Teaching small classes is frequently coveted as an optimal university-level experience, when faculty feel they have the time to dedicate significant attention to each student, and students feel they have adequate access to the instructor. Classroom instruction is more likely to be discussion-based, with more time given over to students.
Some common techniques include:
For maximal student engagement, allow students to interact not only with the material, but with each other. Each of the previous suggestions can be followed up with a brief discussion with a partner, or in small groups. Some small classrooms make use of desk-chair combinations that can be re-arranged at will, which can encourage groupwork or even a circular formation for plenary discussions.
Since engagement will remain highest with variation, it is advisable to employ a shifting array of techniques. This list of interactive techniques can serve as a "toolbox" of ideas for use in making your class an active experience for your students. Many of the ideas on the list also offer suggestions for the kinds of activities students can perform in pairs and groups.
Sometimes known as audience polling technology (or even just "clickers"), classroom response systems promise numerous benefits in classes, including improved student engagement, enhanced formative feedback for instructors, easy quizzing tools, even a means to take attendance. Instructors can employ the systems to gather individual responses from students or to gather anonymous feedback. Reports are typically exported to Excel for upload to the instructor's grade book. Our tutorial explains how to get started, and offers best practices for effective use of clickers: http://www.fctl.ucf.edu/TeachingAndLearningResources/Technology/CRS/
Students in small classes usually recognize that they can be seen easily by the instructor, and yet a few students may be off-task, use cell phones for texting, browse the Internet, or even fall asleep. In many small classrooms, instructors challenge students who appear to be off-task. The preferred method to keep students engaged is to offer interesting, intellectually stimulating material, and to involve students as actively as possible in the session.
It's often easy to engenger a feeling of community in small classes, and with some effort, instructors can learn all of the students' names. The personal connection with the students is advisable because it generates a feeling of accountability among students and it enables an emotional relationship to the material and to the instructor that is conducive to learning.
Small classes permit significant discussion among students, or between the students and the instructor. Crafting interesting and compelling discussion questions becomes a major component of an instructor's job in such classes. In general, try to pose problems and question your students constantly: ask about facts, interpretations, processes, applications, critique, comparisons, and evaluations. You may find that controversy also works well to provoke discussion.
Assigned writing can be beneficial in small classes, and the assignment need not represent an undue grading burden on instructors. Consider requiring some low-stakes writing or informal writing that can be graded extremely quickly; this can be especially valuable if assigned often in the semester.
High stakes writing, such as essays or project reports, can also be assigned and graded easily in small classes. Be very specific in the writing prompt about what is expected and how it will be graded, to keep student questions to a minimum. It may also help to offer examples and models. It is highly advisable to use a grading rubric to ensure fairness in the grades and to streamline the grading process dramatically, saving many hours of work for the instructor. This rubric should be shared with students in the essay prompt, as this will properly set expectations.
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