Small Teaching Tip: Give students more control of their learning and allow more opportunities for students to voice their ideas.
Small Teaching Tip, Teaching Advice

Introducing TLT’s Small Teaching Tips!

Have you ever uttered these words (perhaps after attending a TLT training)?

“I’d love to try that new tech tool or teaching strategy, but I just don’t have the time to research it or make the necessary changes in my classes.”

We hear you.  Making dramatic changes to your classes requires a lot of time and energy that you don’t typically have.  But that doesn’t mean your classes have to remain the same semester after semester.  Powerful pedagogical improvements can be made by implementing small, incremental changes.

To get you started, TLT is introducing a new series called “Small Teaching Tips” which will present low risk, high reward teaching ideas.  Inspired by James Lang’s book Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, this series will inspire you to experiment with pedagogical strategies without becoming overwhelmed.

So keep an eye on our blog (as well as Twitter, Pinterest, and Yammer) for new tips!

Small Teaching Tip #1

One way instructors can build a positive learning environment and encourage students to take more responsibility for their learning is to give them greater control, such as seeking more input from them or allowing them to choose among options based upon their own goals and interests.

Small Teaching Tip: Give students more control of their learning and allow more opportunities for students to voice their ideas.

Giving students more control does not mean we are giving away all control or that we are allowing them to cherry-pick only the content that interests them.  Instead, it simply means giving students greater voice.  Instructors can do this in small ways.  Here are a few options:

Allow students to contribute to the syllabus:

Hand out a draft syllabus on the first day of class, then present the areas you want students to contribute to (You can obviously set limits and define certain rules that are non-negotiable for you). For example, leave open 10 percent of the grade for an undetermined assignment and have students decide together what that assignment will be (such as a multimedia project instead of a research paper).  Or, leave a few class periods open on the course schedule and allow the students to vote on which topics will be discussed on those days.

Create a class constitution with your students:

In groups, ask students to brainstorm a set of rules to govern the class.  Ask them to think of behaviors, attitudes, and policies that have helped or hindered their learning in other classes. Use this information to create a set of “do’s and don’ts.”  I’m often surprised by the high expectations students set for themselves and one another when we complete this activity.  They often discuss being distracted by the classmates who show up late or online shop on their laptops, so they set rules about these behaviors.  

It’s important that the class constitution also includes expectations of the professor.  The rules don’t just apply to the students.  I often divide the whiteboard into two columns and write “expectations of the instructor” on one side and “expectations of peers” on the other.  This demonstrates that I view our class as a community and that I am not “above” the rules.

Allow students to generate exam questions:

Take 30 minutes of class time and ask students to work in groups to generate exam questions.  Then tell them 10% of the exam questions will come from the list they generated.  This will not only give them some sense of control over the test, but also will serve as an excellent review activity.

What are ways you encourage student voice in your classes?  Please share!