Qualitative Differences in Class Engagement

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 37 seconds

Today was a super interactive day in my class where I felt everyone engaged and the mood was, honestly, uplifting for me personally! I think there are probably many factors, but looking at people’s reflections after class, in their two-minute papers, I know they all felt they could engage and connect with the topics of discussion in class, shifting between pair work and large group discussions. Here is how the class went…

First of all, I was delighted to walk into class and find the chairs organized in a neat circle. One of my studnets came to class earlier than I did, and realized the chairs were arranged all facing the front. My studnets catch onto this really early – if they see the rooms arranged in the front, they know there’s something “off”. So he rearranged them. He rearranged them a bit neater than I would normally arrange them. I usually arrange them in “threes” not facing the middle, but facing each other (ish). and then I’ve got some leftover chairs that I cram at the front and back (not near the screens – I have 6 screens). Anyway, those 5 mins of time and effort he saved me made me really happy. That he would do something for me and the rest of the class without being asked to help! I strongly believe in the hidden curriculum of classroom seating. Seating everyone facing the front implies hierarchy and that we want students to listen to us, and we want them to talk to the teacher, not each other.

Second, we started the class off with students sharing sights and sounds of “things that delight them”. It took about 10 minutes but I think it put everyone in a good mood as we saw and heard about pets, sunsets, beaches, sports, etc., and listened to a song and read a poem together (Still I Rise by Maya Angelou – one of the best poems in HISTORY). I also shared the thing that delighted me, which is #1 above!

Third, we talked about equity/equality, using the visuals I often use in my keynotes. We had a great discussion, almost everyone had something to say about one image or another.

Fourth, we did an individual then pair exercise I call “empathy and excuses”. They think of a trigger or a pet peeve of theirs, then discuss with a partner what kind of “excuse” someone could have that would make them forgive them. Students then shared with the larger group. They seem to have really enjoyed this, especially that many of them either had similar pet peeves, or often did the thing that was someone else’s pet peeve!

When we took our break, I talked to them about how I got KitKats because I discovered that people in the class loved Kitkats! They were so appreciative of this and it came out in some of their reflections! But we talked about why it would never be good to get one type of snack for break time.

Oh, I forgot to tell you something else! We had a discussion about punctuality and why some of them don’t manage to come to class on time and how there was inequity since some people live closer to campus and have less traffic to deal with, while others live farther away; that some people are “morning people” and others have “morning responsibilities” (like me! for my kid and husband!) and so on. This was also something where everyone participated and I love that they didn’t feel like they were accused, while we talked about valuing punctuality.

We ended the class with an agreement. Next class, we would play online games related to empathy in the first 10 mins of class. If someone thinks they might be late, they should try playing those games at home over the weekend or something, so that if they arrive 10 minutes in, we can start discussing the games right away. This gives room for some people to come late if they can’t help it, without interrupting class dynamics if they walk in late and would have missed the activity.

Here are some images of the classroom and how it usually looks before I walk in:

Classroom with node chairs on wheels all facing the front

Here is how the class looks with students in it (images from previous semesters):

classroom with students seated facing each other talking in small groups

All images above taken by me, with students’ permission to share publicly.

One thought on “Qualitative Differences in Class Engagement

  1. Thank you for this Blog, I found it really interesting hearing about how you engaged your class. Interaction from the students when teaching is vitally important and enhances their learning experience. The post was written in an easily digestible way. I am currently studying on the PgCert in Academic Practice course, and this post has been very helpful in reflecting on my own class activities.

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