classroom control is crucial to make the right environment for teaching and learning. But while a few lucky individuals seem to be “naturals” at keeping a group of students on task, for most of us it’s something you have to learn.
Whether you’re new to lecturing or finding it hard to work with a particular group of students, there are things you can do to gain (or regain) it. Give these five strategies a try—they just might put you (back) in the driver’s seat:
Tip 1: Implement a firm policy on “electronic distractions”
These days lecturers often find themselves competing with texting, WhatsApp, Facebook, and other ways that electronic technologies allow outside conversations to intrude on class time. A firm policy from day one—or one implemented and enforced after the first instance of a problem—is therefore a must. Explain at the start of a session, in the course handbook, and prominently on any electronic system used to support your module (e.g. Blackboard) that phones must be off during class time and computer use during class sessions is only for coursework, not for checking personal email and so on. Some lecturers have gone so far as to ask students to leave their phones in a box to the side of the classroom, or using blocking technologies on classroom computers. Students need to know that this kind of activity will also be unacceptable in their future workplaces. We do them no favours when we look the other way at university.
You may wish to make an explicit exception for students who work as first responders or who may need to be available for contact by their child or their child’s school in an emergency.
Tip 2: Don’t let one student monopolise discussions
When one student answers all the questions, the rest tend to tune out. So acknowledge what your most forthcoming student has said, cut it short, and then call on students individually, or use a turn-taking formula. Pay particular attention to any student who has a tendency to hide at the back in order to chat with friends.
Tip 3: Break up the monotony of straight lectures
No matter how good you are at speaking, there is a limit to how long students can sit quietly and listen without attention levels dropping. Build in discussion breaks or small group activities. Even in a large lecture hall you can do this by breaking students into groups of two, then calling randomly on pairs to present their views or results on the question you’ve set.
Tip 4: Be organised and ready
If you arrive late for a lecture session, can’t get PowerPoint working, or spend five minutes shuffling through your lecture notes before beginning, you’ve already lost the class’s attention. It is much harder to regain control after the fact, so schedule yourself to always arrive five minutes early, and use a good system for organising your slides, notes and materials in advance so that they are ready and waiting to accompany you to the classroom.
Tip 5: Get to know your students
The more remote you seem as a lecturer, the less students feel obliged to pay attention. So get yourself out from behind the podium and make a point of speaking directly to and with students, learning their names, making eye contact, and showing that you value their ideas.