September 06, 2006
As you walk about the classroom spouting rhetorical magic, you are sure that everyone is enthralled with the day's lesson. Yet, when you look out over the sea of young faces, you see that one head is down on the desk; it's a sleeper. Your gut reaction is to walk over and scream in his ear or, as one of my former teachers used to do, drop a textbook onto the desk. The crash of the textbook hitting the desk inches from the sleeper's head rocketed that individual back to consciousness. Although that approach certainly has some appeal, it tends to disrupt the class, erasing from their minds all memory of what you were trying to teach. More subtle strategies are effective in dealing with sleepers. When you note a student struggling to stay awake, try one of the following strategies. Direct a question to the student who is nodding off. Say her name first, hesitate a second, and then ask the question. Casually walk over to the sleeper and touch him on the shoulder. Stand near the sleeper's desk while you continue the lesson. Don't criticize or discipline the student. The student's sleepiness may be caused by circumstances that are beyond his control such as a crisis at home. In this case, embarrassing the student is not appropriate.