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Issues To Consider: Thinking On Your Feet

When rude or uncivil behavior occurs during class, what can I do?

How can I refocus an inattentive student without disrupting the entire class?
I try to follow these steps in order to leverage the positive and not create a greater distraction by my actions:

  • Step 1: Make a general positive comment to the rest of the class, such as, “Most of you look as if you are with me on this and taking notes.”
  • Step 2: Move close to the inattentive student, and try to make eye contact. Typically, this will refocus most students, but if it doesn’t:
  • Step 3: Make a general negative comment, such as, “I’m concerned that we are discussing an important concept, and a few of you might miss it.”
  • Step 4: Put the rest of the class on autopilot with a short assignment and talk privately with the inattentive student.

When I ask students to work in small groups, why do I feel as though I’m teaching without a safety net?
Group work legitimizes socializing and can be tricky to orchestrate at first; therefore, it is natural to feel some discomfort when trying something new that places you on the edge of your competence. Many of us find we regress before improving in the use of a new teaching technique. It’s like being shown a better tennis-racket grip; it feels unnatural, and you want to go back to old, even inferior, habits. But keep at it; the benefits will be worth your efforts. With groups, start small and simple with two students pairing up to share information or work a problem; then move to having pairs share with pairs; and later, ask foursomes to take on different roles towards completion of a unified project.

If a student says something disrespectful to me or another student in class, what can I do?

  • First, don’t ignore it, as doing so might send the message you condone it. Depending upon the student’s intentionality and the severity of the jab, I would jot down the comment and ask the student to remain after class to talk with me. I try to avoid making ultimatums in front of an audience, as that might force the student to continue to act disrespectfully in order to save face.
  • If a pattern of behavior develops, seek assistance from your chairperson. Three times equals a pattern.
  • Discuss logical consequences with the student or refer to your institution’s Student Conduct Code, which states your rights and responsibilities as a teacher in the student misconduct arena.

What can I do if an upset student asks, “Why did I get this grade?”
You might ask the student, “Can you tell me why you should have received another grade?” Then judge whether you agree or disagree with the analysis, and act accordingly. However, if you think the student needs time to calm down, consider postponing this discussion until a later date.

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Published In

February, 2009


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  • anc_dyn_linksIssues To Consider: Thinking On Your Feet
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